Friday, May 2, 2008

Emilia-Romagna = Proscuitto and Parmigiano

Buon giorno tutti!
Well, here I am exactly at the midpoint of my culinary training. I’m at the halfway point of my ALMA training (not counting the 2 weeks I’ll be home for Christmas) then 9 weeks on my stage. I can’t believe it!

OK ... so lets chat about this week. Monday was a continuation of my great weekend with Larry. On Monday we spent the day in Cinque Terra, in the region of Liguria. The Cinque Terra – or Five Terraces – are beautiful little towns perched up on the mountains overlooking the ocean, on the western coast of Italy. If you follow the coastline around you will end up on the French Rivieria. Despite the time of year, we found it still quite beautiful- albeit a tiny bit chilly. We alternately walked and traveled by train through the five towns. It was a perfect day – cool, breezy and sunny. It’s totally off season right now, so we really enjoyed a peaceful non-touristy day.

Back to reality on Tuesday. We were studying Emilia-Romagna last week, so we made several regional dishes. On Wednesday we continued the regional cooking – except it was in the kitchen of the school’s restaurant. Everyday they serve about 100 people for lunch. I was stationed with the Garde Manger and with a fellow classmate was responsible for 2 first course dishes: a smoked salmon salad and parmesan souffle. We had a great time and got kudos on both dishes. The only low point of the day was that Larry went back to New York. L

Thursday and Friday we had several fabulous field trips. The general theme for the visits were understanding the micro-climate of the Emilia-Romagna region, and how it affects/enhances the production of their specific foods. The E-R region sits (more or less) between the Po River and the mountains of Tuscany. It has a rich production of fruit, vegetable and grains – but none more famous than the finest proscuitto and parmigiano cheese, consumed around the world. Production is intensely tied to tradition handed down for centuries, the raw materials and the climate. Just like the wine producers, they are incrediably passionate about their process and their products. Another interesting note is that many of the farmers, all over Italy for that matter, belong to co-ops. It’s actually a great way for the small farmer to be able to bring his product to the market and not be gobbled up by industry.

That said, our first stop (very early) Thursday morning was a parmigiano reggiano cheese producer. ( The process for making real parmigiano was amazing. He processes fresh milk from four dairy farms daily. The milk from the evening milking is delivered and rests overnight. In the early morning the butter fat is skimmed off the top, and then process begins. The process takes about 2 hours to get the milk to the big curd you see in the photo. Then it’s placed in the mold. The cheese can age anywhere from 12 to 36 months.

Next stop was the restaurant and farm of our guest chef this week. I missed his demo on Monday, so it was great to be able to meet him later in the week. ( In addition to having his restaurant, he produces culatello using a method handed down to him through three family generations. We had the opportunity to try no less than a dozen different types of cured meats at lunch. Each was amazing. Last stop – just in case we didn’t get enough cured meat – we went to a large prosciutto factory and sampled more meat in Langhirano.

Friday we did a lot of driving, but it was worth it. I think I saw, by far, the most fascinating cheese process ever. We went to the town of Roncofreddo and met a man who simply ages pecorino cheese. He gets blocks of about 30 day old pecorino cheese and basically buries it in a “fossa”, using an ancient aging method. I’m sending you 3 pics of this – the fiasco shaped fossa which is lined with a straw, and his own combination of aromatic herbs, a diagram of what it looks like inside and the cloth sacks which hold the cheese. He buries and seals the cheese in July, and then takes them out at the beginning of November. I won’t lie to you – it was pretty smelly in the room – but the cheese was amazing.

Last stop on Friday evening was to an oil mill in Brisighella. We saw the first cold press of olives. Lot’s of machinery … but very interesting to see the process from start to finish.

On Saturday I took a quick trip to Bologna by myself. I’ve been wanting to explore that city a bit. I only spent the afternoon – so I’m planning on returning, It was a fun lively city with a lot happening.

Thanks for your emails. Please forgive me if I don’t write back right away. My internet access is sketchy here and my time during the week very limited. I am glad you’re enjoying my travelogue, and having fun reading it. It helps me feel a little closer to you all. I’m feeling a little homesick now that Larry has come and gone; and I missed a couple of big Junior League events too which made me a little sad. I was IM/chatting with my friend Cindy this week, bemoaning that fact that I was missing my family, friends and life in NY. She reminded me that it was natural, especially since Larry just left, and that all would be fine when I came back in March and started working again. (She always knows just the right thing to say!!)

Well … until next week … arrivaderchi!
xo, Maria

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