Chef’s Bike Tour of Sardinia

18th June 2022

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 300: Chef’s Bike Tour of Sardinia

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Tourissimo guides, tour guests and US chef Mary Sue Milliken

TOPICS: 38-minute travelogue of the Chef’s Bike Tour of Sardinia by Tourissimo. Sardinia’s so-called Blue Zone has many locals living robustly into their nineties and beyond, with a much higher than normal concentration of centenarians including Uncle Julio who was still cycling at 104. Show — topped and tailed with Cantu a tenore folk singing — also includes some chomping of Sardinia’s banned-in-the-EU mountain cheese riddled with live maggots.

LINKS:

Tourissimo’s Chef’s Bike Tour of Sardinia

Cantu a tenore folk singing

Maggot-riddled cheese

Mary Sue Milliken attempting to make filendeu pasta with a Sardinian “pasta granny”.

TRANSCRIPT:

Carlton Reid 0:10
Welcome to Episode 300 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was published on Saturday 18th of June 2022.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day, and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e bikes for every type of rider. Whether you’re commuting, taking your kids to school, or even caring another adult, visit www.tern bicycles.com. That’s t e r n bicycles.com to learn more.

Carlton Reid 1:04
Hey there, I’m Carlton Reid and along with my fellow podcasting dinosaur David Bernstein we’ve been bringing you this Spokesmen cycling podcast since 2006. Episode 200 in September 2018 had clips from 12 years of narrowcasting and now that we’ve reached the giddy heights of 300 episodes over 16 years it’s time for another diversion from our usual format. So, instead of a guest interview or a roundtable chat recorded over Zoom this episode was recorded in situ, in Sardinia, and it’s all about good food, cycling and living longer. It’s a travelogue of my recent trip to the Italian island, where it was discovered that the diet, daily exercise, and communal conviviality in Sardinia’s so-called Blue Zone contributed to many locals living robustly into their nineties and beyond, with a much higher than normal concentration of folks blowing out 100 or more candles on their birthday cakes. You’ll hear about Uncle Julio, still cycling at 104, and you’ll maybe recoil in horror as I chomp down on some specially-procured, banned-in-the-EU mountain cheese riddled with live maggots. Back in the day, mountain shepherds had to eat some pretty ripe old stuff. I was on a Chef’s bike tour, a foodie special from Italian cycle travel company Tourissmo. This was the company’s fifth such tour, but the first in Sardinia. We were accompanied by American chef Mary Sue Millican who I interviewed as we cycled uphill so, yes, there will be some panting in this show. And, as you may have already gathered, this isn’t our usual theme music. Instead, it’s a traditional Sardinian folk song and you can listen to a full and amazing seven minutes of another traditional song from an all-male quartet at the end of the show. Meanwhile, here’s my from-the-saddle intro as I pedal away from the Su Gogolone hotel, trying to catch up with the 12 guests and three guides also on this Chef’s tour of Sardinia …

Well, welcome to episode 300 of the spokesmen cycling podcast. On a Tourissmo holiday, bike holiday, chef’s bike tour in Sardinia. I got here by Tern folding like, two ferries and five trains and I’m now on a climb, beautiful asphalt road, that’s been resurfaced.

There’s the odd car coming past; the scenery is stunning; which you kind of get expect I guess when you’re coming to Sardinia but we are on the borders of the Blue Zone and the Blue Zone is that area that was kind of discovered 30, 40 years ago where there’s a bunch of people living here they realise in this tiny geographical area in the mountains of Sardinia are living longer than most of the people around the world. So, the highest concentration of centenarians, the highest concentration of people who are 100 years old and plus,

Renato Matta 5:06
We are now in the core of the Blue Zone. We are in the municipality of Baunei. And precisely this is called the plateau of the Colgo, which is a limestone plateau about 700 metres on the sea level, the macro region is the Ogliastra is called, okay, the blue zone area is a small part of this small region.

Carlton Reid 5:29
That’s Renato Matta, a former accountant and one of our Sardinian tour guides. I asked him to tell me about Uncle Julio.

Renato Matta 5:40
Unfortunately, he died two years ago at the age of one hundred and five years old, so not that bad. But the beautiful thing is, he is my idol is my idol. Because every day I saw him cycling his bike till the age of 104. And what happened, happened that he fell off fell off the bike. So the ambulance arrived soon, he didn’t have any anything. But you know, considering the age, of course, they were worried. They called the daughter. And the daughter asked, please tell me what kind of medicine he is getting medicine. Nothing, he doesn’t need anything, he is perfect. And yeah, he was very healthy, no glasses. So absolutely no glasses, all the teeth in place. Unbelievable. And I remember this fantastic character. Because I remember one day I was waiting for the doctor and the doctor was late so I time to chat with him outside. And he was telling this you know, it was complaining about the song because the song is too lazy, he’s wasting his life watching TV all day long, sitting on the couch doing nothing. And a certain point I realised but, sorry uncle Julio, but how old is your son? He is 80!

