#FoodFiction: “Culture Shock”


Questo racconto è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute. Dopo aver visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, gli studenti hanno scritto delle storie di fantasia sperimentando la tecnica promozionale chiamata “product placement”, ovvero l’inserimento di un marchio all’interno della narrazione.

by Jessica Skelly

Inspired by the visit to Fattoria Montelupo

They always tell you that culture shock is going to hit you. They say, “One second you’ll wake up and you’ll hate everything around you.” Sure, it sounded like something I should worry about- but I didn’t. Rather, I laughed at them, thinking that it was an exaggeration, to say the least. Italy was a beautiful. It was liberating. Italy was a sweet dream. Sure, I’d woken up a few times and missed a good to-go cup of coffee, or really truly missed a good, juicy, medium-rare burger. But, honestly, I thought I would get over it. I’d stop missing my American norms. Life was too sweet in Italy to miss home. To me, Italy was a dream. Until it wasn’t.

Staring at the long, open road ahead of me I squeezed the steering wheel, hoping that the pit in my stomach would go away. A year ago, as a young, single and struggling journalist, I didn’t care where life took me. Go to Syria? Ok, I’m on it. Jump in a trashcan to find further evidence? Count me in. So, the second my boss told me there was an opening at Internazionale, an international business journal based in Rome, Italy, you better believe I didn’t hesitate to pack my bags and hop on a plane the very next day. The pit in my stomach told me that I should have thought twice about my irrationality.

I sighed out loud, as I took the next turn, onto a street filled with small homes, and children running across the street left and right. This typical Italian scenery used to fascinate me for hours on end. Now, it seemed unruly and, quite frankly, annoying. As magical as Italy had seemed the first couple months, it just wasn’t the same. I miss a proper hair straightener. I miss color other than black in my wardrobe. I miss a freaking one-stop supermarket where I can buy fruit and also more hangers for my bedroom. Well, they said I’d get culture shock eventually. I guess they don’t have to worry; I sure as hell got it.

The road eventually got smaller and less even and I thought about the dust that was settling on my car and the tiny scratches the chrome outer covering was accumulating, as my tiny “authentic” car hit the rocks and started driving up hill. That’ll be fun to get fixed, I meditated. Pulling up to my destination, I scanned my scenery. A half-renovated Italian home with a rowdy puppy jumping on the front porch sat to my left and a small, white, one room building sat to my right. About a kilometer behind them was a massive, long, white and brown stable with two considerably large white hoppers in front. Rolling green land that looked as if it had never gone a day without their daily dose of water and sunlight surrounded the house.

I stepped out of the car and rummaged through the backseat, looking for my folder of notes on Fattoria Montelupe, the buffalo cow cheese farm just outside of Città di Castello that I had arrived at for the next Internazionale story.

“Ciao, ragazza!,” I heard and looked up from the back seat. A man, about 58, with large forearms and brown curly hair that fell over his eyes started to approach me from the white building that was on the right. Realizing how unprepared and unprofessional I looked leaning over my messy backseat, rummaging through the what looked like hundreds of papers, I shot up to shake his hand, which ended in me banging my head on the roof of the car.

“Shit…Ouch. Shit! Uh-uh-uh I’m Stephanie Blake,” I stuttered, as I stuck my hand out to greet him, knowing how stupid I just looked to him, but hoping to compensate with a professional opening.

The man giggled outwardly at my uncomfortable introduction and shouted, “Nonsense!,” then hugged me, kissing both of my cheeks. I cringed a little on the inside, as he enthusiastically shot down my attempt at a professional introduction. “I am Gianluca Fattoria,” he said.

“I’m here to ask you a few questions about your business, Mr. Fattoria,” I stated, struggling to direct the conversation away from the embarrassing encounter we had just experienced and hoping that I would magically come off as more of a professional. He looked at me with slight confusion in his eyes and bashfully replied, “Mi, dispiace, repete, ma lentamente?” After a long pause, I realized I had been speaking to him in English, and he clearly had very little knowledge of the language. Clumsily, I started to stutter the little amount of Italian that I had picked up in the past months. However, I could tell from the look in his eyes, I still was making no sense, so I settled on mumbling, “Colloquio?” It was official, this was the worst interview ever.

“Ah yes!,” he replied, with excitement in his eyes, “I know little English, but I will do my best.” He looked at me, shyly, through the curls of his hair. From the start, my interview was looking like an absolute mess and I couldn’t help but let out a soft laugh, to which he laughed back. At that moment, we both knew this was going to be an interesting experience.

