Towards the end of 2018, I was privileged to join a group of chefs, writers, farmers, archeologists, photographers and filmmakers for Terroir Tuscany. One thing unified us all - food: its provenance, history, politics, production and sustainability.
Hosted by Charlotte Horton of Castello di Potentino, our breathtaking setting, and Arlene Stein of Terroir Hospitality, we spent 7 days learning from each other and local expert producers. We would meet each day after breakfast for talks in the importance of terroir and the power and politics of food today and throughout time, with a particular emphasis on the unique region of the castello, with its history pre-dating Etruscan times.
Charlotte and Arlene had worked immensely hard to curate a programme which enthralled, educated, entertained and moved us all. Talks, discussions, debate and hands-on workshops filled our days, whilst our evenings were spent sharing wonderful, locally-sourced food and the castello’s delicious wine. And as the evenings stretched into night, we would gather in the courtyard, warming ourselves by the open fires as we listened to the sounds of the guitar and marvelled at the star-strewn Tuscan skies.
Every day we learnt from a different expert producer from the region. We made cheese - delicious ricotta and pecorino, - we picked olives and tasted the new season’s oil, we made bread from ancient grains and recipes, we toured the castello’s vineyards and cellars, tasting wonderful local wines, we observed the Teatro Porco, as the local expert butcher prepared an entire pig for meat and charcuterie, we made fresh pasta and foraged wild plants and fungi nestling in the local hillside.
And we ate. Oh, how we ate! Cooks, chefs and restaurateurs were legion amongst us and, each afternoon, a posse of volunteers would gather in the ancient castle kitchen to make the evening meal. Baskets of vegetables and herbs filled the ancient fireplace and an impromptu menu would be devised from that day’s offerings. We shared ideas and knowledge, whilst learning so much under the relaxed tutelage of the some of the world’s most accomplished chefs (peppered with a Michelin star or two). How could it be anything but relaxed, as we prepped vegetables, meat and grain around an ancient table, stone sink in the corner and glass of wine in hand. So many cooks, so much joy and laughter and not a single broth spoiled.
This Terroir was a life-changing opportunity. What we shared and learned touched us all. An awareness of terroir and consideration of what it means should be important to each one of us. Its influence is impossible to overstate and should be paramount to everyone working within the food sector. Terroir is more than just a region of land. It is at the core of every community. It is the history, culture, politics, power, sustainability and the future of food production. It should be at the heart of all we do.
And if we put it at the core of what we do, we all become its ambassadors. We learn, we share, we influence, and we create both the power and will to change.
My week at Castello di Potentino has changed my view of the world and my community. For me, the world has now become smaller and my community so much larger. We gathered under its ancient walls as strangers from disparate parts of the world. We left as friends.
Our workshops are run by award-winning sourdough baker Helen Underwood.