I went to see the 73 rd edition of the lighting of the furnace beneath the direct-fire still at the Levi distillery in
Neive, which elicited a whole host of emotions within me and enlivened all 5 of my senses!
This event had a bit of everything: a magical place, the ritualistic fire, the band, the poetry and design work
of Romano Levi, the grappa labels that he designed himself and often dedicated, the wonderful things to
taste …I hope that all of the many special people who read our blog enjoy learning about this extraordinary
place and its history.
Happy reading and a (virtual) toast with the grappa from the Levi distillery!
Giovanna

The Wild Woman of the Langhe and the grappa of Romano Levi

The Italian Comune of Neive is located at the centre of the Strada Romantica of Langa, and is the most
complex with 100 kilometres’ worth of pathways to explore a mesmerising and alluring landscape. This area
is home to ancient traditions, such as that of the legendary ‘Wild Woman’. This symbolic image, in which
the conflict between man and nature was reconciled within a female figure, once languished in the
background with mythology but was then made famous beyond the confines of the Langhe by labels
designed by the “Angel of Grappa”, Romano Levi of Neive.

 

The Wild Woman

An ancient tale about the Salige describes the Wild Women of the Langhe as “recurring figures in the sagas
of the Alps, which represent the deepest feminine, bodily and instinctual roots: the archetype of nature
wild and free, untouched by civilisation and its discontents”.
The Wild Woman is characterised in Langhe peasant society as the bearer of a culture deeply rooted in the
annals of time, in close contact with nature and its secrets, with trades linked to seasonality, with the
wisdom of elders interspersed with popular and superstitious religiosity.
Within the collective consciousness of the Langhe, the figure of the Wild Woman has always been bold and
forthright: a woman who does not easily adhere to dominant social conventions, one who pays no
attention to appearances and one who resists the conformity that pervades the countryside; an
independent woman who is proud, autonomous and able to fend for herself and, often, others as well; a
female archetype that embodies difficulty and joyfulness, material hardship and the spiritual riches of a
rural life unchanged over time.
Romano Levi, well known in Neive as an artisan grappa maker, poet and label designer, brought the myth of
the Wild Woman back to life and made it famous. For him, the Wild Women are visions, memories of the
past. When he walked to school through the streets, he would encounter “beautiful dishevelled women,
who were a little bit crazy, a little bit like witches and a little bit like fairies”.
Romano Levi recalls the ‘Wild Women’:
“As a kid, I would walk through vineyards on my way to school. Often, among the rows of vines, there were
so-called ‘ciabòt’, tiny shelters where winemakers and peasants took refuge … I used to pass by in the
morning and sometimes I saw these women coming out of the shelters, beautiful and dishevelled, a little bit crazy and lonely, often living on the fringes of peasant society. They were mysterious, had no constraints,
they disappeared and then came back. They were a little bit like witches and a little bit like fairies.
They were free, as all women should be to be able to enjoy the very best that life has to offer”.

The grappa of Lidia and Romano Levi

“I make grappa: the blood of fire, pangs of life and poetry are yours.”
Romano Levi

For more than sixty years, brothers Lidia and Romano Levi produced a truly unique grappa known as ‘The
Grappa of the Wild Woman’, continuing the traditions of their ancestors. It is not just the distilling of the
marc that made it unique, but Lidia’s skill in bringing together immersed herbs within the bottles, or
Romano’s poetic, hand-designed labels.

“The Wild Women climbs over the hills” – “The Wild Women surmounts all the confines.”
Romano Levi





The grappa is magnificent and he treats the labels that he painstakingly crafts by hand with the utmost
dedication and respect. The names are a timeless reminder of his great love for Women who are
respectable, unseemly, wild, influential and suppressed, Women who climb hills, who allow themselves to
be touched or not, who have silvery golden hair”. Luigi Veronelli (oenologist, chef, gastronome and writer)
http://www.lacucinaitaliana.it/storie/luoghi/luigi-veronelli-cucina-vino-olio-storia/

The home/distillery of the Levis is now a vibrant Museum where Grappa continues to be made. It is a truly
special place that occupies its own unique space in time, where the Genius Loci of Romano Levi continues
to be at the heart of the art, methods, working times, simple and essential objects, scents and serenity
involved in the making of the Grappa.
http://en.distilleriaromanolevi.com/romano-levi/#distillery
http://en.distilleriaromanolevi.com/romano-levi/
https://www.facebook.com/DistilleriaRomanoLevi

RENZO “The basket weaver from the Langhe region”

Foreword

In the past, all the peasants in the Langhe region used baskets for various purposes: for harvesting grain, vegetables and fruit: They held wood, eggs and so much more. Almost everybody would make them during those long and snow-capped winter months for the requirements of the family. Some of these baskets were expressions of the creativity of the weavers and featured an alternation of colours, shapes, decorations and trim but they always remained objects of practical daily use.

