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Lenny Russo in Slovenia #10: Wine, bocce ball and goodbyes

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: April 15, 2013 - 9:43 PM
Today was our last day of filming, and all I have left is a live interview with Pop-TV and perhaps something with Radio Slovenia. We are getting ready to head over to the wrap party.

As I had reported, after our first trip to the Kras region, we headed back to Ljubljana for the reception at U.S. Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli's residence where I sampled Slovenian wines and foods from Eastern Slovenia in a kind of stump the chef segment. I must admit that I was at least partially stumped, but I think I did pretty well for the most part.

Yesterday, we headed back to Kras still accompanied by Sommelier Gašpar Čarmen, with whom I had developed quite a rapport, and the village of Zemono where we met up with Chef Tomaž Kavčič of Gostilna Pri Lojzetu where the kitchen has been run by members of his family, both male and female, for generations. It was Tomaž' mother that passed the torch to him, and, when the gostilna was in danger of being purchased by Russian oligarchs, he was able to secure a mortgage and finally bring its ownership under his family's name. The place is amazingly beautiful and set on hills surrounded by vineyards and olive groves with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Legend has it that none other than Casanova spent three nights there doing what Casanova was famous for.

The chef likes to go by "Tomi", and he prepared the traditional sauerkraut soup jota, which was served in a bread bowl, followed by his own modern take on jota, which is served dry and employs agar agar. Both versions where outstanding.

We were joined by Primož Lavrenčič of Burja Wine Estate who presented some of his fantastic selections. The vines which produced the grapes that were used to make those wines could been seen from our perch on the hillside above.

Then we headed to Movia Winery. Mega has two Movia wines currently on the Heartland wine list. Once there I prepared a meal of roasted pork loin scented with lavender and rosemary; carrots, fennel and potatoes pan fried in rendered pork fat; and wild asparagus served with lemon and Movia's own olive oil. The sauce was a reduction of pork stock with preserved wild mushrooms. Winemaker Aleš Kastančič paired his bio-dynamic Lunar 9 Chardonnay.

Later, we toured the cellars where Aleš took us into a cave that houses vintages dating back to 1943. Once there, he choose a bottle of 1958 Merlot in honor of the year of my birth, which tasted so bright and fresh it was difficult to believe that it was 55 years old. Nonetheless, the markings on the bottle, which date back to the former Yugoslavia when the wine bottles were only 700 ml, verified that the wine was indeed authentic. He packed a second 1958 in a small wooden crate with a certificate of authenticity and presented it to me as a gift.

After a good night's sleep, we headed down winding roads bouncing back and forth between Italy and Slovenia until we reached Plisokovica where a stone mason carved me a mortal pestle from the local stone which is exceptionally hard and perfect for such an application. I even had the opportunity to take a few whacks with his decorating mallet as the mortar was being crafted.

Our final destination was the walled medieval village of Štangel where Gašpar and I were challenged to a game of bocce ball by some local residents, all of whom were well into their later years. Of course, we lost badly, seven to three, but I think we accounted well for ourselves by at least scoring that many points.

There will be some additional voice-over work to do and some additional footage to film at Heartland, but this brings our trip to Slovenia pretty much to a close. It has been our joy and privilege to be here, not only representing our country, but also meeting and learning from so many wonderful Slovenians. We hope to not only maintain the relationships we have forged here, but also to continue to grow and foster them while helping our friends and business associates in America better understand the many wonderful things that Slovenia has to offer.

I especially wish to thank Mr. Christopher Wurst of the American Embassy here in Ljubljana for conceiving and planning this exchange, and I also wish to thank Lee Dean of the Star Tribune for allowing me to share it with you. More thanks should go out to POP-TV and especially Felina Films, whose marvelous crew made the filming of this trip possible. -- Lenny Russo

Note: There will be one more posting from Lenny.  

Lenny Russo in Slovenia #9: Of wine, salumi and prosciutti

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: April 15, 2013 - 11:38 AM



We arrived at Gostilna Ostrouška (pictured, above; all photos by Christopher Wurst), early yesterday where I met Gašper Čarmen (note: "Gostilna" means restaurant). He is the top wine sommelier in all of Slovenia, and he had recently returned from an international competition in Tokyo. He will be traveling with us for the next couple of days. Also there was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bay Fang,who traveled over from Croatia where she was visiting with the diplomatic team stationed there. She, too, will be joining us for the remainder of our trip.


