Museum at Azienda Agricola PoggioantinorA, Gaiole in Chianti, Siena

Open daily, Summer (Mon-Thu: 9am-6pm, Fri: 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun & Holidays: 10am-1pm) or Winter (Mon-Fri: Same, Sat-Sun & Holidays: By Reservation Only).  Tours can be arranged by appointment.  Phone +39 (0)577739440.

The Museum at Poggio Antinora is an interesting window into 19th and early 20th century rural Italian life.  It was created by the wife of the farm’s current owner, Laura, who is an art historian and museologist.  Focusing on the (extremely*) local community and the machines used to produce wine and olive oil, the small museum provides a great window into a part of the Italian past that has been forgotten.  While the museum only covers a couple of rooms, it is an interesting diversion from the real reason that one would visit here.

Poggio Antinora perches on the very top of a lovely hillside in the heart of the Chianti district near Gaiole-in-Chianti not far from Sienna.  The farm comprises 49 hectares (20 to vineyards, 4 to olives, 8 to seed, and the remainder to woodland) with the farmhouse majestically situated on the top of the hill at over 500 m. above sea level.  The house dates to 1234 and the current owner and wine maker, Luca Brandini, represents the 30th generation of the Brandini family to occupy the house and the 29th generation to make wine and oil!

* The social aspects of the museum focus on the tiny village that you drive through on the way to the farmhouse.  The focus on the tiny community helps to reinforce the isolated life that many in Italy lived during the 19th and early 20th century.

Elsie Widdowson, Cambridge

The presentation of an Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) National Chemical Landmark plaque took place on 1st December 2009 to mark the lifelong dedication and work of Dr Elsie Widdowson (1906-2000), a pioneer in nutrition science.

A graduate of Imperial College, she obtained a PhD in 1931 for research into the carbohydrate content of apples. In 1933 Dr Widdowson decided to spend some time in the King’s College kitchens to learn about large-scale catering, prior to undertaking formal study in dietetics. Whilst there she met Prof Robert McCrance who at the time was analysing plant foods for carbohydrates as part of his study of optimal diabetic diets. Their collaboration lasted 60 years and included the epoch-making publication “The Composition of Food” first published in 1940. The sixth edition of this text is still in print, 70 years later. Her researches informed the Government on aspects of wartime rationing, especially in connection with the addition of vitamins and mineral supplements to basic foodstuffs. For instance, she suggested that wartime bread should be enriched with calcium salts to compensate for the anticipated reduction of diary products in the diet. The calcium fortification of white flour used for breadmaking remains a legal requirement today. For the seven years prior to her death on 14th June 2000, she was the most highly honoured UK female scientist, having been appointed both CBE and Companion of Honour, the latter in 1993.

Elsie Widdowson spent most of her working life in Cambridge so it was highly appropriate that the Landmark ceremony took place at the laboratory named after her, at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Unit, Fulbourn, Cambridge. The Director of the Unit, Dr Ann Prentice, gave an in-depth account of Elsie’s life, and the Landmark plaque was presented to Dr Prentice by Professor David Phillips, at the time President-elect of the RSC.

Original article written by Alan Dronsfield and published in V. Quirke (ed), Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter, August 2010.

Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij, Brussels

Open Monday to Friday from 8.30 AM till 5 PM and Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM.  Closed on Sundays and public holidays.  Individual visits are available during opening hours for a 5 EUR charge and guided group tours are available by request (can be conducted in English, French, or Dutch).

Cantillon's Brew Kettle and Crushing Machine

Cantillon Brewery is a small, family-owned brewery but since 1978, it has run primarily as the Brussel’s Gueze Museum.  Having seen few changes since it opened in 1900, the brewery is working museum exhibit of late 19th-century brewery technology.  It is operated by the Van Roy-Cantillon family as a brewery for lambic, gueuze, faro, and kriek – all beers that are made with wild strains of yeast and undergo spontaneous fermentation.  When it was founded, it was just one of many gueuze breweries in Brussels, but today it is the last!

Walking into Cantillon for a tour is like stepping into a different time.  With the exception of the towers of beer being aged, nearly everything else in site is more than 100 years old and still performs a function in the brewery.  Going through the brewery either on a guided tour or with the self-guided brochure, takes one through the brewing process from grain to bottle.  First, in the mashing house is the mashing tun where 1300kg of wheat (35%) and malted barley (65%) are mixed with 10,000 liters of hot water (max temperature of 72C) for upwards of two hours.  The wort, as the mixture is now called, is strained and pumped into the brew kettle, also called the hop boilers, on the first floor.  The remaining solids, called draff, are sold as fodder.  The wort is pumped into two kettles, hops are added, and it is boiled for 3 to 4 hours.  At that point, it has reduced by a quarter and the sugar content of the liquid as risen.  It is then pumped through a hop container to filter out the hop solids and into open-air cooling tun.  This is the most important room at the brewery because while the liquid cools in this hand-riveted masterpiece of coppersmithing, it is inoculated with wild yeasts!  These strains are specific to the cooling tun room and the brewer protects this room as a sanctuary for them.  In 1985, when the original roof was replaced, it was not removed but covered with new tiles to prevent any disturbance from upsetting the special microorganisms that lived there.