I have always loved baskets. I buy them and use them although I’m always sorry when they break or wear out. Then I go looking for more…
I have had the fortune of getting to know Renzo recently. I’ve bought a few items from him and invited him to the Cascina Bricchetto to give a demonstration to us and our guests.

Renzo

The Langhe baskets makerAs a child, Renzo would watch his grandfather create willow baskets for his family and wanted to become as good at it as him. But, as his grandfather always said, you needed to weave a lot of them and you also needed to have some kind of artistic inspiration.
Under the guidance of his grandfather, Renzo began to make baskets until a steady job came along that involved travelling around so he had to abandon his weaving. Every once in a while he would look back with some regret and then say to himself that he would hold willows in his hands again one day and resume his basket weaving.
The years flew by. His children grew up and went off on their own and when the time came for Renzo to retire at last, he decided to dedicate his time to basket making. Fortunately he was in excellent physical condition and his wife was willing to collaborate with him.

That next January Renzo and his wife Silvana started roaming through the Langhe region in search of willows in different shades of yellow, green and brown. Branches of different diameters were needed for the different parts of the basket. Likewise, different lengths were needed for baskets in different sizes.
The branches had to be conserved in a place that provided the appropriate moisture in order for them to work well. If they got too dry, they were no longer pliable and they had to be thrown out and a portion of the barks needed to be peeled to provide the colour white…
Our friends Renzo and Silvana loved their outdoor walks in the beautiful Langhe region. They would stop in local taverns to enjoy traditional dishes. At home they tried and tried again to conserve what they had gathered – the “raw material”. Renzo drew upon his childhood memories and tried to weave his first baskets after so many years but he wasn’t able to. He wondered if he had forgotten something or if his fingers were too stiff to weave those unmanageable willows. Perhaps he didn’t have the right tools…

After asking around, Renzo and Silvana found some elderly men who made baskets. They also thought that these old-timers would be happy to teach the “art of basket weaving” so that the tradition could be passed down to the younger generations instead of dying out. The initial contacts were disappointing. The men said “No”. But our friends didn’t give up. The experience made them more cautious so they would limit themselves to quietly watching the old artisans at their craft. Once they got home, they would try to duplicate what they had seen – over and over again. Sometimes the basket was completed and other times they would get stuck at some point so they would go back to the elderly artists and watch what needed to be done at that particular point very carefully. It was then that Silvana realized that a certain amount of strength was needed and that she wasn’t strong enough. She continued working with Renzo, though, and discovered a passion for nature photography which she cultivated every time they went out walking in search of willow branches.

Renzo and Silvana are still working together today. Now Renzo has both the artistic inspiration and the technique. Each basket is unique – as I tried to convey through the photographs I took during the session with him that we hosted here at Cascina Bricchetto.
Renzo would be happy to show you his creations here at our place.

Giovanna

Introduction
Elizabeth is an American writer who stayed with us and afterwards sent me the following article; the accompanying photographs were taken by her and her friend Trish during their enjoyable experience of cooking traditional food together.
We immediately got on well with both Elizabeth and Trish; their appreciation for the place, the house, the food and wine was obvious and enthusiastic; and also for things that were unknown to them, such as several aromatic plants and certain fruits; the dedication shown by them and their husbands as they cooked using traditional utensils they were unfamiliar with will stay in my heart for a very long time!
Giovanna

Slowing Down in The Piedmont
In May, my husband and our two dear friends, found our way to the Langhe, in the Piedmont region of Italy. An Internet search led us to Agriturismo Cascina Bricchetto, owned and operated by Giovanna Oliveri. The Langhe is a spectacularly hilly area, one of UNESCO World Heritage destinations, known for its long history of wine making and cultivation. This is the fertile home of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Moscato grape varieties and some of the greatest wines of the world.

tasting Piedmont productsThe Piedmont is also where the Slow Food Movement got its start 30 years ago. Slow Food (out of which I believe the concept of slow travel grew) promotes locally grown and sustainable food practices and aligns with the idea of local consumption, purchasing and cooking with fresh local products, supporting its producers, and celebrates what is fundamentally healthier about slowing down the pace of our modern industrialized lives.

