Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Classing It Up in Turin

Palaces. Opera houses. Gardens. After getting to know beautifulrusty Bologna, Turin felt like an extravagance. I arrived knowing little more than than the following about the fourth largest city in Italy:

  • It is home to the famous Shroud of Turin, which some believe to be the shroud in which Jesus was buried. 
  • Italy's royal family, the House of Savoy, lived there.

Given its royal history, I figured that Turin would be elegant, but I'm not sure I bargained for this:


The streets and plazas were spotless.

And floor to ceiling mirrors. Yes.

And chandeliers. Chandeliers, people!

Sir Gnome, sophisticated gentleman that he is, absolutely loved it here. I mean, just look at the excitement on his face.

Here's to living pretending to live lavishly. 

For more pictures of my trip to Turin, visit my photo gallery.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Emilia-Romagna Is for Eating

How much would life suck without the existence of the following foods?
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano 
  • Bolognese sauce
  • Mortadella
  • Balsamic
  • Tortellini 
  • Tagliatelle 
  • Lasagna alla Bolognese
  • Prosciutto
A lot! Life would suck a lot. To the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, the birthplace of these culinary wonders, I say grazie.

When planning our trip to Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Kellie and I knew that eating two lunches a day in the city wouldn't suffice, so we signed up for a food tour of Modena in order to learn more about the history and production of some of the traditional, world-famous foods from the region.

I don't generally rely on Trip Advisor for recommendations, but reviews for Italian Days Food Experience were so overwhelmingly positive, that it seemed ridiculous not to book. After requesting details via email, a woman named Barbara responded with the following warning: "If you are looking for a formal, quiet experiences where you can sit in the back of the class and not participate, this is NOT your experiences!!!"

That's three exclamation marks!!! How could we refuse???

One chilly April morning, a mystery man donning a black tie and driving a black SUV whisked us off to Modena to meet our tour guide (and Barbara's boyfriend), Alessandro. We were about to learn a lesson in the art of making Parmigiano-Reggiano, balsamic, and prosciutto.


Cheese! It's one of my favorite things in existence. Why? Because cheese.

I couldn't wait to explore a Parmigiano-Reggiano factory and was willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to do so. Here are a few fun facts I learned from Alessandro about Parmigiano-Reggiano:
  • Don't call it parmesan because parmesan is crappy and real Parmigiano-Reggiano is awesome.
  • Sea salt is the only preservative allowed in real Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano must be aged for at least one year.
  • By law, Parmigiano-Reggiano must be made once a day and in the morning.
  • The Modena factory we visited produces 40 rounds of Parmigiano-Reggiano a day at 160 gallons per round. 
  • The cream that rises up from the milk at night becomes ricotta (literally, "re-cooked") cheese.
  • Inspectors visit Parmigiano-Reggiano factories twice a year. They tap the cheese and listen. The cheese speaks!
This metal container shall bring forth cheese
A cheese baby, swaddled in cloth
Giuseppe is King Cheese Maker
Don't bother applying for this job without superhuman upper body strength
Cheese storage (i.e. heaven)
It's beautiful ... *tear*

I was sad to leave the cheese. So very sad. But it was time to move on and learn a thing or two (or 20) about balsamic, also known as black gold. Fun facts:
  • Don't call it balsamic wine vinegar because there's no wine in it. Wine vinegar is for suckers.
  • Seriously, though, pure (tradizionale) balsamic of Modena, made from 100% cooked grape must, isn't sold in grocery stores, not even the ones in Bologna.
  • There are 116 families in the balsamic consortium of Modena.
  • It takes 180 pounds of grape must to produce 1 liter of balsamic.
  • True balsamic must be aged for a minimum of 12 years.
  • Traditionally, families begin aging balsamic in a batteria (a line of barrels, each decreasing in size) after the birth of a baby girl, who receives the precious final product on her wedding day. Alessandro and Barbara have started a batteria for their daughter.
Villa San Donnino: home to one of the balsamic-producing families of Modena
Batterias for aging balsamic
Time for tasting
Balsamic jam on ricotta cheese
That's balsamic on vanilla gelato ... yup
A monument to black gold

Enough child's play. It was time for some pork. Here are your fun facts about prosciutto:
  • Don't call it bacon or pancetta because neither one of those is ham, and prosciutto means ham.
  • Ham (prosciutto) is made with the hind legs of the pig.
  • Prosciutto is uncooked.
  • Italian prosciutto must be aged for a minimum of 14 months.
  • The only ingredient used for curing prosciutto is sea salt.
  • Prosciutto is salted in a refrigerator for 20 days before hanging.
  • An Italian prosciutto leg weighs about 30 pounds and loses 30% of its weight when aged.
Hello, I deal in pork
Roll out the ham
Sure, it may not look too appetizing right now, but ...
Ah ... yes
Lunch Time

At this point, our little tour group of 8 was more than ready for a full meal. Alessandro took us to a nearby trattoria for a multi-course, all-you-can-eat lunch full of local, traditional foods. Writing this is making me so hungry! Anyway, a (visual) taste below.

