Ciao friends, I am off to Liguria today for another 5-day field trip. Just wanted to prompt you because I will be back with many surprises and interesting things to share. If you want to do a little research. Liguria is the home of the Cinque Terre (gorgeous cliffside towns), Pesto, Focaccia Genovese, Olive Oil, and white wine.
I hope to eat more fish, friuts, and vegetables than I did in Sardegna, but just in case I am bringing my Fiber tablets….for emergency situations.. use your imagination.
Shopping in American supermarkets, passing the salad dressing isle, it is not so out of the ordinary to see “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena”, your run of the mill balsimic vinegar, used typically to dress salads, clean sinks, etc. However, the product we were taken to see yesterday was far from this acidic liquid we Americans have come to know as Balsamic Vinegar.
Oh yes, I am talking about Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia. Unlike the watery substance you know as Balsamic Vinegar, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia is so concentrated that it has a deliciously smooth and syrupy consistency. It is also much more expensive than your regular 2 dollar bottle of vinegar. The traditional stuff, aged at a minumum of 3 years (all the way up to 25+) ranges in prince from 60Euro to 90 Euro! WHAT?! for VINEGAR~?!
This is a prized possesion out here. It tastes deliciously sweet, and unlike anything you would expect. The gourmet version of the vinegar is usually enjoyed with dessert (rather than as a salad condiment, unless of course your salad consists of leaves of gold 😉 ) Typically with strawberries or large chunks of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
What is balsamic vinegar? Cooked grape must and a little bit of caramel, aged in wooden barrels for long long long periods of time. As each season passes, the balsamic mixture is placed into smaller barrels in order to keep up with its increasing density.
Very delicious, very expensive, very Emilia Romagna.
Wow folks, sorry for the intense delay in my Sardegna update… due to a technical difficulty I was unable to update before.
Anyway, the trip was great, we ate about every single product that could be conceivably produced by the sheep, as these are indigenous animals of the island…in fact flying in on the plane I saw nothing but rolling green hills, expanding coastline, and large white herds of sheep…
Ah where to begin? Well… first of all I can no longer stomach the thought of Pane Carusau (the traditional Sardinian flat bread which is really more like a cracker than anything else), Pecorino Sardo (traditional sheep-milk cheese) or cured sheep meat…. while these products are delicious I was totally saturated after 5 full days of their consumption.
Contrary to my initial assumptions, we did not eat as much fish as I had hoped… though Sardegna is an island, prized for the production of delicious products including Lobster and Bottarga (cured tuna egg sacks) we were only taken to one fishery to see the ways of traditional fishing that has not been changed since the Medieval times (think wooden boxes and small tin fishing boats).
It was nice to see the pride of these people for the products they produce… refering to mainland Italy as “The Peninsula” I entered the land of Sardegna feeling as if I had escaped the world of Italy almost completely… an entirely different cuisine, culture, and even language in some places..
Strangely enough, I also directly experienced the fears of climate change that are quickly becoming relevant on an international scale. What am I talking about? Well.. aside from the fact that we were in Sardegna in February (off season) our final day on the island we experienced some of the most intense snow storms I have ever seen in my life… More snow than I have ever seen in Parma for sure… In fact, these snow storms made most European news as they were completely abnormal to the regular climate of the island. We almost thought we wouldn’t make it out of there because there was a blizzard that made our enormous tour bus into a mobile vomit facility (about 6 people lost their sheep on the bus and it made for an incredibly unpleasant return to Alghero..where we ultimately caught our plane back to Parma.
Nonetheless, despite the close quarters with my classmates and the over consumption of meat and cheese, I really would love to return to Sardegna under less strained conditions. For example, due to our concentrated meat and cheese consumption, not only did many of us experience less than pleasant digestive issues (use your imaginations) but also, the day we were offered vegetables at a local winery everyone jumped to the plate like we hadn’t seen anything green in months… my mouth felt like it was at Disneyland after that first bite of fennel…and I don’t even particularly like fennel.