Carlton Reid 7:02
If the secret to living longer is to be content with your lot then Renato is an example of how switching careers can boost happiness,

Renato Matta 7:12
This is what I call my second life. My first life after my secondary school, I went to university I have a degree in economics. So I started doing accountancy for about 10 years. In the meantime, I was doing tours for a British tour operator, but once a once a year, so a week here or two weeks a year, it was the here I start in the 1999 then the business start growing a lot. So in a certain point they told me okay you know what, we need a full time person here working with us because the business has grown a lot. You are the most expert now because you know we started with you. So if you like to change you know completely your your job we will appreciate that so I spoke with my wife about that time, she said well go for that go for that you won’t survive doing accountancy. We can have less money, no problem but a better life. And believe me that’s what I realised what I realised more quality my life less money a bit less. But definitely the quality. And I do what I like to do, you know.

Carlton Reid 8:33
And here comes more food.

Renato Matta 8:35
Oh my God. We are going now straight to the water fountain which is down the road on the right leaving the hotel on the right. Okay. The big cog in the front you mean the cog just push this to go down to the smallest one and you’re approaching the climb? Like this?

Yeah. Okay what what is it dropping? This it? Let me check No, no, no too much

Ay-yo is in Sardinia the probably the most used word, means let’s go. Aye-yo means what are you ****ing saying. The culture, it’s part of the culture. 14. One four. Kms. Less than 10 miles.

Massimo Carboni 9:47
Minor roads. Countryside roads. And we’re going to see also old Roman bridge

Carlton Reid 9:55
I rode to catch up with our embedded chef. According to Wikipedia, Mary Sue Milliken is an American chef restauranteur, cookbook author, and radio and TV personality. She’s also, and this is not in Wikipedia, she is also a strong rider opting for a carbon road bike rather than an electric flatbar bike. She cooked for us a couple of times on the tour. And she also decorated our tables with wildflowers picked from the roadside.

So as you’re riding along are you thinking menus? What are you thinking? Thinking? I want to pick that plant there. I’m going to put that in.

Mary Sue Milliken 10:35
Well, I do you have a wandering eye for plants?

Carlton Reid 10:39
I’ve seen I’ve noticed.

Mary Sue Milliken 10:40
Especially wildflowers.

Carlton Reid 10:41
Yeah, that’s also a good excuse to stop.

Mary Sue Milliken 10:44
Exactly.

Carlton Reid 10:46
Just happens to be a wildflower.

Mary Sue Milliken 10:48
Well, every day I pick a different colour. Yesterday was purple. Today I’m deciding between white and pink. Or maybe yellow. But I don’t usually collect until the second half of the ride. Which today is gonna be all downhill. I didn’t like to get too married to any one idea. Till I’ve seen the entire palette. Yeah, and then I can.

Carlton Reid 11:11
So I’m working here, but you’re working here too. So this evening, you’re going to be cooking for us?

Mary Sue Milliken 11:16
Oh, yeah.

But I’m not cooking the whole meal.

Carlton Reid 11:21
So you’re cooking like the signature sauce?

Mary Sue Milliken 11:24
No, I totally thought I was cooking but now okay, I’ve learned that I can do anything I want with the panna carasau.

Carlton Reid 11:32
So, incredibly fine. thin bread, right?

Mary Sue Milliken 11:37
They also call it carta de musica because you can read a piece of sheet music through the dough which is cool. So I could make a lasagna with that for example. Yeah. So who knows?

Carlton Reid 11:52
Maybe dips?

Mary Sue Milliken 11:53
Yep, maybe

dips. Although I didn’t see anything in the garden to

Carlton Reid 11:58
You’re gonna be looking in the garden in the hotel. I already Yeah,

Mary Sue Milliken 12:00
I already checked it out. tonnes of herbs, few tomatoes. Lots of fennel, eggplant’s not there yet just flowers. What else? Chard, a lot of swiss chard. Like I said it’s all in there percolating. And something will come out.

Carlton Reid 12:24
When not cooking, Mary Sue would learn some local culinary technique or other. On this particular evening she would be helping to make filendeu, or the wire of god, a very thin pasta that only a handful of people still know how to make. We were to get a demonstration from a pasta granny, and then follow Mary Sue by trying to make some. I failed, by the way.

