Sunday, 25 September 2016

Bustling markets and Chocolate Tasting - more from Terra Madre, Turin

The Salone del Gusto celebrations are continuing apace here in Turin and as predicted things got even busier yesterday as the weekend kicked in. I think that the predictions of 500,000 people visiting the festival are definitely an underestimate! As I write, the church bells are ringing out calling the faithful to prayer, but yet more foodies are filtering around the incredible number of stalls that line every street, square and park in the heart of the city.

Music and food - a perfect combination!
We took the opportunity to walk around the extensive markets which are a feature throughout the year here in Turin. On top of the biggest open market in Europe, they also play host to an enormous flea market, which winds down labrinthine streets and everything you can ever dream of is for sale. It's like a car boot sale, on steriods, with leather, antique signs, refurbished bikes mingled with second hand clothes, toys and anything else you can possibly imagine.

The food market bustles with life as traders shout out their prices, from the static traders selling cheese and meats to farmers displaying colourful produce, which is bursting with freshness and life. These are some of the most diverse areas of Turin, reflecting the diversity that has been introduced first through migrants from Southern Italy moving to the city and more recently a more global movement. Moroccan cafes nestle neighbourly with trattorias and nearly as many languages as you can hear on the streets of Leicester float across the air.

Having explored some of the more outlying areas of the city for the rest of the morning, it was soon time for us to head to the palatial surroundings of the Circolo dei Lettori - a sumptuous building of private residences that would not usually be open to the public - for our Cacao Perdido workshop.

This was a really highlight of the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto for me. Some of the finest cacao producers from South America were assembled with partners from Italy to discuss the gastronomic adventure they are experiencing creating some of the best chocolate in the world from single, and often rare variety cocao.

From the 10 tasting samples we experienced a kaleidoscope of flavours from all over South America - Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and more. There were deep, earthy tones full of rich bitterness, while others melted on the tongue leaving an intense almost berry fruitiness. I was particularly glad we had done formal chocolate tasting before, so we knew to allow the dark gold to melt slowly in the mouth to allow the flavours to develop and experience the full palate of changing flavours that each sample gave.

Along with the cacao, we were treated to a selection of Turin vermouths, with sweet, bitter and rich flavour profiles to match with the different chocolates. Some combinations brought the bitterness to the fore, making the astringency almost unbearable, while others blended together in the mouth to create an enriched, improved experience. It was definitely a lot of fun to experiment with the profiles and to assess which would create the best match. It was also my first time of enjoying the vermouth in such depth and it is certainly something I would be interested in returning to. I think the incredible depth of flavour that is created by the skillful use of botanicals is something that we perhaps don't enjoy to best possible advantage in the UK with our tendancy to only use vermouth as a part of a mixed drink instead of enjoying its unique characteristics on their own.

Team Gelato enjoying a late night gelato!
After the workshop and a coffee in the famous and decadent Caffe Fiori we returned to the Via Del Gelato on Via Po to see how things were progressing. A specialist workshop on Amalfi lemons was drawing great interest, as were the masterclasses on creating natural gelato. There was a marked increase in the number of people crowded in the narrow arcade to sample the various flavours on offer from the brilliant team of Alberto Marchetti, as well as the other master Gelatieres who are assembled in the city this week. I really enjoyed having a peek not just in the regular laboratory but also seeing the hive of activity that had been created in an additional temporary lab, put together especially for the food festival to cope with the intense demand that the combination of gastro-tourists and fantastic weather has produced here in Turin.

Meanwhile, back in Leicester we were hearing that Gelato Village's team were not only holding the fort well but also presenting a new experience in gastronomic gelato for visitors to a special event at the National Space Centre. Using beautiful ingredients from Deli in the Square and Delilah, they have created a savoury gelato of smoked salmon and goat's brie with walnut. Served on a wholemeal cracker with a balsamic drizzle it sounds like it shouldn't work, but it really does! I was fortunate to be able to try an earlier batch of the gelato before we left the UK and I can confirm it is delicious. Light and creamy, the experience is like having a thick and decadent salmon mousse, yet the goat's cheese flavour is perfectly discernible and matches really well with the fish flavour. Don't know it until you've tried it is what I say!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Salone de Gusto in Turin

So our Turin adventure continues with another beautiful day in Turin. The Salone del Gusto really is massive and there is a huge variety of different things to explore. We enjoyed finding out more about biodiversity and Slow Food presidia in an area dedicated to sustaintable production. And of course we were antagonised by that giant snail again.

