July 9, 2013

La cucina bolognese

The people of Emilia-Romagna eat more, care more and talk more about food than anyone else in Italy.
Yet in the US and Canada, while the bookshops are full of cookery books about Tuscany and Sicily, there's nothing on Bologna - despite the fact Bologna is considered "the culinary capital of Italy". Perhaps this is because the world already knows the most famous recipes,  spaghetti bolognese, tortellini, lasagne? Or is it because the people here don´t care about exporting their treasure, they just pay attention to cooking rather than marketing?
As Elizabeth David wrote in Italian Food, ' Everyone has heard of the mortadella sausage of Bologna, but how many hurrying motorists drive past the rose and ochre coloured arcades of Bologna quite unaware that behind modest doorways are some of the best restaurants in Italy'.
Fine, nobody wants Bologna to be swamped with tourists like Florence and Venice (both within day tour distance), pushing up prices and diluting quality. It´s a place for foodies, a hidden gem and that shouldn´t change!
Of course, if you don't want to or can't go to Bologna, you can enjoy cucina bolognese at home  -  what you'll miss is the spirit of a city where they live to eat.

February 17, 2013

Healthy food in Italy


Ever feel like going for Italian food inevitably means indulging in something you'll regret later?
Don´t worry, authentic Italian food is healthy, even pasta - just follow some simple rules:
- eat small portions: pasta is supposed to be a part of the menu, not the only dish. Have some kind of antipasto  before, just to prevent you from wolfing down too much in too little time; "antipasto" means "before the meal" after all!Then, have a small portion of pasta and a second course with meat, fish or veggies.
- pay attention to the sauce: stay away from cream sauces, it makes the pasta heavy and mooshy. Use instead a tomato-based sauce with fresh veggies, fish, mushrooms etc. (no limits in choice!), this way the sauce will be juicy, tasteful and healthy. Cream is an absolutle SOS ingredient to extend the sauce and only allowed if it prevents you from starving!
- cook fresh: pasta is supposed to be al dente, so that you actually have to chew it and the ingredients for the sauce don´t get any better with warming them up - the whole dish looses its texture and flavour.
Short version: Just do it like the Italians!

November 29, 2012

Never order "Spaghetti Bolognese"!


In general, Italians are nice,  friendly people, but there are some things  they can´t take a joke about - food is certainly one of them. Whereas pasta maybe pasta for non Italians, here every geographic area has a special kind of pasta which gets combined with a certain sauce and there´s no way to use another kind! Speaking about Bologna, the export winner "Bolognese Spaghetti" just doesn´t exist, in Bologna it´s called "tagliatelle con ragou´" and while  for non-Italians it´s not a problem at all to substitute the tagliatelle with spaghetti because it´s easier to get, it´s a "no go" for Italians. Tagliatelle are flat with a rough surface, so the sauce will stick better to it.  Explaining these kind of rules to my clients, I often find a lack of understanding, reactions like: "They should take it easy" or "Who cares!", and the lazy part in me agrees: it´s so much easier to take the kind of pasta you have in the house instead of thinking of another recipe or making tagliatelle! But then I diciplin myself and just do it. Why?
Italian cooking became famous around the world because people here take cooking seriously, they´ve been paying attention to the details for 2000 years and you probably need to do that, to get to that level. So I learn the rules, stick to them and try to explain them - every time a client orders  "Bolognese spaghetti"!

October 25, 2012

Via Emilia - A street for foodies!


It´s still running through downtown Bologna - while you stroll along Via Rizzoli, you are walking  on the ancient Roman "via Emilia", completed in 187 B.C. To tell the truth: you don´t actually walk  on it, you walk  several meters above the old cobblestone Roman road, which was built to connect the harbour town Rimini with Piacenza. You´ve never heard of Piacenza? No wonder! Piacenza is a rather unknown city in the Po river plain,  not known for its architecture but rather for its food. This area, called the "Pianura Padana" in Italian , is by far the largest fertile plain in the mountainous peninsula.  It gave the Romans the opportunity to expand  the population enormously by using the good land for agriculture.
Roman settlements along the road became rich and famous - Parma, Modena and Bologna stand for Parma Ham, Parma cheese, Balsamic vinegar, Mortadella and Tortellini -  the region of Emilia-Romagna is known as Italy´s pantry and its capital, Bologna, has became  a mecca for foodies from all over the world. I take my hat off to those Romans, who envisioned this development 2000 years ago!

October 22, 2012

How to find a good restaurant



It´s lunchtime,  your´re driving through the countryside, looking for a good, but not too expensive restaurant? Seeing lots of parking cars with Italian license plates should make you stop to have a closer look. If it´s  a workday and the place is full, it´s a pretty good sign you´ll get tasty, well priced food - and I´ll tell you why: at lunch time carpenters and other craftsmen eat. They´re kind of spoiled and well known for ignoring the restaurant next to the construction site to drive some kilometers for their lunch instead. For the 10 euro menu they want to eat good, rich food, they know all the restaurants in the area and the word spreads fast amongst them. What they pick is better than any travel - guide-insider-tip!
Same rule for dinner - since the homecooked meals in Italy are already on a high level, Italians expect to get something even better when they go out for dinner - restaurants which  do a lot of buisness have to cook better than Mamma or Nonna (Grandma) at home. Just watch out for full parking lots with Italian license plates - combined with a sparse, not very  attractive decor, it´s a sure sign for good food!
 

