As a college student, or rather, as a college aged student who chose to leave school and do a little…traveling, I spent some time living in Italy. When I say living, I mostly mean eating. Everything in Italy tastes amazing: the tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes (for those of you who’ve forgotten: as sweet as sunshine but with a tart little bite), cheese melts in your mouth, and the meat actually tastes like meat. Food was fresher; it’s common for restaurants to purchase their produce from farms (in fact, it often comes from family farms) and people actually go to veg markets on a daily basis instead of doing a weekly bulk buy (as I have to admit, I myself am guilty of) Someone once told me that Europeans shop on a daily basis because they got refrigeration later than us Americans did and were used to buying in small amounts so food didn’t spoil. Now, I can’t really say I think that’s true but for whatever reasons, eating fresher, if not local, food is definitely a more common trend across the pond.
This became even more apparent to me when I went to visit a friend’s family in their “agrotourismo” called Spannochia, a Tuscan farm where lucky visitors (and yes, I was one of them!) stay in the old (think really, really old) farmhouses and bask in the glorious food from the farm. The farm offers three meals a day and everything, and I mean everything, comes from the farm. Eggs from the chickens for breakfast, simmering soups made from the vegetable garden for lunch, pizza made in the brick oven and “wild” boar ragu served over fresh pasta, even wine pressed from the farm’s grapes. I put wild in quotes because the pigs were actually also farm raised, and yes, I did see the piggies and no, I have never had a problem with eating meat, even if I’ve made it’s acquaintance before my meal. One of the biggest things I took away from the farm, in fact, is that everything we ate came from nature and was good for us (this coming from a life long meat eater-sorry to all of you veggies out there!). Not to get all sappy on you, but it was truly an altering experience that made me feel a little bit more in tune with my own body and closer to nature. There’s something very fulfilling about picking a tomato, tossing it into a pan with homemade olive oil, hearing it pop and sizzle and then tasting it, really tasting it. I was very sad to leave Spannocchia at the end of my visit, and still hope to go back one day.
Needless to say, I was very pleased to come across an article in the The New York Times recently, highlighting a handful of farms that have begun supplementing their (sadly meager) incomes with agritourism. I had only really heard of this in Italy; it can be a challenge when it comes to insurance etc to become a “tourist destination” and this often scares farmers off. However, with the current economic state, it has become apparent to many small, “mom and pop” farms, that they need to open up their farmhouses. What better way to do it than to share their own lifestyle? While this operation is still pretty small, several farms are offering rustic accommodation along with “farm experiences” (think veg picking etc), farm culinary 101 classes and the best part: fresh food! Foodies and adventurous, curious travelers rejoice; agritourism is making an appearance on this side of the pond!