Gianluca turned away and began walking up the hill, away from the house and the little room he had just emerged from. Confused why we were walking passed what looked like the center of his business production, and the sole reason I was there, I scrambled after him. Quickly catching up to his pace, we began walking towards the barn. Gianluca explained, “The cheese creation officially begins in the white building we passed, but the hard work begins here.” He had taken us to the barn, filled with at least 50 buffalo cows and their babies. Gianluca began to tell and also show me the in’s and out’s of his business: how the animal’s were treated with respect, how they were taken care of when sick, how little they get sick in the first place. As he spoke to me I saw the passion in his eyes. With each question, I asked him, his eyes twinkled as he attempted to explain enough of his business to me in English. Internazionale had asked me to focus my story on the marketing aspect of this farm, yet the business and sales aspect seemed to be the least of his worries. Where most business owners focused on income and marketing, Gianluca appeared to center his work on receiving a simple smile from his consumer. Gianluca truly loved his field of work that much was for sure.

Looking off into space, I followed Gianluca’s gaze. Ahead of him stretched green lands and trees in every direction. In the background, mountain tips jetted up behind the hills. “Some day’s work is hard. There are days when I don’t feel like getting up, or I want nothing more than to pretend to be sick,” he quietly said, “but I love it too much to stop. It brings me joy to create a cheese that is good, from the beginning. It comes from cows that are treated well; it comes from days of hard work. I love to see someone smile as they taste the cheese I make too much to stop.”

The buffalo cows were running around a gated section of his land to get their exercise when we approached them. As we climbed over the fence, and I thought about the terrible choice of shoe I had made, one buffalo cow sprinted towards us. I had let out a loud yelp, and backed up against the fence, pressing my hips against the railing and regretting the time I refused to let my brother teach me to jump fences as a kid. However, rather than being afraid or jumping back over the fence, Gianluca stretched his hand out to greet the cow then laughed. The animal screeched to a halt as she arrived at her destination. Gianluca laughed at me once again and said with a smile, “This is my girlfriend. I have helped raise her since she was a baby calf. I think we have a special bond.” Watching as Gianluca began scratching the cow’s ears and top of her head, I couldn’t help but start laughing- outwardly, happily laughing. Adrenaline seeped through my body and I watched as Gianluca petted his favorite cow. Giggling to myself, I thought about how genuinely happy he was to simply be greeted by a cow that he had helped raise and I could not help but smile.

Like a domino that had just been tipped, I realized, as I began laughing that I could not stop. This man, with nothing around him but open greens, with a work day that begins at 6 in the morning and ends at 8 at night, with no time for himself, because he’s at the markets or he’s attending to an industry full of cows, and with a job that forces him work outside, whether rain or shine, was happier than I had been in months. I was here for an interview to learn about what makes his business tick, yet Gianluca did not see his work as a business at all.

Gianluca started to join me in laughing. I don’t think he knew why, or what I was laughing about. I don’t think I even knew why I was laughing. I breathed in the fresh air and wiped the tears of joy out of my eyes. “Andiamo?,” Gianluca said looking at me. “Yes, yes of course. Please continue,” I insisted.

For the rest of the evening, Gianluca took me through the one room, white building that I had seen earlier. As we walked through this cheese-making factory, I began to picture the endless nights Gianluca had no doubt spent there. He allowed me help make ricotta and gave me a surplus supply of samples. Mixing cheese, I had learned, took a lot more arm strength than I had originally thought. Eventually, after he finished doubling over with laughter as I struggled to move the mixture more than three cycles, Gianluca took over mixing. I smiled, as he turned on his music and danced around the room, performing what I took as his habitual routine.

The evening carried on and I began to ask Gianluca more personal questions, which to my surprise, he answered with sincere honesty. We sat on his front porch as the sun set over the hills, creating a pink sky with streaks of purple and yellow. As he poured us a glass of red wine, Gianluca explained his family dynamic, his pure intentions for starting his business and his hope for his son to pick up where he leaves off.

While the conversation dwindled and the darkness of the sky came down on the home, my mind began to race. Italy was not a dream. It was nothing close to perfect. But, in fact, nothing is perfect. Gianluca was a man who lived in the middle of nowhere and worked harder in one day than I had worked my whole life. He was a man who sacrificed everything he had to create a farm that utilized animals safely, a man who worked everyday just to see someone smile at his product, a man who was happier working endlessly than I have ever been. I realized Gianluca saw the beauty in the small. He opened himself up to mistakes, to growth, to finding joy in laughter. Rather than sacrificing his passion for wealth, rather than succumbing to industrial pressure, Gianluca gave everything to experience the beauty of simplicity and hard work. I had been yearning for a “so-what”, for a moment when my life made sense. Instead of searching for the grandness of Italy, I realized, I should be looking for the beauty in the smallest and simplest acts of pleasure and hard work.

I let out a long sigh, and slipped my shoes off. Wrapping the blanket Gianluca had given me around my knees, I smiled and breathed, “Gianluca, when can I come back next?”

Umbra Institute


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