Parmesan Paradise: Chapter 2

After a year filled of cured meats, fine cheeses, and endlessly flowing wine, the end of my course at the University of Gastronomic Sciences was not enough to get me to leave my ‘hometown’ of Parma. Unfortunately, in the last week of my stay in the school provided apartments, I realized that soon I would find myself without a place to live, unemployed, and illegally undocumented in a European country….luckily this is Italy, and rules are more of a social suggestion than something strictly followed.

It was my last day in the school provided housing, I desperately wandered the cobblestone streets of Parma, eyes glazed over by the overwhelming pressure to find a place within 24 hours of my predetermined departure. This was crunch time. I went to the center of local classifieds which turned out to be like a scene from Midnight Express. Little pieces of handwritten housing requests pinned up on a never ending wall of pixelated colors. I left the office discouraged and mentally trying to prepare for my return into the United States.

As a final effort, I found myself in Parma’s historical center in Piazza Duomo at the famous and elegant hotel Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati. I knew this hotel doubled as a long-term residence and I asked the man at the counter how much I would have to spend to rent an apartment in the next 24 hours. He gave me a price of 1600 euro and my mouth dropped open. I felt a sense of overwhelming doom, feeling my vision closing in. Like a rat’s final attempt of escape from the grip of a cobra, I somewhat jokingly asked him if I could work for the hotel instead of pay….a kind of ‘dishwasher’ deal.

He smiled with surprise, and accepted my offer. I now live in the heart of Parma’s most beautiful streets, working for a Michelin rated hotel, and have begun the second chapter of my Italian life. In life the best things tend to happen at the last minute. Let’s see what this adventure has in store.

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Honey Tasting: Pooh Bear’s Paradise

Friday we were graced with the presence of a Piemontese honey producer (Miele Thun) that came in and gave us the low down on honey production as well as a very thorough tasting session. We tasted 9 different honeys, 2 cheeses made with honey, candied orange peels, and a honey mead alcohol that kind of tasted like lighter fluid…

Me and Honey
The tasting palate

p.s. The situation with the volcano and European airspace seems to be getting worse and without a clear end in sight. Will we make it to Spain? The uncertainty remains….

Off to Spain? The Death of European Airspace

In theory, my UNISG classmates and I are going to seek gastronomic enlightenment in the French wine country of Bordeaux as well as the Spanish Basque country. Touring oyster farms, eating foie gras and confit, and of course drinking the delicious specialties of these regions, including Bordeaux wines as well as Txacoli wine from the Basque region.

Bordeaux wine country
Bilbao

Unfortunately, it seems that our group always runs into large bouts of good luck. Sardegna: blizzard, Liguria: Blizzard and high speed winds, just when the weather starts to normalize…. VOLCANO IN ICELAND CLOSES ENTIRE EUROPEAN AIRSPACE FOR AN INDEFINITE AMOUNT OF TIME! Cool.

Anyway, I write this entry in hopes of being able to part for my trip on Monday to Bordeaux. If you don’t hear from me, I’ll be back next Sunday with an update, if you hear from me before then, it means I didn’t go and I am very sad….and most likely hungry.

P.S. Iceland, WTF?!

Easter in Italy: Another Excuse to Eat

Well it’s almost that time of year here in Italia, the Easter holidays. Despite the fact that I am the lone Jew in Parma, the festive air is nonetheless charming, and of course appetizing. Being that this is a major Catholic hub, Easter is kind of a big deal out here. Not necessarily for religious reasons, but for culture, family, and of course delicious holiday eating.

Beginning somewhere in mid-March, you can begin to see the immersion of the famous Uova di Pasqua (the Italian take on the Easter Egg) in specialty shops, grocery stores, and markets alike.

This festive treat is basically a large chocolate egg (dark, milk, hazelnut, etc) filled with a little surprise inside. It is a typical “I don’t really care about you but I’ll give you this Easter egg to be cordial” type gift. They make the shops look pretty as they are usually wrapped in colorful cellophane.

Another typically Italian Easter treat is the Colomba Pasquale (The Easter Dove) cake that has a similar taste and texture to familiar Christmas cakes such as Panettone or Pandoro. These are traditionally made with candied oranges and almonds, and of course a heartstoppingly high amount of butter. Nonetheless delicious. They are supposed to represent the shape of a dove, but I didn’t realize this until I looked it up. I always thought it was a cross.

