Aging cheese, lots of cheese, at a special artisan shop in Italy

 

By Eileen Ogintz

Cheese tour - Guffanti Arona

Cheese tour – Guffanti Arona

— Parmigiano Reggiano… Pecorino… Fontina…Gorgonzola. Cheese made from sheep’s milk, from goat’s milk, from cows and some made with all three.

 

Shelves and shelves of giant rounds of cheese, square cheeses in rooms carefully controlled for cold and humidity as the cheeses age for months and some cases for years

 

They’re covered with walnut leaves, with pepper and some with saffron… Some are “bathed” in tomato so they have a reddish hue. Others are covered with pressed grapes after the wine harvest. The cheeses come from artisan dairies and are “prepared” here and watched over carefully.

 

Welcome to Luigi Guffanti 1876 in the northern Italian town of Arona that has been buying cheese from the same production sites since 1876, then refining them in special “caves,” sometimes for years before they are sold around the world. They are artisans and specialists who oversee more than more than 200 kinds of cheese here
“Everything you do to the milk changes the taste of the cheese,” explained Walter Carbo, who tours us around the chilly caves. Even the grass where the animals graze impacts the taste.

 

 

“The selection is the hardest part of the work,” Carbo says

 

 

After the cheese is removed from the pot, it is wrapped in cloth and is put in a mold that sets its final form. “Now the cheese is ready for a little nap — and when it wakes up it will have taken on its final form!” the book says. Some of the cheese is placed between pieces of wood and pressed. Salt is added to the cheese and then the cheese “has to rest” and is aged for any time from a few weeks or years. The cheese experts we meet need to rotate the cheese, wash it and most important, watch it.

 

I’ve never seen so many giant cheeses in one place — big rounds I couldn’t even lift.

 

“We watch it and we wash it and we turn it,” Carbo explained.   One cheese is covered in ash, balsamic vinegar and juniper; another is washed with particular oils. Some are meant to be enjoyed fresh, others only after aged a few years.

 

Several generations of the family have been in the business, started when Luigi Guffanti purchased an old mine at the foot of the Alps to age his cheese. The company experts select cheeses made with raw milk; some made only in the summer in the mountains according to ancient traditions. The company is by the shores of Lake Maggiore, which has an ideal micro-climate for the aging process.

 

Don’t ask me what’s the secret to all this. All I know is that the cheeses taste great!

 

By Eileen Ogintz Taking the Kids  eileen@takingthekids.com
5 Viking Green
Westport, CT 06880

Magical Maggiore: Our Stay on the Lake

There’s something magical about Lake Maggiore

“It’s magical.” We repeated that often during our stay on Lake Maggiore, a sister to Lake Como, the more famous celebrity-studded of the northern Italian lakes.

There was definitely something special about Lake Maggiore from the moment we arrived at our villa rental in Lesa until we left four days later. Did it start with the warm welcome we received from our hosts? Was it the natural beauty of the water, islands, and gardens? Was it our special experiences that included a private world-class concert? I think it was a combination of all of those things wrapped up into one magical experience.

 

Sweeney Isola-Bella-002

Lake Maggiore, with shoreline located partly in Italy’s Piedmont and Lombardy regions and also in Switzerland, is the second largest lake (after Lake Garda) in Italy.

Our stay on Lake Maggiore at Casa del Lago in Lesa

Lesa is located in Piedmont along the lake between the towns of Arona (at the southern tip of the lake) and Stresa (the most well-known town of the area for its famous music festival and access to attractions of the lake area).

Sweeney View-from-archway-001

 

Casa del Lago is a romantic lakeside cottage in Lesa that we called home for four nights. There is a separate wing of Casa del Lago where the villa’s owner lives part-time, but there is complete privacy for guests with private entrances and patio

 

Sweeney Sweeney

Casa del Lago is roomy, yet cozy — perfect for a small family or group of friends looking for a quiet place to enjoy their vacation and/or use as a base for the many nearby sites and activities. The decor includes comfortable furnishings and upgraded baths. The warm kitchen and dining area were my favorite parts of the house where we enjoyed views of the lake as we had breakfast or caught up on some work. On our first night, we debated whether or not to go out to dinner. We were eager to try recommended restaurants in nearby Lesa, but ultimately decided to pamper our jet-lag by a simple evening in the comfort of our own place with wine and snacks. And it was a wise choice. The picture above captures the experience.

