Tag: Italy

After leaving the famous city of Florence, colored by its buzzing streets and magnificent architecture, we headed south to explore the rich lands of the Tuscan countryside. The first stop of our journey was a town called San Gimignano. The drive to the town was almost as glorious as the town itself, endless miles of scenic rolling hills, enriched with vineyards and groves of olive trees.

CHS Blog 3.1The town is set on a hill with narrow streets, cobblestone roads, and high defensive walls. The most noticeable characteristic about the town are its famous towers which date back to a period when prosperous families sought prestige by building towers to match the height of their status. Currently 14 of the 72 original towers still remain. We were lucky enough to climb the Torre Grossa to catch an exquisite view of the piazza and the rolling hills of Tuscany. Despite the fierce winds at the top of the tower, the essence of beauty and culture this little town exuded is one I will always remember.

Continuing on the cultural leg of the journey our travels took us to the Tuscan city of Siena. Nothing is better than eating gelato and roaming the streets of Siena. This little medieval town has insanely steep cobblestone streets that will give your glutes a run for their money. CHS Blog 3.4 Siena

The central piazza, known as Il Campo, (at right), is shaped like a seashell, which is different than any other piazzas we’ve seen. We learned that a horse-race occurs twice a year in July and August around the piazza, and each of the 18 districts of Siena has it’s own horse and flag.

CHS Blog 3.5 Siena




The Duomo of Siena (at left), is nothing shy of spectacular.

One of my favorite pictures taken on this trip was the cathedral with its zebra like black and white stripes and large pane circular window that let the sunlight flow through. We left Siena right at sunset, as we strolled through the streets, the ambience of the muted voices and dim street-lights was warm and soothing.

For a moment there, I lost myself in the breathtaking beauty of Siena and stopped in time in the 13th century. Check back for the next blog post as we pick up our CHS Inc. agricultural tour of Italy with a tour of a Tuscan winery run by one family for 13 generations.

On the windiest day in memory in Florence, we survived blown over trees, vespas, and errant cups of coffee to make our way to the heart of the Florentine handicraft industry. As part of the CEL Artex Practicum project, we traveled to three manufacturers, IVV, Chiarugi, and Capecchi Home Linens today, and were given the opportunity to tour their facilities and speak with their management.

Blog 4 IVV 1.5 The first company, IVV, is the largest glass manufacturer in Europe. They make the majority of their products completely by hand, and the results were quite impressive. The company makes large vases, colorful flowers, and nearly any tabletop object imaginable. The factory itself was also a sight to be seen; Professor Sergio Chayet would have refused to leave if he had been here.

We were also able to obtain insights into the glass making process, as well as the challenges facing the glass industry in Italy. IVV had once supplied well known chains such as Crate & Barrel, but its customers have yet to fully return following the 2007 financial crisis. Following conversations with the company’s representatives, it seems that the company plans to target smaller boutiques abroad while it slowly regains its business partnerships with larger entities.

Following our trip to IVV, we made our way to Chiarugi, a maker of intricate, high-end salt and pepper mills. (see photo above) Chiarugi makes many different styles and guarantees its internal components for life. The factory was small but the workers were lively and very helpful.

Currently, the vast majority of the company’s customers are luxury hotels and restaurants. As it products are made at a very high quality, once it makes a sale follow-up orders are usually updates or replacements and are thus hard to predict. The company, therefore, wants to get more involved in selling to consumers via retail stores, specifically targeting the United States. We had the chance to brainstorm some strategies with one of the company’s owners, and we hope that the successful completion of our project with Artex will transform their plans into reality.

Blog 4 Capecchi 1.1Our final visit was to Capecchi Home Linens, located in Pistoia. The company has been in the same family for three generations and we had the opportunity to tour the facility with its current owner. The company imports high quality cotton from Egypt and the Middle East, and then dyes, embroiders, and finishes the sheets, pillow cases, and other linen goods in house.

Blog 4 Capecchi 1.3The company produces only when orders come in, and they offer their customers the ability to customize the products to a large degree. Speaking with the owner after the tour, he indicated that he does not want to become a high volume producer like some manufacturers in China. In fact, his goal was simply to add one new customer per year, so long as this customer builds a relationship with him.

