They couldn’t have conjured up more drama if they’d tried. In the middle of our cooking masterclass by Palazzo Tronconi, arranged by travel company Bookings for You, a sparrowhawk swooped down outside our Surrey venue, and mercilessly slaughtered a defenceless wood pigeon.
Such things happen in the Surrey countryside. We’d been invited to the home of Bookings for You director Jo Mackay, so that we could meet Marco Marocco, wine enthusiast and owner of Palazzo Tronconi, and his chefs Leonardo Grimaldi and Giuseppe Marcuccilli. Giuseppe’s an award-winning baker and pizza maker, who runs pizza-making classes at Palazzo Tronconi. But our lunchtime session was run by Leonardo, Palazzo Tronconi’s head chef and a restaurant owner who has worked alongside Michelin-starred chefs Igles Corelli and Salvatore Tassa.
You’d be hard-pressed to find people more serious about food, wine and cooking than the Palazzo Tronconi team. They transported practically all the ingredients for the masterclass from Italy, even down to the eggs. Marco explained that quality is paramount in Italian cooking. At his palazzo they like to showcase simple meals that can easily be prepared at home, even if you’re just cooking for one person. Because of their simplicity, the dishes need ingredients of the highest possible quality. For our lunchtime tasting session, we were treated to DOP Avezzano potatoes, DOP garlic and pepper; and meat from black pigs, which take twice as long as white pigs to reach maturity, but whose meat is tender and sweet, like Spanish jamon.
While preparing our meal of creamed cod fishcakes, carbonara of rigatoni, black pig stew and Kaiser pears in wine, Leonardo only broke his intense focus a few times, to unleash a devastating smile. He imparted a few gems of information in the short time we watched him. We learned about the importance of using the biggest pan possible when cooking pasta, and how some pasta is made by being pressed through bronze, which leaves a rougher edge so that sauce can more easily stick to the pasta.
Marco acted as Leonardo’s translater, and gave us an overview of Palazzo Tronconi’s food and wine holidays. As well as the masterclasses, the palazzo runs cultural trips to places including Sperlonga, a fishing village named as one of the 100 most beautiful in Italy, and Casa Lawrence, frequented by our very own DH Lawrence.
Marco himself is a wine expert who learned the ropes in Bordeaux, France. After re-discovering native grapes that were historically grown in Arce, Palazzo Tronconi’s village, Marco established a biodynamic vineyard. He now produces a variety of wines, two of which we tried: the buttery, citrus white Fregellae, heavy in tannins and with overtones of honey; and the easy-drinking red Zitore, with a light refreshing plum flavour. Marco gives wine-tasting sessions on his culinary breaks, as well as exporting the wine internationally – alongside extra virgin olive oil, also produced at Palazzo Tonconi.
Palazzo Tronconi is in Lazio, in the medieval village of Arce, 50 minutes away from Rome. The palazzo is one of Bookings for You’s newest collaborators. The holiday company, launched in 2010 and now with a string of plaudits including a bronze award in the British Travel Awards 2016, has its biggest presence in Tuscany, but has branched out across the whole of Italy and into France and Croatia. Director Jo explained that, in promoting her range of villas, apartments and B&Bs, her emphasis is on making things easy for customers – so, for instance, her staff aim to be on hand during evenings and weekends, as well as office hours.
From what we saw in our masterclass session, it looks as though Jo’s on to a winning recipe
Bookings for You invited us to experience a Palazzo Tronconi masterclass, and to find out more about the two companies. You can find out more about Palazzo Tronconi on the Bookings for You website. All views are my own.