Mary Sue Milliken 12:53
I want to learn how to make it. Okay, you can watch me learn but I’m dying to learn how to make the fin der lay you. How do you call it fin de lou?

Massimo Carboni 13:04
Prego?

Mary Sue Milliken 13:04
The pasta is called fin delay you?

Massimo Carboni 13:08
Filendeu.

Mary Sue Milliken 13:09
Filendeu.

Massimo Carboni 13:10
It means the Wire of God.

Mary Sue Milliken 13:12
the white?

Massimo Carboni 13:14
The wire of God

Mary Sue Milliken 13:16
the wire

Massimo Carboni 13:16
of God

Mary Sue Milliken 13:17
of God

Massimo Carboni 13:18
Finden lay you.

Fil is wire. Deu is God.

Mary Sue Milliken 13:19
Deu.

Filen … sorry, sorry.

Liz Cheshire 13:26
Fille is wire in Italian and then

Massimo Carboni 13:37
Si, filendeu in Sardinian.

Mary Sue Milliken 13:39
Filler day you. Filendeu. Wow.

Massimo Carboni 13:45
I think they’re ready. The lady’s coming by now to prepare the pasta.

the mother in law was the only one who could do this in the world. she passed the tradition to her so her mother in law taught to her and to the other daughter in law. Yeah. So at the end, the pasta will be cooked with the land meat soup and pecorino cheese. Pecorino cheese, and pecorino cheese a little bit acid.

Mary Sue Milliken 14:38
Old? Aged?

Beppe Salerno 14:49
Firmer and elastic.

Mary Sue Milliken 14:51
Firm and elastic. She makes it look so easy, mine just breaks. If I have just maybe a little more water

Carlton Reid 15:15
We didn’t just get demonstrations of how to make the local delicacies that have helped the locals live so long we also heard from experts, such as Spanish dietitian, Anna Maria Canelada who gained her PhD after studying Sardinian centenarians. Incidentally, she told me about her time sharing an apartment in Malaga with actor Antonio Banderas and film director Pedro Almodovar but I quizzed her first about the Blue Zone diet, especially the wonderful cheeses

Anna Maria Canelada 15:50
Casu Axedu cheese is like a yoghurt but this acidophilus is a type of yoghurt is not exactly as yoghurt said that different type of fermentation is very light it’s very fresh and it’s not salted does it have any salt except from the natural salt that the milk has a nice very protect[ive functions] because it has the whey and the whey is the most perfect protein and they will drink it together with a bread, the pistoccu. Pistoccu was a little bit thicker than the carta de musica and it will preserve even longer for more than six months and it’s very variable it’s very nutritious and it was made with barley, part wheat part barley, which barley has all these properties because it’s it’s very good for the microbiome is very good also for the glycemic index that doesn’t raise it so much as wheat and and together with the protein and also the cheese was full [fat] cheese, not ricotta. The Casu Axedu was complete fat so it was perfect for the morning. In the evening they will eat ricotta that which is deprived of fat and it’s lighter for the night or they will drink a glass of milk but they will always use sheep or goat milk. They didn’t … why the children in Sardinia are they are the healthiest in Italy with the the lower max index of all Italy. And because they follow the tradition they the families have the responsibility to explain they would have is not not only the way of living but also the way of eating so they learn how to cook with their grandmothers. They know how to do their …

Carlton Reid 17:49
And one of grandmother’s favourite cheeses might have been Casu Martzu. It’s a Sardinian exotic, exotic because the sale of it is banned by the EU. Guinness World Records says it’s the “world’s most dangerous cheese.” Why? Casu Martzu is riddled with live maggots, and we got to try some …

Village voices 18:19
Look, there are lots of worms inside. A lot a lot a lot. Look at this one. Maggots yeah ready yeah shame no just don’t have any flavour, maggots don’t have any flavour.

Carlton Reid 19:00
I’m getting a maggot.

Michael Dimaggio 19:06
Okay, get this.

Carlton Reid 19:07
It’s tasty!

Michael Dimaggio 19:16
Keep chewing, keep chewing.