The overall goal of our project is essentially to introduce small, high end retailers directly to manufactures in Italy, allowing the former to obtain wholesale prices and the latter to create business relationships in the United States.

Overall, the day was a success. Through adverse conditions, we were able to round out our understanding of the handicrafts industry in Tuscany. We have no doubt that our Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) project will be put into much sharper focus when we return to the United States so that we can deliver results to Artex by the end of the semester.

As our group took to the cars and departed Florence city center, there was a peaceful serenity that enveloped us as we climbed the hills surrounding Florence and gazed upon the olive tree laden hillsides.  We were greeted enthusiastically by Tomas as we entered Fattoria de Maiano and were provided a brief history of the estate and the olive production process.

I was especially intrigued by the fact that the site was at one time an old convent and a quarry (14th century) that provided the marble and stone for the majority of the buildings in the city of Florence, including the Duomo, at that time.

CHS Blog 2.2We were first shown The Villa di Maiano, the impressive main house on the estate, which still had the original décor and furnishings and was the set for the films Tea with Mussolini and A Room with a View. We toured through the house, the exterior garden and terrace. Awed by the views, we saw the working olive farm situated on nearly 300 hectares of land encompassing nearly 20,000 olive trees.

The estate had passed through various owners and was purchased by Sir John Temple Leader in 1844. Leader with his wife, revitalized the estate and surrounding areas until his death in 1903 when possession was transferred to Professor Teodoro Stori, a famous Florentine surgeon.  His niece, Countess Lucrezia Miari Fulcis dei Principi Corsini, inherited the Villa, and her children and grandchildren continue to work the farm and estate today.

CHS Blog 2.3From the villa, Tomas graciously gave us a tour of the estate mill and described the olive oil production process.  I was impressed when he said that the olives are picked entirely by hand and that the estate is completely organic.  The olives are typically picked in November and December, and they are processed in the olive mill via a cold extraction process within 6.5 hours of being picked.

It was such a learning experience as he described how the olives are first separated from the leaves in the hopper and various conveyor belts before being crushed through a series of disks in the olive press.  The oil is then separated from the olive rinds in a double centrifugal press, whose operation naturally pushed the oil one direction and the olive rinds the other.  After separating the various lots, the olive oil is stored in airtight drums until receipt of the order that requires the bottling process.

CHS Blog 2.4When I first learned of the trip, and the support it had received from the CHS Foundation to gain exposure to the agriculture industry, I was excited at the opportunity to learn more about the food products I use in my everyday life. Fattoria de Maiano did not disappoint. It was incredible to see the entire process and to learn exactly how extra virgin olive oil is characterized and the difference from regular virgin olive oil – extra virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have superior taste.

Olive oil tasting.

Olive oil tasting.

It was awesome to taste their regular extra virgin olive oil and compare it with their premium extra virgin olive oil, Laudemio, which has won awards in Los Angeles and Tokyo.  This was a fantastic visit with wonderful hospitality and information, and if I am ever in the area in the future, I look forward to visiting Fattoria de Maiano again.

I am thankful for the support from CHS, and the CHS Foundation, for allowing us the opportunity to take an in depth look at agricultural products we use in our daily lives. This  has been a once in a lifetime experience and I am grateful for the support from CHS for making it possible.

Guest Blogger: Kimberly Holden, MBA’15

Across the rolling hills of Tuscany and through the Arno Valley lies the hamlet of Montelupo, the homeland of Tuscan ceramics; or as Sauro Servadei would say, “The kingdom of the dust”. Here, following the traditions of millennia, artisans still create ceramic masterpieces in much the same way as the Romans did.  With hand and wheel, modern artists carry on the immortal tradition of creating unique pieces tailored to meet the demand of modern society.

Ammmannti 2The first workshop we visited was Ceramiche D’Arte Ammannati, namesake of the famed and controversial marble worker who sculpted the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Vecchio.