It's really good fun walking through the city, just seeing what you stumble across because it is such a mixture of architectural styles, historical stories and now the added bonus of street food around every corner!

The Via Del Gelato rumbles on as well and yesterday the assembled masses of world-leading Gelatieres literally stopped the traffic with a Maestro flashmob in the middle of the road! The workshops continue around the city, both gelato based on Via Po and more besides at different locations, including snout to tail use of the pig and a very exciting sounding bean mousse!

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Down by the river, we were excited to find the alley of craft beer, although at 4 euro for just over a half it was not exactly cheap! I suppose this is what you get in a country where the artisanal beer movement is still in its infancy but that said, the quality of the beers was high. I particularly liked the Machete made by the Birrificio del Ducato company from the Emilia region. It was beautifully floral and hoppy and went down an absolute treat in the afternoon sunshine, although at 7% perhaps it was a good job that the measures were small!

My highlight of the street food was a literal taste explosion called La Bombetta - where the typical Capocollo made with rolled pork is stuffed with cheese, parsley and seasoning and served in a biodegradable cone along with a piece of traditional bread from the Slow Food Presidia Altamura. It was absolutely delicious and surprisingly filling!

What culinary adventures await us today I wonder?

Friday, 23 September 2016

Via del Gelato, Turin

It's not very often that you get invited to Italy for the sole purpose of trying gelato, discussing gelato and learning about gelato. In fact I can categorically say it has never happened to me before. But this week I write, dear reader, from the comfort of a spacious apartment above the Porta Palazzo in Torino (Turin) and, having had a delicious Cornetto Crema (creme patissiere filled croissant) for my breakfast, am now reflecting on my first 24 hours in the city at the prestigious Terra Madre Salone de Gusto festival.

A busy day on the Via del Gelato!
The festival is one of the most internationally significant celebrations of Slow Food principles, with a deep focus on sustainable production, ethical sourcing and organic principles. To this end, giant snails are everywhere in the city reflecting the international Slow Food logo. Itàs a huge event, with around 500,000 people expected to visit this year. Turin has been booked up for months in anticipation.

In previous years the festival was all centred in one exhibition hall, but this year it has been expanded out across the entire city centre, which includes a bespoke 'Via del Gelato' on Via Po, based around the Turin incarnation of the suite of gelaterias of respected Maestro Gelatiere, Aberto Marchetti. This provides what is very recognisable to an English person like myself as a beer festival environment, but with gelato! You buy your tokens and then cash them in at the various gelato stalls to try different flavours and combinations.

Get your gelato here!
Of course the focus is on traditional, authentic gelato making and there are a series of talks and workshops running which give an insight into these methods. Leicester's own Gelato Village was invited to speak at a number of these sessions on the first day of the Via del Gelato yesterday and discussed how they have been bringing this traditional product to an English audience, invoking much curiosity from the assembled masses of master Gelatieres from all over Europe who are present at this event.

Flying the Leicester flag!
I have particularly enjoyed seeing the older fashioned 'vertical' method of gelato churning taking place, both with an antique set of kit which is hand cranked and cools the gelato mixture through a surrounding bath of salt and ice as well as a more modern setup which does the same process mechanically. These vertical machines are totally obselete now - you can only buy the automatic 'horizontal' variety new and relive the old method with a second hand model. However, it was lovely to see both mechanical and hand-cranked styles in operation yesterday because it relies on the skill of the Gelatiere to judge when the gelato is ready, feeling the resistance of the soft dessert against the paddle to feel the right consistency has been achieved and then skillfully flicking the finished gelato out on the paddle for serving.

Chipping the ice and churning the gelato - salt is added to the ice to prevent the gelato from getting too cold and ice crystals forming, which ruins the smooth texture.
We also met Italy's premier Italian gelato blogger, Jo Pistacchio who has been introducing us to key people as well as great ingredients. As you would expect, a lot of the attention here is focused on the sourcing of the finest ingredients from around the globe, but with a natural emphasis on the high quality raw materials that can be sourced in Italy. Pistachios, hazelnuts and more from this country have protected geographical indication status as well as immense pride being accorded to the quality of the milk, honey and fruit available. In particular, the Amalfi lemon is much prized, with crates of flavourful fruits bigger than your fist being scattered around the Via del Gelato.