David Bernstein 19:17
Hey, all you spokesmen listeners, I hope you’ll excuse the interruption. But this is David from the Fred cast and the spokesman. And I want to take a few minutes out of the show to talk to you about our sponsor Tern bicycles at www.tern bicycles.com. That’s t e r n, like the bird bicycles.com Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day, and dependable enough to carry the people you love. Now, last time, I told you about Tern’s Quick haul ebike but today I want to talk to you about a sibling to the Quick haul. And that is the Short haul compact cargo bike. The Short haul is a practically priced wait till the end for the price. You’re gonna love it cargo bike that’s been designed to get a rider plus an extra passenger and cargo from home to work, to school, and everywhere in between. And I think that when you see a Short haul, you’ll realise that it may be unlike any cargo or city bike you’ve ever seen. That’s because most cargo bikes are big and unwieldy. And most city bikes while they’re easy enough to handle well, they’re just they’re just not able to carry much cargo. And that I think is why Tern designed the short haul. The Short haul is shorter than a regular city bike making it nimble and yeah fun to ride. But it was also designed with an extra long wheelbase and low centre of gravity then that gives you a stable ride even when you’re carrying heavy loads. In other words, the Short haul offers the best of both worlds packing a sturdy build and a hefty cargo capacity into a compact package that just simply rides better. With a mass Max gross vehicle weight of 140 kilos or just under 310 pounds. The short haul can easily carry an extra passenger and plenty of cargo. It’s got extra long extra strong rear rack and that is rated to carry a hefty 50 kilos or about 110 pounds. And it can be configured to carry a child and a child seat, an older kid, a small adult, maybe even a dog. In addition to its rear cargo capacity, it can also carry up to 20 kilos or about 44 pounds with an optional front mounted rack. Oh. And the Short haul accepts a wide range of Tern accessories, frankly to many dimension here, so that you can carry everything from a yoga mat to fishing poles to an ice chest or as I said before, even the family dog, and because of its size, you can easily manoeuvre in crowded or small places, including buses and trains plus like the quick haul, the short haul includes Tern’s vertical parking feature, so you can roll the bike into an elevator and park it in a corner of your apartment. Now, like I said before, safety is a core value at Tern. So that’s why the Short haul was designed and independently tested to ensure rider safety and that’s also why they use respected independent testing labs and why every turn bike undergoes rigorous testing to ensure that every bike meets or exceeds comprehensive safety standards. Oh and did I mention the price before we’ll get this at a suggested retail of $1,099 or 1249 euros. The Short haul is turned most affordable cargo bike yet. Bikes are scheduled to start arriving in stores in q3 of 2022. So start getting your orders in now. And for more information about the short haul or any of terms wide range of bikes, just head on over to tern bicycles.com That’s t e r n bicycles.com We thank turned for their sponsorship of the spokesmen podcast. And we thank you for your support of Tern. Also, thanks for allowing this brief interruption, everyone. And now back to Carlton and the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 23:20
Thanks David, and yes, before the break, that was me eating maggoty cheese. The trick was to chew the cheese really well so no maggots got swallowed live. You can imagine the results if some survive. Now, we weren’t just being treated to some unique foodie experiences we were also staying in some spectacular hotels en route. Here’s Tourismo’s co-founder Beppe Salerno descrbing one of our stopovers …

Beppe Salerno 23:51
We are in resort. It’s called Su Gogolone. Su Gogolone is the name of the river down in this valley and this is a beautiful hotel, which was started by a lady who had this vision to to to run the first hotel that delivers experiences and not only offers rooms, quite unique when when she when she started over 30 years ago. Beautiful setting. You will see how beautifully decorated the rooms are and their reception is really unique.

Trevor Ward 24:30
Shows the, er …

Massimo Carboni 24:31
The profile, so 56 kilometre, that means about 32 miles 1000 metre of total ascent mainly in the morning before lunch. This means 3000 feet is correct.

Trevor Ward 24:43
How many metres?

Massimo Carboni 24:44
1000,

Trevor Ward 24:45
1000 metres

Massimo Carboni 24:46
Total ascent.

Carlton Reid 24:47
That’s Cycling Weekly’s Trevor Ward asking guide Massimo Carboni what’s coming up on the ride.

Massimo Carboni 24:56
So as you can see, mainly up in the morning with I’m down here, countryside, no traffic. But the tarmac is not very good because it’s a countryside road. Sometimes there is gravel in the afternoon is mainly down. The tarmac is much better. Okay, but no traffic at all as well, with the village of Orgosolo is here on the top. We are having the workshop and the lunch here. And we are going to see the murals here.

Trevor Ward 25:20
Excellente!

Massimo Carboni 25:21
And we are supposed to be here about 3, 3.30. So you have time to enjoy the swimming pool.

Trevor Ward 25:26
Fantastic.

Carlton Reid 25:41
At the end of the trip I asked one of the guests for his thoughts. Michael DiMaggio — yes, he’s related to the baseball icon — had tested positive for covid the day before so we were masked up and muffled.

You’ve come down with Covid, right at the end. So your last final day, you haven’t been able to, to get up and ride with us. But the days when you were riding with us, what are your highlights? What’s what’s going to stick in the mind in the next 10 years?

