Welcome to A Roman Countryside Cooking Holiday!

My husband works for an airline that is part of a larger travel company, and when it comes to finding good places to go and good deals, this man seems to be a master. When my husband booked this trip, he did a little research, asked a few people who’d done similar trips, and landed upon the company Epitourean. Upon contact with Epitourean, they steered him to Casa Gregorio, a small family/friend owned business in a medieval village in the Roman countryside, about 1 1/2 hours outside Rome in the Frosinone Province. Epitourean said this place was the best place to go in Italy… and they do about 20 destinations in Italy. I suppose that says something.

IMG_3616.jpgEpitourean is merely the booking company. Once you book, everything is then passed on to Casa Gregorio. We filled out some paperwork for Epitourean – want a private room? Extra $350 (totally worth it!). Allergies? Yes, and Casa Gregorio honored this from the moment we arrived, checking to make sure those with allergies could eat certain things that were “cousins” of our respective allergies. We were told to meet outside Customs in the Rome airport between 11am-12pm, and look for a gentleman in a Casa Gregorio chef’s coat.

After our Venetian holiday and our friends’ quick trip to Florence, we easily found one another. Even in a major airport, the cute Italian guy in a chef’s coat wasn’t hard to find. We were then whisked away to start our culinary adventures. However, upon meeting our driver/tour guide Patricio, I asked him where his chef’s hat was… he laughed and said, “I did that once. Only once. I will never do that again.”

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Driving up switchback turns, we finally came upon the medieval village of Castro dei Volsci

Upon arrival to Casa Gregorio, Alessandra greeted up with glasses of Prosecco, while our luggage was carried to our rooms. Our eating adventures were just starting. One does not turn down food and wine in Italy. You’re a fool if you do.

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As our luggage was being sorted, we had a few moments to explore our home for the week. The views from our terraces were stunning.

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Casa Gregorio is a house dating back to the 16th century which is nestled in the medieval village of Castro dei Volsci. The pictures below from left to right:

  1. The marble stairway up to our bedrooms lined with old images from the medieval village
  2. My bedroom – Greg, the owner, is an interior designer, and all the rooms are stunningly decorated
  3. The dining room outside my bedroom. Simple. Elegant.
  4. The upstairs kitchen – one of the 1st areas redone in the house
  5. The upstairs living room for us to gather and chillax
  6. Our coffee bar and breakfast area each morning….soooooo much good and highly caffeinated Italian coffee
  7. Our cooking classroom. Can I please get this kitchen in my house??
  8. The view out the window of our classroom. Not too shabby.

We knew the first day was simply a get settled, meet, greet, and eat day. Our classes would begin the next day. We met our other three cooking pals for the week – two Canadians and a lady from San Francisco. We had our 1st meal together, and it set the tone for the elegance, yet simplicity, of the week. As our host Patricio stated, “This is the Roman Countryside. Our meals are simple, yet delicious. Salute.”

How right he was. Our first meal was a simple, rustic bruschetta with all local ingredients and a lemon ricotta cake. Simple. Rustic. Elegant. Divine. Our eating adventures – forget the cooking – had begun.

When in Rome, they say. So yes, we were told to shoot our aperitif of Grappa – “Why prolong the burn?” was the after comment. I’ve had grappa on several other occasions, and each time my reaction has been about the same. Our host Patricio told us this was “good quality,” so I thought I’d torture myself one more time. Please note how kind my friend is being. Me? Forget it. Visceral reaction was all I had.

I think the words good quality and grappa equal an oxymoron.

Grappa is simply Italian moonshine. Good isn’t a term that should be synonymous with this drink.

Our next adventure was a tour of the house itself, which ended in the cellar, which is an ancient olive mill. This house used to be a place where olive oil was made, and this wasn’t uncovered until restoration of the house began… imagine finding out the house you bought had a cellar you didn’t know about that used to be an ancient olive press…

This was our first introduction to why 1st press extra virgin olive oil is superior to all others. These old presses creates a huge amount of friction, which causes heat, and yep… the more heat, the not so great end for your oil…

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We exited the olive mill cellar and were transported into the medieval village, and we quickly learned that our host Patricio was a proud Italian who’d lived in this area his whole life. In fact, he can trace his roots 7 generations back in the village of Castro. He gave us a tour of the medieval village, including many pieces of history and lore.

