Posts Filed Under The ‘Oceania Cruise 2013’ Category

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Day 9: End of Cruise and Debarkation

1 e1373660737477 Day 9:   End of Cruise and Debarkation

Dateline: Civitavecchia
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

We were sad to see the cruise come to an end but the ten days aboard were sufficient. I saw several places I had never visited before: Cannes, St. Tropez, Marseilles, Olbia, Sorrento, Amalfi and Ravello. We could have made ourselves quite comfortable staying on board for another ten days, even though the ship was retracing its journey back to the same ports. The food on board the Oceania was outstanding, as well as the service. Our stateroom, though small, was well-appointed and quite comfortable.

The ship was still running my “Cheese in the Mediterranean Diet” seminar on the ship’s Guest Lecturer channel in a continuous loop. I wondered how much longer it would run after I left.

We had breakfast outside on deck twelve’s Terrance Café. This was our favorite breakfast spot on the ship. Set up as an oversize buffet, with fruits, excellent pastries and yogurts, an eggs-to-order station, it included pretty much everything else one could want including cereals. This final morning on board we were some of the first to arrive so we chose a table by the railing which overlooked our arrival at the port of Civitavecchia – Rome’s seaport.

I failed to record our flight number so we were placed on the first bus leaving that morning, this to make sure we made our flight, whatever the number, at whatever time it was scheduled (which was why we were two of the first at the Terrace Café). This ended up giving us a few extra hours to spend at Rome’s airport. Sure, it would have been nice to sleep in a little, and to adjust our clocks westward an hour or two. The day ended up being a long one.

The early morning drive to Rome was a quiet one. I am sure we weren’t the only ones reminiscing about the previous ten days. We drove past acres and acres of sunflowers, a few small dairy farms, cow or goat, the last of which seemed a little close to the airport. This road from Civitavecchia (meaning “old city”) hugged the coastline most of the way to the airport. I had forgotten this. The bucolic seaside farmland along each side of the road was far different scenery from what we would be driving beside on our way home from JFK later that day.

I could not bear the thought of leaving behind any leftover cheese. It would be one thing if someone else might enjoy it but it was nearly certain that it would have been thrown out. I could have easily left a third of a bottle of leftover Sancerre and another third of a thick Zinfandel. Less likely that either of these would have been thrown out, I can’t say for sure. I was talked into stuffing each of these into my backpack, along with the cheeses, my laptop, tablet, magazines and all the other stuff we guys carry in our man-purses. We had overstuffed our checked luggage pieces and carry-ons anyway; fortunately the luggage carts are available no charge at Leonardo da Vinci.

During the marvelous cruise, with its focus on the cheeses and wines of the western Mediterranean, there may have been more people crisping on the pool deck than there were curious gourmets in the seminars, yet for those that took in the culinary delights it had to have been one of the most fabulous assemblies of gustatory thrills ever experienced on a cruise. People were thanking me all the way up to the airport check-in. After that point we let them run ahead so we could attend to one last piece of business.

Arriving four hours early for our departure (I was told) would allow us time to find a little corner to finish our cheeses and wines. I can’t imagine the same scenario occurring at any US airport: sitting as nonchalant as possible while pouring wine from a backpack into espresso cups, and nibbling on little bits of cheeses. Maybe this is routine here?

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Day 8

800px Ships wake 2678244614 e1373484493793 Day 8

Dateline: Sea Day, Amalfi to Civitavecchia
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

It may not look like a great distance to sail: the final voyage from Amalfi to Civitavecchia. It was a great enough distance to allow for a lovely sea-day – a day during which it appeared we might be sailing around lazily in circles, far from Italy’s western shore. From our window table in the Grand Dining Room I noticed how the ship’s wake curled around behind us, never quite straightening out. With the sun almost directly overhead it was too difficult to tell if this was really happening. There were no land masses or other ships to be able to gauge this, only the relatively placid sea below. Time slows down in the middle of the sea, especially on a warm sunny day.

