How Many Kinds of Parmigiano Reggiano are out there?

There are really stringent laws governing what kind of cheese can be called Parmigiano Reggiano, so in fact the answer to the question should be: Only one kind – Parmesan cheeses produced in the regions which are covered by the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO (protected designation of origin). In reality, however, it is a little more complicated! Let me try to explain about the variations that can be found amongst cheeses that all proudly bear the PDO stamp which proclaims to the world that they are genuine Parmesan cheeses from the PDO region, which includes Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua and Bologna.

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It may surprise you to know that there are about 420 creameries within this designated region, and these “parmesan factories” receive their milk from over four thousand farms every day. Inevitably, there will be a large variation in the end product from all these dairies, due to the season, altitude, breed of cattle and expertise of the cheese-maker. Another factor that hugely influences the final cheese is the period of maturation; the minimum time required for a cheese to fulfil the stringent appellation requirements is 12months, but some cheese wheels spend up to 36 months in the maturation cellars, during which time there is a very noticeable change in the taste and character of the cheese.

Factors which influence the final product are:

Maturation: at 12 months this medium-fat semi-hard cheese will have a pale cream colour, taste slightly salty, slightly acid and slightly sweet, and have a wonderful nutty fragrance – Parmigiano is never a smelly cheese! There is a slight grainy texture, one of the distinctive characteristics of this King of Cheeses. At 18 months, the texture has changed as more crystals develop and the straw colour of the cheese is a shade darker; the flavour is becoming more savoury and the fragrance has become a little fruity. The flavours and aroma of the cheese continue to deepen and mature, and the colour gets progressively darker. By 30+ months the cheese is fully mature, a golden straw colour with many crystals and can have woody, spicy, and dried-fruit flavours on your palate. The rind will be really hard at this stage.

Altitude: At higher altitudes, the dairy herd has access to sweeter, greener grass (Parmigiano herds are never fed anything other than grass!) and purer water, resulting in the cheese from the mountains (Parmigiano di Montagna) having a subtly deeper flavour. Many cheese connoisseurs also believe that cheeses made in Spring and Autumn are also superior due to the improved feed at these times of the year. Since each wheel is date-stamped, it is easy for cheese buyers to select cheeses made at these time of the year.

The Herd: if you are faming cattle for the meat market you choose good beef producing breeds, and likewise milk producers for the famous Parmigiano cheese production rely on superior milk-producing cows. In this region the most favoured breed is the Alpine Brown, bred exclusively in the mountainous areas. Recently “red cows” as they are locally known are making a coming back. The Rossa di Parma is native cow of the area and it produces a superior milk. These animals produce the very best balance of quality and quantity of milk – a really superior product just perfect for the production of a really superior cheese.

So, to get back to the original question – there is only one type of cheese that may be called Parmigiano Reggiano, produced in the areas covered by the PDO, but within the parameters set there can be fairly wide variations in the appearance, aroma and taste (and price!) of your slice of Parmigiano.

Novemberpork Festival in Parma

The worst place on earth if you are a pig…

In the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, the humble pig is so revered that an entire month of festivals is dedicated to the gastronomic delights of pork. It is quite understandable! The pig provides the raw product for one of Italy’s most sought-after exports, Parma Ham, but the story of the pig does not end with Parma Ham, and at this month-long festival you will find out how many other great pork delicacies are produced in the region. There are also demonstrations of how the carcass is divided up and how all the various cuts are processed – this event is not for vegetarians, who should perhaps give this festival a miss and rather visit one of the many other attractions of the region!

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The symbol of Novemberpork – Zibello province of Parma

The November Pork festival, takes place each weekend for the month of November, and each stage is hosted by a different village along the Street of Culatello, (or the Pork Road), starting in Sissa, with “The Flavours of Pork” event. At each stage, the village butchers compete to produce the biggest, longest or heaviest product, which is why the competition is said to be the “greediest” of all food festivals in Italy.