Michael Dimaggio 26:16
I think the views, like, you know, coming into the small villages, being able to continue to finish a climb, and then be able to like just land these small little villages where you just don’t know what to expect. When

Carlton Reid 26:28
Did you come in here eyes wide open. Were you like have you trained for this was cycling is the distances what you’re expecting that kind of aspect of the trip?

Michael Dimaggio 26:38
Yeah, I think for the most part they were you know, nothing can prepare you for the and I think that was a little bit unexpected to be you know, that long. And I like you know, riding going uphill and then the heat, I think a little bit more surprising. I was expecting to deal with a cooler.

Carlton Reid 26:56
So were you coming on this for a cycling trip or a foodie trip?

Michael Dimaggio 26:59
I think it’s an active trip. I mean, I don’t like a combination of being able to do something, whatever vacation to do something active. So that you can add in food and wine and activities, I think is how I like to vacation.

Carlton Reid 27:11
And how did you actually find it in the first place? Had you done Tourissmo trips before?

Michael Dimaggio 27:17
Yeah, I did. I did one before my partner was hit by a car a few years ago. And to get her over to get her out. Again, we wanted to do something active to get her overcome that that hesitation that she had and being out in public again. And so we said hey, we found this trip and I was a chef to her and I come across Mary Sue Milliken being from California. So we should do that we should, you know train for that. And it gave us a goal and something to train for. And we went to Sicily back in 2018. And so that a lot, we got bikes for December and then rode all the way up until the trip, which allowed us to feel fairly prepared for the trip. The first trip with Tourissimo.

Carlton Reid 27:56
And you feeling strong now, like best part of a week of cycling, do you feel feel physically different or is all that food that we’ve been given that’s kind of countermanded what you’ve been doing on the bike?

Michael Dimaggio 28:08
Well, we did eat a lot. I mean, I don’t I don’t you know, I think we whatever we work off and riding we make up and eating and then some. So I did I extra it’s so hard to manage the intake. Because they just keep bringing the food. I think at toward the end of the trip, we learned to balance that better. Because they certainly don’t they just keep going Yeah,

Carlton Reid 28:33
yeah. And have you picked up any tips for like living longer because clearly we were in the blue zone, we were meeting experts on nutrition on the centenarians we’ve lived for 100 years plus here picked up anything that you think oh, I’ll take that through and try and live a bit longer?

Michael Dimaggio 28:51
I think moving more, you know, I’m you know, it’s so easy to be sedentary once you get back into your regular life. I think making time, commitment, to move. Community I think is a big thing. I mean, and then just putting yourself in a place where you’re surrounded by other people where you’re part of something

Carlton Reid 29:08
Amen to that, Michael. And that includes this trip, because we were part of something, for sure. Our small group really gelled and I was most taken by the three hour lunches where we learned a great deal about the Sardinia’s distinctive culture of community. We learned about the blue zone, ate some great food, and had a few bottles of local wine and let the conviviality wash over us. Now and again we also did a bit of cycling … The Chef’s Bike Tour of Sardinia is a seven-night trip and costs a touch under $5,000 per person, staying in boutique hotels with all food, drink and education included. Daily rides never exceed 50 or 60 kilometres but keenies can join the super-fit Massimo for an extra loop at the end of each day. More details on www.tourissimo.travel Thanks for listening to episode 300 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast and, as promised, we’ll end not with our normal theme tune but with a deeply resonant Sardinian folk song but first here’s Renato describing what you’re about to hear …

Renato Matta 30:32
Because, you know, it’s something very unique in Sardinia, and I think big parts of the world that you can find anything like this is a special kind of singing way of singing. It’s called cantu cappella, because they stay facing each other. And they are four singers with different voices, there is a storyteller, which is you know, the voice that start singing there is a bass which is really bass, but in a special way, I mean, is it’s not bass because it’s a natural bass voice, but it’s bass because it’s a technique developing the hears, you know, normally they start training to be based at the age of 12. So when you know, the hormones in the body they are growing so they can literally develop this kind of ability, which is just an ability, you know, a vibrational thing vibrational technique, so that the vibration can do this very bass and vibrating song sound. Then there is the what they call the half voice. Which is very important because it’s the voice that gets the rhythm to that the song, okay. Which is the other voice is big because it’s between the tenor and the bass. And then there is another voice which is same about a half tone, but they call it another way. Don’t remember now because it’s a Sardinian word. But is it Sardinian word from the centre of the island which is different from my studying and because I’m I’m from the south. Anyway, the beautiful thing is if you hear the voices okay one by one doesn’t sound so nice actually. But when they start singing together and melting the sounds together, there is an incredible melody which is unique.

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