I have a very clear memory in me of when I was a child. "I want to write on the lake"I said. I was about eight years old and I was sitting on the bidet while my dad was sitting on the toilet. I know, said like that, it's a bit strange. 😅 Yet it was something we always did to confide our little secrets in secret from Mum. At that time I still didn't know what I was going to write about or even what lake I was talking about. At the age of 30 I took the plunge and moved to Lovere, on Lake Iseo. I had chosen Lake Iseo for its proximity to Franciacorta and to have the chance to build a plan B, in case I didn't manage to make a living being a wine blogger, a dream that I managed to realise instead. Now I am not yet the Chiara Ferragni of wine, but as I always tell my husband and my beloved friend Marco, I plan to get there too. In this article I want to tell you about 3 gastronomic delights of my Monte Isolathe largest lake island in Southern and Central Europe. Who knows, I might make your mouth water enough to make you want to visit it once the lockdown is over. In 2019 it was also voted Europe's third best tourist destination and overtook Amsterdam, Florence and Athens. But first, I want to share with you an excerpt from my new novel "Lo spumante di Leonardo" set between Monte Isola and Paris, a postcard of my love for the lake.
Me and the lake
"Whenever I was away from the lake for more than a day I felt a strange restlessness. Here I lived as if suspended. I was born in a city by the sea. People generally prefer the sea, but not me.
The lake for me was a form of meditation. The lake was capable of changing colour several times in the same day. Sometimes such a mist descended that one could not see the shore opposite. Sometimes it was just a mist in which it was impossible to define the contours of things. I never felt completely abandoned. The mountains were always there and discreetly reflected in its waters.
I loved the hours of sunset, when the lights of the villages around me lit up and shone like precious stones. It was like seeing the world through two pink lenses. In those moments, I knew that everything, one way or another, would work out. It was an intimate contact with the deepest part of my being that I could not ignore.
When I was at the sea I felt like I was invisible, at the lake I had never been. I wore lake people like a tailor-made suit from the best tailor. I found her more calm and thoughtful, perhaps with less clutter on her mind. In reality I realised that this was just my own subtle conceit."
Chiara Bassi 'Leonardo's sparkling wine“(you can buy it on Amazon HERE)
I have shared this excerpt with you to make you feel what I feel every time I see the lake. I wasn't born in Monte Isola, but I came here after being here during the installation The Floating Piers by Christo. And I, who have always shunned stability, I, who have always considered ties as chains that imprison us, have found the place that made me want to put down roots. For this, when I met my husband Francesco, seeing him so in love with this place and this lifestyle convinced me even more that he was the one I was waiting for to revolutionise the way I existed. Thus, on 8 September, we got married right here in Monte Isola in the beautiful setting of Castello Oldofredi.
We chose Monte Isola to build our future together.
Here is the video of our wedding, with the song Francesco wrote and sang to propose to me - in full lockdown - just five months after we first met.
That is why I am happy to inform you that last Thursday 29 October 2020 met, obviously by teleconference, the board of the Pro Loco of Monte Isola. Also on the agenda was the renewal of the board of directors, now composed as follows:
- Moretti Sergio - Chairman
- Bassi Chiara - Vice-President
- Saldi Francesco - Secretary
- Turla Sandra - Auditor
- Figini Italo
- Mazzucchelli Giordano
- Novali Massimiliano
- Turla Bruno
- Ziliani Adelaide
Now, curiously enough, just a few days earlier I had decided to take advantage of the impending lockdown of Lombardy and the absence of food and wine events and fairs until at least March 2021 to get back to studying... so I signed up for the a three-year degree course in the Faculty of Economics called Gastronomy, Hospitality and Territories with a focus on Oenology. I would say that my position as Vice President of the Pro Loco di Monte Isola it just happens to be 'right on schedule' as they say!
Pro Loco literally means 'in favour of the place' in Latin and are apolitical, non-profit local associations set up to promote the area. Defending the country's cultural, environmental and historical heritage and promoting awareness of it thus become the main goals of the members, who, in this way, trigger a mechanism for enhancing tourism-related activities. The 'work' carried out in favour of the place therefore has a double beneficial effect, because initiatives to improve the city and the lives of its citizens are also those that create the indispensable basis for a quality tourism. This 'work' concerns the development of tourism activities, particularly with regard to typical food and wine products and local crafts, popular traditions, and the protection and preservation of historical, artistic, architectural, cultural and environmental heritage.
As a good vice-president, I'll get right down to business by telling you about the three gastronomic delights I promised you.
1. Dried sardines, a tasty Slow Food Presidium
The agone, a delicious lake fish whose shape resembles that of the sardine, is the protagonist of a tradition on Lake Iseo and Monte Isola in particular, so much so that it even gave rise to the surnames Archetti, Archini... from the local dialect archèc by which ash wood bent into an arch was called, in which the fish was dried.