Within the walls of Ammannati’s workshop, modern day artisans use clay and paint to create custom made monuments to the skill and craftsmanship of Tuscan ceramics workers. Ammannati derives a significant portion of its value from its ability to tailor its product to customer needs.

Namely, the customer can have anything that they want painted on an Ammannati shape.


MARZINext, we toured perhaps the most unique and modern facility on our trip, Marzi srl.  Using resin and natural materials, Marzi blends together the modern ephemeral trends of society with the interminable style of nature. Martzi capitalizes on the juxtaposition of modern tastes with ancient roots, and creates products as at home in a 21st century resort hotel as a 15th century Tuscan farmhouse.

IMA 2The third visit of the day was to a larger company called Ceramiche IMA. While Ammannati has very flexible production capabilities, it cannot produce the large volumes of ceramic pieces required from larger stores in the United States. IMA, however, has the facilities and capability to meet demand for companies like Pottery Barn in the United States, who need larger orders of identical objects.

After a guided tour from the owner of the company, we developed a new found respect and understanding of what is required to maintain uncompromising quality and meet unyielding quantity in today’s society.


ceramics 2Our last stop of the day was a Ceramiche MORI, a five person operation nestled into a larger industrial area.

MORI thrives in today’s market by adjusting its products to meet modern demand.  After spending most of his life as an itinerant ceramics painter, Mr.  Mori finally opened up his own shop. Everything at MORI is handmade from start to finish. As such, no two pieces are the same and a visit to his shop will surely be an eye opening and worthwhile experience.

On Sunday, the team met Daniel Bentle, CEL associate director, at the Florence train station after two train rides from Verona. That afternoon, we took a stroll through the city where we were privileged to witness a historic flag throwing presentation outside of the Palazzo Vecchio. Florence flag demo

Later that afternoon, we were to meet with Sauro, our Artex connection. Little did we know— the man is a legend. Some say that he once asked for his wife to be completely covered in the best (and incredibly expensive) leather in Florence. Some say he frequents the discoteque at least four times a week. Still others claim he has a gold leaf tattoo in the shape of the local Duomo on his arm. All we really know is that, Sauro Servadei, his wife Maria, and their daughter Chiara are some of the most welcoming and happy people you could ever meet. (Their dog, Titta, is also a cutie.)

Artex practicum

Pausing by the Arno with our host Sauro.

That evening, Sauro and Maria provided us with a wonderful, and extensive, home-cooked meal. There was an antipasto platter of meats, liver, and cheeses, along with Prosecco, followed by what we thought were the main courses of pasta and a potato dish with red wine. In actuality, it was the primi piatti (literally translating to first plate).

It was soon followed by the secondi piatti (second plate) of a dish reminiscent of meatloaf and rosemary potatoes. Just when we thought we couldn’t have another bite, out came Maria with il dolce, a bread dessert called Colomba and chocolate covered nuts. The evening was full of good laughs and tips from Sauro on the best places to eat in Florence; after all, that is usually the most important thing to learn when visiting a new city!

Mr. P.E. Peroni

Mr. P.E. Peroni

The next morning (Monday), the team headed to Artex bright and early to meet with Sauro and our other Artex connection, Maria Elena Angeli. The morning was spent much as the evening was, with the team listening to Sauro talk about the city, the artisans, and the beauty of Italy. After a morning filled with lively discussions, we headed to Peroni, a local leather workshop known throughout Florence for its high-quality leather goods.

P.E. Peroni (yes, his initials and last name spell peperoni) founded the workshop with his brother, Roberto in 1956. Peroni spent the afternoon showing us around his workshop and sharing with us the history of the company and demonstrating his handicraft still performed in the traditional way. Although he is retired, several team members were able to get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of Peroni personally embossing their initials onto his coin purses.

On Tuesday, we met with the president of Artex and a representative from the innovation and development division. Following that, we listened to interesting presentations from two Italian trading commissions, CNA and Confartigianato.

In the evening, we had dinner at an excellent trattoria. The amount of food consumed was similar to Sunday night. Thankfully, we were able to walk off the food during a personalized guided tour by the legendary Sauro himself. In the late hours of the night, we retired to our accommodations, heavy with excellent Italian food, wine, and history.

