20 November 2023

A small tour in San Daniele

Here’s my experience, between crafts, food, and wine

This is the first time ever I decide to tell you about San Daniele del Friuli. I have been there before, but today I decided to get on my laptop and tell you about my very personal experience, hoping that this itinerary will come in handy. Ready? Let's not get lost in chit-chat.

I'll start with a bang. In fact, I suggest you treat yourself to a walk through the streets of the city while enjoying a small cone of pralines by Adelia di Fant. About fifteen years ago, when I was still working in the coffee industry, I’d been a guest of Adelia’s, who was my client, and the scent of chocolate that dominates her realm is still well imprinted in my nostrils.

To come back here after so many years and to see what great strides she has made... well, it's priceless: today by her side is a fine team of young people, who divide their time among the workshop, packaging, and the retail store. In short, this isn’t just an ordinary chocolate workshop.

Entering this little taste boutique will feel like you’re entering a dream. A dream that any child has had at least once in their life! Welcome to the world of pralines: in front of you will appear a counter overflowing with dozens of kinds of colorful chocolates in a wide variety of flavors, chocolate bars of various origins, spreadable creams (from the classic hazelnut, to pistachio, lemon, and extra-old grappa) and even liqueurs and spirits.

Adelia's story began in the 1980s, starting precisely from spirits. Spirits, she still offers to this day by making grappa and liqueurs, from the ones from the Friulian tradition to those made with medicinal herbs, from fruit in spirit to creamy liqueurs. In short, every possible and thinkable goodness. And then it came: the passion for chocolate, which began with the first grappa pralines. Today Adelia offers different selections of artisanal chocolates with the finest cru and grand cru chocolates, dried fruits, chocolate bars with flowers or fruit, spreads, candied fruits, hot chocolate mixes, and flavored sugars.

Shall we repeat it together? Everything is strictly artisanal.

The raw material is sought after and of the highest quality; the link with the area is so strong that Adelia is part of the Io sono FVG project (which, in the specific case of chocolate, requires 40% of the ingredients to come from the region!).

No, you can never be too far away from good food. And if you ever were, here is the online shop from which you can choose some treats and get them delivered directly at your door.

A stone's throw from Adelia’s, walking along the downtown arcades, you’ll come to the historic arch designed by Palladio in the 16th century and nicknamed Portonat by the Friulians. And that is precisely the name given to the elegant osteria where I stopped for a break: ladies and gentlemen, this is Osteria al Portonat.

Alessandra welcomed me into her restaurant, where I immediately understood her attention to detail given the choice of lighting: a warm, soft light illuminates everything green, the predominant color in the restaurant. The walls accommodate a temporary exhibition of paintings, which periodically hosts different artists; the white and green Vichy woven cotton tablecloths give to this place a touch of the "bon ton tavern" that it actually is. I was then enchanted by the floral decorations, and Alessandra decided to introduce me to Franco Fontanel, a "dreamer and floral decorator" from San Martino al Tagliamento who, with his gentleness, decided to enrich the ambiance with simple yet refined harmony.

So, in the same manner and with the same green thread (mind you, it isn’t red!), Alessandra also decided to introduce me to her kitchen, which welcomes the flavors of the area, offering a selection of San Daniele Prosciutto from Morgante, sliced thinner than tissue paper. Which, let me tell you, I liked very much.

To achieve cutting perfection there is a queen in the room, the Bentley of slicing machines, a hand-made, hand-crafted machine produced in FVG by Snaidero Mirco, a gem store from Mels (Udine).

Here in San Daniele, you won’t only find prosciutto, but also trout! Yes, I had already told you about the farms and the super quality of Friultrota. Here at Portonat you can enjoy this delicious little fish as an appetizer, smoked, or with an orzotto and vegetables. It was just sublime.

As for the prosciutto, on the other hand, you can pair it with the Demetra company's sottoli, mozzarella knots, or tagliolini for a tasty first course with an authentic flavor. Try it to believe!

Continuing our exploration of San Daniele, walking toward the main square on Via Garibaldi, past the Church of St. Anthony (I invite you to peek inside, it’s worth it), we get to number 11 where, until the end of December, you will find a temporary shop dedicated to handicrafts, run by Alda Rita, who’s an artisan and is well-known for her angels of Oca Bianca ed Altre Storie.

Wait. Before I tell you its beautiful story, I’d like to give a brief overview of this store that not only collects the work of artisans from Friuli Venezia Giulia, but embraces a very specific ethic: not just objects, but creations that can tell a story and convey intense emotions.

Cristina's corsets, inspired by Friulian tradition, the coats and shirts of the "mani vive" project: three girls who created a capsule collection by recovering fine fabrics, embellished by Laura Piani's buttons. And what about the light books designed and made by Alda Rita together with Sarolta Szulyovszky, a Hungarian illustrator who has lived in San Daniele for 26 years. All of this is just crazy to me. They created an illustrated fairy tale, which was then printed on wooden panels that turn into a lamp when assembled. And, last but not least, here you’ll find a very unique floral arrangement made of hops and signed by Romantico (which I mentioned earlier).

But now we get to the heart of Alda Rita's work, which began a good 25 years ago: she is now celebrating her angel number 220,000. Alda Rita, a language graduate, became a translator: after an illness that caused her to stop for a whole year, with the support of a friend she created her first angel, based on the memory of a creation made by her grandmother (who, in her time, used to weave scus, aka the dried leaves of the corn cob). It was a proper rebirth for her; she thus began to cut these figures out of plywood and slowly, recovering what she had learned in previous years, she participated in international fairs, arriving today at four collections a year and distributing them in more than 200 stores in Italy. Her workshop houses six women, including micro-artists, graphics, and herself, who designs and decorates her creations by hand.

Angels not only represent a fairy-tale and intangible world, but they can be customized, so much so that when I introduced you to Alda Rita in my stories on social media many of you wrote to me telling me that you own one of her angels. The luckiest ones told me that they received as a gift an angel that represents them perfectly, from hair color or eye color and so on.

Each angel is also linked to a phrase or poem.

Yet, l’Oca Bianca is also much, much more. Alda Rita among her many passions also retains one for semi-precious stones, which she uses in the making of delightful jewels. The earrings are often asymmetrical, because they represent our reality that is half in light and half in shadow and our male and female halves; the stones can also be interchanged and you can even buy the earrings not in pairs, but in groups of three. Unconventional.

Alda Rita is a deep, sensitive, and delicate person, and I’d stay and chat with her for hours and hours. Yes, I could even report here everything we talked about, but it wouldn’t be the same. No, you must go and see her. There are no excuses.

And with this maxim I end my trip to San Daniele del Friuli.

Oh, if you still have some time on your hands and want to take walk in nature, or simply admire a landscape that turns into a fairy tale at sunset, you can visit Ragogna Lake, which is only a seven-minute drive away. The Carnic Alps reflect in its placid waters with breathtaking colors.

It only remains for me to wish you a good discovery!

Photo Michele Grimaz

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