The technique has been handed down over the centuries and seems to date back to the year 1000 when the fishermen of Monte Isola had to deliver a precise quantity of dried fish annually to the Monastery of Santa Giulia in Brescia. This assignment contributed to the development of handicrafts related to the production of fishing nets and wooden boats, the traditional naét very similar to the Venetian gondolas.
Agon fishing is practised all year round, but reaches its peak in late autumn and winter. The few remaining fishermen go out at dusk and place their sardines - depth nets - in the middle of the lake - at least 200 metres from the shore - anchoring them to buoys. At dawn they return and hoist them up, then immediately eviscerate the shad with a cut in the belly or under the head. The fish are then washed in running water and left for at least two days in salt before being sun-dried for about a month, again in winter to avoid insects. One by one, the sardines are threaded into taut wires traditionally tied to the ends of archéts, which were once even in the fishermen's boats themselves. Today, the drying system has been perfected and takes place in larger structures placed on shaded terraces. The shrimp are nailed by the head to hooks on the small wooden planks - arranged in parallel rows - of the frames. Then the pressing takes place: they are placed in a circle in a wooden or stainless steel container and pressed softly to release the fat, which is immediately removed. The shrimp are then covered with olive oil. This method of preservation allows the Monte Isola sardine to last for several months - in fact, the longer it rests, the better it gets! If you change the oil every six months or so, they can last up to two years.
In my experience, after they have been there a few months they are delicious even raw, but traditionally they are eaten seared on the grill or in a pan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, garlic and parsley. I eat them by the ton and Maciste's are the end of the world... but the Soardi's that Maurizio brought me were really super!
2. Monte Isola salami
For me, our salami is the best in the world, especially that of Macelleria Mazzucchelli in Siviano. And look, I was born in Emilia-Romagna, where there is a certain vocation for cured meats. The meat is strictly knife-cut instead of minced and this is what absolutely gives it an edge. There is no added fat and only noble parts of pigs born, raised and slaughtered in Italy, often fed mostly on chestnuts and corn, are used. Coppa, thigh, fillet and loin after being carefully cut are flavoured with crushed garlic and spices and left to rest in wine. At this point, the meat is stuffed into casings - tied and stitched to avoid air bubbles - and hung in a cellar with stone walls and an unplastered ceiling, a fire always lit with olive and juniper wood and a closed chimney to allow a light natural smoking and maintain a warm temperature during the night. Curing always takes place in these cellars for at least 30 days and it is here that it acquires its inimitable aroma. If the salami is not consumed quickly, it is covered with pork fat and placed in terracotta amphorae to preserve its characteristic softness and at the same time allow it to breathe thanks to this material's ability to absorb and retain moisture. At Cure Salami Festival I have tasted so many good ones, so don't miss out!
3. The Oil of Monte Isola
When you first arrive at Monte Isola you are enraptured by this imposing green mountain in the middle of the lake. When you dock you realise that there are olive trees really everywhere. In fact the particularly favourable microclimate makes it possible to produce an oil of great value, delicate and elegant, suitable for enhancing traditional lake fish preparations, but also crustaceans, vegetables and white meat. My favourites so far are my neighbour Maurizio Ribola's Népos and Roberto Turla's Doss oilbut I have others to taste! Here, however, I do not dare to tell you anything... I leave that to one of my closest friends who has a beautiful podcast on extra virgin olive oil, Marco Antonucci.
The Pro Loco of Monte Isola has been enhancing all these splendid excellences for years with festivals, competitions and events. Unfortunately in 2020 due to the Coronavirus everything is off, but I look forward to contributing to the next editions! My little review on the 3 gastronomic treasures of Monte Isola is over... I'm going back to 'enjoy' the lockdown by studying History of Enogastronomy! I can't wait to share with you all the wonderful things I am learning.... 🤩
Ah, I'll tell you one last tidbit that denotes the love that Francesco and I have for Monte Isola! For our wedding I designed and had made this Cake Topper which is a small sculpture that I admire every day on my desk. Francesco and I are sitting on the green mountain representing the island, with the lake and the swan on the base. Paco, our little fox, watches over our favourite foods: cappelletti romagnoli, oysters, sushi and piadina romagnola with Monte Isola salami inside. On the side are our passions: wine for me and racing bikes for him. The Monte Isola network unites us, embraces us, protects us. In this photo the jewels of a recent collaboration of mine: GrandTour Collection, read the article HERE.
P.S. I keep spoiling the Franciacorta Satén de La Montina because my best man sent it to me Marina Tagliaferri, Agora Press Studio - Visit Brescia and I plan to open the bottle this Sunday that we celebrate our first 2 months of marriage!
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