September 16, 2012

Back to town - Il rientro


Although the Italian summer is a very long one, it ends at some point and the empty streets, you could dance on during the Ferragosto days, fill up again, daily life relocates to the cities - the chaos is back. Everywhere you go, you hear people greeting each other with "Dove sei stata?" or "Ma quanto sei abbronzata!" (Where did you go?, You got a really nice tan!), catching up over a Cappuccino.

"Il Rientro" happens in the first two weeks of September, life shifts back from summer vaction time to daily life - with all obligations - but it wouldn´t be Italy if there weren´t a party: Every "bagno" (bar, sunchair rental, playground at the beach) celebrates an "end of the summer party", livemusic and dancing at the beach - the only way to accept the end of summer!

September 9, 2012

Gelato - handmade italian ice cream

Every Italy traveller knows about the more than tempting looking counters of ice cream shops - stuffed with overflowing containers, decorated with fresh fruits, nuts or chocolate - you can litarally feel the cream melting in your mouth and if you follow your instinct, you very likely get a scoon there. DON´T! These places are just eye-catcher, often close to tourist attractions and not frequented by locals. You should look for the sign "Gelato artigianale" in the window if you want to be sure to get fresh, handmade ice cream instead of an industrial product. A good "Gelatieri"  (ice cream maker) uses only fresh milk and fruits, no preservatives - he won´t expose his gelato to the sun and air, he will always cover the container with a lid. 
Ice cream shops, where you don´t see ice cream, but the sign "artigianale" and a long line up of Italians - this is where you get the best ice cream!

September 2, 2012

Slowfood cheese factory

The production area of the original Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is stricly limited, within these borders the restictive production rules apply to every factory and you would think: Parmigiano cheese is Parmigiano cheese, right? But we´re in Italy and it´s not that simple -  you find a wide varity in taste, independent from the maturing age and I´m going to tell you why. First of all, we have to deal with differnt breeds of cows, the "La Rossa" and the "Bianca Modenese" (I explained the difference in an earlier article), second point is the specific location of the factory and last, but not least, every  cheese  master has his own signature. Let´s talk about the location: The area includes as well the flat, plain territory along the Po-Delta as the hilly countryside of the Appenin foothills, where the grass is not as fat, but includes more tasty herbes - you find less cows on the same amount of acreage. As a result, the factories in the plains expanded a lot, they produce for export and you´ll find this cheese in US supermarket shelves, whereas the factories in the hills stayed small - they don´t have enough grass to feed more cows. Since they also stayed with the traditional manual production, they still have the chance to devolop their own way, always sticking to the rules of the Consortium and, some of them, to the Slowfood agenda. This kind of Parmigiano you won´t find abroad, you have to come to the beautiful Emilia-Romagna!

August 31, 2012

About misunderstandings and caffe´


It´s almost common knowledge that Espresso is called "caffe´" in Italy and I´ve seen many tourists ordering completly correct, but getting upset by being asked "caffe´americano?" - they don´t see their knowledge about the italian customs appreaciated. But the "Barista" just tries to be nice: He hears the accent, thinks "tourist" and wants to avoid the disappointment of getting just a puddle instead of a coffee. Still happens to me, outside of my area, where people know me!

The baby-version of a Cappucchino is called "caffe´macchiato" and by ordering a Caffe´Latte, you often only get  the hot milk - wait and look before reclaiming the coffe´, in many bars you find a jug with caffe´extract on the counter for self-service! A quite unknown version is "caffe´shakerato", a cold, foamed coffee only served in summer, the boost  you need to get through the hot afternoon. 
In bars you don´t have to tip, you get even 10 cents of change, traveller or not. Do it like the Italians and drink your coffee standing at the bar, you pay less!

August 19, 2012

Ferragosto - an Italian phenomenon

The bank holiday on August 15th marks the exodus of the whole population to the coast, to the extent it´s able to and while you could dance on the usually so lively streets in town, you won´t find an empty bed or sun chair at the beach. Big companies like Fiat and most offices have factory holidays, also shops and Restaurants in town close and the owners join their family at the beach. 
The typical villeggiatura - summer vacation - when the family spends the whole summer at the beach house and the head of the family joins in for 2-3 weeks around Ferragosto, is something different and has become rare. But still many families own a beach house or have relatives, who have one and so the whole family, including grandparents, uncles, cousins, spends at least 2 weeks all together,  the beach house has become "la seconda casa" - the second home for generations. 

