This week I should have been in Slovenia and, pre-lockdown, was looking forward to exploring the local cuisine and magnificent countryside. Instead, I travelled there courtesy of Zoom. Set in the foothills of the mountains, the Soča Valley reminds you instantly of The Sound of Music. You get the picture, lush green pastures set against a backdrop of snow capped mountains.
Hiša Franko is listed one of The World’s Best 50 Restaurants in the world. Chef Patron, Ana Roš, was named The Best Female Chef in the World in 2017. I joined a live session on a sunny Slovenian afternoon to listen to Ana and husband Valter Kramer, sommelier and cheese aficionado, talk about Slovenian green gastronomy and natural wines.
The Alpine diet
There are 24 gastronomy regions and three wine growing areas in Slovenia. The country was a Socialist Republic until 1991. Ana says that in the absence of a ‘royalty’ there was previously no fine dining. The cuisine today remains very traditional and there is an abundance of trout, deer, goats, fruits and wild plants. The restaurant works closely with a local forager, hunters, a herbalist, beekeeper and so on. Ana is self taught and cooks intuitively depending on the season. The ethos at Hiša Franko is to ‘maxmise the flavour from simple ingredients’.
“Elderflower blossoms will be used to make vinegars and syrups”, Ana Roš, chef Hiša Franko.Tweet
It’s not about simply calling a supplier to place an order but instead waiting to see what is growing nearby. When the moon is right, for instance, mushrooms will appear. “Right now we’re foraging for pine nuts which will go into ice cream,” she says, “Soon, there will be Acacia flowers, wild asparagus, nettles, and cassia flowers for fermenting”. The buds of the cassia resemble dried cloves and have a mild cinammon flavour. Next week Elderflowers will come into season.
Slovenian terroirs are suited to white wine production, around 100 million litres per year equal to 40 litres per person, and very little red is made. Valtor is in charge of the wine cellar and he is passionate about regional wines. These are produced using the natural method which captures the yeasts in the atmosphere so that the juice starts fermentation spontaneously. The natural method takes a little longer to produce but it means there are no chemicals or filters used. The wine is fermented, untypically, with the grape skins remaining in the juice for days or even months. The final colour is different to typical white wines and is often cloudy. I tried my first natural or ‘orange’ wine last year at a workshop with Amelia Singer at Leith’s Food and Wine School and I’d like to experience more of these organic wines.
I’m a big believer in eating food seasonally. It’s an exciting way to live as you anticipate each month’s unique produce at its best. I hope I get the chance to visit Hiša Franko in the future and taste Ana’s food for myself. Sun and Rain by Ana is her new book but she says “don’t try the recipes, they are too difficult” and they are best prepared using local produce for top results.
Hiša Franko is “in the middle of nowhere” and you can stay. Rooms pre-pandemic were from Euros 150 per double room with breakfast. www.hisafranko.com
In my inbox
Blenheim Palace has been home to the Dukes of Marlborough since 1704 and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. A new free programme of virtual tours, guides and activities is part of a #Stayconnected initiative.
In the past I have worked at other private estates, Goodwood and West Dean. These estates are sustainable businesses reliant upon a team of gardeners, conservationists, foresters and more working together to preserve the estate’s heritage and independence for future generations. And, of course, they are reliant on their visitors who make it all possible.
Blenheim’s head gardener, Helen Wood, will take you on a virtual tour inside the private walled garden and greenhouses and shares spring gardening tips as part of National Gardening Week (7 – 30 June).
See inside the lambing sheds where head shepherd, Charles Gerring, is working around the clock looking after over 3,000 spring arrivals. Richard Tustian, herdsman, talks about the wild white cattle which live in the ancient oak woodland and are currently calving. The head forester explains how he cares for saplings grown from acorns collected from Blenheim ancient oak woodlands. There are also audio guides on site and 360-degree views of key parts of the Palace, grounds and gardens (2,000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland). Finally, take a leisurely walk through the State Rooms. www.blenheimpalace.com/stayconnected
The world au naturel
Social media has been full of images during lockdown showing nature reclaiming her space. I find that rather reassuring. These photographs of beaches in Australia under lockdown caught my eye this week.
Jampal Williamson’s photographs were captured in early April from a helicopter, and show the coastline in a natural, untouched state. Sydney’s popular beaches are captured as they have never been seen, and possibly never will again… completely empty.
As I write, I’m waiting with bated breath, along with the rest of the UK to hear about the government’s plans to ease the lockdown. The PM will be speaking to the UK this evening. There’s so much speculation in the media and yesterday it was announced that public transport services, including trains, will be greatly reduced for a while. None of this is good for the tourism industry and people’s jobs but it’s an unprecedented situation and there are no easy solutions.
I’m longing to travel again. Just to take a train to another part of the UK. I need a fix of real time culture at a gallery. I’m dreaming of a meal cooked by someone else with fresh, seasonal ingredients (rather than whatever is left on the supermarket shelf). I miss socialising even if it’s simply a glass of good wine with friends outdoors on a balmy night.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope you and yours stay safe and well.