Italian Autumn with Eating Travel
By Noelle Quinn
An early morning start for our small group of eight, rugged up and ready for a three day cooking and eating adventure in the beautiful North East Victorian autumn last year.
With the early immigration settlement into this area, with as many as 1 in 20 Australians having links to Bonegilla just outside of Wodonga, many of the European migrants, particularly Italians chose Bright, Myrtleford and the King Valley as their preferred destination to start a new life. Over the years their cultural lives, particularly their love of food, wine and conviviality has seen this area burgeon as a tourist destination. Our first destination on this slightly grey and misty morning is to the warmth and hospitality of Patrizia Simone’s Cooking School. Patrizia and her husband George (recently deceased) were known for many years for their much awarded, hatted restaurant “Simones” in Bright.
Patrizia is slowly winding her life back to being a little more for her and her family and a whole lot less for the public, so this morning we all know how lucky we are.
We arrive to strong Italian espresso and a freshly baked quince crostata, just a little taste to warm us as we head out to forage. Misting rain ever so lightly, we walk gently amongst the pines, Patrizia demonstrating what to look for and how to pick the beautiful golden pine mushrooms, nestled covertly under pine needles as they pop up after recent rain. The mushrooms not to touch, despite their pretty appearance, are plentiful as well, so foraging is only advised with a knowledgeable and experienced guide, as we have. A further drive up the valley to the so, so pretty village of Wandiligong, the site of one of, if not the oldest chestnut tree in the area. One of the originals planted in Australia, magnificently spreading its boughs and plentiful with chestnuts on the ground below.
Our baskets are full, it’s back to the kitchen and not long before the pungent smell of our mushrooms, laced with olive oil and garlic are sizzling away, seasoned and piled onto toasted bread stick, topped with fresh parmesan. A bruschetta of autumn for morning tea! As the team knuckle down to their tasks, a succession of preparations for duck saltimbocca with sage and masala, pillows of gnocchi in a gorgonzola and truffle sauce, tiramisu to swoon over and the treats keep coming. A glass of bubbles followed the bruschetta, a wedge of persimmon wrapped with prosciutto, a demi-tasse of chestnut soup - what a morning and we haven’t yet sat for lunch.
When we do, the gnocchi comes first, with a delightful aged riesling, the duck follows with sides; a balsamic red cabbage and cauliflower & hazelnut dish appeared out of nowhere and two Italian reds to sighs of contentment all round. The conversation flowed, the day wore away gently with lunch completing late afternoon with the awaited Tiramisu. Patrizia is generous, happy and warm, easily imparting her knowledge and gathering a new audience of devotees. With full hearts and stomachs too we say our thanks and farewells.
A short drive away, perhaps half an hour, we are on the outskirts of Myrtleford for a night’s accommodation in four individual villas. Gathering fireside for a local gin, a glass of wine or two, the conversation flowed until all had snuck away for a dreamy satisfied sleep as the rain fell outside. Despite the wintry weather these accommodations are spacious, beautifully appointed and the views and location command a return visit for another season.
Our morning has us up and out for a nearby breakfast, a good coffee is always an essential element! Back on the road we take a turn to the left winding our way to the King Valley, similar but different in so many ways. The vineyards are plentiful, the autumn colours stunning and in no time at all we’ve arrived at Pizzini Wines, a warm table in their cellar door, another warm drink, biscotti or a chocolate fig cake, mmm.
The kitchen feels a little different today, somewhat more commercial, less homely perhaps but it also services a cellar door trattoria so it’s a busy one. Katrina Pizzini is busily putting the final touches to the day's organisation before pronouncing she is ready to begin. And begin they do; with a fascinating light and lovely strudel pastry, destined later in the day to be filled with homegrown apples and served for dessert.
Fred Pizzini arrives into the kitchen, with his bounty of foraged mushrooms from the morning walk. Slippery jacks are the group’s delight as we hadn’t found them the day before. Fred anchors a corner of the stove to whip these up for lunchtime tastings while Katrina reformed her kitchen control onto the next dishes: Caponata with an abundance of colorful peppers follows. Then in a flurry of flour it’s on to pasta, even with a version for a gluten free dietary, fettuccine served with a lighter blue cheese, roasted pumpkin and spinach making a lovely light and creamy coating. Once we are seated for lunch all of this is married to a well-dressed salad of garden greens. The wines to accompany where the pick of the vintages in appropriate styles, a stylish Prosecco and the premium Nebbiolo were widely favoured. Fred moved us along then to the Barrel room further up the road, a white clothed table full of glasses looking slightly odd amongst the wall of barrels, magnificent amphoras and stainless tanks further back. Fred Pizzini has paved the way for so many winemakers in the King Valley and worked masterfully to grow and attract tourism into the region. He has maintained his warmth and sense of fun but most of all, his pride of achievement shines through with his children now carrying out the key roles of a significantly larger and successful business enterprise. As we tasted, queried, questioned our way through a number of newer pressings and older vintages Fred’s face shone with delight as he sipped a new vintage bound for the premium range, or explained the relatively young Vin Santo, a key family drink for them, so new to many of us.
Back in the warmth of the cellar door, a Vin Santo reappeared, thirteen years old this one and along with the beautifully baked strudel from the morning's labour.
Oh, another day, delightfully sated and ready for a rest? Yes please was the chorus, so just a quick nip back up the road and another three villas to wrap us in luxury.
A sleep for most, a misty walk through the little village of Whitfield for others. Rest and remedy for a casual evening at the Mountain View Hotel (also a Pizzini owned business), served as is the case with the widespread, current staff shortages, by the same delightful waiter who served us over lunch.
The final day woke slowly, everyone took advantage of the slower pace, sleeping in, cooking their own breakfast with the fabulous local produce provided in the villas and taking time to sit, read or chat quietly as they soaked up the valley surrounding them. When it came time to move it wasn’t far for another coffee and a viewing of what will soon be a distillery making limoncello, grappa and absinthe as their point of difference and in deference to the region’s Italinality. A drive to explore a few other emerging spots in this stunning area finally led us to our final, and yes finale, lunch. Chrismont Wines, the smiles and welcomes of Jo and Arni Pizzini, and three hours to while away, grazing and gazing as the view is magnificent here. The kitchen fed us, all the entrees, served beautifully for sharing, a choice of mains with the roasted craytail on fettuccine featuring strongly, here a couple of confit duck, there a crusted lamb loin, and all but one or two forgoing dessert.
Laughed out, well fed, well cared for, no more required. Our trip home; perhaps the quietest, a very successful Italian Autumn, a happy crew.
Images : Eating Travel and Pizzini Wines
Stay a night or two at Circa 1928 before heading to your trip to King Valley
For booking this experience, contact Noelle Quinn at Eating Travel Tour