Sissa – The annual “November Pork” fair starts in Sissa on the first weekend of November. On the Friday night there are live concerts and festivities and on the Saturday visitors are tempted by a market of typical products of the area, which include not only pork but also many organic products, fish, teas, spices and spirits. The music and entertainment continues late into the night. Sunday is the day everyone is waiting for – there are demonstrations of cheese making and the making of salamis and other pork products, before everyone gets to taste the giant Mariolone (a type of cooked salami) that the local butchers have been making all weekend.

Polesine Parmense – on the second weekend of the month the festival moves down the road to the village of Polesine Parmense, where it takes much the same form as the previous weekend, with music, dozens of market stalls and this time the star of the show is the Prete(Priest – this is made from the cured meat of the pork shoulder and knuckle, all rolled up in strips of pork rind into a triangular shape, reminiscent of a Priest’s hat) Usually it is a modest sized salami, but for this festival the butchers make the biggest one they can! It is baked and distributed(for free!) to everyone on the banks of the River Po. Of course, it is all washed down with a great local Fortana wine.

Zibello – is the village where the festivities take place on the third weekend, and this time the starring product is the Salame Strolghino; this is a “thin” salami, very delicate in flavour, traditionally made from the trimming of the large pear-shaped Culatello salami, which is locally known as the King of Salumi”. At November Pork, the local butchers of Zibello try to make the longest ever Strolghino to feed the many visitors. And I mean long…sometimes it can be up to several hundred metres!

Roccabianca – is the last village to host the November Pork competition and there are all sorts of extra events to mark the end of the celebrations. These include the “Pork Hot Feet” race, a Christmas Market and, of course, the tasting of the giant Cicciolata (this type of salami is more like a meat-loaf; it is made with some of the best pork cuts, generously flavoured with spices and then set in a loaf-shape, and served with hot polenta).

Each weekend, in addition to all the market stalls where you can buy local products, you can also visit regional restaurants, many of which feature special menus to showcase pork dishes from the region. Also in November, there is a black truffle festival in Parma, a Cheese Fair in Talamello(Rimini), and an olive oil festival in Ravenna, making November one of the very best times of the year to visit Emilia Romagna.

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Culatello hams produced in Zibello – 30 km from Parma

 

Edible Souvenirs from Emilia Romagna

No trip to Emilia Romagna, the gastronomic capital of Italy, would be complete without taking home some edible souvenirs! This is particularly the case if you have had time to attend a cookery class and learnt how to prepare some of the local specialities. Many of the wonderful ingredients that you can find on every street corner in this part of Italy are just not available outside the country, and if you are lucky enough to find the genuine article, it will cost a great deal more than here, where it is produced. Not only can you amaze your friends back home when you serve them some of the dishes, but these delectable edible souvenirs make great gifts for all your “foodie” friends! Here are some of the main treats to look out for when doing your shopping for food souvenirs, but I am sure you will find several others to add to this list.

Parmesan Cheese – the REAL thing! No doubt you will have been on a tour to see how Parmegiano-Reggiano is produced, and will know how to tell if the product you are buying is the genuine article. This is one of the most popular exports from the region and it is easy to take some home with you, as it can be transported for a short time without refrigeration.

Balsamic Vinegar – a beautiful syrupy aged Balsamic vinegar from Modena makes a wonderful food souvenir for yourself (it is rather pricey, but well-worth the extravagance), or a really special friend. You can buy Balsamic vinegars that have been aged for over 25 years, but a more modest 12 year-old product is more affordable and you should not leave without a few bottles of this truly artisanal product.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Brisighella – this is no ordinary Olive Oil, but a really special product produced in the hilly valleys of the Tosco-Romagnolo mountains, where geography and climate come together to produce ideal conditions for Olives. The resultant oil produced in this region has a very distinctive emerald green colour, low acidity and a wonderful mouth-feel. The oil exhibits a medium to strong fruitiness with a slightly bitter aftertaste with the distinct impression of herbs and almonds.

Nocino Liquor from Modena – a popular and delightful liquor made from unripe walnuts, originating in Modena. There are many versions of this tipple, and many local people make their own batch each year. The commercially available product makes a great gift or souvenir to take home with you.

