Picture my surprise when I was told that a group of 9 Italian men were coming over to cook dinner for us (a group of journalists) in Italy! The group is called Accademia del Padlot meaning the academy of “a giant ladle that is used to pour wine.” Founded in 1996, a group of men in the village of Mercatello sul Metauro, nestled between Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria, decided they needed a formal organization to eat, drink and forge friendships.
The groups consists of men of different ages, political views and professions, but are united by their love for gastronomy. Their programs consist of a daily drink, monthly dinners and yearly trips. Renting a little bus, the group has traveled to Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Chianti, Amarone, Sauvignon, Gewurtz-Traminer and many more regions of Italy.
Mission Statement: The Academy of Padlòt is the free association of all those who, moved by a passion for learning, explore and transmission to future generations of all that concerns the good drink, want to put a glass of good wine in good company.
An article in their bylaw says: The “drunk Plenary” is the most solemn moment of the life of the Academy, where academics find themselves in harmony taste. Plenary decided that the drink is done on a weekly basis, on the day Thursday beginning at quarter past six p.m. (approximately). At that time the academicians can express themselves freely.
This group of men rarely prepare food for outside groups, preferring to cook for themselves and their close family and friends, but they cooked a special feast for us – their visiting friends from US and Canada.
The Padlots came marching into Palazzo Donati (a 8-bedroom villa where I was staying) prepared with an ambitious menu. I was certain they had done this before, for the dishes were well thought out and ingredients already sourced from local farms.
They started working hard in the kitchen making sauces, boiling fresh pasta, roasting vegetables and sautéing cuts of meat I had never seen before. They ensured we all had our glasses filled with Prosecco as we watched them cook and chit chatted in the kitchen.
The first course or antipasti was simple yet flavorful creations: Charcuterie – salami and various cuts of meat; Bruschetta – toasted bread slices rubbed with garlic, olive oil and salt; Crostini con Paté – sliced baguette with sausage and liver pate; and Fave e Formaggio Fresco – Fava beans with holiday cheese. They instructed us to peel raw Fava beans, dip them in salt and eat them with farmers cheese and bread. Torta pascuela, a traditional Easter cheese bread (made with gruyere, pecorino and romanesco) from Umbria was brought in for the special occasion.
Palazzo Donati has two kitchens – one for commercial use and the other a rustic open hearth with family style tables. We convened in they instructed us to peel raw Fava beans, dip them in salt and eat them with farmers cheese and bread. Torta pascuela, a traditional Easter cheese bread (made with gruyere, pecorino and romanesco) from Umbria was brought in for the special occasion.
Meanwhile Lanfranco stirred Coradella – lamb’s liver with young garlic. This kidney and lungs combination looked pretty scary to me but I’m sure it was a carnivores delight. On another stovetop, they cooked Goletta con salvia e aceto o vino bianco – pig’s jowl with sage, vinegar and white wine. And a third tended to wild boar stew called Spezzatino di Cinghiale. We were definitely in for a manly meal!
A local resident named Lina has supposedly won every tagliatelle pasta challenge in this part of the world, so a meal would be incomplete without trying it. It came through well together with the succulent guinea pig ragout and tomato sauce.
The open fire was well utilized. For sides, Italian red Chicory known as Radicchio rosso in graticola was grilled to where it was crispy, and whole potatoes wrapped in alumni foil were cooked in the ash from the firewood, rather than baked. This ash potato was called Patate Sotto il Fuoco.
The party got bigger once friends from the village joined in. The prosecco gave way to a fruity Rose, then a full bodied red wine, followed by after dinner Spumanti.
We ate Italian-style, which meant the food never stopped coming and not accepting seconds was an insult to the chefs. Many of the nine men were posting photos on Facebook already, so I dared not offend their culinary skills (which by the way, were simply outstanding) or be publicly shunned on social media.
Alas the dessert was a homemade Crostata prepared by by Elizio (one of the Padlot’s) wife. A delicately laced tart made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs and filled with an interesting combination of plums, elderberry and tomatoes played a sweet-tart melody in my mouth.
No family style Italian meal is complete without some singing. It was a real treat to sit around the table, singing old Italian tunes with a bunch of locals who were passionate about food and wine.
It is almost impossible to book this experience online through a travel agent, as Academia del Padlòt exclusively hosts guests of Palazzo Donati. The villa is available to rent throughout the year and one-week packages include cooking classes, language course, wine tasting, walking tours, one on one with local artists and of course, a dinner with the Padlots!