Ok let me get to the good stuff.. I’ll add some of my pictures from the trip so you can get an idea of not only the amount of food we consumed, but also the spectacular places in which we dined… absolutely unforgettable.
Tomorrow morning the UNISG group and I are going on our first culinary field trip to the beautiful island of Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian). We will be visiting various agritourisms, meat and cheese producers, a mask museum, wine producers, beer producers, and dining in some of the most authentic and delicious places you could imagine.
I am just prompting myself, and of course my readers, for some of the things I will come across this week. Here is a list of websites of some of the places we will be visiting:
Sorry some of these websites are only in Italian, but you get the idea… I have been dieting for a week in preparation for this momentous trip, though I will most likely come back with zero pants that fit and a happily expanded waistline… ahh the life I lead.
Anyway, I’ll be sure to make one big mega post when I return of all the crazy happenings on the trip, but I won’t have my computer there with me (will I survive?) so you will all have to wait until I get back next weekend 😉
Until then, I’m off to dig into some real Grassroots Gourmet.
What is gastronomy? What is it about food that fascinates readers so immensely, making audiences eager to digest every delectable detail? To link the two concepts, I offer a simple analogy of food and gastronomy. Food is the brick, culture and history are the mortar in building the edible sanctuary that is Gastronomy. Stated clearly, Gastronomy is a multileveled, interdisciplinary, interpersonal, and active way to approaching subjects of food, cooking, and most importantly eating.
But! There is an important disconnect here to be explored. While food and cooking traditions have been a part of our global society since the invention of the wheel, gastronomy, comparatively, is an innovation that has begun to take our society by storm relatively recently. Though initially the notion of gastronomy was thought to be limited to the ‘high culture,’ those that could afford expensive ingredients who had the time to care, there has been a sharp change in the definition and access to the term.
What sparked this change? Aside from various cooking shows that have popularized this post-modern interest in food and culinary culture to the general public, the vast accessibility of the internet has given gastronomy its true ‘facelift’, allowing anyone and everyone to discuss their personal recipes, food opinions, restaurant reviews, and general shared excitement for eating. This limitless forum has taken over the blogosphere, making food blogs an incredibly fun and easy way to spread the word on the world of gastronomy.
Serious Eats (www.seriouseats.com) is an American food blog that I have been following for some time. The website advertises itself as both a food blog and a community which is a true and important detail about the site. Rather than being just one author, the site allows readers to interactively contribute their ideas, recipes, food photos, and reviews which has truly helped the site grow over the years. Though this is an example of a more sophisticated food blog, directed for those living in metropolitan areas, it is a great resource to discover new restaurants and recipes from users just like myself as well as professionals.
Conversely, This Is Why You’re Fat (www.thisiswhyyourefat.com) is a completely different type of food blog, and definitely not for the faint of stomach. Unlike Serious Eats, which celebrates food for its diversity and cultural importance, This Is Why Youre Fat is a blog that bastardizes food through disgustingly unhealthy food concoctions. Despite the some of the stomach wrenching images, the website has seen great success, and has even published a book full of the calorific delights. An important detail to note is that This Is Why You’re Fat is based entirely off user contributions to the website, making it an interactive and communal experience.
The contrast in the aforementioned websites shows the interesting juxtaposition in our society’s approach to food and gastronomy within the microcosm of the internet, though these opinions are not limited to the virtual world. Gastronomy has become the world to describe all food-related fascinations, not simply those directed to those with time and money. The evolution of this concept has been catalyzed by popular media, and will continue to grow with increased access to these media sources. Eating is an activity in which everyone in society participates, therefore, we can all connect in someway with this deepened interest in the multi-faceted study of food that is gastronomy.
And then of course, according to Wikipedia, Gastronomy is….
Though many people might think that wine tasting is the most complex form of high cultured experience, the world of cheese tasting is an unexplored gem that in fact exceeds the intricacies of the wine world.
