- Bolognese sauce
- Lasagna alla Bolognese
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|
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)|
|The coffee, of course|
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.