Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio (Monteriggioni, Italy)

My last post mentioned daytime excursions to Volterra and San Gimignano on our last day in Tuscany.  After  a little bit of down time in the afternoon, our tour group went on an optional tour that was strongly recommended by our tour director: a brief tour of Monteriggioni and dinner at a farm somewhere out in the country.  Little did we know that this dinner would turn out to be our most unforgettable meal we would have in Italy!

Azienda Agricola Il Ciliego, or "The Cherry Tree Farm," is a farm and winery that family patriarch Mario Pattaro opened in 1952, and is still currently operated by his sons and grandsons.  Upon our arrival at the farm, we were greeted by grape vineyards and some chickens and turkeys roaming about.  Luca, one of the grandsons who is a viniculture engineer, gave us a tour of the property and a little backstory about the farm.  He explained that the name of the farm came from the five cherry trees that once stood at the entrance of the farm; today, only one tree remains.  The guys do all the work themselves, from working in the fields growing various crops, to butchering their own pigs and poultry, to producing their own wine in-house using the grapes they grow themselves.  Not only is the farm completely self-sufficient food-wise, but they even generate their own electricity from the solar panels they installed a few years ago.

We could tell that Luca was very passionate about his work.  He talked about thinking with your heart as well as with your eyes.  With the heart, one has to love the land and the work, to be able to work the long hours in the fields, rain or shine.  With the eyes, one has to have foresight, to be able to follow the market and know what people will want.

Luca giving a tour of Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Luca explaining his family's work at the farm & winery.

Grapes at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
This photo doesn't do justice to the tremendous size of Italian grapes!

Wine cellar at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Where the wine magic happens.

Following the tour, we had a mini wine-tasting with two sparkling wines; one was a Vino Spumante Dolce which was sweet, and the other a Vino Spumante Brut which was the drier of the two.  I definitely preferred the sweeter one myself.

Wine tasting at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Vino Spumante Dolce (left) and Vino Spumante Brut (right)

Wine tasting at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
"Cin Cin!"

Following the spumante tasting, we went upstairs to the restaurant for dinner and drinks made from food grown right on the property.  It doesn't get fresher than that!

The restaurant at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
The restaurant

We started with two different types of wine from the farm, with a third (a reserved version of the red wine) to be served later in the evening.

Wine at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Red wine
The first course was an antipasto plate with three types of bruschetta (tomatoes, pate, and beans), cheese, salami (including the famed wild boar), and a half slice of cantaloupe.  Everything was deliciozo, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the pate bruschetta.

Antipasto at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Course #1: Antipasto

The second course was Spelt, which I had never even heard of before this dinner.  It's a type of wheat that seems to be common in some parts of Europe.  This amazing dish came with olives, red peppers, yellow peppers, zucchini, egg white, capers, cheese, basil, and other herbs.

Spelt at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Course #2: Spelt

The third course was a pasta with sausages, zucchini, and tomatoes.

Pasta at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Course #3: Pasta

Then came pork that actually tasted like beef, and some out-of-this-world-amazing baked (broiled?) potato.

Pork at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Course #4: Pork

The next course was a delicious veal.

Veal at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Course #5: Veal

And because R.'s mom is a pescatarian, they brought out some eggplants for her in place of the meat.  I tried a piece and it was fab.  I'm really liking this eggplant business.

Eggplant at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany

Course #6 was actually a light salad that I didn't get a picture of because it came in a large serving bowl for the table to share, and I didn't want to make other people wait just so I could snap a photo.  I didn't end up partaking in the salad anyway as I was already more than full by this point!

But wait...what full belly?  Dessert is on the table!  We had a slice of pie made with fresh peaches and ricotta cheese.  Yum!

Peach  and Ricotta Cheese Pie at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Course #7: Peach and Ricotta Pie

And finally, some Vin Santo wine and biscotti to wash everything down with.  Vin Santo is a strong dessert wine that's popular in the Tuscany region, as we discovered during our olive oil tasting two days prior.

Biscotti at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany

Vin Santo Wine at Azienda Agricola Il Ciliegio in Tuscany
Vin Santo

Overall, the food was most delightful - every single course was tasty, fresh, natural, and made with love by the mother and granddaughter-in-law of the family (and served by another grandson).  It kind of reminded me of that Mexican movie Like Water for Chocolate, in which the heroine's love and emotions seep into the meals she prepares and cause those to consume her cooking to be ignited by passion, sometimes quite literally.  OK, reality wasn't nearly so dramatic as no one caught on fire by spontaneous combustion from our meal, but I just imagine these two little lovely ladies in the kitchen wearing their cute country aprons preparing each course with tender loving care as though the food were their babies.  By the end of the evening, we were all happily rubbing our bellies.  A meal that can satisfy 18 people all at once is nothing short of amazing, and it truly speaks to the quality of the work that the Pattaro family puts into their farm and their restaurant.  The service was also very friendly.  This was far and away the best meal we had in Italy (all three of us agree), and undeniably the highlight of our vacation the summer of 2011.

Restaurant info:
Azienda AGricola Il Ciliegio
Via Uopini, 94, 53035 Monteriggioni (SI), Italy
Phone: +39 0577 309055
On the web:

View Larger Map