Antonio and Daniele from Gelato Village with Jo Pistacchio
It was fantastic to try Alberto Marchetti's Fior di Latte gelato, a very simple gelato which puts the flavour of the milk at the fore. This was deliciously rich and creamy and a true showcase of both the skill involved in its creation and the quality of the natural ingredients of which it is composed. However, it did make me realise just how lucky we are to have Gelato Village in Leicester, whose milk and cream all comes from Belvoir Ridge Creamery's Red Poll cows in Leicestershire, which creates a unique flavour and is always supremely fresh. To my mind it is a superior Fior di Latte, but of course I have a heavy bias! My next mission is to try some local Pistacchio gelato to compare the quality of those, as that is definitely my favourite Gelato Village item!!

Fior di Latte

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Leicester Loves Late Summer!

Well this week we've seen the hottest September temperatures for over 50 years and I am loving it. Perhaps you've been catching up on some of my Staycation posts and taking the opportunity to visit some of our top local gems in the unexpected sunshine?

If not, you might be looking for some new ideas of fun stuff to do in and around Leicester for the next couple of weeks. Summer's not over, if you don't want it to be!

Thursday 15th - Saturday 17th September
The Atkins Building, Lower Bond Street Hinckley

Starting right now, it's the 9th annual Hinckley CAMRA Beer Festival! There will be over 70 cask ales to choose from, plenty of live entertainment and you can even pick up some delicious tapas from Cafe Espanol. It's £3 for entry and £2 (refundable) for your glass. Stellar.

LGBT/Leicester Community
Monday 26th September
Leicester LGBT Centre, Wellington Street

Our very own LGBT Centre will be 40 years old and they're celebrating with coffee and cake - so civilised! The LGBT Centre is a fabulous voluntary organisation that does amazing work in the city. They were the first LGBT helpline to receive public funding in 1981, have recently completed a superb oral history archive called Untold Stories and provide an incredible level of support to the LGBT communities as well as battling tirelessly against homophobia.

So get over to their Facebook event, click attending and then make sure you head over to cheer on the Centre (and have some nice cake).

Kid Friendly
Saturday 1st October
The Y Theatre, Leicester

As part of Everybody's Reading week, you can Ask the Laureate with Chris Riddell, the UK Children's Laureate. Chris wants to show everyone how much fun you can have with a pencil and will be live drawing the answers to your questions - so you might get a chance to take a doodle-answer home! Tickets are just £5.

Saturday 1st - Sunday 2nd October
Melton Mowbray Cattle Market

The Melton Mowbray Food Festival is back for 2016, one of the oldest and biggest regional food fairs in the country. Tickets are £5 in advance, or £6 on the gate. This year will see a full programme of talks and lectures in the dedicated Food Theatre, the Stilton and the Melton Mowbray Pork Pies will of course be flowing, as well as local producers and a variety of local and international street food. What's not to like?

Thursday 6th - Saturday 29th October
Curve Theatre, Leicester

The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Oscar Wilde's most famous plays, and it's being given a contemporary spin by Curve's artistic director, Nikolai Foster. Think high society courtship, mistaken identity and an all round barrel of entertainment. This is sure to be yet another in a long line of hit Curve productions. Regular tickets cost £14-£24, so get yours before they go.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Homemade Cured treats

You might not have noticed the latest addition to Leicester's dining scene. Cured has slotted in neatly above Brewdog on Friar Lane, so keep an eye out for it. It's the one with the big pig as a logo!

Obligatory beer picture. Love Stone Brewing.
Martin and the gang invited friends, family and a few of us bloggers down last week to get a sneak preview of what they have to offer - thanks for the invitation guys. The menu is based around home-cured meats and sides, all done in house. Why buy bacon when you can make it yourself? It's a good question. Of course, the Brewdog beers are an integral part of the curing process, to add an extra something to the flavour. We were given tasters along with the canapes to see how the beery flavour was coming through, but sadly they really were no more than a mouthful so it was hard to actually judge how much the flavours were present!


That said we did get to sample pretty much every component on the menu. From hand cured bacon, to burnt barley and treacle beef brisket, on to salmon pastrami and homemade curly crackling everything had clearly been made with care and most importantly, lots of patience.

Mac n cheese balls

My absolute favourite thing, typically, was the mac n cheese balls - they had a wonderfully crispy coating but were still oozy and gooey inside. I was also pleasantly surprised by the vegan pulled jackfruit burger which is definitely not an afterthought on the menu. It has great texture and deep flavour and will surely be a hit with vegans, omnivores and even committed carnivores.