An appetizer of ham + delicious puffy thing
One of 3 pasta dishes served
Pork (with balsamic!) and potatoes
Red and white wine (gotta have both)
Dessert sampler
The coffee, of course
Arrivederci, Alessandro
I leave you with a video montage of Alessandro being awesome.

For more information about the Italian Days Food Experience, visit the website

For more pictures of my day trip to Modena, visit my photo gallery

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bologna in a Nutshell

The “In a Nutshell” series superficially summarizes an entire city, region, or country in a few bullet points. Ignoring historical and cultural complexities, I give you Bologna … in a nutshell:
  • In most of Europe, Americans can be embarrassingly loud. Not so here. Judging by my Italian fellow train travelers, watching movies on a tablet at full volume without the use of headsets is totally acceptable.
  • When dining out, make sure you demand your complimentary rose from the restaurant owner.
  • Aperitivo time = happy hour with free food. Buy a drink, enjoy the tapas. The U.S. needs to adopt this concept like yesterday.
  • In my next life, I wouldn't mind going to grade school here. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ghosts of Bologna

By day, Bologna is beautiful; by night, it's haunting. In the moonlight, the archways, cobblestone, and warm hues lend the city an air of mystery. Sure, I may be overselling Bologna as the perfect setting for a 19th-century murder mystery novel, but I like my cities with a little dose of intrigue, so I kept an eye out for furtive-looking men in long black pea coats and top hats ... just in case. I also tried to capture my impressions of ghostly Bologna in photographs:

For more picture of my trip to Bologna, visit my photo gallery.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Food-Filled Afternoon in Bologna

Bologna is lovingly known as la grassa (the fat one) for its rich culinary tradition and food culture. In a future post, I plan to elaborate on the history of food in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, of which Bologna is the capital, but for now, I'll simply take you through one afternoon's worth of eating in Bologna. Think of this post as the appetizer.

After a quick breakfast of toast and orange juice (boring!), Kellie and I are ready to stroll the city and eat, eat, eat.

11:00 a.m.

It's not too early for an enormous pizza as far as we're concerned
12:15 p.m.

This display convinces us that a second lunch is totally appropriate
1:00 p.m.

Healthy grilled veggies to start
Pasta sampler? Yes, please
Obligatory glass of Pinot Grigio
3:00 p.m.

Obligatory mouthwatering gelato
Is it time for dinner yet?

For more pictures of my trip to Bologna, visit my photo gallery.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bologna and the Love of Old Things

I've always had a fascination with all things old. As a kid, I briefly considered being an archeologist. I thought it would be exhilarating to unearth old things and discover hidden histories. The past is alluring to me, not because I think life would have been better in some romanticized "back then," but because there's comfort in continuity.

In Bologna, the past is very much alive. It's there in the architecture and in the traditional foods, a part of everyday life. As I mentioned in my last post, Bologna is home to the oldest university in the world, which was founded in the late eleventh century. Two medieval towers also showcase Bologna's past, standing tall in the city center. The taller of the two is open to visitors.

Torre Asinelli
Climbing the well-worn steps of Torre Asinelli
498 steps later (old things don't have elevators)
View of the old city from Torre Asinelli
Alongside the centuries-old buildings are smaller signs of age. Here are a few old things I stumbled upon while wandering the city streets.

Not especially old for Bologna standards
Rusty intercom system
This pharmacy opened its doors in 1814
Classic doorknob (for entering scary, mysterious places)
For more pictures of my trip to Bologna, visit my photo gallery.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Beautiful Bologna

There's no city like it. Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, isn't nearly as popular a travel destination as Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, or Milan, but I can't see why. It's home to the oldest university in the world, it's recognized as the gastronomic center of Italy, and it's pretty ... very pretty. Bologna may not be a polished city -- it's full of cracks and imperfections -- but the fact that Bologna looks its age is part of the charm.

I was attracted to two of the city's aesthetic features in particular -- the colors and the porticos. Bologna has been nicknamed la rossa (the red one) for its many red roofs and buildings. The entire city is painted in earthy hues of red, orange, and yellow, colors I associate with warmth. As for the porticos, Bologna's historic center contains nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles) of them. For someone who can never get enough archways (me!), Bologna is a kind of heaven.

While my photos don't do Bologna justice, it's impossible for the camera lens not to capture the distinctive look of the city.

For more pictures of my trip to Bologna, visit my photo gallery.