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.