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Poggio Etrusco
Via del Pelago 11, Loc. Fontecornino -Sant'Albino di Montepulciano (SI) - 53045 ITALY
Tel/Fax (39) 0578 798 370

A cultural, food and wine holiday in an organic Agriturismo near Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy 

This is part of a series of stories on food and wine from Italy by  
South Florida Gourmet editor
Simone Zarmati Diament




 poggio kitchen pam and john

  poggio zucchini blossoms

poggio pasta 

poggio john dogs

poggio wine 

poggio pork 

 poggio orchards


by Simone Zarmati Diament
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   Stepping out in the chill of spring after a drive in the heated car on the narrow winding roads through the splendid countryside of Montepulciano felt great. The hill slopes were an unbelievable emerald green from recent rains and the fields were ablaze in gold like in a live postcard.  I had finally found Via del Pelago, made a turn on the dirt road cutting through the vineyards and orchards still glistening from the morning rain and arrived at Agriturismo Poggio Etrusco, just on time for lunch. 

 The owner, American cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns was in her open Tuscan country kitchen, behind a counter, armed with a pastry bag.  Bea, her Italian help, was quickly dipping zucchini blossoms first in boiling water then in an ice water bowl before Pamela delicately parted the petals, filled the core with chicken liver pâté, folded the long ends before setting them on each plate and drizzled them with a reduction of Vin Santo and drops of the house’s extra-virgin olive oil. “They’re usually stuffed with ricotta, but I wanted to make something different today,” said Pamela on her take on a foie gras appetizer which she served with mozzarella bocconcini and the sweetest cherry tomatoes with pesto and a sambucca flower tempura.    

 Husband John, an artist whose paintings can be seen in the house, was pouring Prosecco in Champagne flutes, flattering Bella – one of the white dogs of the house – making conversation and helping put the finishing touches to the huge table set for fourteen in the dining room.

 Lunch was on its way.  The wine, several bottles of a hearty Sangiovese blend: Sassi di Giove 2006 produced organically from the Johns’s vineyards, was uncorked and flowed freely. Around the table were three guests from the US taking a break from their Italian holiday, friends of the hosts and six food writers who hadn’t seen each other for some time and conversation was flying from one end of the table to another, shortly interrupted by grunts of pleasure when the dishes started arriving.

 The pasta dish, penne with asparagus tips in a light cream sauce, was followed by pork loin with an apricot sauce and a most delicious side of sautéed Swiss chard picked that morning from the garden. Dessert was an intensely fruity and seasonal strawberry gelato (Pamela is the author of   Gelato!: Italian Ice Creams, Sorbetti, and Granite) and a Torta fragrant with orange peel.  The cheese course was a sharp aged pecorino which Pamela had just brought back from the island of Capraia, a trip Pamela took to research her new book.

A very special Agritourismo

 Italy’s countryside is full of Agriturismi, farms that have adapted part of their property to tourism. They each offer a different experience, sometimes hands on, are usually cheaper than hotels and bring you to the heart of the region you are visiting.

 What is special though about Poggio Etrusco,  a 17th-century villa and farm near Montepulciano and Cortona, halfway between Florence and Rome, is not only the charming rental apartments and rooms with fully-equipped kitchens, fireplace and antiques and the swimming pool in summer.  The owners, Californian natives Pamela Sheldon Johns and Johnny Johns have turned their 15 acres property into an organic farm.

 With an olive orchard with over 1000 olive trees on their property Pam and John make their own organic extra-virgin olive oil called Pace da Poggio Etrusco – don’t ask John about pruning the trees twice a year! At harvest time in November, they organize two-week cooking workshops during which guests can join the harvest. Pamela encourages guests to pick fresh, seasonal produce from her garden to cook in their apartments and makes homemade jams and preserves from the plum, fig, apricot, peach and cherry trees.

While running a bed and breakfast might seem like enough work, Pamela also runs culinary tours to different parts of Italy, and continues teaching and writing. Her 15th and 16th cookbooks, 50 Great Appetizers and 50 Great Pasta Sauces,  have been recently published and she has turned Poggio Etrusco into the cooking school  Food Artisans,  which Food & Wine magazine included in a list of Italy’s top cooking schools in 2007. There she gives hands-on lessons in her kitchen, takes her students to markets and other food sources and imparts an important aspect of Italian culture.

American cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns and her family are living the life many of us only dream about at Poggio Estrusco in Tuscany.

To contact them for bookings:  Agriturismo Poggio Etrusco , Via del Pelago 11, Loc. Fontecornino - Sant’Albino di Montepulciano (SI) - 53045 ITALY Tel/Fax (39) 0578 798 370

Listen to an interview with Pamela Sheldon Johns on Food & Wine Talk