BY ARLENE APPELROUTH / AJT //
After the transatlantic cruise my husband Dan and I took for our recent anniversary trip, the time we spent in Europe ended up stimulating more introspection about my Jewish identity than I had anticipated.
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On the day we were scheduled to go wine tasting in Tuscany, our guide took us to a popular piazza (plaza) in the Chianti region of Italy. He wanted us to see a famous store that has been doing business in the same place in Greve since 1729.
An enormous stuffed boar stood outside the Antica Macelleria Falorni butcher shop. Our guide – Bill, an American expatriate – explained how many wild boar used to roam around the beautiful hills in the wine country and that hunting boar was a sport that provided locals with many meals.
He was surprised when my husband and I didn’t jump at the opportunity to stand next to the stuffed pig at the entrance of the shop for him to snap our photograph. I considered telling him how confusing it would be to explain to my religious grandchildren why their grandparents were posing with a non-kosher animal, but I didn’t.
Instead, I walked into the butcher shop, where I was immediately overwhelmed by what I saw and smelled.
Hundreds – maybe thousands – of fat pigs legs were hanging from every inch of the ceiling. You can see for yourself by going to your computer: Google “Greve butcher shop” and see any of the many websites that have photos.
As a non-pork eater, I know very little about pigs or boars or the many ways there are to slaughter, carve and prepare these animals for human consumption. And frankly, learning about this is not on my bucket list.
My husband Dan, however, was fascinated by all the cutting and carving tools used by the butchers. He spent a lot of time looking at the knives and studying the anatomy charts of the swine.
Our guide couldn’t wait to sample the wild boar salami, sausages and other products waiting on the top shelf of the deli counter, and the shop became crowded with tourists and natives who had the same idea. They came to buy the packages of pork, the cheese that was aging in the cellar and the wine from grapes grown and pressed throughout Tuscany.
Meanwhile, my only interest was to buy mementos for my grandchildren, so I went to a nearby souvenir shop and purchased several postcards with pictures of something else the region was known for – Pinocchio. Note that Carlo Lorenzini, the Italian journalist and author of the popular children’s fairy tale, was born and died in Florence.
I intuitively knew my grandchildren would appreciate colorful cards depicting the wooden-boy puppet and its long nose rather than anything to do with pigs. Thankfully, Dan and our guide were ready to leave the butcher shop by the time I chose the cards, and we were on our way to a vineyard.
Vino, on an Intellectual Level
The hilly landscape in the northwest part of Italy was breathtaking; low-growing grape vines covered the ground. After enjoying the gorgeous scenery we ultimately turned off the scenic country road and drove to the top of a hill, where we joined a large group of tourists to learn about growing and harvesting grapes for wine.
Allow me to preface the following by saying that Italians, as a group, tend to be more emotional than people from other cultures, and the woman conducting the tour fit that stereotype.
“I want all of you to understand that working here is more than a job for me and everyone else,” she said, gesturing with her hands. “We are all passionate about what we do.”
We heard how long it takes to grow the grapes and walked through the rooms where the vines were stored and the grapes hand-picked. I admit it was a surprise to see the different sizes of the barrels in which the wine ages before it ends up in bottles on the shelves of, say, your neighborhood Publix.
Later, once our education about wine was finished, our large group climbed from the cellar and was led into a restaurant-like room for wine tasting and a light lunch.
With visions of dangling pigs legs still infiltrating my consciousness, I ordered a vegetarian dish.
We were seated at a round table with a retired military couple from the Netherlands and an American couple from Buffalo Grove, Ill. Five wine glasses were lined up at each of our places, and we were taught how to pay attention to the color of each wine – especially on the edge of the liquid – and then to swirl it before raising it to our noses to breathe its scent.
Finally, we were given permission to actually bring the glass of wine to our lips. But before we had permission to actually taste the wine, we were instructed on the importance of swishing the wine side-to-side and to be mindful that the liquid touches the front and back of our mouths before swallowing it.
I tried to follow the directions exactly, even though it reminded me a bit of using mouthwash.
Arlene Appelrouth earned a degree in news-editorial journalism from the University of Florida and her career as a writer and journalist spans a 50-year period; she currently studies memoir writing while working on her first book.