Sweeney Sunrise-view

 

In the mornings, we awakened to the sounds of chirping birds and spent a little time just listening, noting that otherwise there was silence. Mr. TWS walked out on the dock to enjoy every beautiful sunrise, each as peaceful and quiet as the picture above portrays. There are a few other residences along the private road leading to the villa, but we rarely heard or saw another car or person. We got a kick out of the Casa del Lago mascots, two ducks who greeted us at the cottage door first thing in the morning and whenever we returned to the villa after our day’s activities.

 

Lake Maggiore highlights:

Casa del Lago is perfect for either a relaxing vacation by the lakeshore or as a base for exploring the area and taking advantage of its many activities and sites. These are highlights of the lake that we enjoyed and some of them will be covered in more detail in future posts.

Borromean Islands

One of the most memorable parts of our stay was a visit to two of the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore on a perfect weather day. A short boat ride from Stresa (about 9 km from Lesa) took us first to Isola Bella to tour the Borromeo family’s grand baroque palace and stunning terraced gardens where we were accompanied by our excellent guide Vittoria. You’ll see more photos of the palace and its fairytale-like gardens in an upcoming post

The terraced gardens of Isola Bella

The terraced gardens of Isola Bella

The Borromeo family has owned the island (and neighboring Isola Madre) since the 1600s and still use two floors of the palace as a summer residence. The palace has 100 rooms, 25 of which are open to the public to see its extensive collections of important paintings and grand rooms. A large grotto for the residents of yore to keep cool in summer opens onto the gardens and a street outside the palace gates features several high-end Italian brands.

Isola Pescatori (on the right) on Lake Maggiore

Isola Pescatori (on the right) on Lake Maggiore

 

Another short boat ride took us to Isola Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island) for lunch at Ristorante Verbano. The local seafood specialties were delicious and the setting was so lovely that we could have spent the rest of the afternoon there on this gorgeous day

Terrace dining at Ristorante Verbano on Isola Pescatori

Terrace dining at Ristorante Verbano on Isola Pescatori

 

Villa Taranto

Just as I was surprised at the sheer beauty and architectural design of the gardens of Isola Bella, I was struck by the expanse of the Villa Taranto gardens and the thousands of varieties of flora on the property. A pathway winds up through the woods and gardens and offers panoramic view of the lake at the top. We have too many beautiful photos to choose from for this post, so stay tuned for future flora posts.

Villa Taranto gardens in Pallanza

Villa Taranto gardens in Pallanza

Let there be music

If you visit Lake Maggiore in summer you can enjoy the famous Stresa Festival (founded in 1961) that attracts renowned musicians, orchestras, conductors, and vocal artists from around the world to perform in a diversity of venues around and on the lake, such as Isola Bella. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Gianandrea Noseda, the 2016 55th annual festival series begins with the Midsummer Jazz Concerts (July 19th to 24th), continues with Musical Meditations (July 26th to 28th), and features its main series Building Bridges (August 23rd to September 6th).

 

Tea and conversation with Massimo Marenzi of the Piano Academy at Villa Sandra

Tea and conversation with Massimo Marenzi of the Piano Academy at Villa Sandra

 

Although we wouldn’t be at Lake Maggiore for the Stresa Festival, we were lucky to attend a private performance of Roberto Prosseda, an internationally acclaimed pianist, at Villa Sandra. An intimate affair, we were entertained with Prosseda’s masterful renditions of pieces by Chopin and Mendelssohn. The next morning, we enjoyed tea with Villa Sandra’s founder and president Massimo Marenzi (shown above) whose passion for music inspired him to create the Piano Academy, an intensive two weeks of music lessons and immersion taught by master musicians. The Piano Academy offers concerts by its students and teachers to the public during the summer session (July 2016). We were enthralled by Massimo’s enthusiasm for music, the initiatives of Villa Sandra, and the Stresa Festival.

The charming towns

On our drives between Lesa and other points on the Piedmont side of Lake Maggiore, we were constantly pointing out beautiful lake views and admiring the towns and villages through which we passed. On the weekend, we shared the road with bicyclists enjoying their exercise in this beautiful setting, too.

Stresa

Stresa is a main tourist area of the lake and there is much to do — shop, dine, and catch the ferries to the islands and other Lake Maggiore destinations. Stresa has a literary connection, too. Of note, Ernest Hemingway spent time in Stresa at the elegant Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées (pictured below) on the shore of the lake. Lake Maggiore is a setting in his novel, A Farewell to Arms.

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées in Stresa

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées in Stresa

 

Lesa

Lesa, the small waterfront town near Casa del Lago, has restaurants, shops, and a lovely promenade to stroll. There is also a market convenient to the villa to stock up on supplies for your stay.