August 12, 2012

Festival del Prociutto di Parma

Culinary experts all over the world know Prociutto di Parma, the unique cured ham, but if you go to Parma, you´ll look in vain for the ham factories. In fact, the real Prociutto town is Langhirano, a small town 20 km south of Parma, most of the factories are located on the surrounding hills and they are not open for the public, except during the "Festival del Prosciutto di Parma". During this week (this year 7.-16. September) it´s possible to get to see and explained the whole process, not only how the Prosciutto is made, also what makes the Salami and Culatello so special. While it´s still true, that only good pigs make good Prosciutto, there`re other reasons why the rest of the world will never reach the goal to produce a ham as good as the one from Parma: First of all, this area has a very special climate - foggy and cold in fall and winter, which provides enough moisture to slow down the drying process, and hot, salty breezes from the sea in summer to enrich the taste. As important as the climate is the 2000 years old knowledge of farmers and producers on one hand and the appreciation of Restaurants, Chefs and customers on the other hand - they all work together. It´s this exchange, that ensured a constant improvement and since there´re not that many products out there, which are handled with this kind of care for hundreds of years, don´t miss to go to the Festival!

August 5, 2012

How old should Parma cheese be?

The birth month of a Parma cheese also makes a difference, not only the aging time, like most people believe. When in May the cows get  the fresh grass, the milk taste changes. This change can be tasted later in the cheese, so a Parmigiano, produced in May/June, will always taste different from the one produced in late summer or winter, even if it has the same age. 
Parma cheese has to be at least 12 month old and to pass the exam of the Consortium (an inspector taggs the wheel with a small hammer) to be called officially "Parmigiano Reggiano", but for eating it pure, it should be 18 or 24 month old. From 30 month on, you eat it only with Balsamic vinegar or dried fruits and dedicate a whole course to it. Occational I´ve tried the 40 month old,  it always comes with the name and location of the cheese factory and real experts can tell the difference from one factory to the other. I´m working on that.....

August 2, 2012

Visit to a Mortadella factory


This is how it looks like, the mass which will be Mortadella - after being seasoned and cooked. The  sausage from Bologna is imitated all over the world, but only here it is made the same way than 500 years ago. 

While we´re standing at the machines, every step of the production gets explained: From mincing the meat (only pig shoulder is used), via the addition of fresh herbes to the cooking process, which takes 43 hours for the 150 kg sausage. Mortadella di Bologna IGP is a protected product and garantees, that it´s made without artificial flavors and dyes, a 100 % natural product, rich in proteins and minerals. 

June 24, 2012

Prociutto di Parma or "why wind matters"

Prosciutto - the hind leg of a pig, salted and dry cured - if all this happens in the area around Parma, it´s  called "Prosciutto di Parma", if the same process happens in the area around Friuli-Venezia, it´s called "San Daniele". Most people say: "So what, it´s ham", and they really have to taste it side by side to admit, that just the kind of breeze, blowing for 18 month through the magazins, makes such a big difference in taste and smell. It has to be freshly sliced, very thin - the already sliced supermarket packages are simply not the same. 

June 16, 2012

Balsamic vinegar competition

The Fiera di San Giovanni will take place 21. to 24. of June for the 142th time in Spilamberto, a small town close to Modena. Since April the Masters work in shift to taste the vinegar samples for the one and only Balsamic vinegar competion in the world, which is diveded in the amateur and the professional section. More than 1000 samples have to be tested in the weeks before, it comes down to the last 15 which enter the Fiera and after 4 more days the winner will be announced. This celebration is the only time of the year, when all the producing families get together, most of them don´t even sell, they produce just for their own needs, but winning the competion belongs to the most prestigious goals to reach in this area. What means prestige for the amateurs, is tied with buisness for the professionals, this is why the Fiera is split in two: to keep buisness out of tradtion and heritage. 

May 15, 2012

Mortadella di Bologna


What the world calls Balony has its roots in Bologna and the only thing they have in common is, that they both get cooked. Go to the market in Bologna and ask for some slices of Mortadella, you´ll be asked which one: a big, middle or small size Mortadella and from which company - Villani, Pasquini, etc.

You should know, that the bigger one is the better - it gets cooked longer and the meat juice  has more time to settle. Which company, depends on your personal taste, the occasion and your budget - the price range is big - and you take a different Mortadella for a filling than for eating it slice by slice. A high quality Mortadella isn´t greasy at all - it´s made from (italian) pig shoulder and neck, seasoned with salt, fresh garlic and some herbs, that´s it. To get a 100 g of very thin slices at Simoni around 11 a.m. and eat one right away - what a treat!

May 3, 2012

Salumiera Simoni

From the outside the shop (better call it food-temple)  looks almost intimidating - the staff dressed in white aprons and hats, the shelfes overflowing with all different kinds of Prosciutto and always a crowd of Italians waiting for their turn - but this is the place to go for a Foodie!
These guys know like everything about Salami, Prosciutto, Mortadella and Parmigiano, and despite the fact that they´re very buisy, they take the time to ask and explain as long as it takes, just to make sure, you really get what you want. This combination of highest quality, great staff and the very authentic atmosphere right in the historic center is, what Foodie´s are looking for!
Salumiera Simoni, Via Drapperie 2, Bologna


April 23, 2012

Rooftop view Bologna

To get this beautiful view of the leaning towers (you´re supposed to climb the 500 steps to the top) you have to book a room at the Hotel Touring in Bologna, which would be a good choice anyway. Or book the market tour with Golosaitalia and hope for a sunny day - the rooftop is a great location for the tasting at the end of the tour. 

