Driving through the hills of Friuli last week, I was struck by the fact that everywhere I looked, there were vines or fruit trees with houses scattered amongst them. Unlike the coastal part of Friuli-Venezia Giulia where there is quite of bit of industrialisation, the inner parts of the region seem to have maintained their agricultural look, feel and I believe their traditions. This is what I experienced when I stayed at the Agriturismo Borgo Floreani and dined at the restaurant Mulino Ferrant.
It was my second visit to Borgo Floreani (click here for a blog post about it) as I had stayed back in 2012. I asked Federica, who runs the agriturismo with her husband Carlo, to suggest somewhere local to go for dinner and she suggested Mulino Ferrant if we wanted to eat traditional Friulian food (which we did). She asked whether we had a GPS (which we did not) – as though it was only a couple of km (as the crow flies) from the agriturismo, it was in a remote part of the township of Cassacco and quite difficult to find. So the first night, after a long search in the late afternoon for a bottle of wine to share at the agriturismo (manual and truck-like rented car/driving to Tarcento along the long road about 15 kms and back on my own/no map/contact lenses playing up could hardly read the street signs), we decided we wanted to eat out rather than open the wine and then realise after a few glasses that we were hungry. I refused to drive (as I was thoroughly over it) so did my best to direct Mark to Mulino Ferrant, with a tiny map on the iPhone.
Of course it was completely dark by this stage and the rural roads were not only narrow but possibly had water filled ditches on either side (we could not tell). What should have taken us less than 10 minutes took about 45, as we kept ending up back at the beautifully lit campanile (bell tower) in Cassacco. We were very close to giving up. But it finally appeared at the end of a dirt road – a huge relief to our night time driving endeavours – an 18th century mill (mulino), fully restored and converted into a restaurant, complete with a welcoming fireplace downstairs and a more formal dining area upstairs. We arrived at 9.30 pm and hoped they would still be open for dinner.
They were (it was Italy after all and people dine a lot later here than in Australia) and so we were given the menu and asked whether we wanted house white wine or the red. The menu included traditional seasonal food – I ordered cjarcions alle erbe, then guancialetti (pork cheek) con brasato e polenta, and Mark ordered gnocchi alle ortiche (stinging nettles) and a rabbit dish. The cjarcions are traditional Friulian dumplings, similar to ravioli but the pasta is made without eggs. The filling was with ricotta and local Alpine herbs. I LOVED every single part of the meal – it was one of those experiences where you think “I want to come back here” even though you haven’t even left. I did not have my camera with me that night, so there was an additional reason to return the following night (and this time we knew exactly where to drive).
The next night we arrived nice and early at 6.30 pm, which was way too early as the owner and chef Paolo had also just arrived. We sat downstairs next to open fire, sipping wine and listening to about 8 of the older local men at the next table who were also enjoying some wine and animatedly play the card game Briscola. At about 7.30 pm they let us know that we could go up to the formal restaurant. The food on this night did not disappoint in the least – the first courses were even better than the previous night. Mark had fantastic Mezzelune ripiene d’anatra con crema di porri (duck ravioli with creamy leek sauce) followed by a traditional frico (potato and cheese pancake). I had a delicate sfogliatina agli asparagi (asparagus in buttery puff pastry) followed by pork ribs cooked in beer on a bed of braised cabbage and a side of artichokes. We splurged on a half bottle of sweet Verduzzo Friulano to share with an apple crostata for dessert. The wine was incredible and the winemaker was eating in the informal part of the restaurant at the same time.
I adored Mulino Ferrant, its traditions and seasonal approach to food. It aligns so well with what I saw of Friuli. I would love to see the different seasons unfolding over time in this beautiful unspoilt region, with its scores of medieval castles and fields of trees and vines. I cannot wait to return to both.
Mulino Ferrant, via dei Mulini 8, 33010 Cassacco (UD) tel:+39 0432 881319