Friday, July 20, 2012

On the Road From Pienza to Montepulciano

Our Italian wandering continues from where we left Pienza . After touring the Palazzo Piccolomini and the garden a break for lunch is called for. In and around Pienza there are several places to eat, the problem is to choose just one. We decided to try one that we had not tried before. We remembered one.... Latte di Luna it has been on our list of places to try and we pretty much stumbled upon it walking through town.

We were seated outside under the shade of an umbrella on an ever so gorgeous Tuscan afternoon . Latte di Luna is known for grilled and roasted meats as well as house made pastas. Arugula salads began this meal. So, with our vegetable requirement accounted for it was on to pasta. Since we were having porchetta for dinner we opted to not have meat for lunch. Looking back we should have ordered one grilled meat dish to share. We had order envy each time we saw one of those meat dishes get delivered to a nearby table!
Oh time.... Being that Pienza is the center of pecorino cheese I had to have the pici pasta ( another regional gem) with pecorino and pepper. A perfect bowl of pasta.

And since it was spring and artichoke season James, without hesitation, ordered Artichoke Lasagne.

The artichoke lasagne was unbelievably flavorful and lighter than you would expect since it is made with only three thin layers of pasta with a puree of artichoke between the layers with a grating of pecorino cheese.
We will be making this in our kitchen!

Before leaving Pienza we generally stop at the Consorzio Agrario to pick up a few items. The Agrario is a co-op market that features local foods and wines. The dried porcini mushrooms they sell here are the best we have found.

Back on the road we stopped for a look back to view Pienza perched up on the hill that overlooks this beautiful place known as the Val d'orcia. It has magic, this brilliant city on the hill along the ancient pilgrims route.

Next stop is caseificio Cugesi for pecorino.

You would think after our pecorino centic lunch and being immersed in the wafting aroma of pecorino that fills the streets of Pienza, we would have had our fill of cheese for the day. Nope.
We followed the sign.

The "white road" bianca strada is narrow and opens up to this more than spectacular view across the valley of farms, olives groves, tracts of winter wheat, grasslands and sheep. The sheep that provide the Tuscan pecorino that we were seeking at the end of this dirt road.

There are several kinds of pecorino cheese, young or fresco, stagionato is more aged, the award winning gran riserva, and so on. This image from a tee-shirt is a good primer for pecorinos! Buy a shirt and then try all the different kinds available, or at least choose a few to try.

Oh, so many wheels of pecorino. My favorite is a semi -stagionata. On the day we were there they had this beautiful fresh ricotta.

We were shown this ricotta and of course we had to buy some. This ricotta has nothing to do with the ricotta that is sold in plastic tubs in grocery stores. This ricotta is simply exquisite.

There are several picnic tables outside the Cugesi shop. This is grand because you can bring bread, salads, and then go inside and buy fresh cheese , especially if ravaggiolo ( the first curd) is available ....and eat right here.
This will be your view as you picnic al fresco with a Val D'Orcia view over to Montepulciano, with the Catherdral of San Biagio sitting boldly below the city.

Our purchases of ricotta and pecorino made, it was then time to get back into the car , drive up the white road to the main road and continue on towards Montepulciano. Being that this road is rather winding and narrow and we thought better than to try to stop for a photo of San Biagio so I took this picture of San Biagio from our car as we passed by.

The first time James and I saw this church was a number of years ago when we were having lunch at La Chiusa in Montefollonico. After we finished one of the finest lunches we had ever experienced, the owner took us for a walk of the grounds where he pointed out a church in the distance, the "White Church" Chiesa bianca. The church he pointed out was San Biagio. Although it hardly needed to be brought to our attention because it's white travertine was radiant in the late afternoon sun drawing our full attention immediately to it.

San Biagio was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder. The construction began in 1518 on the site of a former palaeochristian site. It is an excellent example of High Renaissance architecture.

Sangallo designed this church based on the central plan of the Greek cross. It is of grand scale, I might say immense. Sangallo was looking to a design with a perfection in geometry with circles and squares.

The high relief rosette details of the arches take the eye up to the monumental dome where sun light comes through to light the interior space.
At the time the construction of San Biagio was a huge project, the only other project that was larger was St. Peter's in Rome.

The avenue that leads in and out of San Biagio is cypress lined. I love these tree lined roads of Tuscany and Umbria and this one is spectacular in scale. Before we left Montepulciano we needed to make one more stop. The last stop was for some wine, Vino Nobile was what we were after.
OK. with that done it was time to return "home" to Panicale.

Most of the time our rental car ends up being the alright but average variety the likes of a small Ford Focus or VW, and one time a real albatross, an Opal Astra.
For some reason this time, perhaps it was the luck of the draw, we were handed the keys to this sweet Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
We were always ready for a road trip in this!
Back in Panicale "our" Alfa parked for the night we walked to the villa known locally as The Pink Palace , dropped off our purchases and made our way over to Aldo and Daniella's
Bar Gallo for prosecco.
Then it was time to return to our kitchen to prepare dinner.

A great day!

Quick reference:

Trattoria Latte di Luna
Via San Carlo, 2-4
Pienza, (Tuscany) Italy
open for lunch & dinner ( closed Tues.)

Caseificio Cugusi
Montepulciano, (Tuscany), Italy
the caseificio is off the main road between Pienza and Montepulciano.
Coming from the direction of Montepulciano it is about 3 kms. then a right hand turn.
Watch for the sign.

San Biagio
Via San Biagio

Bar Gallo
Piazza Umberto Primo
Panicale, (Umbria) Italy

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