In late June James and I took a train down to Lyon, hired a car and cruised across the alps to Piedmont arriving at dusk to an amazing little farm by the name of Finocchio Verde.
We found our hosts Mario and Isa along with another WWOOFer Marco milking the sheep and goats in the barn, next to a mama giving birth to a little lamb. We wandered around the beautiful property pointing out to each other all the edible things along with the melange of animals. Keeping the goats and sheep company were donkeys, endless cats and kittens that seemed to share mothers jumping from one teet to the next, two dogs one just a puppy and a few grubby pigs at the bottom of the vegetable garden. That night we were fed one of many amazing meals and returned to our room through a path of fireflies.
Our mornings were spent doing hard labour – erecting temporary fences, clearing stinging nettle and tending to the vines. We stopped when it got too hot and made our way inside to help prepare lunch. Most everything we ate was grown on the farm. We would go to the garden to collect asparagus, beans, lettuce, artichoke, purslane, herbs, capers, peppers, and the very first tomatoes of the season.
After siesta we would wander the property looking for wild fruit. Next to Mario & Isa’s property are some semi abandoned farmhouses which make for great exploring. Like the owners just disappeared they are still full with farm equipment and even old stiff coats still hanging from pegs next to doorways. We picked cherries, prunes and red currents and made summer fruit tarts most evenings, which I always decorated with sage flowers or rose petals. The wild flowers growing provided us with sweet little table arrangements which Marco sweetly started making with me.
Along with some of the most amazing cheeses I’ve had, Mario and Isa also make their own honey, jam, wine, vinegar, olives, and once a year they slaughter a pig and make many different types of delicious salami that last them through the year.
One afternoon Mario returned from a nearby fish auction with a tonne of fish bought from his fisherman friends. I gutted my first fish that afternoon and we helped clean maybe 100 more while Mario salted 50 kilos of anchovies. That evening he cooked the most delicious fish gently poached in a pot of incredible homemade passata, wine, garlic and olives. Another food highlight was the fried pardon-style peppers and raw minced meat seasoned simply with salt, pepper and wine covered with freshly shaved local truffles. And the fresh pasta… I could go on. It was all so bloody delicious.
On our final evening Mario’s family came for dinner and he fired up the pizza oven while the whole team helped prepare the delicious rounds of dough. A perfect send off. They really know how to work hard but also get the absolute most out of their day. They take such pleasure in their land and the food that they cook, it’s catching.
We are so happy and thankful to have experienced this small amount of time on their farm. They welcomed us with such generosity and their enthusiasm, vitality and ability to live so thoroughly off the land is enviable.
All photographs by Sophia Kaplan.