Later that evening after unwinding in our rooms, walking down the dimly lit hallway you could faintly smell the evening’s meals being prepared – a hint of truffle with a strong smell of warmth from a homemade meal. The door to the dining room crept open, and per usual, a smiling Giovanni greeted us on the other side, almost like he knew we were coming. The room was glowing with candles and the overhead light. Giovanni stood before us in a formal grey suit and tie, informing us that he would again be taking care of us for the evening. The waiters strutting, almost gliding across the room, were all in tuxedos. Within moments of being seated, the world class whirlwind of service commenced. A tray of blue and green glasses came to the table – coordinating with who wanted fizzy or natural water. Two trays of bread sticks came, being carried like delicate birdcages by the small wire handle on top. The bread, accompanied by individual butter plates, was followed by a salad served family style. Opting to try the house wine from the grapes we tasted earlier on our bike ride, proved a steady flow of full glasses all night long. For an appetizer selection we chose the culatello and cheese platter, which we were told went perfectly together.
Earlier, after our bike ride, Giovanni took us into the cellar of the castle where he had a surprise for us. As we walked down the cold stone stairs, that familiar smell from the entryway crept up on us again. He opened a large, locked wooden door where thousands of culatello hung from the walls, ceilings and anywhere you could find space. These were the meats that were in the second stage of their drying. Room after room of this underground cellar was stocked full with these hanging masses. Signs made of wood hung from special pieces of meat, were nameplates claiming ownership for those who were lucky enough to afford such a delicacy. Prince Albert, Armani and a few other recognizable names all had staked their claim on their special cured meat. We came to a long, narrow, somewhat dungeon like hallway that had a strategically lit path since again the walls and ceilings were crammed full of hanging hams. Guiding us through a small door in the middle of the hall, hidden behind a tapestry of the culatello, a new smell came over us. This room was where their handmade wheels of Parmesan cheese were held to age. Stacked on shelves of dark, antique looking wood, each wheel had its own special marking as well as type of Parmesan it was. The newer wheels still had fat dripping from their outer rind, looking like diluted raindrops; we couldn’t wait to try it all later.
It was this aged culatello, 18, 27 and 36 months, as well as their aged Parmesan that we got to sample at dinner. The culatello was so buttery that it melted in your mouth as soon as it hit your tongue. The homemade Parmesan cheese had the perfect smoky yet tangy taste that makes Parmesan so wonderful. Paired with their house honey, the cheese and honey combination made for the most incredible salty and sweet sensation on your tongue.The cheese selections were wheeled out on a wooden cutting board cart, ready to be cut into samples for all of us. Along with the honey, there were three types of jams to pair with the rest of the cheeses provided. Sparkling white wine kept flowing and before long our appetizers were polished off and as a small palette cleanser, right before our main course, Giovanni brought out a plate for each of us and in the center, sitting on an incredibly bright, mossy green puree, was a serving of zucchini, eggplant, carrot ratatouille. The green bed on which it lay was a pea puree, which accented the ratatouille perfectly. One plate after another, the waiters in tuxedos drifted about the room, changing silverware and filling water after every time someone finished off their course. On an antique silver cart, our dinner was rolled out to our table and presented in the most formal of fashions. Looking down and around the table at our plates was like we were in a 5-star, world class, gourmet restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We had all ordered something different so we could try as many of the courses as possible. There was a “crispy black piggy” with plums, fried frogs legs which were perched on a bed of mashed potatoes; the little legs no bigger than a quarter; tasting more like poultry than anything else.. We had the chef’s risotto which looked like a patchwork pattern of colorful vegetables that contrasted perfectly on the stark white risotto. My plate came out steaming with a beautiful arrangement of duck, drizzled with plum sauce, on a bed of roasted vegetables. Like most dinners we passed around our plates so we could all try the fabulous food. Each bite had an incredibly different taste and texture, making your taste buds water for more of what was to come. Four amazing main courses, two types of appetizers, one palette cleansing dish and what seemed like an unlimited waterfall of wine later – we all agreed it would be wrong not to try their desserts.
(Food in order from top to bottom: ratatouille on pureed peas, aged culatello, duck with plums, frogs legs, crispy black pig & risotto)
Dessert was brought much like dinner, on the fancy silver cart. As a sampler to start, they brought four little plates and a large rectangular platter scattered with bite sized tastes of fudge, candied ginger, small cookies and apricot candy. Each new sample had a different taste, texture and experience associated with it. Each of us had once again ordered four different things so we could maximize our tasting options. A white cake sitting in a pool of mixed berry juice, topped with mascarpone ice cream, was striking against the white table cloth. There was a trio of plums; plum jam, plum crème Brulee and a plum liqueur, all made on site. A plate of apples diced finely and cured in a gelatin on a cookie made for a more refreshing burst of flavor. Chamomile cream puffs sat on mascarpone ice cream, topped with peaches and drizzled with a warm and smooth caramel sauce. The infusions of flavors that each dessert had was unlike anything I had ever tasted. It was as though each was made on the spot as soon as you ordered; the freshness of each homemade and homegrown ingredient amplified with every bite. Ending the night with tea and coffee, we all sat back, looking around and all we could do was smile. The ambiance of the room, the waiters in tuxedos, Giovanni, who was genuinely interested if everything had met our standards; everything about that evening had been perfect. It was more than perfect, it had been magical.
(Dessert in order from top to bottom: Madeline’s with candied ginger and a plum, assorted dessert bites, cream puffs with peaches and caramel, creme brulee, gelatin apples on a cookie, white cake on a bed of berries and marscapone ice cream)
Wanting to get up early and take photos, we asked Giovanni if he could leave two bikes out for us. He told us he would keep them inside, ready for us whenever we needed them. Bidding him goodnight, we all made our way upstairs, but not before we stole a look at the full moon and how it was shimmering in the sky, contrasting with the bright golden glow of the grounds. Staring back at Antica Corte, one could really feel the passion put into this place. In their pamphlet it reads, “Una grande passione da sempre” or “A lifetime’s passion” and you could tell that nothing but pure love and passion came out of this vision for this place.
© Rachel Davidson and Wine, Dine and Wander, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Rachel Davidson and Wine, Dine and Wander with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.