When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello. (TIK Tour Day 2, Part 1)
Our driver/hotel-concierge/fixer-of-drinks/good-humored-token-male-during-women-only-week Tony, seemed pleased with himself. We were stopped on a two-way road that was, quite inexplicably, only slightly larger than the width of one vehicle, mere inches away from a solid stone wall. The six women in our group stumbled out of the van, where we were greeted at the gate by Antonio Gargiulo, olive oil maker extraordinaire.
It’s really important that you understand something before we get too involved with my posts about Italy. What you need to understand is that every single man from southern Italy is named Tony. Or Antonio. Or Antonino. Or Tonino. Or just Nino. Sometimes there’s a Salvatore or a Stefano for varietal purposes, but a good rule of thumb is if you’ve forgotten a man’s name anywhere south of Rome, Tony is a pretty good guess.
Tony — Tonino — was our concierge. And Tony — Antonio — was the maker of the olio.
So Tonino left us with Antonio, and the six women of The International Kitchen‘s Women Only Week spent the morning learning how to make two primary culinary representatives of Italy’s Campania region — mozzarella cheese and limoncello. (Pronounced lemon-chello.)
I know. When I think of Italy, I typically think of pasta, too. And don’t worry — it has plenty of that. But it turns out the Mediterranean region surrounding Naples has an entire subculture of cuisine consisting of fresh seafood, tomatoes, chestnuts, cheeses, olives, and lemons, lemons everywhere.
I learned that in Campania, when life hands you lemons, you make limoncello.
But first, the cheese.
Leading our foray into the exciting world of fresh mozzarella was Antonio’s mother, Nonna Rosa.
Nonna means “grandma” in Italian, and by the time we were finished, you’d think she was our grandmother the way she doted.
Nonna Rosa demonstrated several different kinds of cheese-making. I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t paying too much attention to the specifics of the process; instead, I was snapping pictures, taking video, and thinking constantly about when we’d get to taste the cheese.
I kind of have a one-track mind when it comes to food.
It was pretty amazing though to watch as she and Antonio added hot water to the curds in a giant earthenware bowl while she mixed with her undoubtedly calloused bare hands until what looked like a globular mess of liquidy chunks fairly quickly transformed into a silken, smooth strand of the freshest mozzarella, which she then shaped into various shapes like this fun hangy sac:
And this lovely braid:
And this delectable looking cheese wreath:
All I want for Christmas is a cheese wreath.
Nonna Rosa has been making cheese for over six decades, and her skill as an artisan was incredible to watch.
Betsy, one of our group’s two sassy Texans, offered to help with the cheese-making process — something I regret not jumping in and trying myself!
And while she proffered helpful tidbits like, “it feels like egg whites!” the best way to get a feel for how this delicious stuff comes together is to see it for yourself:
After learning all about cheese, just one of the Gargiulo family’s specialties, Antonio showed us a bit of his terraced hillside property, including his small lemon orchard, happy animals, and outdoor kitchen overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Alaina and I were digging the lemons.
Eventually, Antonio led us to a relaxing terrace where we had what in my world constitutes a perfect mid-day meal: local wine, salami, grilled vegetables, bruschetta, fresh tomatoes, and some of the incredible cheese we’d watched Nonna Rosa make earlier. We drizzled everything in Antonio’s olive oil except one of the cheeses, which I doused liberally with his lemon infused oil.
And then I died.
I have no regrets.
One of the things I loved most about this tour (and life in Italy in general) is that I never felt rushed. We could’ve sat on that terrace all day, gabbing in broken English with Antonio and broken Italian with Nonna Rossa, and I don’t think anyone would’ve gotten bored.
(Betsy and Renee, the Texans; Jessica and Valerie, daughter/mother Californians; Alaina, my bff; Antonio, olive oil and limoncello genius.)
Just when I thought my stomach couldn’t get happier, Nonna Rosa brought out some homemade tarts.
And of course, there was limoncello.