Boats in the harbor at Lesa

Boats in the harbor at Lesa

For a small town (population just over 2,000 people), I was surprised that Lesa was such a cultural and business center. Italian fashion brand, Herno, has its headquarters and concept store here. We visited the store and my only regret is that I didn’t choose among the wide selection of its colorful and lightweight signature rain jackets and make a purchase.

Arona

Arona, at the southern end of Lake Maggiore, is the largest town on the west side of the lake and is considered the liveliest with many restaurants, shops and a waterfront promenade with a view of Rocca Borromeo di Angera. On a hilltop nearby, a large bronze and copper statue of San Carlo Borromeo stands 35 meters high. We didn’t take time to climb the stairs of the hollow interior, but we’re told that from the top you can look out the statue’s eyes and ears for beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the lake.

 

Arona street scene, San Carlo statue, and view of Rocca Borromeo di Angera from the waterfront

Arona street scene, San Carlo statue, and view of Rocca Borromeo di Angera from the waterfront

Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta

It was a fun drive inland to Lake Orta staying off the main highways through the wooded hills and small villages of the Vergante area. We had the pleasure of sitting back and enjoying this scenic route since our host and driver Luisa knows these narrow and curvy roads so well. A spot to which I must return someday is the Umbrella Museum that we passed along the way in Pettenasco. I love finding intriguing museums like that when I travel.

Lake Orta and Isola San Giulio seen from Piazza Motta in Orta San Giulio

Lake Orta and Isola San Giulio seen from Piazza Motta in Orta San Giulio

 

The overcast day struck me as adding a bit more romantic ambiance as we walked around the car-free town of Orta San Giulio admiring its colorful buildings and beautiful Piazza Motta.

At Pan e Vino, a restaurant on the piazza, we were served regional Piedmont meats, cheeses, and wines. The fantastic platter shown on the right below includes a selection of cow, sheep, and goat cheeses, served with fruit jams. Another platter had a variety of delectable salami and ham options. It was truly a feast paired with Piedmont wines, Gattinara (a red wine) and Arneis (a white wine). The fireplace in the comfortable dining room and the warm and friendly service made us feel like we were guests in a home.

 

Wine, cheese, and meat specialties of the Piedmont region at Pan e Vino in Orta San Giulio

Wine, cheese, and meat specialties of the Piedmont region at Pan e Vino in Orta San Giulio

More to do during a stay at Lake Maggiore

There are many more sports and outdoor activities available nearby Casa del Lago such as sailing, water skiing, canoeing, golfing, hiking, horse riding, swimming, and tennis. Lake Maggiore also has the largest wilderness area in Italy, Parco Nazionale della Val Grande, and in winter, there are the ski resorts of Mount Rosa which are only 65 km from Lesa. So there are plenty of activities year-round. Or you could just relax at the villa soaking up the Italian lake ambiance and letting the magic happen.

Our hosts

Eva is an engaging woman and we were fortunate to have an opportunity to join her for an al fresco meal one evening along with her daughter, son-in-law, and Luisa. We felt a special, fun companionship with these lovely people, an immediate connection, that is something I’ve found more in Italy than anywhere else. Then it was time to go back to our villa — once again to “our place” feeling like locals who had just left our neighbors after a friendly get-together

 

With Sara, Luisa, and Eva at Casa del Lago

With Sara, Luisa, and Eva at Casa del Lago

 

On our last night, Mr. TWS and I stood on the edge of our private dock looking at the lights in the hills across the lake and listening to the gentle lapping of the water. I thought about the great experiences we’d had and the nice people we’d met. And one last time while at Lake Maggiore, I said to Mr. TWS, “It’s magical.”

How to get to Lake Maggiore:

The lake is easily accessible from many points by car, boat, and train. The nearest international airport is Milan Malpensa (MXP) from where we drove about 45 minutes to reach Casa del Lago. Railway stations are located in Arona and Stresa. Boats and ferries traverse the lake in all directions. The main ferry ports are Arona and Stresa, but there are also docks in many of the towns where boats can be hired.