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The making of nocino with unripe wallnuts. Source

Salt from Cervia – is another unique product to tuck into your suitcase. The salt flats of Cervia have been producing salt for centuries, by means of channelling the Mediterranean Sea water into a series of salt pans, where the water is allowed to evaporate naturally, producing a less-processed form of table salt which still retains traces of other minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium as well as iodine. It is a healthier and cleaner type of salt, and makes a great gift. The town also produces various other salt-related products, such as salt chocolates and several beauty preparations which also make interesting and unusual gifts for souvenirs.

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Tourists can visit the salt beds in Cervia – source

 

Supercars, Super Foods of Modena

Connoisseurs of wonderful cars and superb cuisine will find a holiday in the delightful medieval town of Modena in northern Italy most rewarding.  Modena and near-by Parma are the home of Italy’s greatest exports, Parma Ham, Parmesan Cheese, Balsamic vinegar and, of course, Ferrari and Maserati.  Plan your next holiday to include enough time in this region to get a true taste of some of the best that Italy has to offer.  Here are some of the attractions that you must include in your holiday plans.

Romanesque cathedral
Cathedral of Modena

Hombre Farm – Motorvalley Panini Collection Tour.

Matteo Panini is a young farmer in the region, one of many Parmesan cheese producers, who also happens to  have an amazing collection of motor vehicles which have been passed down to him from his illustrious family which included his father Umberto, who together with his brothers Benito, Franco and Guiseppe, invented the famous Panini stickers.

The motor collection started with tractors, which all farmers needed, and one of the exhibits is a 1934 Landini, still in perfect working order.  After tractors came motorcycles, the most common mode of transport after WWII, and after that came the wonderful cars, featuring examples from Maserati that are thought to be the most important collection of these super cars in the world.  In addition to Italian motor vehicles, there are also many examples from other countries such as British motorbikes from Norton, and even a Messerschmitt car and a Lotus!

A visit to the Hombre farm is an excellent family day trip.  First visit the dairy, where 12 wheels of Parmesan are produced daily, and then enjoy the motor museum.

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The Maserati Eldorado at the Panini Museum

Osteria Francescana

No culinary visit to Modena would be complete without having a meal at this wonderful restaurant, the brain-child of world-renowned chef Massimo Bottura, who grew up in Modena and developed his love of cooking by watching his mother prepare food.  Massimo has come a long way since then!  His food is a modern interpretation of classic Italian cuisine, but this chef, who has worked with some of the big names of the culinary world, such as Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrio (of El Bulli) is forever pushing the boundaries.  He won his first Michelin star in 2002, a second in 2006 and a third in 2011, as well as numerous other awards and distinctions.  This year, 2013, La Francescana came in 3rd of the 50 best restaurants in the world.  Of course you have to book well in advance, and of course it is expensive, but it is worth it!  His signature dish for 2013 is called Camouflage – a hare in the woods; it is made up of a thin layer of foie gras decorated with various powders composed of hare blood, chestnut and several herbs – perhaps this dish is not for everyone, but it is an example of the chefs’ innovation.  Of course, there are more conventional dishes to suit all palates.

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Chef Massimo Bottura at his restaurant La Francescana in Modena – Source

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Genuine Balsamic Vinegar has been produced in Modena for centuries, and is a unique artisanal product, completely unlike regular vinegar.  The basic ingredient is grape Must (juice) from predominantly Trebbiano grapes (sometimes with the addition of Lambrusco grapes).  The must is simmered (never boiled!) for a lengthy period to reduce and concentrate the liquid.  This liquid is then allowed to ferment and mature for a minimum of 12 years in the case on a “true” Balsamic.  This wonderful product, known as Black Gold, can sometimes be matured as long as 25 years and a new batch is traditionally started to mark the birth of a baby girl, and treasured to become a part of her dowry!  Balsamic vinegar should be used sparingly – just a drop or two to enhance a sliver of Parmesan or a slice of Parma Ham.  Make sure to visit one of the Balsamic producers of Modena during your visit to learn the process of the production, learn how to use it, taste the wonderful nectar and, of course, buy some to take home with you to remind you of Modena.

