A visit to Antica Corte Pallavicina, the spiritual home of culatello

corte pallavicinia restaurant

There’s no better English-language overview of culatello and Culatello di Zibello than that written a few years ago by Kyle Phillips, the sorely missed American wine and food blogger who wrote extensively about Italian enogastronomy and Italy for About.com.

Here’s his entry for culatello, which “means ‘little backside’ and refers to the fact that culatello is made from the major muscle group one finds in a prosciutto — Burton Anderson calls it the Fillet — seasoned and lightly salted, stuffed into a pig’s bladder, tied to give it a pear-like shape, and then hung 8-12 months to cure in farm buildings in the Bassa Parmense, not far from the Po River, where the mist swirls through the windows, interacts with the molds on the walls, and imparts a hauntingly elusive something that makes all other cold cuts pale by comparison.”

Click here for the entire entry.

Culatello’s spiritual headquarters is the Antica Corte Pallavicina estate in Emilia Romgagna where the Spigaroli brothers run two restaurants, an agriturismo, and a cellar filled with the world’s most coveted culatelli (above).

Barone Pizzini CEO Silvano Brescianini treated the winery group’s blogmaster to dinner there a few weeks ago and they both thrilled to have a chance to speak with Massimo Spigaroli, who is widely considered to be the guardian of traditional culatello production.

The menu at the Michelin-starred namesake restaurant (Ristorante Antica Corte Pallavicina) features a podio (or podium) of aged culatello as a starter. It includes 18-, 27-, 37-month aged Culatello di Zibello.

The nuanced differences in texture, flavor, and sweet/salty balance in each of the three generous tastes were extraordinary.

culatello pallavicina

The podio was followed by the tortelli d’erbette alla parmigiana al doppio burro d’affioramento delle vacche rosse (below): Traditional Parmense stuffed pasta filled with finely chopped Swiss chard, ricotta, and finely grated aged Parmigiano Reggiano dressed in double-top-cream vacche rosse butter.

Vacche rosse or red cows (what we would call “brown” cows in American English) are a traditional Parma breed that produces superior-quality milk. The cheese (primarily Parmigiano Reggiano), butter, and other dairy products they produce are considered the best among the Parma gastronomic intelligentsia.

Here’s the link for the vacche rosse consortium site, with good English translations of the texts.

The estate ages its own wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, we were told, and as a result the Parmigiano Reggiano becomes so dry and crumbly that it produces a superfine powder when grated. This consistency translates into an unbelievably creamy texture in the final dish.

All in all, it was an extraordinary and truly unforgettable experience. And it paired superbly with Barone Pizzini’s 2004 Franciacorta Bagnadore.

recipe tortelli emilia erbette

CEO Silvano Brescianini on the 2015 harvest in Franciacorta

chardonnay grapes italy

Above: Chardonnay grapes from Barone Pizzini’s 2015 harvest in Franciacorta.

The summer of 2015 was characterized by warm, dry weather. The level of rainfall between May and July was the lowest in 20 years. The bottom line: Little rain and a lot of warm days.

It’s a really interesting vintage in terms of understanding the vines’ ability to deal with hydric stress. Our vineyards lie on morainic soils which are rich in gravel and stones and as a result have good drainage. None of our vineyards are irrigated. But despite this fact, hydric stress (liked dried up leaves on the training wires) was limited.

This is probably due to the fact that we have been working the soil for twenty years trying to increase the number of organic substances in it. This means that the soil become softer and thus more able to retain humidity, something that is key to vineyard health and to biodiversity. It’s taken many years to achieve this.

The vines have developed very deep roots and they are now “accustomed” to working hard to survive. By not “spoiling” the plants, we have plants that are stronger and more resilient in dry vintages. They have to fish deep down into the soil in search of water in order to deliver well ripened bunches.

I like to think about it like a choice that has two important components, one for us and the other for the environment.

1. It allows us to obtain healthy grapes that retain the character of our soils, vineyard by vineyard.

2. And in terms of the environment, it allows us to capture CO2 and to maintain the fertility and vitality of the soil. It shows how when you work to maintain living soil, it’s not a limit but rather a building block of quality.

The climatic progression limited the number of times we sprayed in the vineyards to a minimum, including the use of copper.

The fruit was very healthy and harvest began on August 11 with the Pinot Noir. This year, it was particularly fruity in its aroma and rich in color. The Chardonnay came next. It was very “concentrated” and rich in flavor although the yields were lower than last year.

It’s hard to judge the quality at this point. Fermentation is ongoing, in stainless steel and in barriques. It will take some months on the lees to be able to fully evaluate the harvest. But so far, so good.