While we were interested in learning about the wine and food of the region—lets face it, who isn’t interested in wine and food in Italy? – We were also drawn to the possibility of putting on the breaks a bit after a busy week in Venice and the Cinque Terre. A farmhouse vacation in a beautiful place resonated for our group and provided a base from which to explore.

Cascina Bricchetto, located high on a hill near the village of Trezzo Tinella was a most wonderful find. The property houses a series of connected buildings, the oldest stone farmhouse dating possibly to the 18th century. Restoration of the place has been an on-going labor of love since the mid 1990’s and it shows nearly everywhere you look.

walk in the vineyards

The gardens and fruit trees, lavender, roses, cherries and quince—all planted in the past twenty years, are flourishing under Giovanna’s care. In fact, as far as you can see, over hills sloped with neat vineyards, dotted here and there with clay-tile-roofed farmhouses, fields strewn with poppies, daisies, sweet peas spilling over stone walls, geraniums in wall niches, there perfect chaos and order. Everywhere is evidence of fastidious attention paid to the land, the vines, the hazelnut groves; a symmetry, and at the same time, a random sensuousness that, to those with an eye for beauty and a nose for jasmine and broom (ginestra), will not be disappointed. This is a place that FEELS settled, tended to over generations, naturally ordered, loved. It rightly deserves reverence. People live with and from the land here. Artists paint these landscapes. Visionaries, like Giovanna, seek to preserve what is very special about this place.

We woke in our immaculate two-bedroom rental to the sounds of the lonely Cuckoo bird. (Our accommodation was named the Bread Oven House, for the historic oven attached to the building that once served the women of the hillside in their weekly bread baking chores). Fragrant scents wafted in open windows with the soft rustling of wind in the trees. We watched clouds change shape daily in a baroque sky and a few times were gifted with stunning views of the still-snowy Alps in the distance We enjoyed the easy-going presence of the farm dogs, Pippo and Peppa, and ate (and ATE) throughout the week from a banquet of local delights provided us by our hostess: cheeses, bread, homemade hazelnut cake, and of course, local red and white wines.

Days unfolded with an easy balance of country walks, reading on the balcony or out in the sunny yard. We made forays by rental car to explore nearby towns (Alba, Neive, Bra, Barolo, Barbaresco, to name some) for wandering, market days, a wine tour, among other slow-paced adventures. We were a laid back foursome, following our whims and the mood of each day.

Cooking ClassEggsCooking Class - Work!

The most meaningful experience of our time in the Piedmont included two late afternoons spent in Giovanna’s warm kitchen. There we donned aprons, filled our wine glasses, and learned her recipes for homemade pasta, ragu, the patient work of ravioli-making (make the filling one day and let it rest overnight to maximize the meld of flavors), risotto al funghi, green sauce with anchovies and quail eggs. Every ingredient was either grown in Giovanna’s garden, or came from a producer nearbi. To watch Giovanna knead dough on a smooth,

table-sized wooden board, passed down to her through generations, or hand us a weighty granite mortar and pestle that belonged to her great grandmother…to hear stories, and slow down enough to learn to use a Mezzaluna, (no cuisinart in this cooking class!)…

Cooking Class - at Work!Cooking Class - Ragu Cooking Class - Teaching

to muddle through our language challenges (Giovanna’s English is so far superior to our non-existent Italian), fill our glasses again, and depart, not only with a bounty of soul-filling food we were never quite able to finish during our week stay, but a deeper sense of home, hospitality, tradition, a feeling for what is important to Giovanna. She shared with us the abundance and “taste” of the authentic, all of this an enrichment, a generosity, and a connection we did not anticipate and will treasure always.

Cooking Class - Eating!