January 16, 2012

The "Mora Romagnola" pig

Another almost extincted breed in the area is the black pig, which came to the Romagna with the barbarian invasion and adapted perfectly to the geographical conditions. It looks more like a wild boar than the white pig we know, the meet is darker and more tender, due to the way the fat is present. Why it got almost extincted? Like always, economic reasons: - it´s very slow in fatening, which means less meat, - it has a low fertility rate and it´s a difficult suckler (which is by the way the reason, why these little ones get helped), so it´s less cost-efficient when compared to its big pink brother from England. But the Mora Romagnola is a good grazer and can graze by itself in the woods for several month, it has a high resistance to illness and, who wonders, delicious meat!

January 8, 2012

White Modena Cow

... is the traditional breed in the provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Bologna and Mantova,  it has perfectly adapted to the environ -ment and is one of the two native breeds for making the Parmigiano Reggiano (the other is the Red Reggiana).  Her home were the small farms in this area, which used her milk for making Parmigiano cheese, her meat for nutrition and her "manpower" for working in the fields. In the 1960s - Parmigiano cheese became famous worldwide - her numbers started to decline when breeders substituted the White Modenese with breeds from Holland, that were known for their productivity (3 times more milk) and with perfect udders for mechanical milking. Today, a few historical breeders have started up a project to recover this indigenous breed and by tasting the cheese of the White Modenese, you´ll love that cow!

December 20, 2011

Parma ham

The main production place for the Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) is actually Langhirano, a small town close to Parma. You´ll find the factories in the surrounding hills, where the ham gets the salty wind from Liguria, which provides the special taste. Like the Parma cheese, which gets hammered to hear by the sound whether it´s worth to be a Parmigiano Reggiano, also the Prociutto has to be proved by the Consortium - they use a long, pointed bone of a horse, poke it into in the Ham three times and judge by the smell, if the Prociutto complies with the guidelines. If not, he will destroy the metal-cap, so it is a good sign if you can see the whole leg with the cap when you buy your Prosciutto!

December 19, 2011

Rome

Walking where Cesar and Augustus walked, standing at the same spot on the Palantine hill they did, looking down at the Forum Romanum, it made me shiver! At this place history gets real, you get a grip on all the facts and stories you learned in school about the "old Romans". 
We go to Rome in 2 hours by train from Bologna, it´s easy possible just for the day, but than you would miss Rome at night, which is very romantic.....

December 18, 2011

Tortellini

Bologna and Tortellini - that belongs together like summer and beach. Here it´s made from the scratch, just flour, eggs and water for the dough and Pork loin, ham and Parmigiano cheese for the filling, everything of the highest quality. In the beginning I didn´t have the skills and the equipment to make it at home, I bought them at the market (very expensive), but claiming myself to be a "foodie", I took the challenge, now we eat homemade Tortellini, Raviogli, Tagliatelle.
The traditional dish "Tortellini in Brodo" (in broth) really warms you up on a cold winterday, it´s also the first course of the Christmas meal in Bologna.

December 15, 2011

Carnevale

My expetations for the Carnevale in Venice were quite high and I thought, even without paying some 200-500 euros admission fee plus the costume for a ball, I could just go there (only 2 hours from Bologna) and enjoy the street carnevale. Best part was the boat parade, Gondolas with colourful costums going along Canale Grande, but it´s a very static celebration, no music, no dancing in the streets, just beautiful costumes - I personally prefer the Carnevale in Cologne!

December 14, 2011

Truffle

When it comes to truffle, you think "Alba" and yes, Alba is famous for truffle and the world is coming to Alba in fall, Hotels double their price and you have to line up in Restaurants. Next to nobody knows about all the other truffle-towns in Italy and one of them is Savigno, a beautiful small town in the mountains, just 30 min. from Bologna. During the season you get black and white truffle, fresh to take away, sliced in oil and canned or 10 g of thin slices on top of your Tagliatelle. These are the places, where Italians go for truffle, it´s not fancy but authentic and the truffle-hunters might sit at the table beside you!

December 13, 2011

day trips

Many people ask me, why I picked Bologna out of all the beautiful cities in Italy and my answer is, that I did a research while I still was in Canada. It showed, that Bologna is amongst the 5 cities with the highest quality of life, it´s also the main traffic-knot and the food capital of Italy, all in all the perfect combination for my foodie-day-trips!  For example, you´ll find this old castle only one hour south of Bologna, the town is famous for it´s ancient fruits and vegetables. Also in one hour reach are Florence, Modena, Ferrara, Parma, Abano Terme, Imola, the beach......the list is long! 
During this first year I´ve seen many places, but I´m not yet done with everything I can reach in one hour, but if it happens,  I´ll add another hour and include Venice, Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Verona, Milano......

December 11, 2011

Balsamic vinegar


One of my first field trips on my culinary discovery led me to another world famous product from this area  "the black gold from Modena" - Balsamico vinegar.

The process of producing sounds simple: take 100 l of grape juice, cook it for 12 hours, put it in barrels and wait 25 years - you'll get 2 l Aceto.

