Last week I visited the beautiful hill town of Montepulciano. Yes, I was in search of good wine - the Rosso di Montepulciano is one of my favorites. And of course, I was also looking for good food - the ravioli at E Lucevan le Stelle, is as unforgettable as the incredible view from their terrace overlooking the Val d'Orcia. But my main mission in Montepulciano was to buy a copper saucepan; not any copper saucepan, mind you, but one that was lovingly hand crafted by Cesare Mazzetti at the Bottega del Rame. "What??!" you say ... well, let me explain:
The first time I saw the Bottega del Rame, stocked floor to ceiling with gleaming copper cookware, I felt as if I had just stumbled into Aladdin's cave. I was in love. I wanted to buy something - anything from this store, it was all so beautiful! But in the end, after touching everything, I left empty handed.
When I got home I did some research and discovered that the proprietor, Cesare Mazzetti, is somewhat famous. He is a third-generation coppersmith; celebrity chefs in New York buy his pans; CNN and the BBC have both interviewed him; he has even made a copper plaque for the Pope ... There is a great deal of tradition, artistry, and love behind every piece of copper in that shop. A few months later I read an interview with Cesare in Saveur where he discussed the benefits of cooking with copper. Basically it is all about high and uniform heat transmission. Unlike the lighter, cheaper "modern" stainless-steel pans that "aggressively" cook (food often sticks and burns to hot spots in the pan) the even heat distribution of copper means more uniform cooking, and you can cook at lower temperatures ("heat wraps and caresses foods.") Cooking with copper is actually easier! SOLD. I knew I needed to go back some day. And I did.
The second time I saw the Bottega del Rame, it was in the winter and it was closed! (Heartbroken, I consoled myself with a few glasses of rosso and a fantastic lunch.) But on my descent back down the steep hill from Montepulciano's main piazza I heard the ting ting ting of metal being hammered ... and it was coming from here:
That's right - the sign says ramaio - coppersmith! I could only imagine what treasures awaited inside. (At the very least there would be some cool rusty metal things in there. Loves.) As it turned out, I could not have imagined what was in store. I peered through the dirty window like some sort of half-crazed, copper-stalker, and the man who was working inside motioned me to come in. I did! And I was never heard from again. Kidding.
Cesare introduced himself and spent the next 45 minutes showing me and a few of my students, his tools (many, including a beautiful flower stamp, were his grandfathers tools dating from the 1850's), telling me the history of the shop and his family, and demonstrating the art of copper crafting. He even showed us the small museum he was assembling, dedicated to the copper craft and his family's role.
He also made all the girls in the group a gift - a small leaf made of copper ... and I received a copper disk decorated with flower stamps and my initials so that I would remember my visit. As if I would ever forget! (I found out later that he does this type of thing for quite a few people, but that knowledge did not tarnish my experience.) That disk was the only piece of copper I left with that day. But I knew I would go back. And I did.
So, the last time I saw the Bottega del Rame I was successful in actually purchasing a pan! First, I visited Cesare in the workshop and then I paid a visit to his wife who runs the Bottega. I bought my saucepan and had it shipped back to Seattle. It is so beautiful - a work of art with a great history. And I cannot wait to cook with it either!