Aftershocks: The Fate of Parmigiano Reggiano

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As many of you know, the Emilia Romagna region (famous for production of Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano) of Italy was hit bad last month by a series of relentless earthquakes. May 20th and 29th were bad days in the world of cheese producers, as years of careful aging and hard labor toppled to the ground.

According to a letter published by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, damages include:

  • 37 factories effected in towns of Mantova, Modena, and Reggio Emilia
  • 600,000 wheels were effected in the quake
  • Of those 600,000 wheels, 50% can be saved and continue on in aging for eventual sale as certified DOP Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 300,000 wheels (amounting to roughly 10% of annual production) have been irreparably destroyed.

What does this information say about the market? For those of you who are unaware, the rise and fall of price in Parmigiano Reggiano is monitored as closely as the NYSE. Weekly, a private Italian dairy consulting firm (www.clal.it/en) produces a stock market-esque analysis of the supply/demand chain of prices for all forms of cheese and dairy products in Italy.

To give you an idea of the evolving market: Image

The top line representing Parmigiano Reggiano, you can see that prices in 2011/12 are above 12 Euro per kg (roughly $8/lb) in ITALY! At Whole Foods this dairy gold sells for over $20/lb. While prices are suspected to fall in 2013, based on the simple laws of supply and demand it will take roughly 2 years to replace the destroyed product.

Being a salesman for imported Parmigiano Reggiano, this is not good news for me. Will Parmigiano Reggiano retain it’s standing title as the “King” of cheeses? Most likely… it seems people will always pay to be satisfied…the joys of niche markets!

 

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Warning: Disgusting

Balut, a Southeast Asian treat.

Translation: FERTILIZED DUCK EMBRYO BOILED ALIVE AND EATEN!!!!!!!

…but the locals call it an aphrodisiac…and believe me, nothing makes you feel sexier than biting into the crunchy, partially developed skeletal structure of an unborn animal.

Sold as street food in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, the locals eat this stuff up with various spices and garnishes. Honestly all the hot sauce in the world couldn’t convince me that this is a good idea.

Taken directly from Wikipedia: “All of the contents of the egg may be consumed, although the white may remain uneaten; depending on the age of the fertilized egg, the white may have an unappetizing cartilaginous toughness. The ideal balut is 17 days old.”

Ugh. Call me culturally insensitive, but this is absolutely disgusting.

New Beginnings and a Potential Partner for Pasta

The moment has arrived, my graduation from the University of Gastronomic Sciences is coming up this Friday. A sad time indeed, this is a moment of strange transitions and uncomfortable changes. Important questions like, what side of the Atlantic Ocean will I be living on in 10 days, did my 18 years of education amount to anything? Can I still properly speak English? are all coming to slap me in the face as my year living in Italy might be potentially coming to an end…

BUT THERE IS HOPE! I have an interview with Barilla (yes the lord of pasta) on Thursday for the potential to have a 6 month marketing internship living in Parma and doing what I do best… eating. I am crossing my fingers and toes that this works out, but as most things usually happen for me, the best things come at the last minute.

My other option is running away to my friend’s house in the hills of Tuscany to hide from the government as my visa expires.. This is a highly highly probable idea.

Nonetheless, in this moment of indecision and fear, I continue to eat and drink with determination…Consistency folks, Consistency.

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

Off to Campania: Eating like a Mob Boss

Bay of Naples at Sunset

It’s that time of the month again….No, not THAT one.. I mean it’s off for another gastronomic tour to one of Italy’s most beautiful and notorious regions: Campania. Campania, found on Italy’s southwest side, is home to a plethora of famous tourist destinations such as Amalfi, Sorrento, Positano, Capri, and last but definitely most notorious, Naples.

Naples Street View, Via Toledo

Travelers coming to this part of Italy are surely in for an eyeful of beauty, and a mouthful of food, but must definitely be cautious of their surroundings because despite the romantic landscapes, Naples and its surrounding cities are ‘littered’ (pun intended) with mafia violence and professional thieves. In Amalfi and other coastal tourist destinations in the area, the corruption in this region is hidden a bit more than it is in Naples; however, as a foreigner in Naples one must be incredibly aware of his surroundings and his personal belongings. Even Italians themselves recognize Naples (Napoli in Italian) as being at the crux of Italy’s mafia corruption. The Camorra (as is known the mafia in this region) is incredibly strong and while they probably could care less about a tourist, be sure not to get caught in the middle of a shoot out! (I kind of wish I was kidding.)

Nonetheless, aside from the professional pick-pocketing and potential stray bullets, Campania is home to some of Italy’s most famous food masterpieces, and thus the motivation for my arrival to the Heart of Darkness (to extend my hyperbolic attitude today).