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Anyone For Venice? Your In-depth Guide To The Floating City

What you have to know about a trip to Venice

Ah Venice, it doesn’t seem real. The fairy city of the heart, an exquisite jumble of palaces, spires and turrets in the middle of a lagoon. But when you get there, enjoying Europe’s floating city can hit you hard in the wallet. As The Telegraph reports, “Venice is expensive, there’s no getting away from that. And the most expensive parts of most people’s budget when they visit the city is the hotel and cost of eating out.” They suggest with a little know-how on where to look and how to book, you can take the pain out of your hip pocket. To help you make the most of La Serenissima for a lot less, read these tips about how to stay afloat – financially speaking that is – in Venice.

When to go

Not in the summer basically. It’s jam-packed, prices rocket and it’s actually not as nice. Venice doesn’t get as stinky as it used to but it is more likely to be whiffy in the odd canal and queues for museums and the Doge’s Palace become much lengthier in the warmer months. November is an ideal time to visit, with mists rising from the canals. January is lovely too, a treat in the post-New Year slump.

Popular blogger mymelange.net says: “The landscape becomes hauntingly beautiful, with fog permeating the city and the chance of snowfall at any minute. If you like photography, this is a perfect place to capture the lightly grayed, slanted light of Venice – winter produces eerie, yet spectacular images.”

October to February is high water season, known by Venetians as ‘acqua alta’, even though flooding can occur at any time of year. But the locals are used to it, and so are the authorities, quickly adding board ‘bridges’ in the streets when the waters rise. In November 2012, some tourists made a virtue out of necessity and took a dip in St Mark’s Square – it made for quite a sight.

What to take

Wellies, warm clothes, money and a map…

  • Wellies or strong waterproof boots because of the acqua alta.
  • Warm clothes to protect you from the icy winds that rise from the Adriatic and whip through the alleys.
  • Italyheaven advises: “Although there may be sunny days, the weather is likely to be grey and can be freezing. Venice gets very cold in winter, with a bitter edge to the damp air. You’ll need lots of layers of clothing and a hat.”
  • Money and plastic, because even with my tips, you will be spending it. Will Thomas from Tuxedo Money Solutions says that its currency cards are gaining popularity with holiday-makers as well as business travellers. “Carry one of our pre-loaded cash cards on your trip,” he said. “They are simple to set up and load with the amount you want.”
  • A map. You can pick up free basic maps from many hotels, tourist attractions and travel terminals but it’s worth investing a few euros in a proper street-by-street map. Getting lost is part of the charm of a visit to Venice, but eventually you’ll want to find your hotel and a warming hot chocolate.

What to do

Walk, walk, walk. Venice itself is a work of art, almost every corner, doorway or rooftop offers a faded frieze, religious symbol or quirky window.

Enjoy the churches. Many charge a small entrance fee but it’s a small price to pay to see works of art by Titian and other Venetian artists in situ. A group of churches has a joint entry scheme www.chorus.org and you can buy a year-long pass for €9, allowing one visit to each of the sixteen participating.

For the Vaporetto, museums, churches, anything except your coffee, buying a multipass can really save you cash. Venice’s civic museums’ museum pass costs €18 and includes entry into the best attractions including the Doge’s Palace. This is a must in the eternal city. As Lonely Planet writes: “Don’t be fooled by its genteel Gothic elegance: underneath all that lacy pink cladding, the palace flexes serious muscle. The seat of Venice’s government for nearly seven centuries, this powerhouse survived wars, conspiracies and economic crashes, and was cleverly restored by Antonio da Ponte, who also designed Ponte di Rialto [the Rialto Bridge}, after a 1577 fire.”

St Mark’s Square must be seen to be believed. Napoleon called it the ‘finest drawing room in Europe’. Its cafes are notoriously expensive but it costs nothing to wander the vast space, admire the architecture and listen to the cafe orchestras and hum of languages being spoken.

Top tip: If you have a coffee and snack at a cafe bar counter, it’s cheaper than if you sit at a table. And you feel more like an Italian. Maybe time it just before you take your water bus or taxi to another part of the city and give your legs a rest while you’re afloat.

The famous La Fenice is well worth a visit, though ironically (or is it just unfortunately) for a place named after the phoenix, it burnt down in 1836 and again in 1996. Veniceonline.it tells of how much Venetians felt the loss of their theatre: “For months a lot of people did a pilgrimage to the theatre, put the flowers, crying, put messages, it looked like if a real person was died …. very, very strange …” Now though, La Fenice has been lovingly restored and is a lovely destination to while away a winter afternoon. You may even catch a member of the orchestra rehearsing in the pit.

