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Posts Tagged ‘Parma’

Today was the day. I don’t often do tours, but given the concentration of interesting and quality food production in Emilia-Romagna, and to make sure we got the most of the experience, a tour seemed in order this time – and it was a good thing, too.

We went with Laura Panella, and she was great. She took us to four family-owned producers, we learned, we tasted, we had a nice lunch…a good day!

Parma is a bit less than an hour train ride from Bologna.  Since the Parmesan production occurs in the morning, that meant…we needed to get ourselves going a little earlier than we have been. A lot earlier. It’s good that the train station is only a couple of blocks from our apartment  – that short walk lessened the pain a bit.

And as it turned out, the train was late. Only about fifteen minutes, but enough to stress me out. I hadn’t considered that possibility. Which was stupid. Would we miss the cheese production? Would they have pack it all into the forms before we got there?

(No.)

The train was packed from Bologna to Modena, when 3/4 of the passengers – a lot of students – disembarked. At Parma, we hopped off, met Laura at her car parked nearby, and off we went.

First, to the Parmesan Reggiano factory owned by this farm.  And no, we were not too late – we were able to see much of the process. We arrived after the milk and rennet had been mixed and curds were starting to form. While that continued, we saw the storeroom, learned about the various levels of Parmesan, how it is tested, what care is required – the turning, mostly done by a robot, even in this small factory – and the labeling. We were then able to see the workers removed the curds which just sort of rolled into shape, then this huge ball was cut in two, and each half stuffed in a plastic form. It would rest there for a day or so, then move to steel, and then be freed to age. This facility is near Bibbio, which claims to be the site of the invention of Parmesan – by monks, of course, who wanted a cheese that would keep. The invention is memorialized in a roundabout by a statue representing a huge chunk of cheese and the typical knife used to slice it. Some photos – and the video is via Snapchat, which I keep telling you to keep up with, so you can follow our travels in almost real time…as much as I can manage to fool with it.

 

The earlier (not earliest, which occurred long before we arrived) stage of letting the curds settle out of the milk. The vats are cone-shaped and go down into the floor. 12 vats which produce 24 wheels of cheese a day. 

 

What is happening here is that the curds are pulled together and up with a paddle, then gathered in cloth which is hung from the stick in order to allow liquid to escape. That one big ball is then cut in half, and those two hung in the same manner. In the lower right hand photo, you can see how the whey is being pumped out of the vat – it is traveling directly to a truck outside, which then takes the whey to become part of pig feed. 

 

The balls are removed , floated in water for a second to make them easier to handle, then hoisted up into the plastic forms. In the top left photo, they have been removed from the forms and are floating in sea-salt water to give a bit of flavor while they wait for the steel, curved forms and the imprinting from a plastic form. 

 

Image originally posted on Instagram. 

There’s also a short video I originally put on Snapchat here on Instagram.  Also, a quick survey of my purchases from today is on Snapchat…for the next 24 hours…(amywelborn2)

Then to the winery. Lambrusco typical wine of the region, as the vineyard owner explained, since the food of the area tends to be heavy, a lighter wine is important. We saw the vines, learned about the process of making the various wines, and tasted. Well, I tasted. Lovely wines. What was so interesting to me was that 60-70% of the wineries products are purchased by local families who bring in these huge containers (I can’t remember the name…perhaps one of you knows it) when the Lambrusco is ready, have it filled, and then take it home to bottle it themselves to have their wine for the year.  The rest is sold to local delis and groceries – no exportation, it’s just too expensive, and not worth it.  Under three Euros a bottle. I wish I could have purchased more, but we are only at the beginning of our trip, and two bottles is about as much as I want to cart around Italy for two weeks.

I asked the owner – the granddaughter of the original owner – if she’d been to the US, and she said no, but she’d been to Mexico – as it turns out, many of the same places – Chichen Itza, Merida, Tulum – to where we traveled a couple of years ago, so that was a fun conversation.

And now…meat. Which is very…meaty.

Another family business, with the 82-year old owner still about. They produce Parma ham, coppa, pancetta…etc. We learned about all of these different cuts, and of course, the curing process. Entering the curing room, you’re hit with incredibly strong smells I can only describe as..meat. With some sea salt and mold mixed in, Phew. It was not exactly delicious-smelling to my senses. The tasting was interesting to me because eating these meats right there, without benefit of refrigeration or industrial production, it is much more evident that these are cured, not cooked meats. It’s hard to describe, but there was a sort of fleshiness about them that I suppose is the way it’s supposed to be, but was still a bit of a surprise.