Vegan pulled jackfruit burgers
Maple bacon

The Punk IPA and maple bacon canape with apple piccalilli was probably the thing I enjoyed the least. I think with the build up I was hoping for so much more, but it actually was relatively plain, even though it looked beautiful. More like a maple cured ham for my tastes. However, I have no doubt that the recipes will be under continuous development so I look forward to seeing how this one develops in the future.

Pretzel bites
Pig bits. As they are known in my house.
Salmon pastrami - a real hit with our table
The pretzel bites were also a little on the large side so a bit of a heavy mouthful for me, but this was totally irrelevant in the face of homemade beef jerky which had an oriental twist, giant pork scratchings which make the most excellent bar snack (but a word to the wise, don't eat with anything too hoppy as the bitterness and saltiness really don't do each other any favours!)

So, some real hits in there and a really promising menu, although the ambient lighting made it really difficult to take decent photos! The team weren't keen on staying still for photographs either so I've done my best...

 I am keen to go back and visit on a normal night to get a better idea of how all the individual elements work as complete meals and also to have a better idea about what the service is like. Have you been one of the early adopters and been down there already? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Soft Touch sMASHing Pop-Up Thursday Cafe

I already told you about how awesome the pop-up cafe at Soft Touch Arts is on a Thursday when I made my recommendation for five top lunches for under a fiver, but I think you didn't all get the memo because I went on Thursday and it was really quiet. It really shouldn't have been quiet. So I'm trying again and this time I'm serious.

Everyone's heard about Soft Touch Arts and the amazing work they do with young people in the city. They've been going for 30 years and use arts, media and creative projects to inspire and engage young people and to help them to develop new skills and boost their employability. The quality of their work is undeniable - they are picking up awards like there is no tomorrow at the moment - I saw them scoop the award for Shaping Tomorrow's Leaders at the Niche Business Awards held at the Athena last night. Last week they won the Social Impact Award at the Leicestershire East Midlands Chamber awards.

Picking up their gong last night

So their work is important and effective, but I am not sure that you all know about their swank new premises on New Walk. I'm guessing that's why you haven't visited their cafe yet. So let me make it simple. Walk up New Walk, away from town. Just before you get to New Walk Museum on your right, you will see Soft Touch Arts on your left at number 50. They are the only people with a giant, decorated '30' in honour of their anniversary. There'll also be a sandwich board with the cafe details on so you'll know you're in the right place. Their cafe is on each Thursday, but they also have a range of interesting and inspirational exhibitions throughout the year so keep an eye on their website to see what is on when and make sure you visit regularly.

Once you get to the cafe, you face a difficult choice. Soup, salad, or sandwich? Of course I couldn't pick just one so went for the soup of the day, Lentil and Vegetable, along with a toasted sandwich of tuna, red onion and red pesto. You can select from a range of sandwiches on thick slices of white or brown bread, toasted or not for just £3. If you're more in a salad mood then there are a range of choices and you can have up to three for your £3. Roasted vegetables, falafel, veggie couscous and more are available to suit veggies and tuna, lemon chicken or ham, brie and cranberry are there for the more carnivorous minded.

Everything is freshly made by young people who are out of education or training, and also students from Leicester College. They are trained and supported by a dedicated team of volunteers who help them develop new skills as well as providing delicious, wholesome food from their beautifully equipped kitchen - supported by grants and schemes led by a number of projects and the major supermarkets.

My fresh soup was absolutely delicious - packed with veggie flavour, lovely and thick and really nicely seasoned. My tuna melt with gooey cheese, again beautifully seasoned tuna with crisp red onion and a lovely backnote of flavour from the red pesto was lip smacking. Really satisfying food. Topped off with a pot of fresh coffee, this was an informal, friendly but gorgeous lunch.

If you've still space for more, they also have a selection of freshly prepared baked goods. You had better be quick off the blocks for these though - they sell quickly! If you can't make it across to Soft Touch, never fear - they do a delivery round to businesses on New Walk between 9.30am and 11am. You can call for delivery before 11am on 0116 255 2592 and they even provide catering for business lunches, meetings and events from just £3.50 per head. 

What are you waiting for? Get down there this Thursday, enjoy some delicious food and why not tweet us your #foodporn pics to @Morrighani or @SoftTouchArts!
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