Putney Student Travel: Career | Food & Farm in Italy

Putney, VT

Overview

Food occupies a central role in Italian cultural identity. Together with fellow food lovers and culinary-trained leaders, discover the art and science of Italian food on this Putney Student Travel summer trip to Italy. Sow, harvest, cook, and savor as you explore the myriad ingredients of this vital cultural tradition.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Gain hands-on experience with the principles and practices of sustainable food production.
  • Fire up the villa’s brick oven for a night of artisanal pizza-making.
  • Meet chefs and restaurateurs as you dine in some of Orvieto, Siena, and Florence’s most acclaimed trattorias and ristorantes.
  • Pursue an independent project of your own choosing related to food culture, production, food writing, food photography, or cooking.
  • Learn the secrets of Pecorino cheese-making and olive oil production from local farmers.
  • Use everything you have learned to plan, prepare, and serve a multi-course farewell feast for your new Italian amici.

OVERVIEW

From Field to Fork

The Industrial Revolution provided the Western World with the means to feed a rapidly increasing population using radically less manpower. We now live with the unintended consequence of such advances — food is processed in enormous bulk and shipped halfway around the world before finding its way to our pantries. We find ourselves disconnected from our farms and farmers, and from the story of what we eat. Our Farm to Table program in Italy seeks to reconnect participants with the entire process of food production and eating — in the country where the Slow Food movement was born and family-style, sit-down meals continue to be more the expectation than the exception.

Pulicaro

Begin this high school summer culinary trip in Italy with two weeks at Pulicaro, a completely renovated 18th century family farm on the border of Umbria and Lazio in the north. Our hosts, Marco and Chiara, moved to the countryside from Milan in 2001 and began the process of reviving the farm according to sustainable, organic principles. Today, Pulicaro boasts over 2,000 olive trees, a fruit orchard, free-range chickens and geese, and acres of gardens filled with heirloom varietals of tomatoes, onions, garlic, pumpkins, and a dizzying array of other fruits and vegetables.

Farm Life & Independent Projects

Students spend each day in small work groups learning the skills and science behind planting, harvesting, and animal care and should be prepared to break a sweat as they get their hands dirty in pursuit of this hands-on experience. Cooking classes and special food workshops take place in the professional kitchen and full canning facilities on the premises. Your leaders, both trained food professionals, guide you in the kitchen and out — leading evening discussions about a variety of food topics, such as nutrition, food policy, restaurant trends, and the locavore movement. During our time at Pulicaro, pursue an independent, food-related project (artisanal gelato making, anyone?).

On several nights during our stay, plan and prepare the evening meal for each other, learning how to balance tastes and present foods like a professional kitchen staff. There is also time to get off the farm and swim in nearby Lake Bolsena, walk along country paths to nearby towns, take basic Italian lessons from our hosts, and relax under the shade of one of Pulicaro’s many mulberry trees.

Spannocchia

We then take our moveable feast to the stately Castello di Spannocchia, a centuries-old manor house located in the middle of over 1,000 acres of pristine wilderness near the medieval city of Siena. Spannocchia is home to an internationally famous farm internship program, and one of the only reserves of traditionally raised Cinta Senese pigs. Here, we learn about the region’s agricultural history, take part in a delicious six-part “ham tasting,” and get a chance to discuss food careers with some of Spannocchia’s current interns. Spend each day of an extended four-day weekend at Spannocchia traveling to nearby food producers to learn about their specialty and engage in practical workshops.  Explore pasta making, traditional desserts, olive oil production, and much more. Enjoy several afternoons and evenings in Siena and Florence, visiting fresh food markets and dining out at night.

Final Feast

Finally, armed with newly learned skills and knowledge, and having collected all the necessary ingredients, we return to Pulicaro to prepare a multi-course cena finale, or final feast, of our own design. Parents of participants are invited to join us on the final evening of the program, as we sit down with Italian friends and one another to enjoy the delicious fruits of our labors.

Please note that this program explores the entire Farm to Table process, with a good deal of focus placed on the stages that precede cooking. In addition to participating in cooking classes and preparing meals frequently for the group, students should come prepared and excited to engage actively in supervised rotations on a working farm and explore the many non-culinary processes associated with food production.

Accommodations

Group accommodations are carefully selected by Putney Student Travel to emphasize convenience, a positive group environment, and wholesome interaction with local people and fellow travelers. Throughout the program, at Pulicaro and Spannocchia, we stay in double and triple rooms in restored, centuries-old farm buildings. Rooms are separated by gender. Students have access to common space as well as ample outside space at our accommodations for community meetings, pick-up games of frisbee, etc. Leaders reside in the same residence as students throughout the program.

Physical Challenge Level

Days are filled with movement — working in gardens and with animals, walking the streets of Florence and Siena, or enjoying a hike to Torre Alfina. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

A Typical Day

Most days, students eat breakfast together as a group, and then split into smaller groups to do farming rotations for the rest of the morning: working in the gardens, with the animals, or transforming raw food into products like jams, tomato sauce, etc. Students sometimes work together also to set up for, prepare, and clean up after lunch as a group. In the afternoon, sometimes we will go on a whole-group excursion — to Florence or Siena, a hike, or a trip to Lake Bolsena, for example. Afternoons are also a time when students can pursue independent projects, relax, play soccer with new friends, or help cook dinner. After a group dinner together, participate in a meeting to discuss the day, plan for upcoming excursions, or simply play a game together.

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