When you’ve had enough of ancient beauties, check out some modern wonders at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in a stunning white palace at the end of the Grand Canal, it houses works by modern artists on the Grand Canal. View works by Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst and Anish Kapoor.

Where to stay

The Telegraph recommends Residenza de l’Osmarin – a cheap b&b in a great location, featuring an elegant décor and a private roof terrace with wonderful views of the city. East of St Mark’s square, L’Osmarin is close to Venice’s main thoroughfares but set just far enough off them to feel secluded and quiet.

I love the four-star Hotel Giorgione in the Cannaregio district, which is a historical house in Venice. The staff are delightful and there is free tea, coffee and biscuits provided in the lobby all afternoon. Ideal for UK visitors needing a cup that cheers after a day pounding the streets. It’s less than five minutes to the Rialto Bridge and less than fifteen to St Mark’s Square.

BA offers good deals on flights and hotel deals to the city at certain times throughout the winter, though you’ll have to make your own way from the airport to the city. Treat yourself to a water taxi and pull up to your hotel landing platform -if it has one – in style.

Featured images:
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://photodune.net

London-based lifestyle journalist and travel writer Sarah Thompson loves to explore European cities by foot. An intrepid traveller, Sarah is keen to share her tips on making travel safer, easier and less stressful, though she has to admit to getting lost in Venice frequently and happily. Aside from a love of pounding the pavements of the world’s greatest cities, Sarah also loves to settle down in her favourite armchair with a book. Read more of Sarah’s articles in publications that appear online and in print.

What Food Factories can I visit in Italy?

Everyone loves Italian food!  Wherever you go in the world, even in unlikely places such as Thailand and Malaysia, both of which have their own wonderful regional cuisine, you will find Italian restaurants, and most people cook at least one Italian staple, pasta, on a regular basis at home.  It follows that if you are visiting Italy, you will want to explore the origins of some of your favourite Italian dishes and ingredients.

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Food factories in Emilia Romagna.

A visit to the Emilia-Romagna region of north-eastern Italy will give you the opportunity to visit the production houses of some of Italy’s best-loved and most famous foods.  The region is easily accessed from Bologna or Florence and the prized foods are made in and around the towns of Parma and Modena.
The three main foods you can see being manufactured from scratch are Prosciutto di Parma (Parma Ham), Parmigiano  Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese) and Aceto Balsamico (Balsamic vinegar).  These three products are the most famous of Italy’s food exports and are known far and wide.  Visitors to the region will be pleased to know that Parma and Modena are quite close to each other which makes it really easy to visit these 3 factories in one day, and still have time to sip some local Lambrusco (sparkling red wine from the region) before the sun sets.  

Food Experiences tours around Bologna and Parma.

The best way to visit all these factories is to go on an organised Culinary Tour, either using your own transport or, better yet, being collected at your hotel and driven around – this way you get to see more of the beautiful countryside.
The town of Parma is the home of Parmesan Cheese and Parma Ham (only Prosciutto from this little part of Italy may be called Parma Ham – likewise with the cheese – their region of origin is protected and similar products from other regions may not use the names.)   A typical culinary tour to see the production of these products will start with a visit to one of the many Parmesan Cheese manufacturers in and around the town of Parma.  The Parmesan production starts anew every single day, and you can watch the entire process from the arrival of the milk, to the storage in the cellars.  You will also be taught how to differentiate between real Parmesan and copies, which is very helpful when you get back home.
After the cheese, you will go to Modena to see how the Balsamic vinegar, Italian “Black Gold” is made.  This is a laborious artisanal procedure and you will leave with a better understanding of why the real thing is so expensive.  You will also get to taste, and learn some of the correct uses of this delicious condiment.
The cherry on the top of your tour will be when you visit the little town of Langhirano, just south of Parma, which is the original home of Parma Ham.  At the factory you will be guided through all the stages of producing a fine Parma Ham, which differs in some respects from ordinary Prosciutto Cotto (Dried Ham).  The proof of the pudding is in the eating, they say, and you will end your tour with a tasting session and then go on to enjoy a fabulous lunch.  

