When Wine Takes Over

Lambrusco Grapes

In Italy’s designated land of pork and Parmigiano, there’s always room for a vineyard.While Emilia-Romagna might not be particularly well-known for having an extensive or flourishing viticulture, the region produces a large amount of Lambrusco and even some international grapes including Chardonnay and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

Working for Ferrarini S.p.A., a company with a lot of land producing a large variety of Italian specialty products (Prosciutto, Parmigiano, Balsamic Vinegar, Wine, etc.) I get the opportunity to follow the entire production process of these things on a first hand basis. Yes, I even get to taste the grapes from Ferrarini’s vineyards. I can’t exactly say my life sucks.

During the month of September into the beginning of October, the grape-vine reaches the height of excitement in its life. Kind of like graduating from high school, the grapes that have been in the process of growing the entire year, are now being picked and transformed in to bigger, better, and more alcoholic things.

Being an American, I have always romanticized the picking and crushing of wine grapes. Having seen that infamous “I Love Lucy” episode far too many times, I expected to see a group of ageless women in checkered dresses with handkerchiefs on their head, picking and stomping grapes to the beat of a distant accordion. Instead, I saw that the people harvesting grapes were actually students, round together every year to make a quick buck during the harvesting season.The harvest is 100% manual, which is surprising considering that Ferrarini has over 20 acres of their land designated for viticulture.

Because this area of Italy is not particularly famous for its wine culture, the general approach for wines from this area is quantity above quality. Lambrusco being the regional wine, is a simple table wine that pairs well with fattier foods, with a light carbonation and acidity that helps cut the heaviness of what’s being eaten.

Running around with Ferrarini’s enologist, Luca Torreggiani, I was filling pages and pages of my notebook with wine facts that any wine-dork/food-freak would find fascinating. A conversation with Luca, my comprehension degenerating with each sip of fermented grape elixir, I pushed myself to understand the intricacies of it all..

The Q&A’s with Mr. Toreggiani

  • Q: What is organic wine?
  • A: I am convinced that it can’t actually exist 100%. Sure grapes can be grown in an organic environment, without using pesticides, etc. But once they leave the vineyard, Sulphites almost absolutely have to be used in order to create the right fermentation environment for the wine. Sulphites are fundamental for extending the longevity of wine, as well as conserving it’s color and flavor. Organic wine? I’m not convinced.
  • Q: Why are grapes always grown on a slope?
  • A: Slopes are very important in viticulture. Especially for white wines. By growing the white wine grapes on a slope facing east, they are never exposed to the direct heat of the sun, and the flavors are not burnt or compromised. Red wines on the other hand need heat, so they are grown facing West on a hill to have the best sun exposure.
  • Q: How come drinking a sip of Champagne or other sparkling white wine makes me feel immediately drunk?
  • A: Well, it’s actually not the alcohol content of the wine that makes your head spin immediately like that, it’s actually because sparkling white wines or “Spumanti” have a higher level of sulphites that have that side effect.

Making wine is not a simple endeavor. It requires an extensive knowledge not only of climate (Ferrarini uses specialized technology to specifically monitor weather patterns), but also a good background in science, and a passion for the product itself. I have a passion for drinking the product, but something tells me that’s not enough to open my own vineyard. As far as a Grassroots Gourmet wine production goes, for now all we have to rely on is the moonshine eating away the plastic of my bathtub. I should probably just stick to drinking and enjoying wine, leaving the rest to the pros.

I Should Never Hike, Again.

As I mentioned before, my little weekend escape to the little valley of Pozza di Fassa in the region of Trentino Alto-Adige definitely did not disappoint, we took in the beautiful sights, we ate, we drank…beer mostly, and oh, did I mention we hiked up a 2300 meter (7, 545 ft) MOUNTAIN?!?!?!

Andrea thought it would be a nice idea to take a nice “camminata” or “walk” in the mountains seen that it was such a beautiful sunny day. Ignorantly I obliged, not having a clue what I was getting myself into. To say the least, this was not a walk, this was not even something that could closely resemble a nice stroll in the forest. Oh no, this was an uphill battle, in the most literal sense, that required not only hiking boots, but a hiking stick and some serious endurance.

Now I’d like to add that before this experience, I thought I was relatively in shape. Sure I eat and drink professionally, but I also go to the gym every now and then. Hell I can run on the tredmill for 45 minutes without dying! But any kind of previous physical training I may have had did not prepare me for the hike up to the refuge of San Nicolò.

View from the Top

I huffed and puffed, and sweated, and slipped, various times almost meeting my fate distorted at the bottom of a large revine. Seeing my boyfriend slowly getting smaller and smaller as he advanced the trail ahead of me, my vision blurred, I was tired, and thirsty, and highly looking forward to my reward Forst beer, brewed locally in the area. Trees began to take on the shapes of beer mugs, and rocks, ice. After a gruelling 3.5 hours of uphill hiking, we made it and sat down to a well deserved lunch.

I had a nice big bowl of pasta fagioli ( a type of bean and pasta soup) with a big mug of beer. It was the best beer I’ve ever had in my life, but I am not sure if that was because my legs were beginning to give out, or because it truly was that good.