This was the first and only day that my seminars did not have a port to compete for the passengers’ interest. Many of the Europeans spent most of the cruise under the sun, or so it seemed. Most of the American passengers were interested in the culinary theme of the cruise: a few foodie shore excursions, the afternoon wine tastings, the cooking demonstrations in the Bon Appétit classroom, as well as my sessions on cheese and wine.

This final tasting included some of our favorite Italian cheeses: Robiola Bosina, Pecorino Sardo, Taleggio, Piave, and Gorgonzola Cremificato. The white wine was a Vernacchia — the same varietal we had enjoyed a few days earlier in Olbia but from a different producer, and for the red: a Valpolicella — a blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. As sprightly and fresh as the Vernacchia was, the Valpolicella was berry-layered and lush. I remembered enjoying the Vernacchia and Pecorino Sardo pairing a bit better in Olbia than I did here though these two expressions still made a delicious blend. The earlier success could be partly attributed to the “being-there” factor as well as Pietro’s warm hospitality, yet also because the Pecorino Sardo I had in Olbia was younger and fresher than this one. Not that I don’t enjoy an aged Pecorino Sardo; it is that the younger fresher-tasting Vernacchia makes a better match for the younger versions of this great cheese.

The session’s beginning cheese, the Robiola Bosina, also paired well with the Vernacchia, but was even better with the Valpolicella. I do not doubt that the cow component in the Bosina made this a factor. Vernacchia is generally a far better wine for goat and sheep milk cheeses (or their blends) than it is for cow cheeses. The Vernacchia met its match with the Taleggio so after the Pecorino it was finished for the day, all the other cheeses made from cow milk.

I recall one of my first “real” Italian restaurant experiences years ago when you could find a nice bottle of Valpolicella for well under $10.00. In a restaurant! I recall how delightful it paired with all the foods we had, and how it was perfectly delightful on its own. This one matched each of these different cheeses beautifully.

We returned to our stateroom to pack for our early disembarkation the following morning. By this time our ship had straightened out and we continued sailing northward. We still had more cheese left in our refrigerator, as well as unfinished wine. Oh my!

- Max McCalman

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Day 7

800px Amalfi02 e1373314159592 Day 7

Dateline: Amalfi, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

Last night’s quick cruise brought us to Amalfi early this morning. The early arrival allowed time for me to give a presentation to the ship’s many sommeliers, dining room captains, and several members of the officer staff. The executive chef of the ship, arranged a tasting for the crew with a few cheeses and a couple of wines. I prepared a one-page document as collateral that listed ten important things to know about cheese—things that would apply especially well for the crew of a luxury cruise ship such this one.

At the end of this seminar we headed ashore on one of the ship’s tenders. Amalfi is not a large enough port to dock a ship of this size; even yachts were anchored away from land. If Sorrento appeared to be precariously perched above the sea, then Amalfi looked like part of it had already slid into the sea, with another thousand meters of vertical landmass ready to crash into the sea at any time. As it turns out a huge part of this city had done just that only a few centuries earlier. What once was a major port city in the western Mediterranean was suddenly reduced to a thin sliver. I had to wonder why anyone would choose to live here, no matter how beautiful. The British upper classes made Amalfi one of their favorite holiday destinations in the 1920’s and 30’s. I suppose it might be worth a visit if the climate in your home country was typically cold, gray and wet.

The small town seemed to be piled on top of itself, with narrow roadways dug through buildings and mountainsides, and with pedestrians and cyclists taking their chances with seemingly oblivious drivers. Early July is high season for this town and the midday sun made it seem even higher. Unlike other much sleepier towns we had visited, most of the shops were open taking in whatever business was offered.

Our destination that afternoon was Ravello, a little town almost directly above Amalfi. I was warned that the drive to this town was narrow and treacherous, with no solid guardrails on the sides along the ravine. The ride to the town was not so bad; one just had to place one’s faith in a driver who had probably made this trek hundreds of times. On the drive up we passed a number of lemon trees – the lemons for which region is partly famous, and the lemons from which Limoncello is made. From the mountaintop where Ravello is situated the views of the sea were amazing. It is said that the blue of the Mediterranean is not found in any other body of water.