Of course it's not that  simple: the grapes have to be Trebbiano and Lambrusco from your vineyard (which has to be in Modena), only the first juice is allowed to take. You should have a big house with a big attic for the barrels (also in Modena) and you need the knowledge of 340 years of experience to produce, what the Duke  of Este invented accidently and called  "Balsamico" - they used it like a medicin for digestion, later is was given to kings and the pope as a present and it got famous in the royal families in Europe.

December 9, 2011

San Lucca


Leave the historic center of Bologna through Porta Saragozza and walk under the arches - after 4 km and a good workout you´ll get to this window, belonging to the church of San Lucca. The Sancturary was meant to house a miraculous icon of the virgin, which gets carried in a yearly procession to the Cathedral of San Pietro in the centre of Bologna. Coming from Canada I was starving to see some green (downtown you can count the trees) and went up there quite often - kept me in good shape!

December 8, 2011

Parmigiano cheese

Watching the process of making Parmigiano was the start for Golosaitalia - I was immediately addicted to this kind of field trips and started to find out all about the history and processing. My research for Parma cheese  led me to Parma-ham, which is highly related to the cheese production, not only because it´s originated in the same area: the pigs are fed with the left-over weigh from the cheese production, which is rich of proteins.
But doing Golosaitalia has a serious disadvantage:
I became very picky about food!

December 7, 2011

Arches

Walking through the arches makes you feel protected and cosy, you don´t feel like being outside, it´s more an extension of the indoor. Bars and Restaurants have tables under the portico all year long, just the drinks change with the season: in summer you have "caffe shakerato" (iced and shaked coffee), in winter hot chocolate, which is very thick, you literally  need a spoon to eat it. In the 13th century the population raised rapidley because of the famous University, but there was no room inside the walled city, so they started to built extensions over the sidewalks - it added up to 40 km covered sidewalks in the historic center!

December 6, 2011

Piazza Santo Stefano

Piazza Santo Stefano is dominated by the 7 churches, which were built  from the 5th to the 13th century and attracts some tourists for this, but it´s also the living room of the neighborhood from March to November. People bring their guitars and some wine and sit there all night long, the young ones on the steps and under the portico,  the older on chairs belonging to the bar.
The Piazza gets a special flair once a month during the Antik market - old pictures, furniture and jewelery, the only way not to spend a fortune is limited cash - thank God they don´t take creditcards!

December 5, 2011

La grassa

Bologna is not only "la rossa"; it is also "la grassa" - the fat one, luckily not the people are fat,  (I always wonder how they manage to stay in good shape with all this Pasta), only the food is very rich. Or what else would you call  Mortadella, Tortelloni with Ricotta or Salami? 
But considering, that it´s all made with very high quality ingredients and without any preservatives, artificial colours or chemicals, it´s still healthy. Only the fact, that most of us do not work like a farmer, a cheesemaker or a furrier causes the problem with the fat....

December 4, 2011

The two towers

Tha landmark in Bologna: are the "due torri" - two Towers - the tall one and the leaning one. Living very close to them saved me from getting lost all the time in my first weeks - even if I couldn´t see them, I could ask people and everybody would know where to send me. In medeval times Bologna had 150 of these towers, owned by wealthy families, who used it first like a save storage room (was easy to protect and didn´t burn down that fast) and later also for statussymbol - when the family lost it´s power, the tower was taken down. It´s a "must" to climb up the tall one, 97 m and 500 steps, even Dante did it!

December 3, 2011

First days

During the first time there were some days, when the only smile I´ve got came from my "barristo", the owner of the coffee bar right in my doorway -  when I didn´t dare to cross the street because nobody would stop, when I went crazy about the Italian birocracy - on these days I went after dinner to my favourite "Gelateria" and ate a huge icecream (on better days I ate just a small one....)

November 12, 2011

November picknick

The market-tour today started with the Slowfood market, like always on Saturday, where we had our first coffee and delicious pistachio pastry. We got also some Salame and  fresh Ricotta, just to compare it later, before we moved on to the historic market in the small streets behind the Piazza Maggiore. 
It was crowded like always, but here I actually like to stand in line - it gives me the time to take my pick, since I try not to take the same thing twice. Today we got Coppa di Parma, Prociutto di Parma, Salame Feline, Parmigiano 12 and 24 month old and grapes for our tasting and believe it or not: 
We were sitting in the sun on a roof-top terrace with this beautiful view - mid of November!

November 7, 2011

Colli Bolognese, Part 2


Now, that we know how the Parmigiano is made, we have to taste the difference: to distinct between the 12-, 24- and 36 month old cheese is kind of easy - colour and structure help - but who can tell what kind of milk was used? Depending if it´s from the "Bianca Modenese" or from the "Rossa", the cheese will vary in taste and maturing process, the older it gets, the bigger the difference. 

We have lunch in a rustic Osteria in the mountains (with a beautiful view) before we experience the Balsamico vinegar with all senses: The smell takes over as soon as the door opens and everybody realizes immediately, that the "real" Balsamico has nothing to do with the stuff from the supermarket. Also here the subtle difference counts:   The different age-types are known in the "Gourmet-world", but here in Modena every producing family has it´s special note, depending where the house is located, which mixture of grapes they use and what kind of wood the barrels are. 

