Reflections on a Month in Monforte

Monforte d’Alba

The days are beginning to get a little shorter and the mornings a little colder, and suddenly we find that we have been in Monforte for over a month now.

In the way of travelling, in some regards it seems like we only just left Adelaide and yet in others it feels like we have been here forever. Continue reading

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Monforte Through the Eyes of Master T

Something different from Counting to Dieci today!

Our four year old wanted to take some photos of our village to send to his friends at home. So, post the lunchtime rest, we took the iPhone and T took us through the town taking photos of things he wanted to share.

He took quite a few photos and we thought it may provide a different view of our little village.

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Gorgonzola Mixed with Champagne

‘Cheese’ in Bra

On the weekend we went into Bra (a smallish town about 20kms from Monforte and home to the Slow Food movement) for an International Cheese festival.

Every second year Slow Food holds an international cheese festival – called ‘Cheese’ – that takes over the centre of Bra for the weekend.

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The Quest for Flat Roads

Langhe Riding

I have finally managed to get out onto the local roads and roll the legs over. The weather has been perfect– sunny and warm without the stifling humidity of last week – and putting the summer knicks and jersey on without thermals, boots and gloves was a joy.

For those of you that know me, the fact that it has taken me this long may be puzzling. However, the practical realities of waiting for the bike to arrive, getting ourselves in order and then finding the right time to introduce myself to the local roads has meant after a week and a half I have managed to get out. (For those of you that know me very well, the fact that Monforte is a hill top town with a reasonable descent to get anywhere – taking my time will not surprise you in the slightest!).

The minor challenge that I have is riding on the right hand side. When driving, having a gear stick, rear vision mirror and a passenger on your right provides a good guide. Without these on the bike, I’m fine so long as there is conscious thought about each t-junction, and I avoid roundabouts at all costs…

Climbing and climbing, Bossolasco

I went with JL, one of the local Australians who knows the area very well and we rode a 30km loop out into the Alta Langhe. From Monforte, we rode down a stunning descent with sweeping bends between the vines and some pretty impressive views down into the valleys.

Then, paraphrasing Newton’s first law of bike riding (that each descent is followed by an equally long but nastier climb), this was followed by a solid climb back up out of the Dogliani valley to Bossolasco (the town is as charming as its name) and a rolling run home.

Fountana Azzurra and JL

We did stop for a refill at the top – in a very civilised and Italian way, each town has a public drinking fountain and the one in Bossolasco is renowned for its water.

The afternoon was perfect for riding and each bend would open up a view that was more spectacular than the last.

As you ride through the area at the moment, the roadside scenery alternates between the ordered rows of vineyards in the middle of vintage; to hazelnut groves that have just completed their harvest; to pretty little villages, each of which you want to stop and explore (particularly as the hills get steeper). All of this is interspersed by full summer meadows and capped by the grandeur of the semi-circular ring of Alps on the horizon.

My apologies for the quality of the photos – they were taken on the iphone as I rode along. Whilst the equipment was limited, I suspect the pounding of my heart in my ears didn’t do much to steady my hand.

Riding with this on your right shoulder is hard to take!

It was a brilliant intro to riding in these hills and it was great to be back on the bike. The luxury of being able to do something that I really love in such a brilliant location is taking some getting used to!

Saturday is Market Day in Alba

Piazza Risogimento, Alba 

Alba, the primary regional centre about 15kms from our village, is a pretty little town that was apparently settled well before the Romans established a colony on the site in 100BC (here ends today’s history lesson). The centre of the town is filled with old cobbled streets that meander between the town’s two principal squares and occasionally (and seemingly at random) spill into smaller piazzas.

Saturday is market day and all of these cobbled streets and piazzas fill up with market stalls. The streets leading off the principal piazza are filled with clothing and footwear, which gradually melds into leather goods and accessories, before opening into a small square filled with home wares and hardware (an outdoor Bunnings if you will). A small side street then opens onto the large piazza on the edge of the old town where fresh produce is sold in a covered market.

Via Cavour, Alba

There was a general sense of ordered chaos with a rhythm of its own that worked. Some stalls are exceptionally well set up – the fishmonger for example has a pretty serious truck that serves from areas that expand out like the America RVs and hydraulic posts that level the vehicle – while others appear to have arrived with a bootload of shoes and spread themselves along the footpath.

Often the market stalls in the street are selling goods that directly compete with the permanent stores they have set up in front of. The stores are open so I can only imagine the conversations that must go on!

What struck me was the fact that there wasn’t the pomp (or is it snobbery) that you can sometimes experience in farmers markets or the strict regulations in others that create a sense of stifled entrepreneurship. The town was the market and the market was about function and servicing locals rather than about creating an artificial event or tourist experience. It seems that the stallholders have their regular spots but clothes are mixed with fresh fruit; while the small goods stall sells some cheese and the cheese stall sells some prosciutto crudo.

Covered Market in Alba

There seems to be a protocol for selecting and paying for your fresh fruit and veg but despite watching a number of different stalls, the nuances have escaped me.

Sometimes you need to select your own and sometimes it will be selected for you. Other times you need to indicate which item you want and it will be bagged up for you and then there was the guy who would ask you to select the pieces of fruit and then give you the ones that he wanted to sell anyway…

I am sure that there is some unwritten, age-old protocol that is very well understood and that we will need to learn. In the interim, we are taking a low key approach in an effort to not offend in our first couple of weeks.

The weather here has been baking hot and very humid over the past couple of weeks so the fresh fruit and veg have taken a bit of a hit. There have been some requests for a pomodoro update but that is going to have to wait. With the weather, the pomodoro are tasting fine but even their mothers don’t think they are particularly attractive so the photos are not looking the best.

Fresh Market Produce, Alba

However, should you have the urge to buy some peperoni, the stalls are overflowing – verde, giallo, rosso, as small as a plum or as big as a shoe. A post about capsicum doesn’t have the same ring to it though.

Australians will appreciate that, as sacrilegious as it seems, the highlight for the boys has been bananas at  €1/kg. The highlight for Jo and I remains the ‘Bufala’ (Mozzarella di Bufala Campana). They are like nothing we have tasted before and T is referring to the Bufala as his “cheese balls”.

Bufala per Pranzo

They are smooth and creamy on the inside but not at all stretchy and rubbery on the outside – divine with fresh ciabatta, pomodoro e basilica, which was our Saturday lunch.

We keep checking that we are not just caught in the romance of the adventure but we remain pretty confident that an impartial judge would find the Bufala as impressive as it seems.

The Saturday market visit is pretty certain to remain a permanent fixture on our weekly family calendar.