One of the small town’s prettiest hotels is Hotel Villa Maria, built on an outcrop overlooking the ravine directly below and the sea to the southwest. The path to this little hotel passed another one where D.H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover. We worked up an appetite on our way up the stone path, so the outdoor restaurant with its wisteria canopy and magnificent view was simply irresistible. Pasta is not my food of choice but I suspected that the linguine dish would be delicious with a glass of the local Ravello white wine made from the Falanghina grape. We finished our lunch with a chilled little glass of locally produced Limoncello. The “being-there” factor is always helpful.

The bussed are scheduled every half hour going back and forth but I am certain we waited for well over an hour. As it was getting late and concern about catching the last tender to ship was growing, I thought that there were far worse places to be stranded. Finally our bus arrived. On our way back down to Amalfi I kept expecting to find dairy goats, the vertical topography seemed like it might suit goats okay. Instead there are lemon trees and vineyards hugging the hillsides, with the occasional house built directly against the road, some of them with marks indicating frequent scrapes from passing vehicles.

It did not seem to matter that I had not had any cheese while in Amalfi or Ravello. Thankfully there was still plenty in the ship’s galley, as well as in my stateroom’s refrigerator.

- Max McCalman

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Day 6

Port of Livorno pilot boat LI 10143 03 e1372708474767 Day 6

Dateline: Livorno, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

When we sailed into the old port of Livorno early in the morning, the evidence of extensive bombing during World War II remained, even after extensive rebuilding. Yet Livorno is still a major port so whatever restoration took place may not be so evident today. The region surrounding Livorno was relatively untouched, including some of Italy’s favorite destinations: Pisa, Florence, Siena, and the Tuscan countryside. Like Sardegna, the region has more sheep than people.

The Bon Appétit chef on board, Kathryn Kelly, invited us to join her on an excursion to the main market in Livorno, then to a Tuscan winery where we would make pizza, focaccia and biscotti in a wood-burning oven. The idea was to stock up on all the ingredients at the market, and to pick up picnic snacks for the bus ride.

The market had also been mostly destroyed during the war (couldn’t we spare the market?) but was rebuilt almost exactly to its original design in the fifties. Each member of our group was assigned a food to buy. Naturally I got the cheese shopping task. There were at least a dozen stalls focused entirely on cheese, each one specializing on one variety or several. I was only shopping for about twelve people but I couldn’t help myself; I bought enough to cheese to last for days.

I found that young Sardinian goat cheese in Livorno, the one I meant to buy in Olbia. This was the first cheese we shared on the bus ride, and it was sublime. The first taste was faint, but it opened up in the mid-palate, then lingered beautifully creamy in the finish. The other picnic items simply did not measure up. My compatriots helped me finish nearly a kilo of this rustic farmhouse cheese, all of it – including the rind.

I saved the Mozzarella di Bufala for after we got off the bus, just a little too messy for consumption on a fast-moving vehicle. It had just been made earlier that morning, the way we use to receive at Picholine years ago, and just the way it is meant to be eaten. The cheese would have been made outside Naples that morning, then it would be flown to JFK, then we had it to serve to our restaurant’s patrons the same evening.

- Max McCalman

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Day 5

olbia e1372556905798 Day 5

Dateline: Olbia, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

We docked at Olbia’s port midday after the longish overnight voyage from Marseilles. This was my first visit to the island – the island from which I have tasted many excellent sheep milk cheeses. The Pecorino Sardo has been one of my all-time favorites; something like it has been produced all around the Mediterranean for millennia. The Fiore Sardo is a one-of-a-kind itself, another outstanding cheese from the island.

Sardegna also supports some goats, their cheeses are by nearly as well known. I was determined to find an artisan goat cheese during our short visit on the island. I asked the land agent where I might find some of the best cheeses of Sardegna. At first she suggested supermarkets but I let her know this what not what I had in mind – shopping for cheese in a supermarket. She said she agreed that those were not her favorites either. She pulled out a map of Olbia and drew paths to three different destinations.