Colomba

But of course, the true essence of Easter is the meal itself, on Sunday April 4th, Italy becomes the country of lamb, as this is the traditional Easter meal. Roasted lamb is SO goodddddd!

However, unlike Christmas, the Easter meal is usually less formal and spent with friends. My Italian friends say “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” which literally translates to “Christmas with the parents, Easter with whoever you want”. In fact, many Italians actually go out to eat in restaurants on Easter to save energy and spend some quality time being social with others.

Nonetheless, I am keeping up my gym routine because in anticipation for the holidays it is always a good idea to burn off a few extra calories? No?

Happy Easter Folks, or as they say in Italy, Buona Pasqua!

I leave you with a recipe I found for Roast Easter lamb with Fennel and Potatoes. Yum.

P.S. This is also my 100th Post!!!!!!! Thanks for reading!

Delicious Granita: Overanticipating Summer

This winter in Parma has been absolutely brutal and seemingly neverending, just one week ago it snowed almost 2 feet. IN MARCH?!?!?! Ah, indeed. Though we joke that the winter will continue on until the proposed end of the world in 2012, the weather here is finally starting to show some promising upturns. SUN! (Can we say goodbye to our Seasonal Affective Disorder?)

As a tribute to the 60F weather and sun I am cherishing on this lovely Thursday, I figured I’d write a quick entry about Granita, a delicious summer Italian treat. Originating in Sicily, Granita is the what American’s know to be Italian ice (you know, that stuff Minute Maid sells in the squeeze tubes?). Anyway, made with sugar, ice, and various flavorings, Granita is basically my dietary staple in the hot months here in Italia.

Some of the traditional flavors are: Lemon, Orange, Coffee, Jasmine, Coffee, Almond, and Mint.

It can be eaten at any time of the day but a popular sicilian breakfast consists of a cold coffee granita and a brioche. Delish..

Summer please come soon. I am ready for my daily Granita.

Liguria: It Snows at the Beach?

My Ligurian longstay is over and I come home to Parma full of deliciously fresh fish and pesto. Ligurian cuisine is uniquely delicious in the respect that it is incredibly varied and incredibly fresh. Known for beautiful summer stops such as Cinque Terre, Genova, Portofino, and Portovenere, the Ligurian region of Italy is often frequented by Italian and international travellers alike….IN THE SUMMER!

The reason I emphasize the season so extensively, is because March is probably the absolute worst time we could have picked to do our week long gastronomic and tourism field trip in Liguria. Why? Well.. let’s just put it this way, Hurricane Katrina like winds, and Snow…at the beach. Almost no shops were open because only an absolute moron would go to the beach in bone-chilling temperatures. Despite this minor detail, we did get some sun, and on the days when the weather was sub-par, we ate like horses to make up the deficit.

Ligurian cuisine has gained international fame for products such as pesto, focaccia, olive oil, and white wine… however, the fresh products that are locally recognized are what really made an impression. We had plates of freshly grilled fish, simply prepared with a squeeze of lemon, delicious white wine, Sciacchettra (a dessert wine), and incredible artisan pasta. Haha are you hungry yet?

We also made a quick trip into Tuscany to see the production of a specialty product called Lardo di Colonata, made in the famous marble region of Tuscany, Lardo is basically large pieces of pork back fat cured in huge marble boxes (that looked like coffins) for 6 months in a bath of salt, garlic, rosemary, and a huge array of other spices. It was pretty heavy to eat but I never thought I’d enjoy a piece of plain lard as much as I did.. mmm gluttony.

For those of you backpacking travellers, I highly recommend coming to this area in the spring and summer seasons. I had to use my imagination to visualize what the city of Portovenere would be like with decent weather conditions, nice summer breeze, cold mojitos and suntans, unfortunately all I really knew was a deserted, windy, and rainy pirate town. Nonetheless, if you eat well, and are surrounded by breathtaking beauty, it becomes incredibly hard to complain.

Oh So Bittersweet: A Day with Balsamic Vinegar

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.

Traditional 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.