It’s hard to put into words our experience at Cal’ Bianchino Frattoria Agricola di Carlo e Gigia in Urbino, Italy. I don’t feel my words will do Carlo and Gigia justice, but I will try my best. Not many times in my life have I been to a place so warm, loving, generous, knowledgeable and simple. Here is a glimpse into the unique and wonderful place we came to love, Cal’ Bianchino, and to the people who became Nonno e Nonna to Rum and Stella.
We arrived in Urbino city center, in the region of Marche, Italy by bus. We learned the hard way, not to sit Stella in the back of a long bus ride. Who knew? Stella and I arrived with egg and potato throw up all over us. I felt bad for the bus driver who had to clean up that seat. I jumped off the bus as soon as the doors opened, cupping with two hands a wonderful throw-up soup, only to get sidetracked by the amazing view of medieval Urbino. Urbino, Italy is a beautiful city that is deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers things for both tourists and locals. It is “kind of” off the main touristic routes and still feels like “real” Italy.
Gigia’s sister picked us up from the bus station in her car, which by the way used methane as fuel instead of gas, and drove us out to Cal’ Bianchino. We arrived at a beautiful, rustic farmhouse with the most picturesque views. This is one of those places that exist, both in your mind and in real life, where people live in an Italian painting.
Cal’ Bianchino is 23 acres of gorgeous steep hills and rolling pasture land. It is predominantly a pig farm that raises roughly 60 Cinta Senese pigs (a very ancient Tuscan breed of pig), as well as about 10 cows, many chickens, rabbits, geese, 2 donkeys, a horse and, last but not least, a peacock named Alf. There is a Biologique (Organic) certified butcher lab on property where Carlo takes these heritage breed pigs and transforms them into hoof and bone-in prosciutto, cured salumis, sausages, guanchale, lonza, lard, spit roasted whole hog for weddings and parties, and so much more. At this point, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Carlo and Gigia’s primary focus is on the well-being of the animals with great respect for the earth and its rhythms. The pigs are raised in the woods and fenced off areas and then rotated for land management. The cows are raised on pasture, in which they rotate in the same manner. They also raised rabbits for meat. There are chickens everywhere! Everyday we would go Easter Egg hunting to find the eggs that were laid. This was so much fun for the kids! The geese were very noisy and hissed at you when you walked by, but were harmless. Their eggs were delicious to bake with and HUGE! The 2 donkeys were up the road at a neighbors property clearing it for them. And then there was Alf the peacock! We think he was in love with another peacock across the valley, because he would call out to her all the time and she would call back! And if you have ever heard a peacock you will never forget their call! We have a funny joke- A peacock is like going on a date with a beautiful girl and then she opens her mouth to speak and KKKCCCAWWWWWW! Alf made us smile everyday, but now I know that I will never own a peacock!
At Cal’ Bianchino they grow and produce all the food for themselves and their guests. There are multiple gardens growing tomatoes, peppers, fava beans, eggplant, onions, garlic, a separate huge field of potatoes, and then other smaller gardens on the land with salad mixes, edible flowers and plants. All this talk of the food that they grow brings me to the cantina (cellar). This place, which most Italian homes have to varying degrees, was amazing. There was enough food to last months, maybe a year. Carlo and Gigia would preserve and store all the food they grew! There were pickled squashes, okra, cucumbers, all types of fruit jams and marmalades, canned tomatoes, peppers, bins and bins of potatoes and onions, garlic hanging from the ceiling, and the wine and beer was plentiful as well. They have there own grocery store in which they stocked up all year long! It was truly amazing. We were at Cal Bianchino for 18 days and ate 3 meals a day with them. The only time we went to the store was for pull-ups for Romolo (2 yr old) and some fruit for the kids to snack on. Now that is fresh and local if I have ever experienced it! I was so blessed to eat at there table the fruits of there labor. We savored every moment.
Carlo and Gigia showed us many aspects of farm life. Every morning either Jill or I would be up at 7:30 to go feed all the animals on the farm. This took about an hour. After all the animals were taken care of, fed and milked, everyone on the farm would meet for breakfast. The menu typically would be fresh baked whole grain bread with an assortment of homemade fruit jams and local honeys, and eggs with sometimes a slice of pancetta. Stella and Rum LOVED the pancetta and would have eaten it every day if able. Most of the time there was fresh raw cows milk, coffee and herbal tea from the herbs planted in their garden like lemon verbena and peppermint. The food was delicious and so simple. One morning we had pig pancreas, spinal cord, and brains scrambled in with our geese eggs. This was something special. The texture was quite gelatinous and soft and the flavor was a strong pork taste. This was a first for ALL of us and something I will never forget. We would break after breakfast with jobs around the farm: cleaning out an old broken down barn, dead tree removal, foraging for food, making syrups out of the flowers we collected, helping in the butcher lab, baking breads and pasta, we did it all. Around 1:00 pm, we would gather for a light lunch, and then REST! This took some getting used to, but I have learned to love it. All Italians take a break in the middle of the day to rest until about 3 or 4, then start to work again. We would work around the farm until dinner which was roughly 7:00-ish. We would all gather and eat dinner. Afterwards we would relax, drink a digestif and then go to bed.
I feel truly blessed to have learned from Carlo and Gigia. The crazy part is that it went far beyond farming. They are some of the most generous people I have ever met. They have been hosting WWOOFer’s (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) for over 10 years; opening up their home countless times to complete strangers. We were welcomed with opened arms, and they took in our kids with such love that they have left an indelible mark on all of our lives. Romolo said the other day, after being gone for over a month, “Missing Gigia!” out of the blue. He went on to say, “Take me to her house!”
One day I am sure that we will return and we look forward to the next time that we will be able to sit at their table and enjoy a delicious meal. Until then, we hope to take in all that we saw and learned, and put it into practice.