Monday, May 07, 2012

Italian Days Food Experience Pt 1: Bologna, Italy

Our last day in Italy was spent with a bunch of new foodie friends and the man below, Alessandro, a true foodie and a wealth of knowledge and fountain of unbridled enthusiasm.   Alessandro leads the Italian Days Food Experiences, a food tour, going to various food sites in Emilia Romagna.

Yes, his shoes are the colors of the Italian flag and yes, that is a fork bracelet.   This is the guy you want giving you a food tour in Italy.
We were picked up bright and early at 7am and the first stop was a Parmegiano-Reggiano factory.  The production of the Parmegiano-Reggiano is literally done by all of 5 guys, the lead of which works long hours and pretty much every day of the year.


The actual work is physically intensive.  The initial ball of cheese weights about 220 lbs.



For five guys, they produce a whole heckuva a lot of Parmigiano-Reggiano...


... and I mean a lot.  Imagine rows and rows of the following:


Each wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano is astonishingly individually inspected and certified by a regional certification group, called the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). It is classified into 3 groups, based on quality: 1) First-class Parmigiano-Reggiano , 2) Second-class Parmigiano-Reggiano and 3) Cheese (not good enough to even have the name Parmigiano-Reggiano.

First-class Parmigiano-Reggiano has been aged for at least 18 months. The aging reduces its lactose content, making it good for those with lactose-intolerance and leads to a longer drawn out flavor. These get imprinted with a seal and receive labeling on the rind.

Second class Parmigiano-Reggiano also gets the imprinted seal and labeling, but they have indented horizontal lines on the rind.  It must be aged at least 12 months.

Finally, regular ol' cheese does not have a seal or the labeling and it only has horizontal lines on the rind.

Our breakfast was stuffing our faces with first-class and second-class Parmigiano-Reggiano and drinking Prosecco.  Actually, Alessandro and the others acted as food pushers, insisting on us to eat more and more cheese.

This is my kind of tour.

Alessandro with the president of the Parmegiano-Reggiano company.
The next stop was a maker of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (i.e. like Balsamic vinegar, except the real stuff).  Just getting out of the van, the air smelt sweet, like the scent of molasses.

Aceto Balsamico is also governed by the D.O.P. and in order to sell the stuff as certified D.O.P. Aceto Balsamico, the makers must age it at least 12 years (!).

You start with crushed grapes in the big container and over time, it is reduced via evaporation.  Each year, you shift some to the smaller container.  The makers can only take 1 liter out of the final bottle for selling.


For the tasting, they had us try three variations: 1) Young aceto (aged 4 years), 2) certified Aceto Basalmico di Modena (aged 14 years) and 3) extravecchio Aceto Basalmico, needing aging over 25 years (this was aged 45 years).

Young aceto - tasted like a thick syrupy port or like a molasses.
14 year Modena - had a bit more acidity.  A bit of a darker flavor similar to how a dark soy sauce compares to the flavor of a regular soy sauce.  The sweetness hits less immediately than the younger one does and has more subtlety between the sweet and sour flavors.
Extravecchio - wonderful stuff.  Complex, shifting flavors, reminding me of wisps of steam curling in the air.  Not quite sweet or sour, just twirling and varying between.


They had us taste each aceto balsamico by itself, then they served the 14 year old atop gelato and then ricotta cheese  fresh from the factory we had just visited.  This is such a fantastic tour.

This is getting a bit long, so I'll continue the rest in another post.


Italian Days Food Experience
www.italiandays.it

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