October 19, 2011

A day in the "Colli Bolognesi"

This trip to the foothills of the Appenin has one disadvantage: Leaving town at 7.30 a.m. .....
But as soon as we get out of town, we drive through small villages, lots of farmland in between, than the one-lane road uphill, passing chestnut forrests and breathtaking view-points: After one hour we get to the first milestone of the day, a Slowfood cheese-factory, producing five Parmigiano cheese a day. The small family company has their own cattle, the rare "Bianca Modenese" and they already work since 6.30 when we show up, but we are right in time to watch the Ricotta production. While the big containers with the Parmigiano-mass are still waiting in line, we go down to the salt-bath and the magazin, looking at hundreds of Parmigiano-cheeses, piled up to the ceiling - it smells fantastic in here! 
But my personal highlight is the moment, when they get the cheese-mass from the bottom of the container, put it into white linen, than cut it half and process it into the form - it´s like a ballet - they don´t have to talk at all, it´s  perfect team-work.
In the little shop, where they sell their products, we get some different kinds of Parmigiano and make the test: 

Can you really tell the difference between a 12-, a 24- and a 36 month old cheese?


September 27, 2011

Visit to a Parma ham factory

We jumped on one of the rare chances to get to see how Parma ham is made, the factories  are usually  not open for visits, only during the "Festival del Prosciutto di Parma" they do guided tours.
The whole process, from the moment when the meat comes in, follows 500 years old rules and there is nothing else involved than high quality meat, salt, time and a lot of knowledge. The location also plays an important role, so it´s not a coincidence that Langhirano, a small town close to Parma, became famous for its Ham - most of the factories are located in the surrounding hills,  they get the salty wind from Liguria, which gives the Ham its special taste. 
By the way, it´s a beautiful view from there and the tasty smell of Parma ham makes it feel like Paradies!
Every single Ham has to be controlled by the Consortium before it gets the seal and I couldn´t believe what I saw: The Controller has something that looks like a long needle (actually it is a bone from a horse), pokes into the Ham in three different spots and smells at the needle after every poking - it looks kind of weird! So if you get to see a whole Prosciutto di Parma, look for three small spots where the needle went in! And another thing: The Ham starts loosing its flavor in the moment you cut it,  my advise is: Buy your Prosciutto in shops where they sell a lot!

September 24, 2011

Truffle market


Bologna is famous for it´s Pasta around the world, but next to nobody knows, that there are also Truffles in the area, you´ll find  only residents at the various Truffle markets around Bologna in November. The hole village changes into a market with outdoor Restaurant, you can smell it from far away and if    you´re not experienced with Truffles, you will have a hard time picking. Truffle in oil, mixed with mushrooms as a sauce or the fresh one - in my first year I bought a bit of everything, later I found my favors, but I have to buy some fresh Truffle every year for a feast - thin slices with Steak or Pasta - it´s an unbeatable combination!

After the first stroll around the market it´s nice to go to an Osteria for Apero, warming up at the open fireplace, than it´s time to compare the offers and to bargain, but at the end you gonna buy - who wants to come home  empty  handed?
You end the day by having dinner at the market, sitting at wooden tables and eating - guess what - Pasta with Truffle, this way, you can save the Truffle you just bought for another day!

September 14, 2011

Bologna Earth Market

Since I have to choose during the week between the market in the little streets behind the Piazza and the "Mercato delle Erbe" (depends on what I need and the weather), on Saturday I know where to go. 
The around 30 local producers at the Slow Food market are gathering where last century the cattle market happened to be, right at the old access road to Bologna´s former landing point for river traffic. 
It´s a great way to get to know the local farmers, cheesemakers, beekeepers and bakers, they are more than willing to explain their products, they let you taste and compare and after a while you´ll figure out your favorite vendors. The recently added Osteria beside the market serves all kinds of drinks and food, best thing is to add some fresh fried fish from the Fisherman´s booth (he drives all the way from the Adria to Bologna with a load of daily fresh fish). Enjoying this with a glass of wine will turn out to be a wonderful lunch, the hole market visit  is more  a culinary and social event than just running your errands!

August 23, 2011

Slow food and fast cars

The region between Bologna and Modena is beloved for its food, but it attracts also those drawn to the brands of Italian sports cars - Maserati - Diablo - Pagani. These are the Italian sports cars that introduced the world to speed, design and luxury, and here are the factories of its most famous sons, Lamborghini and Ferrari. The 2000 hand-built cars, which are produced every year by Lamborghini -each worth half a million dollar - are the dream of car lovers all over the world.
On the way to the big competitor with the famous prancing horse logo, we combine fast cars with slow food - the black gold from Modena. The grapes to produce the Aceto Balsamico have to be harvested exactly in Modena and it takes at least 12 years to get this delicious sirup, the hole process has to happen in Modena, following 400 year old rules.  There are still around 60 families in this region, who pass the knowledge from generation to generation, some sell the Aceto and allow a guided visit with a tasting, others produce just for the family use. There is the "mother-barrel", it never gets empty in all this years and so it happens that in every bottle of Balsamico still is a tiny little bit of the very first one - from 1598.
But back to the world famous red cars: The Enzo Ferrari is the only road-licensed Formula 1 car,  people come to the Galleria Ferrari to see original race cars built by Enzo himself and road cars like the Testa Rossa and the Magnum. You can rent a Ferrari and drive through the mountains - only your budget is the limit - the tour is expensive, but less than the cost of a new car.
It´s just a taste, but sometines, that´s all one needs to truly indulge!