What is the most internationally famous element of Italian cuisine? Pizza. Created in Naples in the late 18th century for King Ferdinand and his wife Margherita (hence the Pizza Margherita).

Traditional Margherita Pizza: Buffalo Mozzarella, Fresh Tomatoes, and Basil

Buffalo Mozzarella is also a key staple product in this region, despite recent tainting issues this sensually rich and flavorful cheese remains the pride of every Neopolitan. Here in Campania it is freshly made and enjoyed by all.

Mozzarella di Bufala

I will be gone until next Friday (May  14th), and will be leaving my computer at home because bringing it to Naples equivalent to having MUG ME tattooed onto my forehead. This should be true Grassroots Gourmet adventure.

The Amalfi Coast

Spanish Basque Lands: World of Egg and Pork

After four days of chowing down on French delicacies I thought would never even get close to my dinner plate, we crossed the border into the Spain for our first day in Bidegoian to a traditional farm and producer of a rare breed of Basque pigs called, Euskal Txerria. In my days as a gastronomy student, I’ve been to a fair amount of pig farms, memories of eye wateringly pungent smells, metal gates, and shit-covered hay. Never in my life have I seen pigs as strange and ADORABLE as the pigs we saw here. Black and pink spotted little devils with ears so floppy they had a very limited visual plane.

After kvelling (my Jewish New York maternal side emerges) for an hour about how adorable these little oinkers were, we were then proudly presented with their ultimate destiny and true purpose for being on the farm: homemade Chorizo and Jamon! Never fall too in love with an animal you see on a farm because inevitably it will end up sliced into little pieces on your dinner plate. Nonetheless, the passion conveyed by these producers for their work, and also for their animals permeated into the quality of their products, and ultimately worked to alleviate the pain caused by eating the cutest pig I have ever seen.

Spending the night in San Sebastian, we were then introduced to the extensive cultural practice that is Spanish Basque cider at the local Cideria.  Made from fermented apples, this extremely tart beverage is drunk in continuation by locals of this area. Served from massive wooden barrels, the traditional way to drink the beverage made a lasting impression (until of course my vision was blurred as a cause of over consumption..oops) Opening a little spit on the side of the barrel, the cider came spitting out as we lined up to fill our glass. An important rule however, was not to fill our glasses too high because the carbonation goes away quickly. Therefore, drink small amounts, often. In fact we were told to go up to the barrel as often as we wished, which, was obviously greatly appreciated.

Waking up feeling like I endured a minor concussion, we promptly hopped on the bus again to the Spanish fishing town of Getara, watching the boats unload pounds and pounds of fresh sardines to be sold at the port. The sardines were huge!!

After a scrumptious fish-based lunch washed town with traditional Basque cider, we were off to a the picturesque Aroa vegetable farm to learn about an indigenous pea variety, Guistante Lagrima, which is sold to restaurants at a ‘humble’ price of 40 Euro/half kilo…. though the price seems a bit ridiculous, they were the most succulent, sweet, and crisp peas I have ever consumed. In the garden we were also given the opportunity to pick fresh arugula, a spicy lettuce variety, amongst other deliciously organic fruits and vegetables.

Changing pace completely, we hopped on the bus to yet another farm, however this one was like unlike any I have ever seen. Spread across acres of the Spanish countryside, I was refreshed to see a farm that went beyond industry that truly represented the love this family had for their animals and their main product: Idiazabal cheese. Made from raw sheep’s milk, the cheese was absolutely extraordinary, slightly spicy with a texture that mimicked Asiago. I couldn’t stop eating it. The animals on the farm seemed happy, and the sheep basked in the sun as we met with the cheese producers.

We then arrived in Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque country, unfortunately my impression of the city remains a bit sour because we stayed at one of the most unsanitary hotels I have ever experienced, located conveniently in the drug and prostitution center of the town. Unlike any other city in Spain, Bilbao is an incredibly modernized city, littered with strange and modern art sculptures in the city squares. Most definitely the most memorable moment in Bilbao was the Guggenheim museum, designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. There was an incredible exhibit of Anish Kapoor art that really opened my eyes to the beauty of modern and abstract art.

After one of the most eventful and exhausting weeks of my life, I happily returned to Parma (at 2am) and practically fell into my bed. I calculated the total hours we spent traveling on the bus and it came to about 50. Needless to say, I get chills down my spine at the sight of a tour bus, my ass is still shaped to the mold of the chair. Reflecting on the trip, my stomach is full, I am recharged, and ready to continue to eat my way to gastronomical enlightenment.

This is Grassroots, This is Gourmet.