Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our Italian Food Experience

The Emilia-Romanga area should be on your list of places to visit if you are at all into tasting some of Italy's best and most sought after food made with the highest quality ingredients. With Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Balsimico de Modena and Prosciutto de Modena being made nearby we couldn't think of a tastier reason to spend a few days in Bologna in the very heart of the Emilia-Romanga.

We took the advice of locals and went on the Italian Days Food Experience.  Our guide for the day was Allesandro.  We don't believe that we have ever met anyone more passionate about food and wine.  With five fellow explorers, Allesandro guided and fed us throughout a culinary adventure into the wonders of the region's food that we'll never forget.

Our first destination was the Tutela Consorzio to watch Parmigiano Reggiano cheese being made from fresh milk delivered that morning.  After that we visited a private estate where we learned how Balsimico de Modena is made and about the strict aging requirements that must be met before it can be taste tested, approved, and released.  Then, it was off to see how Proscuitto de Modena is made from the experts -  a family that has been doing so since 1910.  Of course, we tasted everything along the way.

Our final stop was a small trattoria high above the hills of Bologna for what Allesandro jokingly referred to as a "light" lunch.  Six course later (really...appetizer, four mains, dessert, wine with each course, coffee, grappa, and Lemoncello) we were all ready to punch a new hole in our belts and look for the nearest olive tree to take a nap under.

Donning the appropriate attire for our food experience.

These same group of five people go to work at 4:00 a.m. every morning.  Four of them have a day off once a week,
but not the man in the hat.  He's the one who must decide when each batch of cheese is ready.
They make cheese 365 days a year so he works 365 days a year!
Not so much fun being the big cheese...

Fresh milk is brought in each day by the farmers who belong to the consortium.
Each one of these big brass pots holds 320 gallons of milk and will make two
rounds of cheese weighing close to 100 pounds each.

The "birthing" of the cheese.  

After one year of aging, each round of cheese is inspected by
regulators.  Yes, each one.  How?  They tap it.  If any hollow sound is
heard (from a crack or an air bubble) the cheese is rated as grade two.
Grade two cheese is fine to eat but it is not perfect and will not receive the
grade one designation nor sell for the same price.

After inspection, each round is labeled with its grade, given its own
identification number and stored for another six months before it can be sold.

Balsimico of Modena is aged a minimum of 12 years by law.  Notice that the
barrels reduce in size and are covered with cloth - not sealed - allowing for
evaporation to occur.  Once a year, after the hot summer has condensed the balsamic
through evaporation, the smallest barrel will be topped by balsimico from the next
largest barrel and so on up the chain.  Only the largest barrel can have new grape must added.
After 12 years, 1.5 liters per year can be drawn and sold only from the smallest barrel.
Of course, that's only if it passes inspection.  Every draw of balsamic is taste tested by a
panel of regulators and approved.  If it's not approved, it goes back into the barrel for another year.

Now we understand why authentic Balsimico de Modena is so costly.
These small bottles hold about 100 ml.  The twelve year old balsamic sells for $40.00
and the "extravecchio" which is older than 25 years, sells for $75.00.

We arrived at the prosciutto factory at the same time the new pork legs did so
we were able to watch the inspection and weighing process.  Legs that do
not meet the minimum weight requirements are rejected.

Initial salting for curing is washed away and then each pork leg is cured for 18 months.

As the proscuitto ages it will darken.  Like the cheese and the balsamic, there is a rigorous
inspection process whereby each individual proscuitto is approved, stamped,
 individually numbered, and then released for sale.

 Finally....the last stop before it gets to the table.

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