July 27, 2011

Shopping in Bologna

Several times guests accused me, to keep the secret, that Bologna is also a great shopping town, for myself.  In fact, Bologna has not only a medieval architecture (you feel like a character in one of Shakespeares play's), the oldest University in the world and - speaking in shopping terms - branches of all the big Italian multiples, it also has fancy-schmancy stores. What makes it so different to shop in Bologna instead of Florence or Rome? The answer is: There are no line - ups, you're probably the only tourist in the shop and you might need assistance from your guide - if you're not fluent in Italian. This is the place where the  Italian's from the surrounding hills, villages and towns come for shopping.
Did you always dream about getting a pair of custom made shoes or shirts? This is your place, but consider it has to been made and won't be ready in two days! But even with no intention to buy, just seeing the atelier and the craftsmen at work is fabulous. The outlet-mall for the advanced shopper is not even one hour drive apart and offers less atmosphere but better prices.
Not that I would promote Bologna as a shopper-town - it still is the culinary capital of Italy - and I spend my money rather on food than on clothing - but who told you that you can't have it all?

July 26, 2011

Tortellini Bolognese or Modenese?

I'm not getting into the argument between Bologna and Modena - each claim the dish as their own - since both towns are just 40 km apart and the recipes vary only in nuances. In fact, each family has it's own, secret one and only way to make the filling, whereas the pasta part is always the same. For this reason an Italian housewife  prepares "her" filling, the dough and, because for dexterous fingers it's a boring and time taking work, she calls her girlfriends and while chatting the time away they produce an incredible amount of Tortellini!
Pork loin, Prosciutto crudo, Bolognese Mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggs and nutmeg are ingredients for the "true" Tortellini, but there are no limits for your fantasy: Ricotta-Spinach, Prosciutto -Porcini, Basil-Tomato, etc.
If you think the industrial made Tortellini you find all over the world in the Supermarket are already expensive - the handmade from Bologna are equal to beef tenderloin in matters of price - but once you've tried you won't waste money on the industrial stuff! Traditionally they're served in broth and like all Italian pasta "al dente", the filling and the pasta stay separately even when you bite on it - while you're chewing the aroma of the filling takes over - this is a real culinary experience!

July 14, 2011

The market in Bologna

It's not that I wouldn't have a fridge at home, but I go to the market almost everyday. Going to the market doesn't mean you do just your errands - living in Italy is a commitment - you have to get the best out of the best! I have, like everybody else, my favourite vendors for vegetable, salami, ham, meat, Olives, Oliveoil, fish and cheese and my decision for the menu of the day is depending on the special daily offer at the market. It's time taking, not only because my chat with the sales person takes so long, everybody else is doing the same! But who on earth could decide in 3 seconds if he wants the ham (Prosciutto) soft or hard, sweet or salty, from Parma or Modena, or better the one of the special offer? After this challenging work I have to make one last decition: in which Bar will I take my Cappucino? Leaving through the front entrance means a Cappucino at the traditional but fancy Gamberini, leaving through the back entrance means a Cappucino at the Bar al  Mercato where all sales persons taking their break, but never leave the market without!

June 29, 2011

Mortadella di Bologna

This pork sausage has been made for at least 500 years, today the name is protected, ensuring that authentic Mortadella is free from fillers, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Only finely ground pork, high quality fat squares and a blend of salt, pepper, coriander, anise, pieces of pistacchio and wine are allowed in an authentic Mortadella di Bologna. It's sliced very thin to enhance the unique aroma of the sausage and served for antipasti, but also used as a stuffing for the famous Tortellini. 
It's quite an experience to go to the market in Bologna and to see  all this different kinds of sausages, all hand made in the traditional way with the knowledge of centuries, sold by dedicated experts, who seem to know everything about it.  Once it has been cut, it should be used immediately, otherwise it will dry out and lose it's flavor, but nobody can resist to finish it anyway. 
It's not surprising that this Mortadella di Bologna has nothing to do with the pre-packaged stuff from the supermarket, called "Bologna"!

June 14, 2011

Vintage

Palazzona di Maggio, erected in the 16th century on a Roman settlement dating back to 40 BC, is like a picture of an Italian Villa: we are driving uphill on a long and narrow Lindenallee,  the end marks the red Villa , a beautiful staircase leads to the entrance, the rooms are decorated with wall paintings and original fireplaces, there is a small chapel and a vine-cantina in the cellar, still in use to process the Sangiovese, Merlot and Chardonnay grapes surrounding the Villa.  I can already see myself picking the grapes in September and having a big meal at the end of a long day in the Vineyard, how romantic is that!