—Silvano Brescianini

Making better wine and a better world through organic farming

barone pizzini wines

Yesterday, Barone Pizzini and CEO Silvano Brescianini hosted one of the world’s leading wine writers and foremost experts on natural wines for a tasting and winery tour.

Vineyard manager and agronomy professor Pierluigi Donna talked about his research in soil health.

One of the most important elements in his work with Barone Pizzini, he said, was the fact that they use universally embraced standards for the measurement of nitrogen levels and the presence of organisms.

He noted, for example, that soil samples from Barone Pizzini are currently being evaluated in a laboratory in New Zealand. Through his work with the University of Milan and agronomists in other wine-producing countries, he and his colleagues have established criteria that allow them to compare soil health across the globe and thus give researchers more reliable (and more easily verifiable) data by which they can assess soil quality and its impact on winemaking.

There is no better agricultural expression than wine, he said, to demonstrate how soil health can improve the final product.

Silvano also spoke passionately about the arc of Barone Pizzini’s mission to introduce organic farming in Franciacorta. Barone Pizzini became the first organic farmer in the appellation in the 1990s and went on to become the first certified organic farmer there. Today, roughly 50 percent of the appellation is farmed organically.

He also talked about the never-ending drive to make an impact through organic winemaking.

It’s not enough, he said, to simply grow grapes and make wine without the use of chemicals.

It’s also a matter of using labels crafted with inks that don’t pollute the environment; using lighter glass that reduces the winery’s carbon foot print; using thinner foil in the capsule to reduce the amount of metals introduced into landfills…

The list goes on and on, he noted.

Although organic winemaking is a means to achieve greater quality in the wines, he said that there is a greater scope to their work. Through their approach, their “small contribution” helps to raise awareness of the use and presence of chemicals in farming practices and the agricultural products we consume.

It’s not enough to believe that what you are doing is right, he said. One must also share those beliefs in order to make the world a better place for us and for our children.

Biodiversity has its drawbacks: Wild boar love to munch down some Pinot Noir

wild boar eating grapes vineyards

Barone Pizzini CEO Silvano Brescianini shared this image of half-eaten bunches of Pinot Noir.

“This is an example of biodiversity in our hillside vineyards, which lie on the edge of the woods,” he wrote in a note accompanying the photo.

“In warm vintages,” he explained, “the boar come down from the forest and eat the grapes!”

It’s one of the drawbacks of chemical-free farming.

Even though they began picking more than a week ago, said Silvano in his email, they are far from done picking.

“All the Pinot Noir has been harvested,” he told me last night over dinner, “but there is still a lot of Chardonnay to pick,” he said.

Overall, a hot July wasn’t ideal, he noted, but he’s very happy with the harvest.

He and I will be tasting together on Thursday and I’ll publish my notes from our meeting asap.

Stay tuned!

Franciacorta harvest has begun

pinot noir harvest italy 2015

Above: Pinot Noir grapes harvested this week in the Barone Pizzini vineyards. See the Chardonnay in the image below (both images by Silvano Brescianini, winery CEO).

“We began harvesting Monday,” writes Barone Pizzini CEO Silvano Brescianini in an email this week.

“This vintages will be remembered for a very hot July. But the plants are well balanced and they’ve maintained good fruit.”

“We need to hurry and work at full steam to obtain the necessary balance between sugar and acidity.”

“Low yields but very healthy bunches. It’s too early to determine the ultimate quality of the harvest but I’m very optimistic.”

harvest franciacorta 2014

Pievalta: Vineyard and Winery Tours

To book a vineyard and winery tour at Pievalta, please email general manager Silvia Loschi by clicking here.

cantine aperte italy 2014

A journey from the vine to the glass.

Visiting the Pievalta winery means experiencing our hospitality and the beauty of our appellation. It means “breathing in” our winery, the first in the appellation to embrace biodynamic farming as a means to achieving high quality. We will take you for a walk among vines that are farmed biodynamically. We will visit the cellar, where the grapes become wine. And lastly, we will visit our veranda where you can look out onto our vines and taste our wines. They are the expression of the same earth where you will have walked just minutes earlier.

Winery tour options

“Terroir in the glass.”

Perfect for those who want to learn more about Verdicchio and understand its wonderful versatility.

Vineyard tour with winery history and a description of the soil characteristics in our vineyards.

Guided tasting of three wines made from Verdicchio grown in three different soil types (clay and limestone, sandy, and a mixture of the three).

Tour time: 30 minutes (in Italian or English).

“Full Immersion Biodynamics.”

Ideal for those who want to understand how biodynamic wine is made.

Vineyard tour with a talk on biodynanmic farming and a description of the soil characteristics in our vineyards.

Guided tasting of five wines made from Verdicchio.

Tour time: 1 hour 30 minutes (in Italian or English)