Winery tours in the Emilia Region

If you have a little more time, consider visiting some of the vineyards where the lovely regional Lambrusco is produced.  A leisurely day driving through the peaceful Italian countryside and visiting some of the wineries will round-off your culinary adventure perfectly.  Culinary tours can be tailor-made to suit your needs – just speak to your tour company.
farmer-lunch-in-modena

How to take the Bologna/Parma Food Tour with your own Car.

Going on a culinary tour of the Bologna/Parma area of Emilia Romagna should be a must on the itinerary of any food lover visiting Italy. The towns and villages around Bologna and Parma are the bread-basket of northern Italy and are home to the producers of the majority of famous Italian food exports such as Parma Ham (prosciutto di Parma), Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) and real Balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico). A typical culinary tour of the region will take you to see how all three of these products are made and give you the opportunity to taste them, followed by a lunch featuring the specialities of the region.

parmesan cheese ageing for 12 months
Rows of cheese in Italy – Modena

Parma hams visits in Parma, Make sure you have a GPS.

These tours generally start in Bologna, with an early-morning (7.30 am) departure, to be sure you get to the cheese manufacturer in time for the once-a-day morning tour, and you will be returned to Bologna after lunch. However, if you are not based in Bologna, it would probably suit you far better to do the tour in your own car. This option has many advantages, which will become evident as you read on. This is how do go about it.
Rent a car and GPS. You probably already have a rental car…it is by far the best way to see the many attractions of the Italian countryside. Be sure to request a GPS…all the producers are situated in rural areas, and can be really tricky to find.

Meet your guide.

Meet your tour guide at a pre-determined location near Modena, Parma or Bologna. This will save you a lot of time, as you can choose a location near the first stop of your tour. It is really important to have a guide to ensure you get the best out of your day; Our guides know the area and the producers extremely well and will be invaluable, especially if you do not speak Italian. They will also ensure that all visits that require advanced bookings will be organised well in advance to save you time.
The Culinary Tour will start with a visit to one of the 1600 Parmesan cheese producers, where the production process starts early every single morning of the year, and where you will be able to see the entire process from the raw milk to the finished product and the maturation cellars. From here you will move on to Modena, to see how the wonderful aged Balsamic vinegar is made, and learn why this product is so superior, and how to use it correctly.

Then it’s back into your car and on to Langhirano, south of Parma to visit a Parma Ham producer. Once again, you will have the opportunity to see the full production process and, best of all, get to taste the wonderful end-product. The tour will end will lunch, where you can savour Prosciutto de Parma and other regional cured meats before trying some of the traditional pasta of the region, followed by dessert and coffee.

This is the point where the full benefit of doing the tour in your own rental car becomes evident! Instead of being returned to Bologna, you have the freedom to spend the rest of your day enjoying the many pleasures of Parma and Modena. Now you will say goodbye to your guide and have time to explore on your own.

Both Modena and Parma are very charming and characteristic Italian towns, full of churches, art, architecture and interesting shops. Stroll around the piazza in Modena and visit the wonderful fresh food market (Mercato Albinelli) to shop for your supper, or sit at one of the outside cafes and enjoy an espresso while you watch the world go by. Ferrari fans could go to Maranello and visit the Ferrari Museum, while if culture is more to your liking you could visit the beautiful Romanesque Cathedral. Finish off a perfect day with a glass of local Lambrusco.

detail of parma hams
prosciutto di Parma

 

Discover Bra Cheese Festival in Piedmont, Italy

Every second year, during the third weekend of September, the little medieval town of Bra in Piedmont, Italy is transformed into a place of hedonistic delight for cheese aficionados from all over the world.  The Bra Cheese festival is organised by Slow Food, and is devoted to showcasing everything to do with cheese.  The emphasis of the show is to draw attention to Slow Foods ideals of preserving biodiversity and returning to Artisanal food.  In the case of cheese making, quality cheeses are lovingly hand-made, using age-old methods and raw milk.