June 13, 2011

Florence Wine Event

There are some good reasons not to go to Florence on a Sunday in June, lots of Tourists and the heat are only two, but for this event we went nevertheless. It took place in front of Palazzo Pitti, a Renaissance-Palace on the other side of the Arno which was built by a rival of the family Medici. To stand up against the most powerful family Italy´s didn´t do him well and so the Medici´s owned the property a century later and built a secret gangway from the Palazzo Strozzi via the Ponte Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, just to be able to go home from work without being seen. 
Back to the Wine Event: Winemakers from all over Italy were presenting and explaining their wines, "Castelli di Poppiano Chianti Colli Fior Reserva 2007", "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Docg 2007" and "Villa di Calcinaia Chianti Classsico Riserva Docg 2007", big names besides more unknown like "Fabula  Montereggio di Massa Marittima" or Doc Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva 2007". Like always at a Degustatione, it was way too much and I got confused with all this Information, but at least I could taste the difference of grape and region. And beside the educational purpose there is the fun part - what could be nicer than being in the evening sun on a Piazza in Florence and taste the most famous wines of all Italy?

June 7, 2011

Parmigiano-Reggiano - The King of cheeses

Between Po and Appenin, exactly in this area, (Zona di origine), arises the traditional Parmigiano Reggiano.  Since medieval times, when the Benedictine monks started producing these great cheeses specifically for long maturation, till today, the rules of the process are the same. What was a matter of course in medieval times - using only milk from cows in the area, feeding the cows only with hay from regional meadows and not adding additives or preservatives - is strictly ruled today and allows Parmigiano-Reggiano to continue to be, as it always has been, a purely natural product, containing lots of proteins, vitamins and calcium.
600 l  of milk (16 l for 1 kg cheese) and the craft of a cheesemaker are needed to make one Parmigiano-Reggiano in a process of fermenting with calf rennet and cooking. After the cooking the cheesy granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron forming a single mass. After resting for around thirty minutes the cheese is cut into two parts and wrapped into its typical cloth and placed in a mould which will give it its final shape. After the cheese has spent 20 days in salt water, the maturing process starts.  At this point of the tour you will get to see the maturation room - it smells strong but delecious there,  cheese from the ceiling to the ground, put on wooden tables for getting a natural crust. The minimum maturation time is twelve month, it´s called "mezzano", the 18 month old will be called  "Extra" or "Export", a mark is fire-branded onto the individual cheeses which meet the requirements of the Protected Designation of Origin.

May 24, 2011

How to use Balsamico vinegar in the kitchen


Every batch of Balsamic vinegar is highly individual, so before using it, taste a drop on the tip of a spoon and judge it occasion by occasion. 
There are some rules based on the centuries of old traditions: In cooked dishes the Balsamic should be the very last ingredient, whereas mixed with Olive oil it should be the first. A good rule of thumb for the amount to take: one tablespoon per person. Balsamic vinegar will continue to mature over time and therefore will possess different taste characteristics at the various stages of this maturing process, but - it´s hard to keep it that long, it´s simply too good!

"Piccatina" with Balsamic vinegar alla Pavarotti
Luciano Pavarotti, the most important "voice" in opera around the world, was born in Modena and grew up with Balsamic vinegar. This dish, veal with a sauce from Modenese cured ham and balsamico, was his favorite:

Brown the veal slices (800 g) in butter and place it on a hot serving dish. Add the julienne ham (60 g) in the same pan, cook it over a low flame for a few seconds and then add one tablespoon balsamic vinegar.  Allow the sauce to meld for a few moments and then pour it over the "Piccatina". 


April 1, 2011

Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena


When Giorgio opened the door, I smelled it right away: Aceto Balsamico, the world famous vinegar, also called "black gold" filled the air of the old villa in Modena.   
The process of producing sounds simple: take 100 l of grape juice, cook it for 12 hours, put it in barrels and wait 25 years - you'll get 2 l Aceto.

Of course it's not that  simple: the grapes have to be Trebbiano and Lambrusco from your vineyard (which has to be in Modena), only the first juice is allowed to take. You should have a big house with an big attic for the barrels (also in Modena) and you need the knowledge of 340 years of experience to produce, what the Duke  of Este invented accidently and called  "Balsamico" - they used it like a medicin for digestion. 
When it came to the tasting, I was quite surprised about the wide spectrum: the taste of 12 years in a cherry barrel is so different from the one which fermented 25 years in an oak barrel, and so on. There is no way to mix it with olive oil and use it for a salad dressing like you would do with an industrial vinegar - a waste! 
I like it best with strawberries or Parmiggiano, the 24 month old......

March 18, 2011

Urbino

The historic town is situated on top of a mountain, overlooking the surrounding hills, Urbino encompasses all that is classic Italy. 
After entering the city wall you will slow down to savor the spirit of history that haunts the 600 years old buildings. The Ducal palace, a masterpiece of Renaissance Art, is dominating the city, built for Frederico da Montefeltro, who earned the money for his palace serving Alfonso of Naples and the Pope. 
In 1506 the Universita degli Studi was founded and till today the students outnumber the general population.  The charming streets are also filled with little food stores and Restaurants where you can purchase fresh local cheese, piadine and tartuffo, try "Salsicce ricoperte con Casciotta dÚrbino" (grilled sausages with a local cheese) at the Trattoria del Leone!