Agriturismo Pulicaro: Weekend at the Farm
Recently, one of our friends in Rome organized a weekend trip to an agriturismo in Torre Alfina, Acquapendente. She extended the invitation to several families who expressed interest but, due to previous commitments and illness, were not all able to make the trip. Instead, a whittled-down group of 6 people and 3 littles resulted in an ideal number for a fantastic weekend full of delicious food, stunning scenery and great company.
The building that housed the 9 of us for the weekend was the perfect setting for a group of families — everyone had their own individual rooms, with private bathrooms, but there was also an open living area in the entrance where we could all gather. The kids enjoyed playing with each other while the adults relaxed (as much as is possible with toddler-tantrums threefold) and enjoyed the ambience from the warm fire. And, of course, drinking wine and chatting after the kids were asleep gave the weekend a gentle nudge in the right direction.
While we enjoyed the wine (so much that we brought 2 bottles home with us), the food was also top-notch and came complete with appetizer, first course, second course, a side, and, wait for it, a chocolate cake specially prepared for Jesse’s birthday, a very lovely and thoughtful conclusion to the meal. While we did not have much room in our bellies for the cake, following our meal of homemade onion jam and honey, cheeses sourced from a neighbouring farm, fresh cannelloni, homegrown chicken, chicory so buttery and salty even I enjoyed it, we all indulged in a slice. After the final plates were cleared away, we were offered coffee and then grappa, limoncello or amaro which we sipped in front of the fireplace in the dining room, a perfect end to a perfect meal. And, while I doubt anyone slept very comfortably with such a full belly, a few tosses and turns were worth it for such a dining extravaganza.
Sunday morning, we woke excited and eager for our tour of the farm. But first, coffee. We headed to a separate (breakfast) room, where a spread awaited. The building(s), having been both seismically and otherwise upgraded, still retain a lot of the original details and so the coffee, hot water, bread and cakes were laid out in what was once a livestock trough. Unsurprisingly (ha!), the kids did not appreciate this nod to the past, nor did they appreciate the original barn waste drainage trench running down the middle of the room; instead, in a duplication of last nights dinner, they appreciated running up and down the large room while the adults gulped hot coffee, eggs and toast.
Shortly after breakfast, we assembled, ready to visit the animals. We met with the farmer, Marco, who accompanied us through the first set of gates where we were greeted by 2 Italian Sheepdogs, of which there were 16 in total. Marco thoughtfully advised us that he didn’t believe it necessary to set traps or lay out poison for coyotes and foxes sneaking into the farm at night with visions of turkeys in their heads; rather, the dogs served as an effective dissuasion — he stated that predators quickly realize that it is easier to hunt wild animals than to try and steal onto a property, guarded by 16 dogs whose sole purpose is to protect the animals who reside within its enclosure.
As we walked further into the farm amongst the pigs wallowing in mud, the 2500 (!) turkeys pecking away at the ground, the goats and sheep that allowed us to pet them and the puppies that excitedly bounced all over us, and listened to the farmer explain his attitude towards farming/animals/meat, I could not keep the corners of my lips from turning up. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been extremely sensitive with respect to animals: I’m the person who never fails to cry during a sad SPCA commercial or when I see a pigeon missing a foot. While I don’t really eat meat myself, recently I’ve been having a difficult time determining what is the “right” thing to do with respect to preparing meat and other animal-products for myself and my family; I understand we are all part of the circle of life but factory-farming is not a circle in which I wish to be included.
Marco reasoned that one needs to consider when eating certain products from (female) animals — eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. — but not the meat itself there are impacts from this decision: male chickens are often discarded immediately upon birth and calves are often ripped away from their mothers so the mothers can be immediately hooked up to milking machines. While Jess and I always buy free-range and, where possible, locally-raised animals and products, I am now going to make a concerted effort to ensure these are the only type of products I purchase and I am resolved to put more of an effort into confirming the source; listening to Marco explain how he believes it is important that the animals have a good life and seeing with my own eyes how content the animals were on his own farm, I realized just how important it is to me that the animals my family eats are raised on farms where the animals have had a similar life. Marco’s view of consuming meat no more than 3 times per week, from locally-sourced, farm-raised animals seemed much more in tune with my beliefs and answered some of my unasked questions with regards to navigating animal consumerism today. When I left the farm several hours later, I went home not only with €40 full of meat, a subscription to a newsletter full of products for sale each week (with home delivery), but the satisfaction of being more informed and in control of my impact on the animal world.