If you have never been to Italy before, pour yourself a glass of wine, sit back and enjoy what you’ve been missing, on a virtual day-out with me. If you don’t feel like you want to jump on the next plane by the time you’re finished reading this, then I will have failed miserably. On the other hand, if you have visited Italy in the past, I’m guessing that you may be checking flights to Rome or Naples midway through this post because you do know what you’re missing.
Disclosure: my family and I were hosted for lunch at Casa Lawrence at no charge. As always, all opinions are my own.
Since most of you reading this probably do not understand Italian, let me explain the title: an agriturismo combines tourism and farms; guests stay and eat at a farm, or farm-like property. Usually, the food is all local and “farm to table” and the standards of quality are very high. Casa Lawrence is the name of the particular agriturismo I visited, and La Caciosteria is translated to a “cheese tavern”, or a place where cheese is made. The famous English author and poet, D. H. Lawrence once lived here, so it was named after him.
Benvenuti a (Welcome to)…
A few years ago, my parents ate at Casa Lawrence, and I am being honest when I say that they still talk about that meal. You don’t know my parents, but it is extremely rare that they go on and on about good food at a restaurant, so I put Casa Lawrence on my list of places to visit when I returned to Italy.
Luckily, Loreto invited us to La Caciosteria during the week, as we weren’t able to go on Sunday when the restaurant was open (October is off-season, so opening hours are not the same as during the summer). Not only did he serve us incredibly delicious bread, antipasti and wine under a fig tree, but he then asked if I’d like to help him make a Cacio e Pepe Pasta! Can you just imagine my excitement? Stay tuned for the Cacio e Pepe Pasta recipe in Part 2. There’s simply too much for me to fit everything into one post!
To give you an idea of our location, Picinisco is a small town about halfway between Rome and Naples, in the province of Lazio (where my family is from). Casa Lawrence is in the countryside–hidden away down a little lane, but there are plenty of signs along the road, helping to guide visitors there.
Here’s a valuable Italian lesson for you: whenever you see D.O.P. after an Italian food product, it’s a good thing. Literally, it means Protected Designation of Origin: think Champagne–you know that most sparkling wines which comes from the Champagne region of France can legally be called, “Champagne”, right? It’s a way to ensure that consumers are not being duped by “knock off” cheeses, meats and wine, for example. DOC and DOCG is used for wines in the same manner.
Another tip to help you with your Italian cheeses: “pecora” means “sheep” in Italian, so whenever you see any type of Pecorino, you will know that it was made with sheep’s milk.
And here is the marvelous product which comes from those lovely “ladies” in the photo above, Pecorino di Picinisco, D.O.P.
Loreto was so incredibly friendly and welcoming, but I was a little hesitant about speaking to him in Italian, as my “proper” Italian is in need of work, but he made me feel very comfortable and relaxed in communicating with him. He gave us a tour of La Caciosteria, beginning with the room where the cheese is ripened; the smell was heavenly!
He then showed us upstairs, where many of his grandparents’ belongings still decorate the rooms.
The main room downstairs housed a small rustic kitchen where a few cheeses were on display. Mum and I spied a leg of prosciutto and some incredible looking, crusty bread and exchanged a glance that said it all: we were both dying for some cheese, prosciutto and bread!
Loreto refused our help and prepared a table outside, under a gorgeous fig tree, then began bringing out the most mouth-watering antipasti: cheeses, prosciutto, bread, pickled vegetables, pizze (not a typo, pizza is singular and pizze is plural) and a carafe of wine. It was so hard to be polite and wait for lunch to begin with everyone seated, but somehow both Mum and I managed! The cheeses which were brought out for us to try were aged Caciocavallo, fresh Pecorino di Picinisco, D.O.P, Marzolina (the log cheese), Blue Valcomino and Pecorino Stagionato, which was the cheese we had seen in the aging room.
I thought I was really good about how much I put on my (first) plate, don’t you think? I could have easily put three times this amount on the plate, but thought it probably wouldn’t have been very proper!
Here is the most difficult part of writing this piece…to impart to you the flavors I enjoyed when eating these edible works of art. For those of you who have experienced the phenomenal tastes of certain foods, such as artisanal cheeses and dry cured sausages and salami, there are no words necessary. For those of you who have yet to appreciate such utter delight with your taste buds, there are no words in existence which can convey the euphoria that these foods can bring. In essence, we were in “food heaven”, and the setting was the icing on the cake!
The fresh ricotta was so creamy and had such flavor, which is non-existent in all US “big brand” ricottas that I have tasted. The dry-cured sausages were just incredible. Without a doubt, these are definitely one of my most favorite things to eat, and I could never become vegetarian simply because of them. The bread was exactly how I like it, moist inside with a perfect texture and a beautiful crust. And the wine was local, too–a gorgeous red from Atina, a small town nearby, where my grandmother was born.
We talked and ate, and I just kept thinking of how lucky I was at that moment. It was not surprising that D. H. Lawrence had penned one of his most famous novels, Lost Girl while living in this beautiful area, and I imagine that he would have eaten some of the same foods that we were eating that afternoon. More to come on Mr. Lawrence, in Part 2.
I hope you don’t think that was the end of our meal, because you would be oh so wrong! My mother and I were completely content with what we had eaten, and could have died happy at that moment, however, Loreto had not stopped apologizing for only presenting us with an “uncooked” meal. I tried my best to explain to him how much joy his antipasti had brought us and that there was absolutely no need to apologize. But he continued, “If you could only have come on Sunday when we would have had main dishes!” At one point, he looked at me and said, “How about we make a quick Cacio e Pepe? Would you like to help me?” Although, I really didn’t need to eat another bite, the opportunity of being able to cook with Loreto in Italy was just too good to pass up!
Disclosure: La Caciosteria di Casa Lawrence hosted my family and me for a light meal at no charge. All opinions are my own, and I only recommend products and services that would I use myself. I am disclosing this in compliance with FTC regulations.