Nonetheless, despite the physical endurance, my little vacation to Alto-adige was definitely an enlightening experience. To say the least, I don’t think I’ll be hiking again for a long, long while…unless of course I can do it with a camel pack of ice cold beer free flowing from a cooler strapped to my back. 😉

Alpine Getaway

Shalom a Tutti and L’shanah Tovah (I like to integrate my cultures) ;-). For those of my Jewish readers I wanted to start off this entry by wishing you a very sweet and happy Rosh Hashanah! I hope you all have an amazing year.

This weekend my boyfriend and I are heading off once again to the mountains of Trentino to escape our busy lives of professional eating and drinking (well, my life to be specific). Now that the weather has cooled down here in Parma, I think it is officially safe to say that the death heat of the parmesan summer has subsided, making it finally manageable to sleep in my bed without sweating profusely. mmm.

Pozza di Fassa

We will be going to his quaint little house in the city of Pozza di Fassa in the Italian region of Trentino Alto-Adige. As far as food specialties go, this area of Italy definitely does not disappoint. Well known for its exquisite wines including Müller Thurgau, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon, Lagrein, and Gerwurztraminer. These wines are light, and slightly sweet, similar to many wines you might find in Austria or Germany (this area is heavily influenced by Germanic cultures).

The food here is also quite delicious. Famous for their cheeses and cured meats, my favorite of which being Speck, I am sure I will come home with a full stomach and an expanded waist line….What’s new?

Speck
Strudel

I’ll be back on Sunday evening with a packed week ahead of me working on websites for my internship at Ferrarini, including I Sapori Della Nostra Terra and the E-shop for those of you who want to buy all the amazing things I get to eat on a daily basis. Unfortunately we don’t yet ship to the USA but for those of you jet setters and native Europeans this is the perfect opportunity to get a little taste of Grassroots Gourmet.
As Paula Deen would say, Best wishes and Happy dishes

Ciao!

For more information on traveling in Trentino please click here

New Italian Food Wiki: Help it Grow!

Yesterday was the start to a relatively hectic week here in Italia. My first week of work with food producer/distributor Ferrarini! Ferrarini produces and distributes all of the most prized delicacies from the region of Emilia Romagna, amongst the most well known, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Balsamic Vinegar from Modena and Reggio Emilia (amongst many more).

What is my role in the company? Well, aside from being an entry level marketing intern, which in the states would mean clerical work and answering phones, I am helping the company expand an exciting new project called I Sapori della Nostra Terra (translated as The Flavors of Our Land). The project, put simply, is an innovative combination between wikipedia and trip advisor, guiding italians and foreigners alike into the extensive world of Italian food products.

While the site is relatively new, and I am working hard to increase the amount of English translations, I strongly suggest you folks take a look at the awesome work that is coming out of this thing. You have to create an account, but it’s really easy. For those of you planning a trip to Italy any time soon, this site is also a great way to learn about the delicious food products you can find along the way in the cities you wish to visit.

Any suggestions/additions you have to the wiki site are definitely welcomed. To give your input, either comment on this entry or shoot me an email at michelleaspis@gmail.com! Thanks Grassroots Gourmet readers!

Mortadella: The Original Bologna

Yesterday I was taken to the small town of Casatenovo, a mere 30km from Milan, to the Vismara production plant, a large producer of famous deli and cured meats including Mortadella, Salami, Pancetta, and Prosciutto Cotto (cooked ham).

Mortadella

Being a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I have seen my fair share of meat production plants, which are always an eye opening and sometimes alarming experience…but being a trained professional I put my apprehensions of industrial meat plants behind me and jumped in for the ride.

We arrived a bit late from Parma (after a grueling 2.5 hr drive) but quickly met up with the director of Production for an intensive tour of the plant. “A voi piace la Mortadella?” “Do you like Mortadella?” he asked. The truth is, Mortadella has never been one of my favorite Italian Salumi, made in a similar way as the hot dog, Mortadella is constructed from the fat of a pig’s throat, in combination with lesser cuts of the pork (including tripe, lean cuts, and sometimes unused organs). Of course there is the addition of various spices and pistacchio, but needless to say, this product is not easily loved by all.

He guided us through the production line, in and out a labyrinth of rooms that varied in temperature extremes; cold refridgerators, hot ovens, freezing meat grinders…my body was in shock.

I watched small cuts of meat travel up a ladder-like conveyor into a huge pit where they were then ground into a paste and spiced with a mixture of typical spices, including pepper, salt, coriander, myrtle, and nutmeg. The smell was surprisingly quite good. After the pieces of throat fat were cubed and added to the meat mixture, it was fed into large plastic packaging tubes (think enormous hot dogs) and sent into the dry ovens for a slow 24 hour cook.

Though I have seen what seems like an infinite amount of meat processing plants for products like Prosciutto di Parma, various salami, and Culatello, I had never seen the production of Mortadella and I must say it was definitely an experience.

Though Mortadella contains some choice cuts of meat, I must say that in comparison to the American bologna this is a 100% natural product, no nitrates in sight. If you’re a fan of bologna, it is worth your while to try the real stuff, while it is not a health option, it is definitely better for you than it’s fake, chemical filled cousin.