Noah’s Ark – Cheese & Chores

14-16 July 2019

We wanted to take our time on our way to Agriturismo L’Arca di Noë and enjoy the countryside. We were also determined not to end up using the horribly scary and unsuitable road we ended up on last time we visited. Well, sometimes not all your wishes are granted…. 

As we headed away from Lucca we saw a greener side of Tuscany, away from the wheatfields and olives of the area around Volterra. We happily followed the twists and turns along the Serchio River to where it split, then followed it’s tributary, the Lima, upriver and uphill into the mountains of Parco Nazionale dell Appennino Tosco-Emiliano.

Eventually we reached the pass and the ski resort of Abetone which was bustling with walkers who watched curiously as we wove through them on our descent and out of Tuscany and into Emilia-Romagna. Home of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Parma ham and the famous balsamic vinegar of Modena, it is also an area of very diverse landscapes. And, just for us, it was raining!

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As we got closer to our destination the desire to avoid small roads made us avoid minor roads to Polinago signposted in Lama Mocogno or Pavullo and instead we stayed on the main road. Only to find that further on the only routes to Noah’s Ark were exactly the kind of ‘roads’ we hoped to avoid! Having checked and rejected a couple, desperation and the time – 6pm – meant that we found ourselves on a road we had refused to take 2 years earlier. We had often wondered if it would have been better than the one we did take and now we found out – it wasn’t!  Steep, narrow, crumbly and bumpy. One part had fallen away and we could only just get past. To make matters worse we met 3 – yes THREE – cars coming the opposite way and despite the etiquette of giving way to traffic coming uphill, they just had to reverse back down to a point where they could pull onto a field to let us pass. Finally at 6.30 we arrived at Noah’s Ark – from completely the wrong direction – and Vivienne was waiting for us with smiles and not a little incredulity at the road we had come in on. 

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Not a lot has changed – she has put in campsite-type electric hook-ups and in the barn are 4 nice new showers. The “honesty” system of noting what you use on a piece of notepaper is still going strong, we were glad to see. In the last 2 years she had lost a horse and a goat, and recently a fox killed all her chickens, but she remained as cheerful and positive as ever. The scenery and peace were exactly as we remembered – good to be back. We were the only people there – its a small place – but then a Belgian van arrived and parked up and later, just after dark we heard the unmistakeable sound of another motorhome coming down the same hill we had. Vivienne couldn’t believe that 2 foreigners had taken the same insane route, guess she doesn’t understand satnav. They were also Belgians, friends of the other motorhomers crossing paths for a night. When asked how the road was, he replied “Magnifique’

Early next morning, in the rain, Vivienne took us all to a local co-operative dairy to see Parmigiano Reggiano being made. We watched the cheesemakers hard at work at 8 large copper-lined stainless steel vats in which the milk had been coaxed by the addition of rennet and heat into producing a mass of solid curd. The curd in each vat is enough to produce 2 huge cheeses and we watched as they first lifted it from the hot whey in linen cloths, then separated it into 2 balls which were hung in their linen cradles from a bar across the top of the vat whilst the hot whey was drained off.

Next they are put into moulds, wrapped in a teflon surround that imprints the dairy identification code, date of production etc on the cheese as it dries. 

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The store-room where the cheeses are aged for a 12 months to 36 months have their own unique smell. Shelf upon shelf of cheese wheels that are regularly checked and turned. Any that don’t come up to standard have their imprinted rind scored off and are used in products such as grated cheese.

Obviously there is a shop and of course we bought a huge hunk of the stuff as they don’t seem to sell it in smaller sizes. Italians would be appalled at the small wedges of parmesan we buy at home.

We would have liked to relax after that but had to deal with the fridge again. An intermittent fault, had it bleeping at us for 20 seconds every two minutes and we just couldn’t work it out. Very annoying. We drove the hour or so to a Camper Service workshop in Modena who were  very good and spent hours trying to work out the fault. The beep, beep, beep beep was driving us and the engineer insane. Eventually they sent us home with a promise to get more help from the makers, but later that night Danny, trawling the internet, managed to find a solution and we now have a quiet and functioning  fridge. Wi-fi has it’s uses. 

So we got one full day of peace and quiet at Noah’s Ark. And promised ourself a longer visit next time. We don’t now why, but it just has something that appeals to us – and we don’t mean the honesty bar ! We didn’t see the fireflies this time but we were surrounded by birdsong, butterflies and dragonflies. Lovely.

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A visitor to our pitch