gorgonzola

The entire town of Bra participates in this weekend of gastronomy; the streets are lined with stalls and thronged with visitors who come to taste and buy some of the superb cheeses and other foods on sale.  But it is not just about the tasting; you can get to meet some of the farmers and cheese makers, and there are many educational workshops running every day, including some specifically designed for children.
Although the emphasis is on local cheeses and cheese makers, there is also an opportunity to taste some artisan cheeses from other parts of the world.  Gourmet offerings are not restricted to cheese, and visitors have the chance to visit stalls where other artisanal foods such as Prosciutto, (Dried, cured ham), wild Ethiopian coffee beans, pastas, pizzas and even beers are showcased and available to taste.
There is a lot to see and do!  The list of daily events (which you can download from the Slow Food website) runs to 6 pages, just for the first day!  If you are spending the weekend in or around Bra you need to do some carefully planning to attend all the workshops that interest you, and which range from ethical farming practices and animal welfare, to artisan breweries, to making jams and preserves.  Most of the workshops and tastings are free, but in a few cases a small charge is levied which is donated to a special Slow Food cause, such as the Thousand Gardens in Africa project.
The festivities and eating carry on well into the night!  From 8.30 pm you can join one of the Dinner Date venues for supper, if you still have space.  The event closes at 11pm each night so that you can get some sleep before starting all over again the next day.

Bra

What you need to know:
“Cheese” is a very popular event and you need to book well in advance if you want to find accommodation near the town.  During the event, the roads leading into Bra are closed and shuttles operate to take you from the car parks to the festival area. (Parking and shuttles are free!)  In addition to all the foods and cheeses, there is a large beer and wine tasting section.  Workshops and cookery courses should be booked well in advance.

Opera at the Arena – a Good Reason to Visit Verona in Italy

Are you an Opera lover?  If so, make a point to put Verona on your must-visit list between June and August!  Every year during the summer, Verona stages a full program of wonderful Opera presented in the most fantastic venue, the Verona Arena.  To understand how wonderful it would be to attend your favourite opera in this outstanding venue, let me tell you a little about the Arena.

Arena di Verona
The arena in Verona – source

 

The Arena, Verona.

The Verona Arena dates from Roman times, and is a huge amphitheater in the Piazza Bra in the Italian city of Verona.  This amphitheater is one of the best preserved of all the ancient Roman arenas in the world, and is just the perfect setting for Opera.  This huge structure has weathered many a storm since it was first built in AD30 on a site which was then outside the city walls.  At that time it was so famous for the shows and games presented there that it attracted visitors from all over Italy and beyond, and it was able to seat more than 30 000 spectators.  The entertainment of those times consisted of cruel gladiator sports, and when these were banned by the emperor Honorius in 404AD, the Arena stood unused and neglected for many centuries. The Arena survived a huge earthquake in 1117 which destroyed all but four of the original circle of arches that formed the top storey of the facade, built from beautiful pink and white limestone from Valpolicella, but luckily the inner core of the structure survived intact, and this is where today’s operas are staged.

Opera at The Arena

What better back-drop could you wish for when staging an opera than a genuine Roman amphitheatre?  In addition, the Arena has wonderful acoustics, and microphones to improve the sound were only introduced as recently as 2011.  As you can imagine, people come from all over the country to visit the opera at the Arena, and tickets go on sale up to a year before the annual event.  However, do not despair if you happen to find yourself in Verona at short notice; you can purchase a ticket for one of the un-numbered seats on the day of a particular show for less than €30, but this is always subject to availability and it would be much wiser to visit the official website and book tickets for your favourite opera well in advance.  The 2014 season starts with “Un Ballo in Maschera” on Friday 20th June 2014, and is followed by Carmen, Aida, Turandot,  and others, and ends with the most popular of all, Madame Butterfly and Romeo and Juliet on the 5th and 6th of September 2014.  Book now at:
www.arena.it

The city of Verona.

