Local Butcher

I live here in Tuscany and have been here for fourteen years. It’s a stones throw from Montalcino but my nearest hub is actually a place nobody has ever heard of, called Buonconvento. Population of approx. 3000. Sits on the Via Cassia, the old main road between Siena and Rome.

One of my favourite features is the local butcher run by the Orlandi family which you can find on Via Roma. The meat is excellent quality but the best value for money as far as I’m concerned are the ready prepared meals. We’re not talking processed food .. far from it. It’s things like juicy chicken breasts that have been marinaded in herbs and spices, ready to grill, or the home made meat ragù that you can use for your lasagna.

So if you’re staying in this area and are planning a meal or too in the comfort of your villa this is the place to shop. You can even get your eggs, some local cheeses and other local specialities here.

Another aspect that they’re pursuing and having a huge success with is a roving BBQ – the classic Ape “car” has been converted to house a custom BBQ/Grill and they’ll arrive at your place and cook their meat for you on site. What a fab way to host a dinner party!

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You can find them on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BRACIAPE/

Brains!

brains

One of the many things I love about my job are the people I meet. I’m living in what lots of guests say is everyone’s “Dream” i.e. under the Tuscan Sun! And I’d be the first to say that it’s a beautiful place to have landed and stayed in. However I am in the middle of nowhere in a tiny village of 20 houses and the next biggest town is still only 3000 inhabitants so it’s a little restricted at times with regard to conversation and variety. With the regular guests from the US, UK, Canada, Australia … and so on I have a little peek each day into other lives and other realities. It’s so much fun to talk to everyone about what they do, where they live and where they are traveling/have traveled (my favorite topic!).

This year is proving to be very interesting indeed. One of my favorite days so far was with two Australian gentlemen. They’d left their wives in Chianti to ride horses and came to me for two days of good food and wine.

We’d been talking on the first day about flavors and textures and the subject of brains came up – not intelligence but the eating thereof! I was told that if I could procure a brain they would cook it for me during the lesson next day. I’m always up for a challenge so trotted off to my local (and excellent (more on them another day) butcher) and happily purchased the single sheep’s brain that they had on sale.

So in the middle of cooking very typical Tuscan food .. Pici Pasta, Pesto etc … the various ingredients for a stock (carrots, onion and celery) were chopped finely to make a light broth (boiled for 15 mins). In the meantime capers and basil were diced and chopped and a lemon was sliced. The brain was rinsed and popped into the boiling broth for exactly four minutes. Drained, sliced and plated on the bed of capers and basil, lemon squeezed over the top and tasting spoons at the ready.

I have to interject at this point that my cook Paola was very dubious of the whole process – a good Italian will never admit 1) that anyone outside Italy can cook or 2) that there is anything good outside of Italy to eat. I was jollying her along saying that she must at least taste for politeness sake.

My first taste and I was so happy. It was the consistency of soft foie gras and the tart flavours of the capers and lemon gave it a lovely zing.

Paola took her taste and immediately said she’d be trying it again the next evening for guests at home!

A success all round.

Even the plating was beautiful. Gotta love those Aussies!

Cutting Boards – Wood v Plastic

I get a lot of comments regarding the fact that I have wooden rather than plastic chopping boards and thus the issue of hygiene and bacteria so I’ve started doing a bit of research on the matter. I’ve gathered together snippets from various places to form my argument Pro Wood!

It would seem that wooden boards are not nearly as unhygienic as people have been led to believe. In fact bacteria tends to remain much more in the grooves of plastic boards. Various studies have shown that wood cutting boards contained less salmonella bacteria than plastic. On wood cutting boards, the bacteria sinks “down beneath the surface of the cutting board, where they don’t multiply and eventually die off.” On plastic boards, however, bacteria gets caught in knife grooves that are near impossible to clean out, whether the board is washed by hand or in a dishwasher. So although sparkling new plastic cutting boards might be easy to disinfect, any weathered plastic board will hold onto bacteria.

In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin they tested bacteria known to produce food poisoning – Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli. These bacteria were placed on cutting boards made from seven different species of trees and four types of plastic. All the wooden boards consistently outperformed the plastic.

The scientists found that three minutes after contaminating a board that 99.9 percent of the bacteria on wooden boards had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic. Bacterial numbers actually increased on plastic cutting boards held overnight at room temperature, but the scientists could not recover any bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way.

It’s evident that both wood and plastic will be safer if they’re cleaned well and replaced often. When boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves you need to get new ones.

If both wood and plastic are prone to bacteria if not properly cared for and replaced, it comes down to preference and longevity. I personally prefer a hard wood cutting board* because it won’t develop grooves as easily as plastic and you won’t have to replace it as often if you are diligent about upkeep. (Be sure to always wash and dry your board well, and also lightly rub it with mineral oil to prevent moisture and bacteria from seeping in.) Furthermore, not only will your wood board last, but it will also help your knives last, because hard wood boards won’t dull your blades as quickly as plastic boards will.

*Hardwoods, like maple, are fine-grained, and the capillary action of those grains pulls down fluid, trapping the bacteria – which are killed off as the board dries after cleaning.

It’s also a good habit to use separate cutting boards for raw meat and poultry, and for your vegetables, fruit and prepared food. This limits cross-contamination, which is the biggest danger of all.

Another plus point for wood v plastic is that Wood is completely biodegradable and renewable.

Looking more closely at plastic boards:

Have you every considered that using plastic cutting boards might just be the easiest way to actually eat plastic? They get nicked, cut and scratched. Guess where all the plastic shards end up? And those lovely little nicks and cuts are a favorite nesting spot for bacteria to grow. Hard plastics can contain bisphenol A, which makes plastic strong but can damage the reproductive system, disrupt hormones, mimics estrogen, and is linked to bread and prostate cancer. Not too appetizing.

And no, plastic unfortunately is not more sanitary than wood boards just because you can put them in the dishwasher. Most dishwashers don’t get hot enough to sterilize  (Dishwashers typically reach temperatures of 120-140F, but solid surfaces need to be at a temperature of 250F for 15 minutes to be properly sterilized.) Second, washing plastic cutting boards wears them down, which may make more plastic leach into foods, especially fatty and oily foods

So, in conclusion – I’m sticking to my wooden boards and now have my arguments ready to back up my choice. Thanks for reading. Lesley