 

In the lower left photo, coppa is being tested by inserting a long pick made from a horse bone, used because it is porous and therefore can take in the scent of the meet quickly and then just as quickly release it. 

Lunch!  I honestly cannot tell you where we ate – I was so turned around by that point, and I forgot to take a card. Somewhere between Parma and Emilia-Reggerio, is all I can say. I think. We had a simple, but good meal of cured meats (of course), an assortment of ravioli, stuffed with pumpkin (typical of the region), swiss chard, potato and turnip greens, in a light butter sauce. The boys had “chocolate salami” – basically chocolate biscotti with hazlenuts – and I had a corncake that you dip in moscato wine. Oh, and Lambrusco, of course. Very nice, and nice people running the place.

Finally, the balsamic vinegar, which is not what you find in stores,most of which is made via flavoring additives. This is the place we visited, and received a tour and instruction from the owner. The tasting was illuminating – such a clear and interesting difference between, say 10- and 25-year aged vinegars. Quite complex. You can read more about it here.

 

Laura then drove us back to Parma and, at my request, dropped us at the  centro where we could see the duomo and baptistry, then walk to the train. I hadn’t bought return tickets, but knew generally when the trains ran, and we hit it almost perfectly, arriving at the station about ten minutes before a train was departing for Bologna.

Baptisteries are lovely things. Constructed in an era when baptisms only occurred at most twice a year in the “mother church” of the diocese, they were made for crowds. I couldn’t get a great shot, but the inner area of this font is made for four priests to do the baptizing at once – and how do they get in? A board was put over the water, that’s how. (Information learned from Fr Augustine Thompson’s wonderful Cities of God.).

The cathedral is covered –  covered in paintings. The most well -known is in the cupola, a Carreggio Assumption which:

…features the Virgin Mary ascending through a sea of limbs, faces and swirling drapery.

The imagery of the Assumption has been met with some bemusement over the years, with a contemporary comparing it to a “hash of frogs’ legs” and Dickens commenting that the scene was such that “no operative surgeon gone made could imagine in his wildest delirium.

Even from a distance, it’s pretty wild. 

Correggio Assumption Parma

 

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As I mentioned a few posts back, we’ll be spending three weeks in Italy this summer. I am usually rather cagey about our travels until we have actually arrived at the destination, but I’m doing it differently this time. I’m writing about it before we go in order to aid in my own preparation and perhaps deepen the level at which I will be writing about it during and after. I don’t know why, but I am just intuiting that it is the approach to take this time.

****

I had not planned, intended or even hoped to go to Bologna or Parma and had not even heard of Ferrara or Commachio or Rimini two months ago, but now I can sketch rough maps of each of them, can have well-informed debates with myself about which should be included in the trip and why, and am in general counting down the weeks until we are there.

This seems to be how it always happens with me. A place is at best barely floating on the edges of my radar, and then for some reason – a good fare, an article about an intriguing attraction, the desire to go to a place where no one else you know has been – within weeks my mental landscape has once again expanded just a little bit.

I suppose that since there are not many places on the planet I am not interested in seeing, given the opportunity or means, this is not surprising. It doesn’t take much, in other words.

But what about the 11 and 15 year old boys? What about them and their needs?

People who discourage or disparage family travel really drive me nuts. You don’t know how many discussions I have read on travel boards in which some innocent mom or dad enters the fray asking for advice about what to see on a family trip to somewhere like Milan or I don’t know, Bologna   and the answers they get are either, “Make sure their devices are charged up, because they’ll be so bored, don’t you people have Disney World in your country? You should probably just do that instead.” or “Well, there’s an amusement park nearby. Just go there.”

Well, these guys are great, patient, curious travelers. We are not all interested in the same things, but we all understand the value of the trade-off.  You’re patient while we explore this thing that is interesting to me, and I’ll be patient later while you’re doing your thing. They are also curious about the world and, faithful to their genetic heritage on both sides, inveterate and observant people-watchers.

They also just seem to trust me. I guess I have a good record as a tour guide so far.

Oh, and visions of daily gelato? That helps, too.

***

When it came to plan some summer travel, I had just a few parameters to work around: Music camp for the younger son, scout camp for the older one, and an annual scout rafting trip to North Carolina. The first two would happen in June, the last a weekend in late July. School starts in early August. I know, right? That’s life in the South for you…done with school by May 20, back in the classrom by August 8 or something ridiculous.

Last year, we had a fantastic trip out West – Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Death Valley and Vegas during that same time period. Well, the Vegas part wasn’t fantastic, but everything else was. Zion was probably our favorite.