Here’s the thing about limoncello — people tend to love it or hate it. I happen to love it. It’s a viscous, sweet, adult-spiked lemonade. As my dad would say, “It puts hair on your chest.”
Antonio demonstrated how he makes his particular version, with lots of lemon peel, grain alcohol, and sugar water. That’s basically it.
Feeling pretty good and liquored up at this point, chest hair and all, Antonio strategically took us to his shop room where he and his wife store their various bottled oils before shipping to various vendors. There, he let us peruse the shelves and purchase different plain and flavored oils to take home. I bought a large tin of plain olive oil, and a gift pack of smaller sized flavored oils and I know that once I use it up, it’s going to be really hard to go back.
After traveling extensively throughout the U.S. and UK as a chef, Antonio found he couldn’t deny the familial pull that led him back home after his father passed away. And ever since then, he’s been striving to grow a family business that plays into his culinary passions.
Often, people seem to dislike taking tours when they travel because tours imply other — they tend to represent an “us” and “them” mentality that separates us — the tourists — from them — the locals. To that, I have two things to say:
1) If you don’t live in a place — and especially if you weren’t born there — it’s very likely there’s going to be an “us” and a “them” regardless of whether you’re traveling with a tour group or not.
2) A well-executed tour is going to give you an opportunity to interact with some locals far beyond a casual exchange with a waiter or a chance encounter at a bar. A tour can provide a local with the opportunity to educate visitors about his country, his livelihood, his passion — and get paid for it.
I could already tell from the first half of Day 1 that The International Kitchen pulls the local experience off seamlessly.
And if I ever make it back to this tiny village by the sea, I know where I’ll be buying my olive oil.
Disclosure: My Women’s Only Week Culinary Vacation was provided for review by The International Kitchen. Rest assured, though, that all opinions — as always — are entirely my own.
I’m hungry, I’m happy, I’m sad. I want to eat that amazing lunch every day and I want some limoncello and I want to hang out with Tony and Nonna. Please send them here so I can be happy. What a great experience. Thanks for taking me with you, but next time, really, take me with you!
It really was a fun experience! And I’d definitely recommend going to Tony and Rosa — not having them come to you — because being in Italy was half of the fun! :)
These are all the reasons that I want to move to Italy. Retire in Italy. Or just spends lot more time. The food. The wine. The olive oil. The pace of life. I am a lover of limoncello, which I learned to love from the Italians in the Ticino area of Switzerland. There was a shop near my office in the French side that sold it in home batches from his family in that part of Switzerland. It wasn’t until later that I had the Italian version – also awesome. We have brought back bottles of both olive oil and limoncello on every consecutive trip. We have an empty suitcase and a scale just for that. I will say that I have not tasted a single commercially produced American version of Limoncello that is good – all of it has been terribly bad but I am sure there are probably home cooks out here that can rock it. Oh Italy, I love you. Don’t tell anyone but I love it more than France right now.
WOW! I had all of these responses in my head while reading your comment, but the last sentence completely threw me for a loop. I think I’m in shock!! :) Italy was so amazing, I really want to go back — I have so much more to explore! I didn’t have enough room in my bag to bring home any limoncello, so next time I’m definitely using your method of just bringing and empty suitcase and a scale. I’d only had limoncello once before going to Italy, and fortunately it was from Justin’s uncle who made it from the lemon tree in his Northern California back yard, so yes. His was delicious. :)
I’m in LOVE with those pictures of Nonna Rosa making cheese. You captured such an uplifting dedication and passion for what’s she’s doing. I love eating cheese but this makes me want to actually learn about it! (Although I’d probably be quickly distracted by the eating part.)
Aw, thanks! Yeah I thought the same thing — I’m not sure I have the patience to make it — I just want to EAT it. :)
This makes me miss Italy so much! I feel like there are a lot of countries that I visit where I’m glad to check off my bucket list.. but Italy is one where I feel like I can go back to over and over again! I really love the lifestyle where nothing feels too rushed.. and people just know how to enjoy life. :)
Exactly! And the FOOD. It’s hard to beat that food. :)
Not only do your photos and descriptions make me long for Italy, I especially want to do a TIK tour. How could anyone reading this not?
