Cook The Farm Recap: Part II

As promised, following my Cook The Farm Recap: Part I, here’s Part II which highlights Wine Week, visits to Siracusa, Cefalu, Castelbuono and our final week-long tour of Sicily.


Similar to Part I, I've opted to bullet a number of stories, quotes and thoughts woven between some of the photos I took. It's neither chronological, nor an exhaustive list of everything I learned, saw, experienced. Feel free to hop around and read or view what you choose. 

The photos below are from a weekend in Siracusa. We stayed on the tiny island of Oritigia, which is the historical center of Siracusa, and one of the most beautiful cities in Sicily. 

Wine Week at the school was FULL of inspirational speakers and tastings. The week started out with a presentation on pruning grape vines, and I didn't expect it, but this turned out to be not only informative and memorable, but also fascinating. Pruning can really make or a break a wine! In my wine studies, pruning was never presented in a particularly exciting way. I've read about the various methods, seen the diagrams, but it never meant much to me. Now, I will never look at grape vines again the same way. Livio Tognon was our pruning presenter; he's part of the Simonit & Sirch pruning team that works with vineyards around Italy, and across the globe, to train pruners and work against the deterioration of vineyards. 

  • "The soul of the winemaker is as important as the place where the wine comes from." -Livio Tognon

The lecture and tasting that changed my perspective on how I want to taste and talk about wine was taught by Sandro Sangiorgi, essayist, author, sommelier, a founding member of Slow Food, and impressionable personality of Italian gastronomic literature over the last three decades. The wines we focused on with Sandro all fell under the category of natural wine. Many standardized tastings and exams are built around conventional wine, so we were challenged to analyze wines a bit differently. Sandro had so many fantastic, deeply romantic quotes, a few of which I've written below. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of Sandro. Just his words. 

  • "Wine is life, so it’s hard to bottle something that’s alive. It’s unpredictable." 
  • "When the life of a barrel is divided into the bottles, then there are many lives. Like a mosaic, it looks like one thing until you approach it and see it has many pieces."
  • "To taste a wine is always a trip inside of yourself."

  • "When we say a wine has changed over a 30-minute period, have you thought about how much WE are changing in 30 minutes?"

  • "A good wine should make you feel good."

Arianna Occhipinti brought plastic grocery bags full of soil and rocks from Vittoria (the south-eastern tip of Sicily), and poured the contents into small bowls for us to pass around, feel and smell. Although she's a young winemaker, Arianna's wines are beloved across the world. They reflect her character: earthy, rebellious, intriguing. During her presentation, Arianna conveyed a great love of the land where she comes from, and her ongoing study of what's beneath the surface. Her wines have a noticeable emphasis on terroir, or, a similar concept that she introduced: contrada. Contrada are smaller pieces of land within a wine region that have unique characteristics defined by elevation, climate, soil, etc. A few important quotes from Arianna:

  • "'We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.' I love this phrase by Saint-Exupery. He has always guided me in my work as winemaker."
  • "There is no recipe to tell you how to practice agriculture. You have to take in all the information and make your own decision."
  • "The grape is the tool to express terroir. It is not the goal."
  • "To be concentrated, you need some empty moments to think."

Below is a series of photos from in and around the town of Castelbuono, which lies within the Madonie park. Castelbuono translates to "good castle," and references an Arab-Norman castle in the historic center. Just outside the city, the mountains are speckled with ash trees from which manna is harvested. Manna is a sweet sap tasting vaguely of maple syrup that can only be found in this region of Sicily. We got to see a demonstration of the manna harvest, and taste the final product. To me, manna tastes like a piece of maple sugar fell into a bottle of flowery perfume. It's tasty when used in small quantities!

Our last lecturer of Cook The Farm was Chef Pino Cuttaia. Pino is from a city in Sicily called Licata, and opened a restaurant there called La Madia in 2000 with his wife. He received his first Michelin star in 2006, and his second in 2009. As a young adult, Pino worked in a factory in Northern Italy for a while, but always felt drawn to the kitchen. He told us, "One morning, I was standing in front of an onion, and realized I could choose to cut it any way I wanted. It made me feel free, and freedom was my calling." Pino's philosophy of cooking is based in simplicity and elegance, and I've already recreated some of the dishes he demonstrated for us that afternoon. 

  • "The maximum communication that happens when you pass someone on the street is 'Hello,' but food can open up a much more interesting conversation and story."
  • "A big part of enjoyment of food is the element of surprise."
  • "If you find something that gives you a sense of freedom, you’ve found something you love."

And finally (FINALLY!), photos of our week-long trip around Sicily are below! We started in Modica, made our way to (yet another!) artisan cheese maker: Giovanni Floridia, a producer of Cacio Cavallo cheese and farmer of the Razza Modicana cows. We made a quick stop in Noto for almond granita, then arrived in Catania where the focus was largely on the fish market, and preparing fish. Sidenote: I now know how to gut, clean and filet fish!
We stayed in Mirto one night to experience a unique hotel called Albergo Museo Atelier Sul Mare that is part-museum-part-hotel with each room designed by a different artist. The tour of the rooms was equally as dazzling as it was hilarious. Our last leg of the trip included a fantastic (REALLY fantastic: top-5-meals-in-Sicily-fantastic) lunch at an unassuming, yet beautiful agriturismo called La Manna di Zabbra in Pollina, a quick visit to the salt flats in Trapani and a tour and tasting of Marsala IN Marsala at Cantine Florio. Whew!


I also traveled for a bit after Cook The Farm (went to Malta, Rome and up to Finland!), and added those photos to my portfolio

And that's a WRAP! Thank you so much for following along on this singular experience. 

If you are planning a trip to Sicily, or considering applying to Cook The Farm, need a good pasta recipe, or just want to know once and for all if it's arancini or arancine, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, or by email me at: