La Tavola Marche

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Ah, Italy. I have to tell you, I've become even more enamored (is this possible?) with Italy since our Living in Italy Editor, Ashley Bartner, came on board and started sharing her stories and photos of Italy. From festivals to local events - and, of course, food - Ashley shares her love of Italy, local food, and transforms us with it. From her 50 things I've Learned Living in Italy to Meet the Milk Man - Latte Crudo, Ashley entices the reader with locals, events, recipes, and more. I am most pleased that Ashley and her husband, Chef Jason, have an Agriturismo in Italy, called La Tavola Marche - travelers can come visit, and experience La Vita Italia. We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Ashley about fresh local food, artisanal producers, slowing down, and eating within season. Here's what she had to say...

The Aspiring Innkeepers Bootcamp at La Tavola Marche

WE: Please tell us about La Tavola Marche...

AB: La Tavola Marche is a unique culinary holiday where you actively participate in Italian culture through seasonal activities paired with local artisan bakers, farmers, and wine makers while staying in a rustic 500 year old agriturismo (farmhouse). If you are willing to muddy your feet, we’ll guide you off the beaten path where you will see Italy at its roots, away from regimented tours, crowds, and outlet malls.

We combine searching for the best seasonal local ingredients, hands-on cooking classes, and the conviviality of the table to help you connect with the people through their food, culture, and terra.

La Tavola Marche marries the enchantment of untouched nature and a land of magically unique culture with the comfort of modern accommodations, complete with all the features that are considered eco-friendly. Our guests devour the local specialties that Chef Jason prepares daily based on what is in season at the market.

La Tavola Marche is located at Agriturismo Ca’Camone in Sant'Angelo in Vado, offering a pleasant farm holiday on over 500 acres of picturesque rolling hills and farmland in a truffle-rich valley. Stay in one of our spacious apartments surrounded by fruit and nut trees in the garden and wild edibles scattered throughout the property. The rooms are named for the fruit trees surrounding the house, and all rooms have beautiful views. Exposed stone, wood beam ceilings, cosy fireplaces, and rustic tile floors tell you that you can only be in one place — Bella Italia!

Guests can explore the sprawling hiking trails or relax by the pool and be in a hurry to go nowhere. The famed black truffle is found on the property and if you are lucky enough to visit in the fall, you can taste its unique flavor. The surrounding wooded areas are perfect for those who enjoy excursions into the forest to gather wild berries, delicious wild mushrooms, or even participate in the search for fragrant truffles under old oak trees with the guidance of an expert truffle hunter. La Tavola Marche offers a vacation spent in close contact with nature and the tradition of times gone by.

Who would enjoy a stay? Someone who has already visited Rome, Venice, etc. & really looking to see authentic Italy, away from the tour buses & deep into the countryside.

Also a culinary tourist - a traveller that shares a passion in food, cooking or not! But enjoys a good meal, made with local fresh ingredients. Also a traveller looking for a bit of an adventure of the unknown - not many locals speak English, and if it's harvest season & there are nuts to picked or the vines down the street are juicy & heavy, then it's time to pick! Join in, grab a basket, lend a hand - have a great story to tell when you return home!

Dining al fresco, La Tavola Marche

WE:  What led you to start La Tavola Marche?

AB: We knew we wanted to run an agriturimo & cooking school.  We had stayed at numerous other agriturismos throughout Italy & enjoyed the atmosphere of staying on a working farm.  La Tavola Marche is founded on our feelings that food is the most accessible, and one of the most unique and enjoyable ways to get to know a new destination. Culinary experiences not only enhance traveler’s enjoyment through pleasing their taste buds, but also allow for an immediate immersion into the local culture.

We love to share the simplicity of the Italian cooking, taking the freshest possible ingredients & preparing them simply. What a great vacation to stay in a relaxing beautiful setting & learn to prepare this delicious food, taking home more than just memories, but also the ability to recreate a bit of Italy at home.

WE: How important is it to slow down - in life, and in food? How do you help visitors experience that?

AB: This is why we are here! After living in NYC for 7 years, we were done with the hustle & bustle of the big city life. We were ready to slow down & enjoy the day, enjoy each other & live for the moment.  This is one of the most important values we share with our guests, that is why we pride ourselves on creating a laid-back atmosphere where you feel like you are staying at an old friend's house. In Italy, we take the time to stop & chat with a passing friend on the street, pop in at a neighbors for a caffe, & if the sun is warm sit outside & soak it up! Time is relative as well, posted hours of operation on a shop window are only a suggestion in small towns like this - because it is more important to visit with each other than to rush back to work! This is such a fundamental difference from life in the states - where we kill ourselves at work, to make the bottom line, barely seeing your family...here, kids get out of school everyday to go home for lunch with their family! Can you imagine!

Here, Italians really live for the moment with a focus on personal relationships more than materialistic things they are passionate about life - food, culture, music & the arts.

We feel that food is the most accessible way to connect our guests to the culture & life in Italy. The seasonality of food is the perfect example - because if you must have patience & enjoy frutta di bosco (berries) when there are in season because you won’t see them again until next year!  That is also why we like to teach the local traditional recipes of the area - from making bread or pasta from scratch, waiting for the dough to rise, or stuffing sausages to even collecting wild edibles - all things that slow down the day, make you appreciate the food a little more.

We have spotty cell phone reception at best on our property, no central phone line, 2 clocks in the whole house & no real TV...why come all the way out to the Le Marche countryside to email or chat on the phone?! No - you are here to relax, forget it all & spend your day by the pool in a hurry to go nowhere!

We love sharing that experience with our guests - they return home more connected to the land of Le Marche, slowly changing their eating habits and supporting their local farmers at home.
We are spoiled because we would have to go out of our way not to embrace it!  

It is also very important to me to have guests slow down & savor the time they are here, especially because guests from the states usually only have a week or 2 of vacation for the whole year - and they choose to spend it with us. That’s a big responsibility for us - to make sure we create the most relaxed, enjoyable & tasty holiday for them! I like to tell guests to take off their watch, tell the time by the sun & their belly. Take a nap - ohhh! this is something we love about living here as well! A mid-day nap is totally accepted & expected!

La Tavola Marche

WE: Le Marche is an incredible food area...can you please share how you find your food treasures, and share them?

AB: Ohh it is so simple! This is one of the treasures of living in Italy! We love supporting our neighbors. For example, just down the road our neighbors make the most delicious honey (we are always buying more, serving it to our guests drizzled over fresh figs & aged pecorino and then accompanying our guests to help them buy a few jars to take home).  Our good friend Domenico Fusciani sells artisan meats, cheeses, wine & much more of the area - we visit his warehouse/shop & taste all the new products, buying big hunks of parmesan & legs of proscuitto to feed our guests.  

The food we serve is created by local ingredients, inspired by local traditions - for us, that’s la dolce vita!

Seasonality is everything at La Tavola Marche - we live by the seasons! We eat & serve the freshest possible ingredients at the height of the season & do the least amount to them - “letting the flavors shine through! Most dishes I make have only a handful of ingredients.  It’s the simplicity that drew me to the cooking here,” says Jason (the Chef)

When you eat with the seasons you only have squash blossoms or figs for example, a few weeks and then its gone! Not like in the States where we’d have strawberries all year ‘round. It makes it a bit of surprise when you walk into the market, it makes the fruits & vegetables much more special & you really do appreciate it more & look forward to it for next year - it’s an edible gift of the season.

We try to practice a 0km diet - cheese, meats, fruits & veg all marchigiani. Our meat comes from a farmer up the road with pigs and cows. Wild game,funghi & truffles from the woods behind our house!  The fruits & vegetables we buy are from local farmers and the frutta vedure in town. This is our first year here & this fall we are starting our own orto - garden (currently we have a nice herb garden, numerous different fruit & nut trees surrounding the house that we pick from & of course the wild edibles-strawberries, blackberries, asparagus, wild dandidlion greens & much more) Not only is this important in the quality & freshness of the food, but also to cut down on the energy used for it to arrive on our table.  In Italy this is practiced culturally, not as something hip or even difficult (remember they are passionate about their Region & town) - it is a way of life in the country...A step back in how it was done before WWII, where the growing population of pesticides, engineered seeds and species of vegetables were chosen not for their flavor but durability in transportation.

Seasonality effects everything! You will not see pasta with fava beans in the summer. “Menu planning is easy - the season picks what I make & eat! Of course there are year round staples, but the changing seasons keep it fresh.”

We have started jarring/canning/preserving and taking advantage of the bounty of peaches or tomatoes we have, extending the life a bit longer into winter.

Walk along our road or into our backyard and you will find wild edibles like greens, dandilions, asparagus, berries, nuts, peaches, apricots, apples, pears, plums, fennel, numerous species of funghi & truffles all grown wild here! It’s incredible!

Here you will eat what you're fed, there are no menu options & the guests love it! This gives Jason the freedom to work with what is at the height of the season & best looking at the market each day.  Guests are surprised by every dish, with whispers of 'what's to come next...'  Jason enjoys the time he spends at each table explaining the dish, its' history & ingredients, or where the meat is from. It helps connect them to the food they are about to eat.

Charcuterie, La Tavola Marche

WE:  Intercultural learning is so critical for understanding the world and its people. How can learning the food and culture of a place contribute to that?

AB:  La Tavola Marche is founded on our feelings that food is the most accessible, and one of the most unique and enjoyable ways to get to know a new destination. Culinary experiences not only enhance traveler’s enjoyment through pleasing their taste buds, but also allow for an immediate immersion into the local culture.

I remember on our first trip to Italy, we met with a family that for the past 200 years has produced traditional balsamic of Modena in their home. We spent the afternoon listening to their stories, learning how the balsamic is made and eagerly tasting samples. Towards the end of the afternoon, we asked if their daughter would carry on the family business & they said no, she wants to move to Rome or Milan and she didn’t want to be a farmer or balsamic maker. We were immediately concerned with who will continue your family tradition of creating this incredible vinegar!? We felt emotionally invested after only 2 hours of chatting. But it is because they brought us into their home, spoke broken English & we shared a common love for homemade & artisanal products.  We felt like taking home a bottle of this precious liquid was bring home a member of their family to the states, one who sat quietly maturing in the attic for the past 30 years. Everytime we drizzle the thick balsamic over a dish, we think of that family and we continue to share their story with guests 3 years later!

Experiences like this are exactly what shaped our ideals of what we want to share with guests. Taking them to the producer of cheese or honey or grappa, introducing them to the families that have created these products for years -  sometimes hundreds of years - and letting them connect with the country through individual stories & hunks of cheese!

A great example of this is the local polentone (or polenta maker), Franco. He was born in our house 60 years ago & has continued his families tradition of cooking polenta over an open fire in a cooper pot for the last 50 years! We had a polenta festival last summer with our guests & they were able to meet him, watch him stir the thick gold mixture by hand & hear stories of why we eat polenta like this, on this land - because for centuries hunters would head into the woods & bring back their kill, the women would then create delicious sauces from the meat to top the polenta & the men would make the polenta in the exact same way as Franco continues to do so today.

Take a walk through the market on saturday & see the Italian culture in action!

Polenta Maker, Italy

WE:  What information do you share on your blog?

AB: We share stories of everyday life, photos, recipes, day trips around Italy, as well as festival & market information in a series “eating your way through le marche.”  We introduce our readers to farmers & artisan producers of the area, for example most recently - Meet the Milk Man - a story on latte crudo, fresh raw whole milk.

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

AB: Why we chose Le Marche - Le Marche is really Italy in one region. The Adriatic coast has been known as a sun and beach mecca for years. However, inland, perhaps more so than anywhere else in central Italy, you will find places where time really has stood still.

We have the Apennine Mountains filled with wild game & rich meat,  to frutta di mare in the Adriatic sea, medieval hill top towns, the beautiful climate & it is all really unspoiled by mass tourism. The locals take the time to chat & share recipes....

La Tavola Marche has chosen this area for its unassuming character, its medieval history, and the unspoiled countryside with its delicious history of food. The more you experience Le Marche, the more you will experience a land of great historical, cultural, and gastronomic riches as well as a land of rare natural beauty.

We researched the region thoroughly & returned several times in different seasons. We loved it every time. The changes of the seasons brought different tastes to the table.

Winter morning in Italy, La Tavola Marche

Northern Le marche was a perfect fit for us -  the rollings hills, winding roads  & farmhouses are similar to Tuscany but are more undiscovered - we didn't want to move to Italy to speak English. We were ready for a complete change & cultural education.  The people here are fantastic! Super friendly, patient when we stumble through the language, true neighbors & a real feel of community ( I think that is what we like the most - being part of a community...).

WE: Thanks so very much, Ashley! Your journey is inspiring - and your food philosphy, critical to truly enjoying our food - and living in tune with the earth.  I can't wait to come and visit - and experience all of this for ourselves.

Tomatoes, La Tavola Marche

For more information - and great recipes! - please see

https://www.latavolamarche.com/

 

 

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