Rural – Jersey Country Life Magazine


As guest contributor, Jersey ‘ex-pat’ Francesca Blench writes about her connection to the Island and about where she now lives – in the Alpine region of northern Italy


I have the fondest memories of growing up in Jersey – idyllic memories, even, of barefoot romps across sandy beaches and a happy, well-balanced education where a modest talent for languages was picked up on by the French nuns who taught me at Beaulieu.

Why did I leave Jersey? In part, maybe because of my ‘European’ upbringing – and art.

My parents, John and Pauline Blench, had dedicated enormous efforts to broadening their intellectual horizons while they were earning a frugal living in post-war England. They chose Jersey as home because they believed their opportunities would be greater there than in London, where John (an art loving heating engineer) and Pauline (a fashion designer and painter) loved their busy, almost Bohemian lifestyle.

The late Senator Dick Shenton sent me into fits of laughter once as a kid when he said his family were ‘hearty eaters’ while mine were ‘arty heaters’ and that ‘arty’ side of my life may well have influenced my choice of Italy for home.

Art was the constant companion of our family and in the late 1950s my parents, with a few like-minded friends, set up the Open Air Art Exhibition which brought together many of the Island’s well-known artists and communicators, such as Tony Young, Gordon Young, Fred Sands and many others who were household names to Islanders at that time.

Later came their gallery, the Selective Eye, which was a point of reference for purchasers of local and international names in the Island until late 2007. My mother was, and still is, an accomplished painter and sculptor while my late father never lost a chance to study the history of art, becoming an authority and a great talker who loved nothing better than a good cultural controversy to discuss with anyone ready to listen.

Art took them to Florence and this is when I encountered their massively infectious enthusiasm for the Italian Renaissance, natural beauties, fashion and food, design and Florence: its gorgeous views and shoes, day after day of sunshine, exotic ice-cream flavours and trips to the Uffizi, Bargello, Accademia, Ponte Vecchio and all those illustrious names – Michelangelo, Raffaello, Giotto… so musical on the ear. Like them, I was hooked!

Since 1977 I have lived in northern Italy, loved its smiling, happy-go-lucky people, and simply adored the chocolate-box scenery and fertile land producing so many fine raw materials for the most popular of cuisines on Earth.

I was a language teacher for 20 years before I realized that hospitality was my first love. At first, my Italian guests were almost frightened to accept an invitation to dinner from an Englishwoman. But my mother had taught me well and given me invaluable insight into food and cooking. She  never tired of saying that while  English cooking was perhaps less elaborate than the French cuisine she had studied and loved, nobody had finer  raw materials than our home land.

So for the last 15 years or so hotel marketing has been my field of professional activity and as I represent gourmet restaurants too, I have become quite an authority on Italian food.

 Italy offers so much, each region has its own character, products, ingredients and specialities. Many are produced industrially and exported and we can now buy Parmigiano, salami, hams, olives and olive oil in our local supermarkets. But it is so exciting, while traveling to seek out local producers, to learn of their methods of production, listen to their stories and then take home ingredients that leave your dinner guests with fine memories not only of the dishes but also the anecdotes surrounding them.

Piedmont is a lesser known region but many places there are familiar names … Isola Bella is the gorgeous jewel-like island opposite Stresa on Lake Maggiore, or Orta, in my view, one of Italy’s best kept secret destinations. 

Everyone should see, and possibly taste it as the area offers so many local specialities: creamy Gorgonzola, smoky cured ham from the nearby Vigezzo Valley, the rich yellow polenta that when stone-ground is a gourmet delight that has little to do with the popular supermarket variety – not to mention the alpine Toma cheeses so versatile in the kitchen. Piedmont is also home to porcini mushrooms, the best of which grow beneath chestnut trees, and the regal white truffle from Alba that is King during October and November each year and in high season can command prices often in excess of 4000 euros a kilo. Which is the best way to serve it? On risotto or over a richly prepared fillet?  Yes, but the extremely fine perfume and flavour of white truffle are quintessentially perfect when smothering a free range egg fried in fresh mountain butter (or rich Jersey farm butter) and served with newly-baked crusty bread. Simplicity is so often the key to superlative Italian taste sensations.

 The philosophy of my personal favorite, Antonino Cannavacciuolo, the three Michelin star chef patron at Villa Crespi is something to which to aspire,  as it places such enormous importance on provenance and ‘terroir’: he selects an ingredient – from his native Sorrento or his adopted Orta – seeks its essence and soul and marries it with just one or two other equally fine ingredients alchemically enhancing all the flavours while highlighting the top quality of the organic ingredients that he has sourced personally.

 All this is quite irresistible to me, it is country life at its best, it provides satisfying intellectual stimulus, and it is also art, not perhaps of the enduring nature of painting or sculpture, but a pure art form that embraces all of the senses and brings immense joy both to those who create it and those who consume it.



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