All in the Family
Thursday, September 27
If you are reading along in this trip report and you're not one who is much for reading about us puttering about doing family-related activities, then you might want to skip this page and the next, because on this day, that's pretty much all that we did. In short, I spent the morning taking pictures in and around my Aunt's house, then visited my cousin Gael's bakery shop, then had a nap, then visited the Perugini family mausoleum, then had an evening filled with visiting relatives at the houses of my cousins Paolo and Giovanni. So, you've been warned.
As I've already mentioned, my Aunt's house is a fairly large structure situated on what I estimate is roughly an acre of land. The house does not just house my Aunt, though - it is split into four main living quarters, each complete self-contained flats. Currently, my Aunt, my cousin Anna's family, and a former relative of my cousin Giovanni live in the house (and temporarily during our trip, my mom, my sister and myself in the fourth flat). In addition to those four flats, there is a seven-car garage, a wine cellar, a common utility area, and a large communal area on the lower floor, complete with dining room, kitchen, living room, and bathroom. So, it's a pretty big place.
View from northeast corner
The grounds around the house are ringed by an eight-foot high iron fence, with a pedestrian gate and a remote-controlled automobile gate. The yard itself is well-tended and has many large and beautiful trees, plants, and decorative features. I last took an inventory of pictures of the house and grounds back in 2001
, and I figured it might be nice if I captured a new, better-quality set of pictures.
View from northeast corner
The pictures you see on this page start at the northeast corner of the property, and follow around in a counter-clockwise course. One major change from 2001 is the new house in the extreme southwestern corner, where the combined residences (in other words, a very fancy sort of duplex) of my cousins Paolo and Giovanni has been built. The house was just recently completed, and they had only been living in it for two months as of the time that we visited.
Porcelli Residence grounds
After my photo session with the house and property, we headed downtown, bound for my cousin Gael's bakery shop.
My cousin Gael (wife of cousin Paolo) had had a childhood dream of operating a high-quality bakery, and a few years ago, she did just that, opening a business she called Maga'. Situated on the bottom floor of an apartment building on a quiet side street in Avellino, I suspect it lives up to her expectations.
We arrived at Maga' late morning, during a period of food preparation. Gael, being on maternity leave, was not present. Instead, we were welcomed by Gael's head baker, Anna.
We had been warned by my aunt (who had asked Gael if it was ok for us to visit) that the bakery staff may be busy, but Anna welcomed us enthusiastically, escorting us into the main kitchen, where we were surrounded by lots of modern-looking stainless steel baking equipment.
When Anna learned that we were visitors from Canada, she began speaking in english. In fact, with a perfect english accent. Although Anna's parents are Italian and she lives in Italy, she grew up for the first few decades of her life in England. Anna had known Gael as a little girl, back when her thoughts of a bakery were nothing more than a child's daydreams. We learned that later, when the realization of Maga' came to fruition, Gael had sought out Anna, and convinced her to move to Avellino and serve as her head baker.
Anna proceeded to give us a very thorough overview of the goings on at Maga'. She explained, in great detail, the nature of the ingredients that they used: Fresh, thick creams, whole milk, nut extracts, marzipans - all were laid out before us to taste individually, and then we had samples of finished products, carefully laid out to warm from refridgeration before getting sampled.
It was clear she was very passionate about working in a place that not only used the best of ingredients, but that also valued preciseness and consistency. She professed of her admiration for the passion and liveliness of Italians, but felt that there was a certain undercurrent of less-than-focused imprecision. She felt that her British upbringing allowed her to bring a consistency and rigorousness that might otherwise be lacking, and in doing so, create an environment that fostered Italian flair while maintaining British quality control.
As she spoke, Anna would occasionally give a command or two in Italian to a young protege she had working in the kitchen with her. He had started off with a certain relaxed attitude towards baking, she recounted, but over time he had come to understand this british-italian hybrid philosophy, and she was proud of the fact that - after some time under her guidance - he was nearly ready to be trusted with autonomously managing certain key aspects of production.
It all sounded quite impressive. Not only would Anna's philosophy satisfy her and Gael's quest for the best possible product, but it would likely give them a differentation that they could use when competing with other more established companies in southern Italy. I certainly wish them the best of luck!
As a final parting gift, Gael had wanted to give us one of the fresh sponge cakes which were just coming out of one of the ovens. However, they were still too hot to allow them to be properly sliced in half in preparation for receiving filling. So, she carefully wrapped up a cake, then prepared two large pastry bags, one filled with a fresh creme-based white icing for the top of the cake, and another with the filling for the center of the cake (we chose a hazelnut filling). We would take everything back to the house, and once the cake had cooled, we'd finish preparing it ourselves.
We finished off by having a look at a photo album of the many custom cakes Maga' has prepared for various clients (many of them for couples getting married). We then thanked Anna profusely for the unexpectedly detailed and interesting talk, and wished her and her protege well. If you are ever in the town of Avellino, you might think about buying a sweet or two - or even a cake - from Maga'. Definitely a first-class place.
City view of Montevergine
After returning to my Aunt's house, we carefully unwrapped the unfinished sponge cake, which had by now cooled. We spent a few minutes carefully slicing it in half and then applying both the filling and the topping. Both were surprisingly hard to squeeze out of their pastry bags. Cake-finishing could very possibly increase your grip strength, if you did it long enough!
The finished cake was carefully stored in the fridge. I was looking forward to having many slices of it over the next few days...