In class yesterday we were given the pleasure of meeting Mr. De Riccardis, a professional cheese taster here in Italy, who gave us a detailed lesson on how to properly taste and evaluate top quality cheeses. For this particularly tasty lesson, we evaluated 4 different Italian cheese varieties: Raschera d’Alpeggio, Taleggio, Pecorino Romano, and CastelMagno.
Before I go into detail about each cheese, there are several rules for tasting and evaluating cheese properly.
First and most importantly, cheese must be eaten alone (no bread or wine) and using ones hands… forget about cutlery folks, this is the real deal.
1.) Evaluating Shape: There are 7 different shapes of cheese. These include
Sferic (stretched curd): ie Mozzarella
Oval: ie Provola
Cylindrical: ie Parmagiano Reggiano
Parallelepiped/Square Slab: ie Taleggio
Log: ie Goat
Truncated Pyramids: ie Valencay
2.)Evaluating External Surface:
Is the cheese with or without rind?
Smooth or Rough surface?
Crust with natural molds or no molds? (90% of molds come from Penicillin family)
Dry or Moist rind?
Paraffin wax covering?
Washed rind? Washed with water/brine solution
3.)Evaluating Undercrust: If the cheese has a present rind.
is the depth/distribution of the rind uniform? If the cheese fails this test then it cannot be considered a top quality cheese (though is usually still edible)
OK! so now that we know the physical regulations for evaluating cheese, let’s get into the good stuff. How does it TASTE! What I found particularly interesting for all of our tasting samples was that the smells of the cheeses sometimes differed entirely from their taste. In other cases, the tastes became far more complex and defined when tasted.
Production Area: Piedmont, Italy city of Cuneo
Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 7-8 Months
Production Period: June-September
Average Weight: 12-13 Kg
Personal Notes: This cheese is delicious, milk, and soft. Would have gone great with a Pinot Noir and a piece of bread but also was delicious on its own. Comparable in taste and texture to Asiago.
Production Area: Lombardia, Italy
Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 2 Months
Production Period: Year Round
Average Weight: 2.5 kg
Personal Notes: I really enjoyed this cheese, the texture reminded me of Brie… despite a somewhat strong smell this is a relatively mild cheese. Delicious
Production Area: Tuscany, Italy
Milk Used: Whole ewe (sheep) milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 3-5 months
Production Period: March-November
Average Weight: 3.5-4 kg
Personal Notes: This cheese has a texture similar to Parmagiano Reggiano but a much heavier taste. I don’t particularly like it but it can be good in certain dishes as it adds a particular complexity that can’t be found in Grana or Parmagiano.
Production Area: Piedmont, Italy
Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 7-8 months
Production Period: July-Sept
Average Weight: 2 kg
Castelmagno is considered one of the most expensive and rare cheeses in the world. Sold at 60E/kg only 600-700 wheels are produced per year.
Personal Notes:Though this cheese is considered one of the most rare and expensive in the world, I couldn’t get myself past the first bite.. The cheese was so pungent it actually burnt my tongue, and though I tasted the mushrooms, the overwhelming taste of soap kind of killed my appetite. Others in the class seemed to like it though.
OK enough cheese for one day, but to say the least I had a very tasty lesson. The first of many “Quality Food Tasting” lessons that we will have throughout the course of the year. I am going to go and buy some cheese from the market across the street to continue my ‘studies’. I am a very good student. 😉
As my head spins in a whirlwind of unpacked clothes and pharmaceuticals I came across this entry on the University of Gastronomic Science’s student blog (one that I will most likely be contributing to in the coming months)
Written by a current UNISG student, she warns us of the imminent “doom” of waking up at ungodly hours and eating until our stomachs are full beyond capacity…Now, I don’t know about you folks, but Hedonism is kind of my penchant, at least now I’ll learn how to do this professionally 😉 (kidding kidding)
Regardless, my priority to join a gym has just been elevated a few notches. 😉