This Is the Chef ~ The Land, Our Home, and First Forage
This place is magical. I’m not trying to get too “woo” too quickly here, but the moment you step onto the property, you quickly realize how unreal it is that this place is so beautiful. When I wake up in the morning and walk outside my room to a domesticated wilderness overlooking the Italian countryside, I remember where I am again and that I’m not dreaming.
We live in Macchie Alte, which translates to “high spots,” but apparently macchie also means “forest”— either way, it is undeniably gorgeous. It’s a township of Labro, a majestic little hill town that looks like it was extracted from some medieval movie. This town includes the monastery-turned-hotel/restaurant/event space, Colle di Costa, where the Artmonks work, rehearse, use the internet, do most of their administrative work, and sometimes even perform. I usually don’t go over there, though; my work is being domestic at the house.
The house we live in comes with some quirks and a beautiful piece of land and I’m happy to call it home. It is the house of our patron’s late father and was not lived in for years before the long-term Artmonks moved here this year. There were a few great things that they got out of cleaning out and moving, including some delicious bottles of homemade tomato sauce; gardening tools, which are coming in handy; and tiles and bricks that are being used for everything from meditation to art installations.
The first month has been an amazing exploration of the many wild foods on and off of the property, from cherries and wild cicoria (dandelion greens) on the route between the house and the monastery, to the bushes upon bushes of rosemary and sage that I will never be able to put a dent into. I am most excited about finding nepitella growing wild on my first day here; leaves from the bay tree on the ridge have also found their way into dinner. There are beautiful crabapple trees along the country roads bearing fruit now, and we are all feasting on figs from the trees on our own property, and we’ll enjoy these for the rest of the summer.
For me, one of the most noticeable aspects about Italy is the presence of many fruit-bearing trees and herbs embedded in the landscape. Nut and fruit trees line the roads, and it is common for people to have grape vines growing up the walls of their houses, to have fruit in the yard and herbs on the patio. We are in a rural, primarily agricultural area of Italy, and I feel the presence of this wild produce influencing the way I cook and feed my community.