Finding an open cheese shop in Europe in the early afternoon is nearly impossible so we waited until later to go ashore on our expedition. The closest shop to where our shuttle dropped us off was more of a tourist restaurant so we kept walking up the old town’s main street, barely wide enough for a single lane of traffic. The town was more tropical than I expected, with palm trees here and there, and very warm sun. The gentle sea breeze made the direct sun tolerable. By 4:00 pm the town seemed to be gradually awakening from its siesta.

When we located the second location recommended it was immediately apparent that this was where we needed to be. The shop’s owner greeted us warmly and offered us samples of whatever cheeses we wanted to taste, as well as a few others I was less interested in trying. All his products were from Sardegna: the cheeses, the honeys, the breads, the nougats, the cork sandals, the wines, and everything else. He told the story of how his grandfather had opened the shop in 1919 in a different building around the corner, and how he had received visitors from around the globe, always offering samples of everything.

My intention was to have a small selection of Sardinian cheese with a little Sardinian wine while in Olbia. (We had already filled up our stateroom’s refrigerator with leftover cheese and wine from previous stops so there was little extra room there.) Serving a little degustation of cheese and wine was not what Pietro was set up to do but this was Sardegna and everything seemed possible, no trouble at all. I picked out the smallest pre-cut piece of a young raw sheep milk cheese I could find, weighing about half a kilo, and a light crisp Vermentino wine. He did not have wine glasses but he did have small plastic cups. He did not have a table either but he did have a couple chairs on the sidewalk in front of the store. Pietro told the men sitting in them to surrender the chairs to his new NYC cheese friends. I was uncomfortable asking these older men to give up their seats but there was no stopping Pietro and they seemed to take it all in stride. When I asked Pietro if the police might give him trouble for serving cheese and wine outside by the street he gave me a look as if to say: are you serious?

He could not sell us just a small chunk of cheese and a couple glasses of Vermentino so we stuffed the remainder in our fridge.

I am sure they will taste fine when we finish them later but probably no where nearly as nice as they did when we had them at Pietro’s shop.

No goat cheese there but I still had a couple more ports to check.

- Max McCalman

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Day 4

marseilles e1372537696263 Day 4

Dateline: Port of Marseilles, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

Our ship sailed into Marseilles early yesterday, accompanied by excellent weather.

Marseilles seems to lack the charm of our first ports though: Monte Carlo, Cannes and St. Tropez. This could be due in part to its relative size, with a population approaching one million. Yet the city does have an ancient heritage, founded by the Greeks around 600 BC.

With less time docked here we decided to take a taxi into the old town rather than wait for a slow shuttle bus. This ride initiated our exposure to the Marseilles personality quickly. The Russian couple we had met earlier suggested we share a cab. The first couple in the taxi line before us had asked the driver if they might share a cab with other passengers, and we four being the next passengers to arrive were asked if we minded sharing. (The taxi was an SUV which could accommodate all of us comfortably.)

When the next driver in line saw this he flew into a rage, accosted our driver for taking all the business for himself, when actually our man was simply trying to comply with all our requests. He asked our party if we would mind sharing with the first couple, and of course we were fine with the idea. No matter how many rode in the taxi the charge was going to be a flat twenty euros. When the next driver saw all of us start to amble into the first car he became apoplectic, cursing our driver, who returned the favor with his own caustic fusillade. The first couple had by then decided to wait for another pair. The argument went on for over a minute before we got on our way. Our Russian friend sharing with us was becoming a little annoyed with the theatrics; I was more amused. The heated exchange continued even as we were pulling away.

So once on our way into the old town we asked the driver where he would go for Marseilles’ classic Bouillabaisse dish, which is essentially a poor man’s fish stew. He summed it up that they were all pretty much the same though you could pay less than twenty euros or as much as nearly sixty. I kept an eye out for the lesser priced menus once we got out of the cab but did not quite have the appetite for the dish this early in the day, no matter the price.

By the way, speaking of prices: yesterday I had quoted an absurd price for apples noted in St. Tropez. I stand corrected; they are not four euros each. The four euros was a price for a kilo of apples. Even at that price, not a bargain.