You would LOVE this tour. It’s a great balance of fun and relaxation, and you don’t have to worry about a thing!
Hi Katie! Loving your stories and photos of your Italian trip! Looks like you had a fab time. I love NONNA! How cute is that woman? The first photo of her – – – she looks so beautiful. Your comment about Limoncello is spot on…..my sisters think it tastes like what Pledge would taste if you drank it…ha, ha, ha….I like it and make it as well…not that difficult and fun gifts to give away.Anyway…..love post and pics!
Lol I will never understand those who don’t like Limoncello — if anything tastes like cleaning fluid might taste, it’s gotta be grappa. ;) Nonna IS beautiful! It’s gotta be that amazing Italian diet and lifestyle. You’re one lucky girl to live there!
Katie!!!! GRAPPA!!! My father is from northern Italy where that stuff is the norm. But I HAVE to tell you…that a few months ago, I bought some super strong cleaning alcohol (in one final attempt to get streak -free clean windows) and when I opened the bottle I started laughing and laughing, because I tell you – – it smelled EXACTLY like Grappa! Gosh!!!! Pure rocket fuel that stuff!
Well that explains why I didn’t have any in southern Italy but definitely had some in Tuscany! (Although is Tuscany considered northern or central Italy?) But YES — I’m guessing I could use grappa as a digestif OR to power my car. It’s multi-purpose! Ha!
I LOVE THIS! Love the video, love the cheese, love Nonna, love the keetees, love the lemons, and I haven’t every been to Italy, but I love Italy already! You did an excellent job of portraying the slow pace and family nature of this place. Looks like a BLAST, can’t wait to read about your next adventure!
Aw, thank you Carrie!! There’s a lot more where this came from — I hope you’re not sick of me writing about Italy still when Christmas rolls around. ;)
Limoncello, a cheese making nonna and adorable kitties? That must be what heaven is like.
It felt pretty dang close.
[…] we returned to our sanctuary of a hotel in the early afternoon after a long, luxurious morning of learning how to make mozzarella cheese and limoncello, at which point we had a few hours to ourselves. Some walked into town for gelato, others took […]
[…] As I stated in the tweet I published while sharing Katie of Domestiphobia‘s post from her escapades with The International Kitchen in Italy, I literally want to crawl inside and live in her post! It definitely illustrates why Italy is so […]
Oh. My. God.
This post made me soooo hungry. One thing that I wish I would have done in Italy was cook – and with a nonna would have been perfect.
That mozzarella cheese braid? Looks like heaven!
I know!! I just want to lie on the couch with a good chick flick, glass of wine, and that cheese braid draped across my chest. My needs are simple. :)
[…] driver, Tony, (different from Tonino and Antonio of yore) picked us up from Pompeii and dropped us off at the lush, soothing, Cantina del Vesuvio for an […]
HOLY! That lunch is the stuff of my dreams. Sitting and lounging and gabbing in all the broken languages and drizzling the olive oil on everything too of course. I had NO idea how mozzarella was made, so that video was a real eye opener. I loved watching how her hands worked it all slowly and patiently. Amazing. And then what a cool final product. Oh yeah, and THE CATS!!! <3
Looking back, it feels like a dream. There’s really no aspect of that trip that wasn’t enjoyable — except for the fact that it didn’t last long enough. And that “basket cheese” was SO amazing with a drizzle of his lemon-infused olive oil. I’m salivating now…
[…] there is rapidly expanding — the choices extending far beyond drone-like mass groups. From learning how to make the silkiest mozzarella to zipping around the Tuscan countryside on a little red Vespa, there’s a plethora of choices […]
[…] name. There’s a good chance it was Magnus, though. Magnus is apparently to western Sweden as Antonio is to southern Italy.) Knowing we’d be exhausted from several days of driving through western Sweden, the family […]