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 vinegar
  • 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*
Balsamic Vinegar

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 vinegar, 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 vinegar 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 vinegar.
  • True balsamic vinegar must be aged for a minimum of 12 years.
  • Traditionally, families begin aging balsamic vinegar 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 vinegar
Time for tasting
Balsamic jam on ricotta cheese
That's balsamic vinegar 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 vinegar!) 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 pictures of my day trip to Modena, visit my photo gallery.

For more of my travel videos, visit my YouTube channel.

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  1. Why do I always seem to read food posts at lunchtime? Now, it's official, I'm going back to Bologna and taking this tour....love all the facts...and photos.

    1. Thanks, Corinne. I wrote this at lunchtime, so I feel your pain.