While there, we sampled several eau de vie made from everything from basil to fennel, all from their own gardens, as well as wines also produced there.  They also cure there own salumi and prosciutti.  We dined on a frittata-like egg dish stuffed with fresh herbs called fritalja. It is flatter and more pancake-like than the Italian version.



Next, we traveled to Praprot, crossing into Italy to the Zidarich Winery, where we met with Benjamin Zidirich. The winery is perched on a hillside overlooking the Adriatic, and it is spectacular. I am afraid that the pictures do not do this locale justice. 



The wine cave is dug down several hundred meters into the rich iron ore laden terra rosa, and it took 10 years to excavate and construct. The work was done by stone masons, and it is supported by large stone arches that house giant wooden fermentation tanks and Slovenian oak barriques, as well an incredible large sink that had been hand carved from solid stone. I have seen many wine cellars and caves over the years, but I have never seen anything that compares to that.

We tasted several of Ben's wines, including a lively Malvasia, made in the traditional fashion using a form of carbonic maceration, and a remarkably full bodied Refusco.



I was then treated to a tour of his curing room where dozens of prosciutti, pancetti and salumi were hanging in various stages of drying, which is done in the traditional way by allowing the northern wind to blow through the room. Suffice it to say, I was green with envy. Later, we enjoyed a lunch comprised of those, with local cheese and some more of Ben's wines.

That evening, we returned to Ljubljana (the capitol of Slovenia) where we attended a reception at the ambassador's residence, where I was challenged in a blind tasting of wines and foods from eastern Slovenia, which is the area of the country that chef Cassie Parsons from North Carolina will be covering. Cassie had just arrived in the country, and I was quick to alert her to get as much rest as possible before her adventure begins in earnest. She will be facing very long days, some as long as my day yesterday, which started at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m.

Today we venture back to the wine growing region of Goriška Brda with a trip to another gostilna and a second visit to Movia Winery, where I will be cooking this evening. -- Lenny Russo

Lenny Russo in Slovenia #8: The black kitchen

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: April 12, 2013 - 6:42 PM



We were finally able to locate a "black kitchen" that was able to host a meal bringing together many of the folks we had previously visited on our tour of the region encompassed by the Julian Alps. A black kitchen is most akin to a smokehouse for those of us in the U.S.



I prepared a meal of heirloom beans and aromatic vegetables with klobasa and poached duck eggs topped with chives.The attendees were the two little old ladies who taught me how to make krape, and it was their gift of heirloom beans and duck eggs that took center stage. I also used the award-winning klobasa from Arval, and the sausage maker was at the table along with Tomaž Bolka of Gostilna Krištof, where I first tasted that sausage. Also in attendance were our friends the Lecters from the mountain village of Radovjlica, as well as chef Uroš Štefelin of Restavracija 1906.



As the meal was being served, we were paid a surprise viist by a mountain man character from a popular kid's show that dates back to the 1950s who proceeded to stick his fingers in my food, prompting a quick exchange of plates. Gifts were exchanged by all. Tomaž' handcrafted beer was consumed, and apple schnapps was hoisted in a toast.



Earlier in the day, I gave two interviews to Slovenian media. Late that evening, I gave a phone interview to Minnesota Public Radio

The next day calls for a trip to the mercury mines of Idrija, where I will also take a ride with some professional rally drivers who race souped-up Yugos. That will be followed by a lesson making zlikrofi, which are like tortellini, and a visit to a top Slovene chef in Nebessa. -- Lenny Russo




Lenny Russo in Slovenia #7: Of veal liver, schnapps and wild rice

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: April 11, 2013 - 6:00 PM

Editor's note: As Lenny Russo, chef/owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, travels around Slovenia, he is being followed by a film crew for a TV series in Slovenia. You can see more pictures at the Slovenia national TV website. The text is in Slovene but there are more pictures and, of course, links to Table Talk, the Star Tribune Taste blog. 



Gostilna Krištof is located in Predoslje, which is a village in the municipalty of Kranj, which lies in the Upper Carniola Region of Slovenia. The gostilna has been the family for hundreds of years although not always in its present location. 

Klobasa is the Slovenian version of kielbasa, and it was outstanding (all photos by Christopher Wurst). We also tasted the gostilna's hot sauces which won awards in competition in New York City. One was so hot it made my ears hurt. Everything there is made from scratch, including the breads. In addition, we were treated to what Krištof called Slovenian sashimi, which was sea bass smoked under glass using an ingenious mechanical pump of his own design and served on spoons with Slovenian olive oil, trout roe and tobikko. His menu is definitely worth taking a look at, and I venture to say that it the best restaurant we have experienced so far in Slovenia.