My hunt today in Marseilles was for cheese shops however. Sadly, although Marseilles is surrounded by agriculture, cheese does not have the focus it has in others parts of the country. This city is much more maritime – fish is the thing. As France’s busiest port you might suspect that cheese has been an important export commodity. Most of the cheese exportation leaves France from Rungis, north of Paris. The menus I read around Marseilles did not mention fromage.

This was okay, since I still had a little cheese in my stateroom left over from Cannes and St. Tropez. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have found a few more young raw milk cheeses in Marseilles knowing it would be my last stop on French soil this trip.

We returned to the ship in the early afternoon, with our sailing for Sardega scheduled late afternoon instead of late night – the overnight voyage being longer than the previous ones. We were able to catch a free shuttle bus back to our pier and as soon as we pulled away from the platform our bus driver displayed the same confrontational attitude we had seen in our taxi driver earlier in the day, though at the command of a large bus he exhibited an even more aggressive demeanor. When making tight turns around the narrow Marseilles streets he launched a tirade against any car driver who got in his way. This tough attitude among drivers appeared to simply be the way it is here.

I have no doubt that they would be calmer if they included more cheese in their diets.

Sailing east that evening we watched the sun set over the sea from the ship’s main dining room. The sun appeared to descent into the sea while the stars began to appear one by one. I finished my meal with a cheese plate that included a raw milk Camembert, an aged Manchego, and a Gorgonzola Cremificato.

There were no fights getting on the elevator.

- Max McCalman

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Day 3: Afternoon & Evening

fromageriesttropez e1372362958198 Day 3: Afternoon & Evening

Dateline: St. Tropez, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

The cheese shop has a simple name, Fromagerie du Marché, which translates to Cheese Shop of the Market. The Var region of Provence is known for its goat milk cheeses, the leaf-wrapped Banon and Rocamadour especially. With all the leftovers from yesterday’s cheese-shopping excursions in Cannes I restricted my purchasing to just those two today, and again, both of them raw milk.

The French Cheese and Wine Tasting taking place back on board mid-afternoon so I had to head back early. That warning of high-priced restaurants was accurate, my warm goat cheese salad was 14.50 euros, excellent of course but still, a salad costing $20.00? Just as well that I did not have time for a main course.

My French tasting took place in the ship’s signature restaurant, Jacques, named after our New York friend, Jacques Pepin. Lovely dining room; the ship’s Executive Chef assembled a beautiful cheese display for the event. The featured cheeses were some of the iconic French cheeses: Valençay, Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, Cantal, Beaufort and Roquefort. The wines were both from Bordeaux: a lovely Côtes de Blaye white, and an easy-drinking St. Emilion red.

I instructed the guests to taste the wines: first the white, then the red. Then I invited them try the cheeses by themselves, then with the white wine, then with the red. The focus of the seminar was on the cheeses but as is always the case, the wines provided a platform to uncover the nuances in each of the cheeses.

With such gorgeous weather, and while anchored near St. Tropez, I feared we might not have anyone attend this tasting. Apparently all you have to do is mention French cheeses and wines and people will show up.

We will bring a little part of France to our summer venue at Manhattan’s Alison Eighteen Thursday, July 25th. I hope to see you there; it’ll be delish!

- Max McCalman

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Day 3: Morning

st.tropez Day 3:  Morning

Dateline: St. Tropez, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

We arrived at St. Tropez early this morning, anchored out in the bay, far from the docks. The bay is too small and shallow for cruise ships to venture in close. From where our ship is anchored St. Tropez appears to be a sleepy fishing village and little more. However St. Tropez can be considered to be the “soul” of the French Riviera.

Travel guide books warn readers to be prepared for a dismissive attitude toward tourists: with ostentatious dress, expensive yachts and cars, an attitude that we might be intruding on their little private jet-setter paradise, and over-priced bars and restaurants. The market prices for fruits and vegetables were a bit frightening, such as 3.90 euros ($5) for an apple, and thousands of euros for studio rentals. None of the dismissiveness was apparent though.

With my first tasting scheduled for mid-afternoon today I didn’t have time to dally so I found the main cheese shop quickly, saw that it was doing a steady business, and had a little cheese discussion with the shop’s proprietor, Carmen. My command of conversational French is less of a command than a suggestion but cheese talk has an international language of its own that fromagers everywhere seem to share.