For more villa information, photos, and booking information: EsteVillas – Casa del Lago

Disclosure: Our stay and activities at Lake Maggiore were hosted by Casa del Lago, EsteVillas, and local sponsors

Map of main places we visited

3 days itineray

 

Villa Sandra  via davicini 40 –28040 Lesa, (NO) Italy

Isola Bella Isole Borromeo Phone +39 0323 30556+39 0323 30556 E-mail info@borromeoturismo.it

Boat Service to the Islands  Lido 2000 Tiziano Rossi  Phone  +39 3472524829

Villa Taranto Pallanza can be reached by car or by boat  the shipping company “Navigazione Lago Maggiore” has a landing stage called “Villa Taranto” right in front of the Gardens entrance

Restaurant Verbano Isola Pescatori Phone +39 0323 30408/32534

Pane e Vino Lake Orta +39 393 8583293 Piazza Motta 37 Orta San Giulio (No) Italy (please note Pane e Vino is located in a pedestrian area, no cars are allowed)

After Hours in St. Mark’s Basilica

On most any day of the year, Piazza San Marco, Venice’s magnificent square, is bustling with tourists admiring the architecture, shopping for souvenirs, or soaking up the ambiance at outdoor cafes. It’s a stunning sight to enter the enormous square whether from the city’s maze of alleyways or from the waterfront promenade. Prominent is St. Mark’s Basilica, named for the patron saint of Venice, St. Mark the Evangelist. It is one of Venice’s most recognizable landmarks beneath its imposing bell tower and adjacent to the Doge’s Palace……….

From our personal experience in Venice, we give you our recommendation for the best way to visit St. Mark’s Basilica to avoid the crowds and make the most of the experience — an exclusive after-hours tour by Walks of Italy. Find  more in Traveling with Sweeney  post

St Mark Venice

St Mark Venice

Instagram highlights of northern Italian treasures

“Open my heart and you will see

Graved inside of it, ‘Italy’ .” — Robert Browning

It shouldn’t be surprising that art, literature, and music are essential aspects of northern Italy. Surrounded by stunning natural beauty, dramatic history, and deep cultural traditions, it’s easy to understand why writers (such as Browning), artists, and musicians have been enamored of and inspired by various locations in the four regions of Italy we visited on our latest trip — Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. We were captivated each day by the lakes, gardens, cities, countryside, and historic sites. Of course, this is Italy, so culinary delights are also an important part of any visit and we savored a delicious diversity of regional food and wine. In particular, Mr. TWS seemed to be tasting heaven in every bite.

We covered a lot of territory traveling by car from Lake Maggiore (Piedmont) to Mantua (Lombardy) to Asolo (Veneto) and finally to Tredozio (my third visit to Emilia-Romagna and second to Tredozio) with interesting side trips each day and varied accommodations — lakeside cottage, 12th-century palace, romantic apartment, and countryside villa. (We also spent a few days in Venice, but that’s for another story.) So there will be much to show and tell beyond this preview, and we will in future posts. These photos from our Instagram gallery are an introduction to our trip to whet your appetite.

Casa del Lago in Lesa (Lake Maggiore) — our base in Piedmont

Pictured below was the gorgeous, peaceful sunrise that we captured from the waterfront at Casa del Lago, the lovely villa we called home for four nights on Lake Maggiore. What a beautiful place on earth! We could have happily spent the entire four days here, but it was ideally located providing easy access to many sights and activities we experienced

View from Casa Del Lago Lake Maggiore

View from Casa Del Lago Lake Maggiore

 

What a glorious first day we had on Lake Maggiore as we traveled by boat from the town of Stresa to the Borromeo Islands of the lake. The view below was from the palace and gardens on Isola Bella (meaning beautiful island — and indeed, it is). There was still a bit of snow showing on the Alpine peaks in the distance.

Isola-Bella-palace

Tulips of all colors and types were on display in the expansive and gorgeous botanical gardens of Villa Taranto in Pallanza, a must-see when visiting Lake Maggiore. I loved this combination of purple and orange/pink tulips.

Villa Taranto Gardens Pallanza Lake Maggiore

Villa Taranto Gardens Pallanza Lake Maggiore

Don’t tell anyone! Let’s keep this old village in the Piedmont region a secret. Well, it’s probably too late for that, but Orta San Giulio is a quiet and romantic treasure in the Italian lakes area. The town is situated on a hillside on the shores of Lake Orta, lesser-known than other lakes of northern Italy. Pictured below are colorful buildings with shops and restaurants on Piazza Motta.