Verona is a splendid Romanesque city and there are plenty of other things to do there if Opera does not appeal to you; visit famous Casa di Guilietta (House of Juliet) – (Shakespeare so admired Verona that Romeo and Juliet was set in the city), or visit Piazza delle Erbe to wander around the markets or sit at a pleasant cafe and enjoy an ice-cream (gelati) while you watch the world go by and be sure to see the Duomo, the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore and the lovely Italian gardens of Giardino Guisti.  The city is also a good base from which to visit some wineries to see where some great Soaves and Valpolicellas are made.  Lastly, be sure to taste a Baci di Guiletta (Juliet’s Kisses) before you leave – delicious biscuits dedicated to Juliet and found in pastry shops all over the city.

Verona and Arena tour.

Emilia Delizia would be delighted to organise a guided tour of Verona that focuses on the history,, wines and food of the town. Our company can also organise guided tours of the Arena for those interested in learning more about the building and the performances.

 

Discover the Flavours of Istria: Truffles, Olive Oil and Wine!

Croatia…to most people the name of this country will conjure up images of kilometres of beautiful coastline, brilliant beaches and bays, and sparkling azure water – the perfect place to go for a beach holiday. But lovely Croatia is not just about beaches and the ocean, and visitors will be delighted to discover that Croatia, and the Istria Peninsula in particular, is also home to a particularly good history of gastronomy. Istria is most famous for the wonderful truffles that come from the Motovun forests, but there is still more…! The region is also a producer of excellent Olive Oil and several Istrian wines that are starting to make a name for themselves in the international marketplace. Add to these the other elements of this very healthy Mediterranean diet, such as air-dried Istrian prosciutto (cured ham) and the enormous variety of seafood which is readily available all along the coast, and you have all the elements of a feast!

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Istrian beaches are the best known features in the area

Truffles: In Istria, the truffle (tartufi) is king! In fact, the very largest truffle ever found in the world came from this region and weighed over 1.3kg! The most sought-after truffle is the more elusive white truffle, but both white and black truffles are eagerly “hunted” from late summer to early winter, using specially trained sniffer dogs or pigs to indicate where these gems are hiding beneath the soil in the Motovun forests. To learn all there is to know about truffles and to taste some of the best truffle dishes, you should try to visit Istria when one of the truffle festivals is on, usually during October and November.

Olive Oil: Istrian Olive Oil has been produced in the region for hundreds of years, since Roman times, and has a delightful delicate flavour, making it especially suitable to add to other Mediterranean foods to enhance, rather than over-power. Beautiful Olive Oils are produced all over Istria, but predominantly in the north western parts, and the best way to find your particular favourite oil would be to go on an Olive-Oil tasting tour.

Wine: What would good food be like without a good wine to accompany it? Luckily, in Istria you need not worry, as there is plenty of great wine to enjoy with your food. Wine has also been produced in Istria for centuries, since the Romans began the tradition. Recently wine-producing methods have been modernized and Istrian wines are ready to make their mark internationally. It is believed that the unique soil found in Istria is responsible for the quality of the delicious Malvazija Whites and rich Teran Reds produced here. The best way to find your personal favourites is to get onto the wine-roads and taste, taste, taste!

Grilled meats and fishes.

Once you are in Istria you will soon discover that the dishes are mostly cooked according the Mediterranean tradition that demands for grilling. Huge fireplaces with spit roast facility are very common in Croatia. In fact along busy road it is not uncommon to see the grilling of whole pigs that will be served at the nearby restaurant. But the grill is not reserved for meat you can eat BBQ ordada (sea bream), and sardelle (sardines), and as the Croatian will say: Adriatic fish is the best. Enjoy.

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spit roast pork is ubiquitous in istria

Some Traditional Istrian Dishes to Try:

Before you leave you have to try some of the delicious specialities of the region: Beautiful Prsut ( Istrian air-dried prosciutto) is often served thinly sliced with some of the very traditional local sheep cheese as a starter…just wonderful accompanied by a glass of Malvazija. One of the most popular ways of enjoying the fabulous truffles is to grate some fresh truffle over eggs, Pasta or a grilled steak; the latter should be teamed with a glass of Teran, for a true taste of Istria. Also very popular is fresh shell fish of all descriptions and calamari. All of these are often combined in a seafood stew or added to a risotto – famous black risotto includes squid- ink and is a delicious speciality. Enjoy with a fruity Malvazija. Salute!