Serata Toscana celebrated the fabulous food and wines of Tuscany. The event was held at La Locanda, the award-winning Italian restaurant based in Gisburn, Lancashire. Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of Col d’Orcia, one of Tuscany’s most active producers of Brunello di Montalcino wines, was the special guest.
Considered to be one of Italy’s premier red wines, Brunello di Montalcino is made using 100% Sangiovese grapes and only produced in the Tuscan hill town of Montalcino. Respectful of the natural environment around them the Col d’Orcia winery, which was founded in 1890, was awarded fully organic status in 2010 and 108 hectares of the farm is dedicated to the growing of the grape Sangiovese ‘Brunello’. In addition to this they grow various other grape varieties, and over 5,000 olive tress which produce an excellent quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
The evening commenced with us enjoying an aperitif in the bar, which had been specially created to welcome La Locanda's venerable Italian guest.
The aperitif featured the extra virgin olive oil produced at Col d’Orcia, as well as Cinzano, the well-known vermouth which bears the Count’s family name. Also, just to set our taste buds going, the aperitif was accompanied with a delicious bruschetta, the tomatoes absolutely bursting with pungent garlic and lubricated beautifully with the superbly spicy Col d’Orcia EV olive oil.
Moving upstairs to the restaurant, the Count gave us a wonderful talk (in perfect English) on the history of the vineyard, the production methods they use and the selection of wines we were about to enjoy with the meal.
We were first presented with two varieties of Tuscan bread. One was made with around 10% olive oil, the other 40% and the difference in textures was really interesting. The lower oil content bread had a crust similar to a regular bread, whilst the other was much softer and similar in texture to focaccia.
Next out was a delicious platter of antipasto, each meat a speciality of the Tuscany region: Wild Boar Mortadella with truffle – a wonderfully smooth textured sausage with deliciously earthy notes of truffle; Lightly Smoked Goose Breast – although each one was delicious, this was my absolute favourite and the smokiness complimented the rich goose meat beautifully.
Salami di Cinta Senese – a lovely intensity to the flavour and the name refers to the particular breed of pig the pork comes from (one which looks like our Saddleback). Bresaola di Chianina – The Chianina breed of cow used to produce this cured meat is one that’s indigenous to the Tuscany region and the meat is carefully massaged to encourage the absorption of flavours.
The antipasto was accompanied by a Banditella Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2012, which complimented the flavours of the meats perfectly well. Rosso di Montalcino is still produced using 100% Sangiovese but requires less ageing, only a minimum of 1 year compared to the 2 ½ years minimum required for Brunello di Montalcino. Typically, this produces a lighter and fresher wine.
Primi Piatti - Pici con Ragu’ di Colombaccio (homemade pici pasta with wood pigeon ragu). Not ‘saucy’, as I would usually expect from a ragu, this was a dry dish and really accentuated the deliciously rich flavour of the wood pigeon. The homemade pici pasta had a lovely texture and the dish really came alive drizzled with Col d’Orcia EV olive oil.
This dish brought with it our first taste of the much anticipated Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino.
The accompanying Brunello di Mantalcino DOCG 2011 was a really complex wine with huge notes of red berry fruit and plums, and made a wonderful accompaniment to the really flavoursome wood pigeon.
Secondi Piatti di Pesce – Cacciuco di Pesce Azzuro con Gnocchi Soffiati (Mediterranean fish stew with homemade light puff gnocchi). Perfectly cooked chunks of fish in a fabulous tomato broth, accompanied with a type of gnocchi I’d not experienced before.
Gnocchi soffiati isn’t the potato dumpling I’m generally familiar with, it’s less regular in shape and has a much different texture, almost like pureed potato. The finished dish was topped off with fennel leaf, a good friend of fish it delivered a nice complimenting freshness to a superb course.
The wine accompanying our fish course was a Pinot Grigio DOC Sant’Antimo 2013. The wine provided excellent balance to the strong flavours of the fish and the acidity left a fresh and spicy aftertaste.
Secondi Piatti di Carne – Coniglio in Porchetta con Fagioli all’Uccelletto (Boneless rabbit filled sausage, sage and prociutto Toscano DOP, served with cannellini beans “all’uccelletto” cooked in a bottle with tomato, sage and garlic
If asked to pick one, this would probably be my favourite dish of the night. The thin fillet of rabbit meat was wrapped in pancetta and both enveloped a really tasty sausage meat filling which was delicately flavoured with fennel. Served with cannellini beans in a sauce of tomato, garlic and sage, this was a very filling and comforting dish that I’d quite happily consume time again and time again.
The Poggio al Vento Brunello Riserva DOCG 2007 complimented the rabbit dish beautifully. The hint of aromatic herbs from this deep ruby red wine and a spicy finish suited the dish nicely.
Formaggi - Pecorino, un Signor Formaggio (A selection of matured Pecorino cheeses: “Toscano DOP”, “al tartufo” with truffles, “di grotta” strong and spicy matured in caves)
Made with ewe’s milk, Pecorino is a hard cheese and can be used as an alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano. Pecorino Romano is the one I’m most familiar with and its intense saltiness is great with carbonara and other pasta dishes. Although the truffle flavoured cheese was really good, on the night, I particularly enjoyed the Pecorino di Grotta (aged in caves for a minimum of four months), it has really good complexity of flavours and none of the saltiness you get with the Toscano DOP.
Olmaia Sant’Antimo Cabernet DOC 2012 accompanied the cheeses. Although a little tannic, it had all the characteristics of a good Cabernet and I enjoyed it alongside the cheeses very much.
Dolci - Sfogliatina con Crema al Moscadello (Homemade pistachio and almond puff pastry with Moscadello DOC wine crème). A pleasant enough dessert, although the light puff-pastry could have used a little more of the wine crème filling, for me.
The highlight of the dessert, however, was the wine. Moscadello di Montalcino Pascena DOC, deep golden in colour, delicate and elegant, and with excellent balance between sweetness and acidity – delicious!
All in all, a very special evening – the food at La Locanda is surely as authentic as any you’ll find in Italy and definitely not what you’d experience in the majority of British Italian restaurants. The hospitality you’ll experience is first-rate, just like you’re part of the family, and the passion they have for sharing their homeland’s food heritage and combining it with great local produce is exceptional.
La Locanda is located in Gisburn, a village on the periphery of Lancashire's Ribble Valley and an area of outstanding natural beauty. You can visit their website for more information, here.