Jill Parsons in the Barrel Store at the Cantillon Brewery. (Photo by Thad Parsons, III)

The next day, after the liquid has cooled completely, it is pumped into oak or chestnut barrels to ferment and age.
In three to four weeks, a slow fermentation starts and continues for three years.  Lambic is ready to be drunk as soon as a few weeks after fermentation starts but traditionally, brewers wait for at least one year for a better beer.  Walking into the Barrel Store is a truly unique moment, as lambic fumes fill the air and history surrounds you.  Throughout this area are the other various tools that the brewer uses to clean and maintain barrels – some of which are older than the brewery.

The Author enjoying Cantillon's wonderful gueuze. (Photo by Jill Parsons)

Finally, after you have made your way around the brewery, you return through the cellars and find the bar.  While the brewery does not support itself through the production of beers, it does produce a fine range of beverages:

  • Gueuze – blend of 1, 2, and 3-year olds, fermented in bottle.  Can be aged for a long time.
  • Kriek – Schaerbeek cheeries in two-year old lambic.
  • Rose de Gambrinus: Raspberries in two-year old lambic.
  • Fou’foune: Apricots in two-year old lambic.
  • Faro: Lambic with added caramel and candy sugar for a sweet beer.  (Note: Vigorous fermentation can cause bottles to explode.)
  • Plus, a range of other specialty products that may be available when you visit!

So, enjoy a couple of glasses in this unique historical setting!

George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill, Alexandria, Virginia

Open daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from April 1 through October 31. Admission is just $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-11, and free for children 5 and under. When combined with Mount Vernon admission: $2 for adults, $1.50 for children ages 6-11, and free for children 5 and under. According to Mount Vernon’s website, the mill only operates on the first weekend of the month.

George Washington (1732-1799) played many roles in the foundation of the United States: soldier, hero, commander, President, and Patent Officer to name a few. Yet, most of his life was occupied by the demands of running a large plantation. Mount Vernon in George Washington’s days encompassed nearly 8,000 acres divided into 5 working farms. The Mount Vernon that exists today is the remnants of one of those farms, his Mansion House Farm.

In addition to the Mansion House, the original site of George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery has survived. In 1754, when he inherited Mount Vernon from his half-brother’s widow, it included a small “toll mill” used to supply the plantation and it was used by other local farmers to process their crops. In 1770, Washington decided that he wanted to build a “merchant mill” that would process grains for use on the farm but, more importantly, for trade. This mill was powered by a large water wheel. To ensure the supply of water, Washington had a a large mill pond and several miles of millrace constructed. The mill opened in 1771 and, despite water shortages that restricted the months of operation, flour from Mount Vernon was being traded along the East Coast, throughout Europe, and within the West Indies.

The large water wheel that is the single source of power for the entire Evans System, as it is installed at Mount Vernon. (Photo by Thad Parsons)

In 1783, Oliver Evans constructed his Red Clay Creek mill, near the Delaware and Maryland border. A traditional mill typically used four floors to carry out its successive functions: grain was cleaned on the top floor, ground on the second, collected on the first, and hoisted back up to the third to cool and dry. This arrangement was labor and time intensive and Evans realized the benefits of mechanizing the entire process. In his Red Clay Creek mill, after it was delivered, human hands did not touch it until it was sorted and ready to be shipped.  Powered by a single water wheel, grain delivered at a window of the ground floor rose to the top floor, descended by gravity, and was moved through all the stages of drying, grinding, spreading, cooling (see next image), and sorting.  Nothing like it had been seen before anywhere. According to Eugene Ferguson, the combination embodied “the totally fresh concept of a continuous manufacturing process” and “demonstrated for the first time the fully integrated automatic factory” (Eugene S. Ferguson, Oliver Evans: Inventive Genius of the American Industrial Revolution. Greenville, DE: The Hagley Museum and The University of Delaware, 1980).

The automated cooling system on the top floor of the Gristmill. The flour is deposited by the grain elevator at the outside and is gradually moved toward the center by the sweeping arm. At the center is a hole that leads to the flour grading machine on the level below. (Photo by Thad Parsons)

During the late 1780s, Evans was granted a number of state patents for his various ideas and after the federal patent system was established, he applied for one. He was granted the third American patent (December 18, 1790) and it was signed by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. After signing the patent, both Washington and Jefferson became licensees of the Evans system. In 1791, the new system was installed at the Mount Vernon mill.

It is unknown for how long milling took place in the original mill.  The last record is from 1850 when the mill was razed because of its condition. The Gristmill and Miller’s House were reconstructed in 1933 by the Commonwealth of Virginia based on archaeological and documentary evidence.  The site was conveyed to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1997.  Today, Washington’s Gristmill is the only mill in the United States with an operating Oliver Evans system.

In 1797, George Washington started distillery whisky in the cooperage of his Gristmill.  In 1798, he had completed construction of his Distillery.  In 1799, with a production of nearly 11,000 gallons, it was the largest distillery in America.  Making mainly rye whisky, the Distillery provided George Washington with another source of income that supplemented what he received from the Gristmill.  The Distillery burned in 1814.

The foundations of the distillery building were discovered in 1933 but were recovered by archaeologists at that time.  In 1999, archaeologists began to investigate the site and worked for five years.  In 2007, the reconstructed Distillery opened.  Today, it is the only example of a working eighteenth-century distillery and has successfully produced whisky.