Friday, July 12, 2013


Having conquered the fine arts of cooking pizza and gelato, the Ecksteins awoke today ready to step it up a notch and milk some goats. Okay, our goat-related activities had been planned for some time and they did not involve any milking (by us, anyway), but we expanded our horizons nonetheless.

Our friend Betsy Levisay had been with her family in Tuscany last year and, when I saw Betsy earlier this year, she had only two words: goat farm. She said that they had taken their three kids to a goat farm south of Florence, where they all made some cheese, drank some wine and ate a delicious lunch. We try not to ignore advice involving any two of these three things so, months ago, Keri booked a date with the farm when we would be in Florence. Today was that day.

Much to Owen's chagrin, we were up early and out the door by 800 am. Our car was ready and off we went. Having taken the same route out of Florence two days prior, I anticipated the seemingly arbitrary and random turns before the navigation system prompts came up. We were making great time and would be at our destination, Podere Le Fornaci, a goat-cheese farm located (by its address, anyway) in a small town called Greve in Chianti. We had a street address. Our navigation system recognized the street name, but not the number. How many goat-cheese farms can there be in this small town, we asked ourselves? We'll get to town, find the street and drive up an down until we hit (figuratively speaking) the goats.

The plan worked in the sense that it got us as far as the navigation system would take us, that is, to Via Citille, which seems to surround a town called Greta, which is three kilometers north of Greve, and, more importantly, happens to run in three separate strips off the main road (SR222) that runs through both Greta and Greve. Better yet, only two sections of Via Citille are marked with signs of any kind. We drove through the dirt roads on both of those, neither of which had any sign of a number 74, goats or goat-related life or a farm called Podere Le Fornaci. On the first section of narrow road we took, we had to stop and back up to allow a work truck of some kind to get through going the other way. The driver rolled down his window as he was passing and spoke, with great purpose, several sentences in Italian to me. I have no idea what the man said. Keri speculates he knew we were the goat-farm suckers and wanted to point us in the right direction. I'd like to think he wanted to share with us the key to eternal happiness, only we missed out because I refused to tell him I had not understood a single word of what he said. I guess we'll never know.

About 920, we gave up, called the telephone number we had been provided and were told that the farm is right off SR222, just past Greta, on the right, down the road lined with trees. Do you mean the road that is in no way identified with your street name and, is in fact marked private, I wanted to say. I held my tongue, got us to the farm, and allowed the fun to begin. Already there, knee deep in goat cheese, was a family with three kids around the same ages as ours. They were from Concord, Mass., and their nine-year old boy was wearing a Red Sox t-shirt. Despite that offense, they were lovely people and we enjoyed spending a half-day with them.

We put on hair nets, shoe protectors and aprons, washed our hands, and entered the cheese-making room. (Hello, my name is Owen and I am have prepared all of the goat cheese you are going to eat today. Buon appetito!) I assume there is a more technical term for that room that our host, Marco, mentioned, but I did not catch it. We each scooped some of the cheese curd into a small bucket that, we were told, would sit for some unknown number of days before it had finally earned the right to be called goat cheese.

Having made it that far, we then walked out into one of the several pastures between the farm and SR222, where we met the goat heard. We were first introduced to Mario, the older male who had apparently sired every single kid in the heard. In one season -- about five months, Mario is responsible for producing 40 or so kids. That seems like an awful lot of responsibility. Understandably, Mario is a bit on edge, and we were told to keep our distance.

We then walked back to some of the farm buildings to see some of the younger kids (kid goats, that is, not humans) and where the goats were miked. Owen fell into a mud pile on the way there and was most displeased. He wanted to call off the farm day entirely. Despite repeated efforts to knock the extraneous mud off his shoes, Owen could not be reasoned with. He insisted on going walking back to the farm house. He started heading back the road in that direction, while the rest of us continued in the circle the other way, not wanting to miss out on the rest of our tour. (As Owen's solo trip did not involve a toilet of any kind, I think Keri did not violate her blood oath to her mother.) Owen missed some pretty cute goats, Lauren's first experience with flypaper (think of Lauren totally grossed out and double that, twice) and the milking equipment, but we did see him back at the farmhouse. (Pictured above is Lauren petting a baby goat. This may be the first non-Eckstein family dog animal she has ever had physical contact with. We'll have to check the record books on that.)

Owen was most pleased to have found that a tasting and lunch table had been set up indoors. The farm house dining hall, he declared happily. The prospect of indoor seating, water and food seemed to have done away with his concern about the life-ruining muddy shoes.

Plates of goat cheese and bread were brought in, as were bottles of red wine from a vineyard in the same town. The cheese was good. It was a bit sharper and more pungent than the cow variety, but equally tasty. (Lauren is seen here enjoying her bread but conspicuously avoiding any of the cheese on her plate.) As. someone with a slight lactose issue, I appreciated not having to worry about that at all. Homemade pasta, salad, more wine, and a desert of goat cheese cheesecake or ricotta rounded out the experience.

All were really, really good. The cheesecake, I thought, was even better than cow cheesecake -- or at least how I think the cow stuff tastes. I did not partake of the ricotta (with honey), but understand it was quite good, too. By mid afternoon, we could eat no more and Owen had returned to thinking about his mud-caked shoes, so we were asked to leave.

Back in the flat, Keri embarked on an afternoon wash-a-thon. This is our final day in our final flat, so she wanted to make the most of our washing machine -- including all of our muddy shoes and clothes.

As promised, we went back to Osteria De 'Benci which, if anything, was better than it had been on Monday. Owen was in fine form at dinner, asking in rapid-fire a series of questions on topics ranging from religion, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, presidential assassinations, the conspiracy theories behind the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, John Wilkes Booth (including his profession and evidence surrounding his death) causes of deaths for presidents (current and former), socio-economic backgrounds of various presidents, the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, space, gravity, elliptical orbits, dark matter, tornadoes, and wine. I eventually gave up and just handed Owen my phone so the rest of us could focus on the greatness of the dinner before us.

After a warm evening walk back to the flat, the kids and I hit Antica Gelateria Fiorentina before calling it a day, or really, five days, in Florence. Today went about as all of our days here have gone. I met some nice people, learned a few things, saw some beautiful scenery and ate way too much. I regret nothing.

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