This year, shockingly good airfare popped up from Atlanta to points in Italy for summer travel. I mean – shocking. The ATL has had relatively little competition for international flights, and I really do think their international fares are probably among the highest from a major East-of-the-Mississip hub. Even Charlotte gets better deals and more often than Atlanta does.

But I hit a sweet spot this time, and so, as I said before, we’ll be flying into Bologna and out of Pisa about three weeks later.

So, first stop will be, indeed, Bologna and Emilia-Romanga. But why?

Bologna is not on the top tier of Italian tourist destinations – wait, Rick Steves doesn’t even have a book on Emilia-Romagna! Should I cancel?

As is usually the case, you find different opinions on the city of Bologna On The Internet. Some love it, rave and say it’s fantastic partly because it’s not heavily touristed. Others say it’s boring and dirty and worth maybe a morning if that. Because there’s nothing there for tourists.

I learned long ago that with travel opinions, you just have to keep gathering your intel from all sides…and then experience it yourself. People just have such different expectations of travel – when they express opinions of a destination or attraction, it helps to know where they’re coming from, but since you usually don’t have access to that inside information, you’d be advised to keep a salt cellar next to your computer as you read.

For example: When we were in France a few years ago, one of the places we stayed was this wonderful gite in the Dordogne. The other family staying in another cottage on the property was a husband, wife and teen daughter from Wellington, New Zealand, in the midst of a 6-week European tour. They had arrived from a few days in Paris, we would be traveling there in a couple of weeks, and as the dad gifted me with their leftover Metro tickets, he commented that they hadn’t liked Paris anyway. But why?

It was so dirty.

Okay. I’d never been to Paris, and this wasn’t unimaginable, I thought. Big, old city. Probably dirty.

Well, then we got to Paris, stayed a month, and I thought, Wellington, New Zealand must be spotless.

Sure, the Metro stairwells were messy, the elevator in our station  smelled strongly of urine, which I assume was from the homeless folk who stayed there at night, but..the entire gestalt of the city? Dirty? Generally? Not at all, especially when compared to (no offense) Chicago and New York City. But  there are other European cities – probably German and Swiss – which are super clean, so compared to them, I suppose.

Anyway, what I’ve found is that it’s best to find the kinds of travelers who live in your same general comfort zone and trust their opinions.

bolognaSo yes, I’m looking forward to Bologna!

And what I have learned about Bologna…let me tell you. I knew nothing about the area before six weeks ago, and now, as per usual, I could teach a class. To second-graders, but still, it would be a semi-informative class on Bologna and Emilia-Romagna at a level suitable for seven-year olds.

First of all, we’re looking forward to food. I am not much of a meat-eater, except for one thing: cured meats. Love salamis, hams…everything cured. So yes, this is the place for me – and for one of my sons, who is also passionate about cured meats. Cheese. Real Bolognese pasta, which is different from the sauce-heavy version we associate with it here in the US. I recently made a baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, and it was a revelation.

We are doing a food tour that starts in Parma – a parmesan cheese facility, a winery, a balsamic vinegar facility in Modena, and a Parma ham/cured meat joint. Plus lunch. I hardly ever do tours, but this is the most efficient way to see all of this, and plus…maybe I’ll learn something? From another person instead of just from a book?

Cars! I don’t give a flying flip about cars, but my 15-year old who just got his learner’s permit has a steadily growing interest, so we might check a tour or museum out. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati all have either factories or museums in the region, so we’ll try to find one with the best cost/satisfaction/time ratio.

And then there’s Bologna itself. What I Have Learned:

Next up:  We’ll miss Siena’s, but Ferrara has a palio, too. Who knew? Well, the Ferrarans, but besides them….

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll talk about the research and prep I’m doing – which is an addicting pastime for me, but at least it’s educational and not a complete waste of time.

And just to let you know, I plan to up my social media game on this trip, not to a distracting point to us, but just for the purpose of sharing intriguing images and vignettes, especially from places that are less familiar to American travelers. What I post is generally not about me or much less my kids, but about what I see and how I see it. So if that interests you, be sure to start following me on Twitter, Instagram and on Periscope (same handle as Twitter – I have not broadcast yet, but will probably start practicing soon.). I have a Pinterest board here with some of the links I’m saving for myself – when I remember to pin them.  Facebook remains mostly for actual acquaintances and family members, although I might start just linking these other social media to the Charlotte Was Both page. That’s probably a good idea. Let’s do it!

And if you have suggestions regarding this area…please share them!

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