Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Cashmere in Chianti
Ann J. Reavis
If you find the turn and travel down the half-mile secluded rocky road through an oak forest near Radda in Chianti, you will discover one of the most unusual versions of expat life in Tuscany. The farm, known as La Pensola, at the end of the road, is owned by New Yorker, Nora Kravis, who spent over thirty years building her dream and who is finally seeing it flourish.
I love to take people to Nora's place in the Spring when forty to fifty kids are scampering up the hillsides, cavorting among the trees and pulling the laundry off the clothesline - forty to fifty goat kids, that is - of the cashmere variety. Nora owns and operates, almost single handedly, the only cashmere goat farm in Italy. I took a client to the farm a couple of years ago and she took photos for an artist friend. His pastel of the farm can be found at www.kevinsartworks.com.
Spring is also a good time to find three or four tiny energetic balls of white curly fluff - Bolognese puppies - on the farm. Nora breeds these cute little dogs for sale, mostly to the US market, so by three months of age they get their first plane flight. The waiting list for the puppies gets longer every year. The 2004 Christmas card from the farm pictured Bijoux, one of the adult dogs.
Bolognese puppy on 2004 Christmas card
A veterinarian by schooling, Nora has spent the last ten years creating a herd of over 200 cashmere goats. Every year, each of the new 30 or 40 kids is given a name starting with the same letter. 2004 was a special challenge because each name had to start with the letter "I" (e.g. "Inkblot", "Ichabod", "Impossibile", "Importante").
In the beginning the 17 acres Nora bought near Radda was an abandoned, overgrown, unproductive farm with falling-down stone buildings but an incredible view. Over seven years, she converted the haybarn and pigsty into a spacious Tuscan stone home with an attached rental apartment and gardens. The original farmhouse is now a cozy bed and breakfast that can sleep six. The kitchen has a door out to a grape arbor shading a long picnic table on a terrace overlooking a large swimming pool.
Besides running a successful goat herd (entailing significant genetic improvement), Nora has developed a complete line of soaps and skin care products created from Cashmere goats' milk. She sells these products out of a small shop on the property and from her website. Last year, she acquired contracts to supply soaps and shampoos to a few luxury boutique hotels.
But what about the cashmere fiber? Each adult goat must be "combed" to obtain the soft fine cashmere fibers that form the insulating undercoat on the goat. This is sent to a small factory where the fibers are separated and spun into cashmere yarn. Then hand weavers create cashmere scarves, shawls, blankets and throws for Nora. Until this past year all of the woven products were created using the natural color of the cashmere. Now Nora is experimenting with some yarn died in rich jewel tones.
In March and April, Nora organizes "Combing Sessions" for the guests staying at the farm: all the Cashmere you can harvest. She'll exchange for the equivalent of finished product, or you can take your fiber home if you are a spinner/weaver.
As the only cashmere goat farm in Italy, La Pensola has become the European genetic data base for this breed. Nora has been called upon to consult with governments and individuals as far away as Eastern Europe and the Middle East about developing breeding programs for cashmere goats.
Purchase Chianti Cashmere Products
Visit Nora's web site at www.chianticashmere.com to read more and to get the directions and map to find Chianti Cashmere at La Pensola. There is a shop at the farm. Nora welcomes visitors to the farm every day from March through October from 10:00 to 18:00. During the winter, tours for groups can be arranged. See her website for contact information.
Purchase Chianti Cashmere products in Canada at:
Distributed in Canada by www.nicolecompany.com
Distribution in the US is being arranged in Spring 2005 (I will update this page when this has been arranged).
© Ann J. Reavis, 2005
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