A few pieces worthy of note, which I tried to add to the slide show, but the whole story is longer than allowed…

  1. The face that is in the wall of Casa Gregorio: Legend has this face wards off bad people and behavior, in essence, protecting the house and village. If I heard it correctly, it’s called mamocho (sp??), and the story Patricio told was that his parents – like many good Italian parents – used to threaten him that if he wasn’t a good boy, the mamocho would come for him 
  2. The large bronze doors that were the entrance into one of the chapels in the villageLegend has it that in WWII St. Oliva protected the town during a bombing, when all of the surrounding areas were bombed. Many of the older generation here in the village swear by this legend, especially since some of them had the opportunity to meet one of the WWII pilots who flew on that bombing mission. The pilot said he couldn’t explain it, but all he could see from the air was a cloaked woman hovering over the village, protecting it, when he was in the air. 
  3. The clocks: Long and short of this story – good Italian clocks have a IIII not IV on the face for the #4. Apparently, you can tell a real Rolex this way, as well. So the story goes, there are clocks that predate a certain time in ancient Roman history – aka good clocks – and some of the “good” clocks still exist in this village.
  4. The statue of Alla Mamma Ciociara at the top of the village: Our host wouldn’t explain this statue, only saying it was extremely sad, and he didn’t want to be sad. In fact, he got choked up as he was talking about it. He simply asked if we were interested that we look up the meaning. Truthfully, you needn’t look beyond to statue to actually understand its meaning. The sculpture, dedicated to the memory of the women victims of the brutal violence of the French troops during the Second World War, stands on a panoramic terrace from which you can admire the whole area below Castro dei Volsci, but also the nearby Church of Sant’Oliva .The tragic events of the World War were told in the famous film “La Ciociara” by Vittorio De Sica, based on the homonymous book by Alberto Moravia, which earned Sophia Loren the Oscar for Best Actress. The Peace Monument was strongly desired by the Ciociaria people to remember all the women who, during the Second World War, faced death to defend their honor and their dignity and that of their daughters, by the brutal violence of the French troops.The monument of the people of Castro dei Volsci is dedicated, in fact, to the woman who, with her sacrifice, has paid bitterly the wickedness of the war. The misfortunes of “Mamma Ciociara” are in fact coupled with the heroism of the young, monstrously tortured by the troops immediately substituted for the Nazi beasts.
    1. The monument was built in Carrara by the sculptor Andreani.

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This stop on the village tour gave us all had a good chuckle; look at the bridge below. There are very interesting stories behind the bridge between the two houses: Stories of forbidden love, divorce from arranged marriage, secret affairs, and death from being pushed off the bridge… Good bless lusty Italians.

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As we walked through the village, I captured many of the unique doors – some newer, some looking like the perhaps dated back to the 9th century when this village started to be built. One simply never knows. If you’re ever thinking a medieval village life is for you, there are several places for sale within…bargain price of €15-16K. Never mind that a few of them might need complete restoration since there’s nothing inside but a pile of rubble…

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As we wandered through the village, we took note of several local artisan shops that were open, and we all went back to purchase some incredibly gorgeous handmade goods.

Rina and the lady in red hand stitched a large tablecloth with fruits and vegetables that I gravitated to immediately when we entered the shop. Thank God for the conversation feature on Google translate in order to make the purchase! Sometimes, though, there is no need for translation – when these ladies were showing me their tablecloth, it was so obvious they took enormous pride in their beautiful work; this tablecloth was flawlessly cross-stitched. I couldn’t say bellisima! enough… they understood how much I loved it, showing them I understood and valued their craftsmanship. Same with the lady on the right, who is a painter. She had some beautiful watercolors of the village, both in modern day and of olden times. We each purchased some of her signed artwork.

Each of the artisans we met in the village showed so much gratitude for our purchases, but clearly, also took tremendous pride in their craft. Nothing was lost in translation when we expressed our love of their work and their pride in their craft.

Our wild welcome day ended with a lovely stop at a restaurant about 20 minutes away. It was Italian country dining at its finest: rustic bruschetta with ricotta and olive oil, local wine; homemade pasta with olive oil, local zucchini and tomatoes and pork; and then slow roasted pork with olive oil and herbs, and a side salad of spinach, parmesan and walnuts; finished with a cookie meant to be dipped in wine.

Buon appetito!

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Salute to great food and even better company!

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CHEERS to the start of an amazing week!

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