Josie Gutierrez,MBA’15 contributed this post on behalf of her CEL team.

For more information on Artex or Peroni, please click on the links below.

Artex: http://www.artex.firenze.it/en

Peroni: http://www.peronifirenze.it/

The first two days of the trip were long. Mired in the indecent struggle of man and espresso versus crippling exhaustion, we managed to see Milan, Verona, and Venice within a span of 48 hours. Our CEL Practicum team flew from St. Louis to Newark, and then made our connection just in time to head to Milan, where we boarded a train bound for that hallowed romantic city of Romeo and Juliette, Verona.

“In fair Verona where we lay our scene.”
– William Shakespeare.

The countryside passed in a blur of golden browns and bright greens; rolling plains and misty peaks whisked by as we discussed the work before us. We arrived in the rolling hills of Verona, where we deposited our bags in our quaint hotel and headed out to explore the town.

Verona pizzaAfter sitting down for a delicious meal of pizza, washed down with some Chianti, and gelato, we then wandered about the town square and into the Duomo. Verona had a strong fortress that was built around it during the medieval times to protect it from enemies. verona bridgeWe stood on top of the crenulated bridge that connected the two sides of the town, and looked down upon the river.

Verona arenaWe walked across the town to see the old Roman ruins and stood upon the steps in the Verona Arena. It was both eerie and awe inspiring to see the giant marble slab steps and realize how many centuries had passed since they were built. Remnants of the old Roman aqueduct surrounded the Arena, and it was fascinating to realize and see in person how advanced the Roman technology was during the ancient times.

Juliette statueAfter the Arena, we wound or way through the cobbled streets to Juliet’s balcony. The nondescript, white balcony was tucked away in an alcove off of the main path. Rumor has it that Shakespeare never actually visited Verona in his life; but the romantic in each of us believes that by visiting the balcony and rubbing the breast of the statue of star-crossed Juliette, we will bring fortune to our own romantic endeavors. After taking a long walk back along the brightly lit river, we headed off to catch some blessed sleep in our hotel rooms.

VeniceThe next morning, we woke up early to head to Venice. We took one of the quick trains and arrived around 11 am. The sweeping vistas of the Grand Canal from the top of the many bridges took our breath away as we pined for the Italian “Bella Vita” and conjured up images more fitting for a Disney movie than real life. The many canals swirl past pastel colored buildings and cobbled streets providing liquid roads for the city’s many gondoliers to ply their trade.

We took the day to wander around the streets, get lost, and window shop at stores full of glittering masks, handmade paper, and pastries. We grabbed a simple breakfast of sandwiches and proceeded to exploring different parts of the city, including the Jewish Ghetto, where the Jews were forced to live and work during Italy’s ill-fated foray into fascism. It was very moving and solemn; on two occasions in WWII, Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, many never returning. The area had a distinct feel to it, and the old age of the area was evident.

From there our adventure led us towards the Piazzo San Marco, a giant square surrounded by glossy shops and gold rimmed buildings. We decided to explore the Doge’s Palace, where the Venetian government used to sit, when Venice was the trade capital of Europe. The judiciary, the Doge (the head of the government), the legislature, and the other branches of government would sit to discuss the issues of the day, and keep Venetian goods flowing to distant lands while keeping the gold coming in. The intricate wood carvings and lavish paintings were majestic. After walking through the judiciary, we headed into the prison area. Bereft of good food or a chance to see their beautiful city again, prisoners would occupy these cells until they made their last walk across the “bridge of sighs” to meet their doom. It was a big juxtaposition and very memorable.

We then walked back towards the main part of Venice, towards the Rialto Bridge, where we explored different side streets. After stopping off for a meal of pizza and pasta near the water, we headed back to the train station, exhausted but exhilarated for the next part of our Italian trip.

Submitted by Rebecca Lantner, MBA’15, for the CEL Artex team.

To learn more about this CEL Practicum team’s trip to Italy, read previous blog post.