17 Mar La Tenuta del Barone Agritourism
Italians are renowned for their passion for two things – food and, well… passion. So it’s no surprise that on Saint Valentine’s Day night you’ll find restaurants full of gushing couples and love-lit meals for two. Sounds like a cliché, and it is which is why my experience at Tenuta Del Barone Agritourism in Penango was so unique.
What struck me first was the warmth of the dining room. Traditionally set tables in neutral tones and a glowing fire in the corner fireplace. The room was set for around 25 people, no more. Some people sat at the cosy corner bar, talking over wine while others stood chatting to the staff: a tall man called Pier Luigi (known fondly as ‘Pigi’) and his partner Silvia.
Pigi built this place 20 years ago, renovating the old animal barn into the restaurant we were seated in and its 5 serviced rooms above. Pigi is been in the hospitality game for decades, and it shows. He zipped around the tables, topped up glasses, laughed with his guests, only interrupting the entire room for important announcements like “Tonight’s snowfall, for added romance, has been especially organised for you by Tenuta del Barone” and “Ladies and Gentlemen, sorry for the interruption but this is an emergency. Has anyone seen the bottle opener?” It was on our table after he had opened a bottle of Nebbiolo.
The paper menu on the table was simple and sweet written like a poem, with the dishes of the meal in bold. A sparkling Prosecco was offered by the house on arrival as you were seated and a plate of warm focaccia slices ordained with sliced, herbed lardo arrived soon after. A delicate cheese and artichoke soufflé was followed by the delivery of the hot stones, one for every couple to cook slices of local meats according to one’s taste. To accompany the meats, a traditional herby ‘green sauce’, a sweet and spicy mustard, honey and walnut sauce and a potent garlic sauce were provided, all beautifully fresh and homemade. “The potency of the garlic“, Pigi assured us with a wink and a grin, “is fine as long as both are eating it“.
Instead of guests seated two-by-two, the few tables were filled with families and groups of couples. One of the guests, a caricature artist, spontaneously began inviting people to the bar to have their portraits done. I observed as boundaries between tables began to fall. People chatting made connections, neighbours of relatives, siblings of childhood friends, a local business owner, even a prominent local mayor and his family were there. Everyone seemed to know one another in some way.
To lighten the palette and balance the heaviness of the meats came a platter of fresh vegetables and a small bowl of olive oil for dipping, to which you add your own salt if desired, a locally traditional way to enjoy fresh veggies, delightfully peasant-style. Simple. Back to basics. As the evening wound down, a fruit platter with warm fondue chocolate was enjoyed, as were the heart shaped mini cheesecakes with fresh strawberry slices, drizzled in strawberry compote: a sweet end to a wonderful and unexpected evening.
As we walked home, with snowflakes dusting our shoulders, I felt completely satisfied and full, in more ways than one. I can’t wait to go back and see what else Pigi has up his sleeve and in his kitchen.
P.S. In fact, I did go back. The Strada del Sale (the Path of Salt) themed evening was interesting and the food was just as delicious, simple dishes with clean, distinct flavours and delightful, personal service. A short historical text on the table gave the food a cultural context which added a deeper dimension to the dishes. Pigi and Silvia have decided to continue with this idea which really brings their food to life.
Agritourism Tenuta del Barone
Written by Tommaso Zavattaro | Edited by Fiona Scull | Photography by Monica Marescalchi