Sifting through photos of our recent trip to Italy, I can of course appreciate the history, mystery and watery majesty of Venice, the sparkling hills of the Cinque Terre, the brilliant blue of the Ligurian Sea, but I will remember Giovanna’s hands at work, her hand-picked cherries, the view from the top of her hill, the bounty of a life committed to her Langhe property, and her extravagant generosity. I have the satisfaction and sense, that between the lines of communication stilted by our linguistic limitations, we received gifts of understanding, and a shared hope that more people might come to know the gifts of slowing down, opening the senses, loving the earth that holds,

inspires, and feeds us, and pausing long enough to recognize our part in stewarding and honoring those who also tend it, no matter where our travels take us.

Beth Lodge-Rigal   Bloomington, Indiana

Langhe in Autumn: colours and scents
An idea of the colours can be seen in photography ,whilst unfortunately for now, the scents can not be appreciated , even if the smell of the truffle ( in piedmont dialect ‘ trIfula’ ) is very strong.
Colours like aromas are ‘sensory experiences’ and only experienced live…
Who looks for/ finds the truffles? An inseparable duo, ‘ il trabuj’ ( Piedmont dialect for the dog trained to find the truffles) and il ‘Trifulau’ ( Piedmont dialect for the dog owner and searcher of the truffles).

This is the right time, the hills are coloured in all shades of yellow and red, there are the truffles (le trifule) and for part of the autumn there is the ‘International Alba fair of white truffles’ until 27 November’.
People from all continents visit , looking to understand something from the ‘Trifulau’ (truffle hunter) and the future ‘trabuj’ (dog searcher of the truffles).

Giovanna

The Trifulau, or truffle hunter

In my fathers times, almost only peasants went hunting for truffles. They did it in Autumn, when grapes had been harvested and wheat had been sown, to earn a little more money and, possibly, to make up for a bad year.

You couldnt improvise yourself a trufle hunter: you needed good stamina, for the long and tiring walks after a hard days work, but also courage, to walk alone at night through valleys and hills with the danger of bad encounters.

Trifulau & dogs

Hunting truffles is a way to live moments in complete freedom, deep in the silence of nature, in a time of year when the colours and smells of autumn are enveloping; it’s gratifying to see the dog “at work”, admiring his skilful way of moving about sniffing the ground, selecring every scent and readily answering orders. Its a precious thing, being able to share all this with an inseparable friend!

The Trifulau is a lonely and very reserved figure, who shares a very close bond with his dog and with nature. He becomes one with his dog while hunting, and every time they re-enact an ancient ritual made of looks, signals and incitements that culminates in the irrepressible and liberating outburst of joy when a truffle is found.

Trifulau & dogs

The Trifulau usually moves by night, for various reasons: the weather conditions are better for hunting, the dog is less distracted, and the darkness and fog help hide from prying eyes. When the ground is covered in snow, he takes long detours to his secret places, leaving misleading trails in other directions for other hunters to follow and sometimes even simulating a find near trees that don’t hear truffles at all!

He walks with great agility and skill, overcoming every kind of obstacle; he knows every ditch and slope by heart. He knows when truffles grow, and the trees that bear them; how to tram his dog and how to reward it and, finally, he knows that a good truffle is worth a fortune!

Natale Romagnolo

Trifulau & dogs

nytlogo152x23

Travel – Jan. 7, 2016

Torino and the landscapes of wines Langhe – Roero – Monferrato are the only Italian goal cited by The New York Times as one of the 52 places to visit in 2016!

New York Time original post

Torino -Italy    Renewal in a former industrial capital.

A reopened Egyptian Museum isn’t the only draw in Turin, where projects like the warehouse district Docks Dora, home to galleries, ateliers and underground clubs; the street art initiative Arte in Barriera; and Lavazza’s new headquarters in Aurora near Porta Palazzo, Europe’s largest open-air market, are softening an industrial face. Fresh exhibition spaces and museums…

http://www.turismotorino.org/index.aspx
http://www.museoauto.it/website/en/

Langhe-Roero and Monferrato  jumping-off point for the Unesco world heritage-designated wine regions.

http://www.langheroero.it/welcome
http://www.wimubarolo.it/en/
http://castellilangheroero.it/welcome_eng.lasso
http://www.astiturismo.it/en

Photo by E. Monticelli