Next, we traveled to Bled where I was rowed to Bled Island by Olympic rowing medalist and six-time competitor Istok Čop. Once there, I climbed the hundred steps to the Church of St. Mary and rang the bell, which tradition says will grant your wish. I wished for spring, and I was sort of temporarily granted that as the temperature in Ljubljana reached 53 degree yesterday with partially clearing skies. It is winter again today with highs reaching only into the low 40s with a cold rain





After that, I drove to Restavracija 1906 where I met with Chef Uroš Štefelin. He prepared for me his take on traditional Slovenian veal liver, which was served in glass and layered with polenta, potato spuma, black truffles and brin cheese crisps. It was delicious. Then he presented the traditional Tepka pear, which a dried heirloom pear that had been reconstituted and dipped in chocolate ganache. We exchanged White Earth Nation wild rice and Tepka Schnapps. 

Next we drove high into the lower Julian Alps. I have been driving a brand new little red Fiat 500, which proved remarkably up to the task given condition of the roads once we lost pavement and replaced it with ice, snow and ruts. We stopped in Radovna at Gostilna Psnak where I toured the farm and dined on blood sausage with sauerkraut and quark krape. Krape are made form buckwheat sometimes mixed with ground Tepka pear flour. These were 100 percent buckwheat and stuffed with the farm's own quark.



Everything there is product of the farm, and it is all organically raised. They have an aviary, the doors of which are painted with the family history of the farm, which was purchased by the father of Mr. Psnak, whom we met later. He is now 84 years old and no longer working the farm, but Mr. Psnak has been working it six days a week every week for the last 20 years from 2 a.m. until 8 p.m. The farm has been a working farm for over 400 years. They also have what is called a black kitchen, which is essentially a smokehouse that has been blackened by the smoke and where we saw hams hanging as they were being cured and smoked. Again, we left them with some White Earth wild rice.

More later. -- Lenny Russo



Lenny Russo in Slovenia #6: Of olive oil, truffles and fish (oh my!)

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: April 9, 2013 - 7:56 PM


Photos by Christopher Wurst

Photos by Christopher Wurst


The first day out began with truffle hunting in Belvedur. It is spring black truffle season here. Gina, the amazing truffle hunting dog, led us to an oak tree where I able to dig out the truffles.














Next we headed to Franc Morgan's olive groves. Franc (below) is a gold medal winner in an international olive oil competition held in Italy every year. His awards are too numerous to mention, but, sadly, his production so small that it is consumed exclusively here in Slovenia. It might be the best olive oil I have ever tasted, and it is ubiquitous in the finest restaurants across Slovenia.















We tasted several varieties including orange-infused oil that is pressed with whole oranges. It was poured over vanilla gelato and a lemon-infused variety made in the same way I later used at a dinner prepared the next evening. We also tasted an olive based digestif.















Then we headed to Klenart vineyard situated on a hill overlookin Trieste on one side and the Bay of Piran on the other side.














 We tasted all of his wines including a pinot noir rose that I served at the same dinner.















The next day began with securing a fish from a fisher named Momo in the port side town of Piran. He brought a rare catch. The folks there were declaring it salmon, but it looked a steelhead trout to me. Once I cut into it, it turned out I was right. Nonetheless, catching a fish of the species in the Bay of Piran is extremely unusual. It must have traveled down a river on it's way to open water and made a wrong turn.

The we headed to the famous Istrian salt flats where there is now a nature preserve and salt has been produced since medieval times when it was the primary source of revenue for the region and a major source of revenue for the Venetian city state. There I picked up some amazing fleur de sel that has an almost sweet finish to it.













After that, we headed into the uplands of Istria where I prepared a meal from that morning's trout cooked over an open fire along with potatoes mashed with the black truffles and a garnish of variegated radicchio with fresh fennel tossed in lemon juice and Franc's lemon-infused olive oil.














I finished the dish with the fleur de sel. It was served en brodo with a broth made from the trout bones and aromatic vegetables with some Klenart Ribula white wine. We started with some Klenart sparkling wine made from chardonnay and pinot noir (They call the pinot noir modri pinot ). I served Klenart rose with the meal and we finished with the olive-oil digestif from Morgan.

Today I have several interviews. Then I am preparing a meal of heirloom beans with klobasa and duck eggs in a "black kitchen."  More later.-- Lenny Russo



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