I really don't know where to begin. It feels as though I've been away from home for several months, and it's actually been a week and a half.
I'll start with the farm, because that's freshest in my mind. Once I digest everything I ate at the Cheese Festival, I'll talk about that (but it could be several weeks until you hear anything).
I arrived at Podere Le Fornaci on the 22nd, a beautiful sunny day. The farm is is just a few kilometres from the town Greve in Chianti in the heart of Tuscany. Too many people have written flowery descriptions of this area, so I will keep it simple. The cliches are entirely true; the landscape consists of rolling hills, vineyards thick with dark purple grapes, and ancient nonas hanging out of shuttered stone windows. In other words, if you live in an area with stairmaster-like inclines and drink lots of wine, you'll live to be 101.
Podere Le Fornaci is found at the end of a long driveway with two very old stone houses sitting across from one another at the bottom of a hill. A flat yard to one side is filled with trees, chickens, dogs, and the trailer where the WWOOFers sleep. The other side rises steeply up to the goat stables, and of course the goats! Behind this hill, and on just about every other surrounding ridge, are vineyards full of grapes being harvested this week. My hosts are Gabriele and Elisa, two hard-working people who I've felt comfortable with from the start.
The big house and yard are a charming, organized chaos. For example, the stairs leading to the second floor of the big house are partially blocked by a pile of giant squash, and it's easy to trip over toys, brooms, cats and/or children when stepping out the front door.
When I first arrived we were greeted by a mass of people, speaking Italian of course, and I was ushered upstairs to have lunch and meet even more people. I then sat, overwhelmed, in a hammock for the rest of the day and watched people come and go, not sure of who belonged where and to whom. I have now somewhat made sense of it all, and actually enjoy the steady flow of friendly people. Of course there are still many quiet times, like right now, when I get to listen to 3 1/2 year-old Priscilla rrrroll her R's and talk in a language which I don't yet understand.
I think I will save my goat-herding stories for later, and instead, believe it or not, focus on the food. Every morning I have granola with goat's milk for breakfast; I had never tried goat's milk before and always thought it would be sour, since fresh goat's cheese is so tart. In reality it is light and creamy and wonderful. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day, when we sit down and eat in a group of at least four. Today we had a traditional Tuscan stew called Ribollati made with vegetables, white beans, and day old bread (which is crumbled and cooked into it). It was incredibly hearty and filling, and we ate it with zucchini and rice fritters, the usual platter of goat's cheese, and finished off with a sweet to which I am now totally addicted made from chickpea flour, ground nuts and butter. Elisa caters from her home and so is sometimes away serving at parties in the evening, in which case whomever is at home gathers and makes dinner together. Last night we ate a zucchini frittata and salad.
Absolutely everything we eat is organic, the bread and cheese are made here, and the eggs, fruit, and veggies also come from this farm or other local organic ones. The quality of the food, as well as the appetite I have gained from doing physical labour, make the meals the most satisfying ones I have ever eaten. It seems that almost every meal gets a healthy drizzle of olive oil, and while this isn't a new discovery by any means, I assure you that fresh goat's cheese crumbled onto just about anything is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
I have now worked for four days, starting at 8:00 am and finishing around 1:00 pm. I get the afternoon off and usually walk into town to get some more exercise and enjoy the fresh air. I've also had a really nice time getting to know Margaret, the other WWOOFer here with me at the moment. She's from New Zealand, 62 years old, and is an incredibly humble adventurer. She's spent the last year and a half travelling around, working on farms, and teaching in various countries. She plans on staying in Italy well into the new year, then heading to Greece and finding some farms there.
That about does it for now. Time to start reading and scratching the many bug bites I've accumulated. Tomorrow I herd the goats alone for the first time, so keep posted for many hilarious or tragic stories ahead.
Ciao for now friends.