This time Carlo Macchi takes the stand:
"Nothing planned for tonight. I'll take you to the Agriturismo and come get you at 9 tomorrow. Oh yeah, I forgot. Tonight is the cook's night off, and the agriturismo's restaurant is closed. But the owner will make certain you eat something."
As I thought this speech over my morale sank the floor, as I saw myself spending a sad night with the fireflies and (I hoped) a few slices of salami. And as I pondered my fate, we arrived at Casale Verde Luna.
I peer about. We're in the vineyards of the Cesanese, a few kilometers from Piglio. The place is a large farmhouse, nicely renovated and perfectly set into the landscape. As I enter I think to myself that at the very least the place isn't bad.
And the interior is nice too! Country furniture, but of quality, welcoming atmosphere, and even more welcoming is the owner, Lino Nardone, who was a merchant in Rome before deciding to move to the country and run an agriturismo and winery... and this gives me pause, because when a winery is introduced as an Agriturismo I usually wonder about the quality of the wines. At the entrance, however, there's a nice picture of a Wine Guru listing five wines one must try, including one of Lino's. This is both good and bad, because what the Wine Guru likes I often don't. Well, then, one might say, "there's no pleasing you!" But that's one of my strong points.
In the meantime I have taken possession of my room and, camera in hand, have taken a walk in the vineyards. When I get back Lino takes me to the cellars and tells me about the winery, which, despite making 15,000 bottles per year, invests heavily in the Agriturismo and especially the restaurant.
The story is one we've heard before. In 2000 Lino discovers the place, which is dominated by a ruin. He falls in love with it, restructures it, and plants a vineyard, and by 2004 Casale Verde Luna is an agriturismo, restaurant and winery, in whichever order you please.
I usually don't speak of individual wines, but before coming to the main entry, the restaurant, I cannot help but say that I agree with the Wine Guru's opinion of Lino's wine. His Amor 2007 is perhaps the best Cesanese I have ever tasted. Lino opens it before dinner and I manage to taste it seriously (i.e. without food) only with difficulty. Indeed, all sorts of things were appearing on the table: pepperoni, porchetta, fresh ricotta, 20-month old pecrino di fossa, fruit compotes and so on. Between one morsel and the next the story continues, with two women: Donata Grazini, who has been in the kitchen from the beginning, and Diana Spaziani, who arrived in 2005. Diana is sitting with me and tells me her story; despite her very young age she already had 5 years of experience in the trenches, from dish washing to grilling to the stove in a restaurant in which her aunt cooked. Then she spent time managing the kitchen, concentrating especially on banquets. In short, a path (from the standpoint of wanting to improve) that would have felled an ox. Diana instead came through unscathed, and in 2005 took up residence at Lino's small court. With Donata she runs the kitchen, which, in moments of quiet, also produces marmalades, pickles, and more, which are sold together with the wine not just in the Agriturismo, but also at a specialty market in Rome.
While Diana and Lino talk I eat and drink, because what's on the table is really good. Diana tells me to go easy because she's heating the vegetarian lasagna left over from lunch. I'm not wild about lasagna (I know, I'm impossible to please) and therefore greet the square yard of lasagna with resignation. Resignation that comes to an end with the first nibble! The lasagna is home made, using the same hand-cranked machine home cooks use, loaded with fresh vegetables and tomato-free meat sauce: Incredible!I finished it off in record time, while Diana said what she did. I'll reveal just one secret: despite their being light and very easy to digest, the vegetables are lightly fried, and this makes the flavors meld beautifully. After, a series of homemade desserts, including fantastic anise-laced sweet taralli.
I stopped there in the evening, but enjoyed a full meal the next day. The agriturismo specializes in antipasti and first course dishes, with grilled or roasted meats as well.
You'll want to concentrate on the antipasti, with seasonal dishes: fried vegetables, vegetable tarts, cold cuts and select cheeses. The first courses are better, however: strozzapreti with baccalà ragù, potato gnocchi with smoked provola cheese, spaghettini with wild garlic, hot pepper, and fresh pecorino cheese, tonnarelli with crayfish, frascatelli with chickpea cream, porcini mushrooms and rosemary. Lino goes from table to table, dispensing food, advice and wine, his, which are all good and nicely priced.
When all is done you'll have spent about 35 Euros, from antipasto to dessert, and rise from the table quite satisfied. One thing! Don't think that all this bounty is available daily: the agriturismo is open only on weekends and holidays. If you want to enjoy it on another day, make sure your party numbers about 40.
Casale Verde Luna
Strada Vicinale della Civitella, 03010, Piglio (FR)
Mail: info (AT) casaleverdeluna (DOT) it
Open weekends and holidays. Closed January.
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.
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