Lake Orta Piemonte

Lake Orta Piemonte

 

Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua — our base in Lombardy

 

Mr. TWS and I have fond memories of the view pictured below from our private Tower Suite rooftop at the grand Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and 2016 Italian Capital of Culture, Mantua is well-known for its annual literary festival and is rich in history, the arts, and culture

 

 

Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua — our base in Lombardy

Mantova, Lombardy, view from Palazzo Castiglioni

Mantova, Lombardy, view from Palazzo Castiglioni

Mr. TWS and I have fond memories of the view pictured below from our private Tower Suite rooftop at the grand Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and 2016 Italian Capital of Culture, Mantua is well-known for its annual literary festival and is rich in history, the arts, and culture

Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova, the frescoed wall in the tower

Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova, the frescoed wall in the tower

We were fortunate to catch a rehearsal of a fantastic chorale group during a tour of beautiful Teatro Bibiena. The theater is one of the main venues of the Mantova Chamber Music Festival organized by the Mantua Chamber Orchestra. Of great historical note, Mozart performed his first solo concert on stage here at age 13. About the theater, his father wrote that he had never seen anything more beautiful of its kind

Bibiena-Theater Mantova Chamber Orchestra

 

Go ahead … have a taste. These were a few of the totally delicious specialties of Mantua that we had for lunch at Locanda delle Grazie in Curtatone — fruit (apples and pears) mustards, pumpkin ravioli, and Sbrisolona (a crunchy almond dessert). Lambrusco Mantovano, a local Lombardy DOC, paired perfectly

Locanda Delle Grazie Curtatone Mantova

Locanda Delle Grazie Curtatone Mantova

Elena 3 in Asolo — our base in Veneto

Beautiful Asolo! Pictured below is the panoramic vista of residential buildings against the backdrop of the Alpine foothills seen from Queen Cornaro’s Castle.

Asolo, Veneto

Asolo, Veneto

Having cappuccino and pastries at historic Caffè Centrale (pictured below) was a delightful ritual while in Asolo. Literary greats (and other notables) like Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, and Robert Browning hung out in this very place in times past. Our lovely in-town apartment was on the 2nd floor (3rd in U.S. terms) above Caffè Centrale which faces the quaint Piazza Garibaldi with a lovely fountain, the cathedral, and a few small shops and restaurants

Asolo Caffè Centrale

Asolo Caffè Centrale

A beautiful side trip from Asolo took us to Prosecco wine country and a drive along the Prosecco Road. Inside the extensive underground tunnels beneath the Villa Sandi wine estate are a million bottles of aging wine (pictured below). There’s also interesting history here — the tunnels were used by the Italian military during World War I to get troops to and from the front line. Villa Sandi offers a great tour through the tunnels as well as the villa with a taste of their Prosecco Superiore

Villa Sardi winery

Villa Sandi winery

When visiting the lively town of Treviso, always be on the lookout for beautiful frescoes on the facades of buildings in the historic center. How beautiful is this? The historic city has many similarities to nearby (and much more famous Venice), which had considerable influence on Treviso style and architecture. It is very accessible as a day trip from nearby Asolo.

Treviso Veneto

Treviso Veneto

Torre Fantini in Tredozio — our base in Emilia-Romagna

Irises were in bloom at Torre Fantini, once a lookout tower, now a beautifully-restored cozy hillside villa, where we stayed in Tredozio. It’s a gorgeous setting with a spectacular view (one of our favorites anywhere) of hills covered with vineyards, fields, and woods. It is a very peaceful place for a relaxing stay. This was our second stay at Torre Fantini and we’d would love to return.

Tredozio Torre Fantini Garden

Tredozio Torre Fantini Garden

One of the many convenient and scenic side trips from Tredozio is the medieval town of Brisighella. In the photo below, the clock tower is seen from La Rocca. the ancient fortress on a nearby hilltop. I love the patches of clouds in the blue sky of this spring day, which enhanced the spectacular views in many directions from many observation points.

Brisighella

The bright sunshine highlights the pretty buildings of the historic center of Brisighella where the colorful facades follow the curvature of the ancient city walls.

Brisighella

Brisighella

I’ll close this series of photos with a little romance. I really like this photo of Mr. TWS (his first appearance on Instagram) and me (2nd time) in the ballroom of Villa La Collina, an elegant luxury holiday rental on a hilltop high above Tredozio. It was a memorable experience visiting the villa and meeting its lovely owner Contessa Maria Teresa Vespignani Boselli (who is also seen in the photo). The contessa graciously provided a tour of the villa and gardens, and also a delicious lunch of local dishes

Tredozio Villa La Collina

Tredozio Villa La Collina

Disclosure: During our trip, our accommodations and activities were sponsored by EsteVillas and local hosts

Posted on May 6th 2016

Written by Catherine Sweeney  Travelling with Sweeney

Casa del Lago Lake Maggiore , Isola Bella , Locanda Le Grazie  Via S. Pio X, 2, Grazie MN, Italy tel +39 0376 348038

Palazzo Castiglioni Mantova , Mantova Chamber Orchestra,

Elena 3 Asolo, Caffè Centrale , Villa Sandi ,

Torre Fantini Tredozio , Villa La Collina Tredozio