To be continued…

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Day 2

le suquet e1372279674871 Day 2

Dateline: Cannes, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

Our ship anchored at Cannes yesterday and remained until midnight. The city did not appear to be nearly as dramatic as Monte Carlo, but that is only what you think you see from the ship. Cannes is flatter than Monte Carlo, less densely populated and has far fewer tall buildings. Once you step onto the dock it is immediately apparent that Cannes is lively, less staid, and more artsy. This is not to say that Cannes lacks its old European characteristics. The narrow cobble stone streets in the older part of the city are the types that have been here for millennia and its Marché Forville is one of those open-stall markets found only in the older European cities.

Cannes also has a few excellent fromageries outside of the market. Knowing how those old markets and cheese shops keep the hours of operation, I knew we had to either arrive early in the day or risk being shut out until after 4:00 for the shops, or until the following morning for the market stalls.

On our way to the old market we visited some historic sights in Cannes: Musée de la Castre and the Nôtre-Dame de l’Espérance, the old museum and church at the top of the hill in Le Suquet, the oldest quarter in Cannes. Once we finally arrived the vendors were nearing the end of their day, yet the diverse aromas of June fare were still pungent. The fishmongers were mostly wrapped up (thankfully) and the butchers were long gone. What remained in the building were ripe fruits, vegetables of every color of the rainbow, fresh eggs, some cured meats, whole grain breads, nuts, olives and olive oils, and many luxurious cheeses.

I wanted so many of those cheeses, types that cannot be found US. Fortunately I had a limited amount of euros in my pocket; I would have purchased far more than I could have eaten during the remainder of this cruise. As great as all these rare cheeses are, they are not the only great cheeses in the world. (Tell the French this!)

Not that many years ago we use to be able to bring many of these Provençal cheeses into the US. No one was becoming ill from those cheeses but the regulations were not enforced as doggedly as they are today.

Provence is known for these young raw milk cheeses, the goat varieties especially. Also known for their light low-alcohol white wines and rosés, the pairing opportunities are exquisite in late June. Those young chèvres have reached their peaks, the warm weather directs our tastes to these lighter creamy cheeses and their lighter wine accompaniments.

We found an inexpensive Rosé made from Cinsault that was delightful with some of those chèvres of the region, also a surprisingly nice match for Salers, the sister cheese to Cantal in central France, and the grandmother of British cheddars. Come to think of it, this summer you might try pairing one of those Rosés from Provence with a British or American cheddar. I can’t see how it could go wrong.

The one disappointment with the Cinsault wine was a Lingot made with sheep milk. Excellent cheese but it had no synergy with this wine. Not that we have to worry about experiencing this clash, the cheese is made from raw sheep milk and aged far less than sixty days, so it is available in the US anyway.

- Max McCalman

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Day 1

Whole Monaco e1372100803231 Day 1

Dateline: Monte Carlo, Monaco
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

There is a little cloud cover this afternoon, not what was forecasted. We are anchored close to shore but the swells remind me of those you experience when out at sea. Time to get a little more cheese in the tummy. That’ll make it all better.

I am still getting my bearings on board, finding the locations for my seminars; getting acquainted with the crew and a few passengers; looking at the various restaurants’ menus and wine lists; and planning side trips at some of the ports. The first fromageries we are going to visit are in Cannes…we dock there tomorrow. Stay Tuned!

The cheese selection at the Terrace Café on board last night clearly indicated a recent stop in Spain; likely Barcelona. The pressed sheep milk cheeses similar to our own one year old Manchego and Royale were all delicious of course. The Spanish pressed sheep cheeses are some of my favorite styles. These types of cheeses have found their way on board ships sailing around the world for many centuries. They are quite seaworthy; they hold up, even without refrigeration for extended periods. It was heartening to see how popular this part of the buffet seemed to be all evening long. I myself went back for seconds.

This cruise highlights the cheeses and wines of the region. The cheeses and wines aboard this ship are incomparable, which I suppose is why they asked me to be a guest lecturer.

- Max McCalman