May 30, 2010

The King of Cheese!

Today is Sunday and was another laid back kind of day. I slept until noon. Took a shower for 2 hours. Ate breakfast and found a live slug in my strawberries. (that's what I get for not washing them) :) Then I tried to download the movie 'When in Rome' on fast pass tv but it was moving slow I just turned it off. Then my friend Christine and I went to get some pizza and gelato for dinner. Last night as we were roaming in Rome trying to find a good gelateria, we stumbled upon a little place right near our apartment that had the most AMAZING gelato I have ever had! I have had gelato about 5 times since we have been here and every time I wasn't too impressed. I mean it is delicious, but it tasted just like ordinary ice cream. But last night, oh my, it was just so yum. :)
So I am going to continue the adventures from my Northern trip. In the previous post I talked about Pienza (Tuscany). After we left Tuscany, we headed to Florence.
Florence is a beautiful city with very exciting architecture.
It is hard to think of a place that's more closely linked to one specific historical period than Florence. In the 15th century the city was at the center of an artistic revolution, later labeled the Renaissance, which changed the way people see the world. Five hundred years later, the Renaissance remains the reason people see Florence- the abundance of treasures is mind-boggling. Present day Florentines have a somewhat uneasy relationship with their city's past; the never ending stream of tourists is something they seem to tolerate more than embrace. Still, they pride themselves on living well, and that means one will find exceptional restaurants and first-rate shopping to go with all of the amazing art found in Florence.
As soon as we arrived in Florence, we checked in at our hotel.
Hotel Castri:

After we were checked in, we had a quick Arch lecture and then went to eat dinner.

Suprisingly, even though Florence is known for fancy specialty things, the food at this restaurant was not too good. It was ok, but not as wonderful as the many other things that I have had.

Before we even came to Florence, all Dr. Probart would talk about was this sacrificial beef that we NEEDED to taste. I think the students made it known to her that we weren't very fond of the idea and that she didn't need to fit this VERY expensive meat into our budget. But she insisted. She was so excited that we had the pleasure to come in contact with this kiania (not sure if that is spelled correctly) sacrificial beef.

When the chef came rolling this beef out on the cart, I said "ew!" (in my head, of course). As he was cutting the meat, we were being told in the background by Dr. Probart, the history of this young cow that we were about to consume. It was sad. Anyway, I did not eat it because it was dripping with red blood. As I said before, Italians do not eat their red meat 'well done.' It is literally just sauteed on both sides just to give a little brown color. I couldn't eat this sacrificial cow.

But here is the chef that served it to us:

Here is the sacrificial cow:

Is your mouth watering yet?

We had about 15 courses here but it was served so fast, Ididn't take pictures of everything. We had cannelini beans, panzanella salad (the bread salad), 2 different types of bread soups (tomato and spinach), and this for dolce:

After dinner, we walked around Florence with Dr. Probart and Romolo to learn about the architecture around the city.

This beautiful building is called The Duomo, Florence's biggest masterpiece. It was huge. And such intricate elegantly designed carvings within and on the outside.

It is the centerpiece of Florence, it is really called the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but it is better known as the Duomo.

The Duomo's construction began in 1296, following the design of Arnolfo da Cambio, Florence's greatest architect of the time. By modern standards, construction was slow and haphazard- it continued through the 14th and into the 15th century, with some dozen architects having a hand in the project.

In 1366, Neri di Fioravanti created a model for the hugely ambitious cupola, it was to be the largest dome in the world, surpassing Rome's Pantheon. But when the time finally came to build the dome in 1418, no one was sure how or even if it could be done. Florence was faced with a 143-ft hole in the roof of its cathedral, and one of the greatest challenges in the history of architecture.

Fortunately, local genius Filippo Brunelleschi was just the man for the job. For the next 18 years, he oversaw its construction. The enormity of his achievements can hardly be overstated. Working on such a large scale (the dome weighs 37,000 tons and uses 4 million bricks) required him to invent hoists and cranes to get the job done.

There is so much to say about this Duomo, but I won't bore you too much. :) It is just an amazing piece of architecture.

After our lecture at the Duomo, we were free to walk around on our own.

Here are some pretty shots of Florence:

These used to be old houses along here? I am not going to say that is a definite, but it is now filled with jewelry stores.

I see this in almost every city we travel to. They are locks of love. When couples travel to these cities, they leave a lock with their names written or engraved into the lock. Cute idea.

Amore eternal love.

During my Northern trip, we had some extra time to do more traveling after our last stop in Parma and a majority of the group was heading back to Florence, some were going back to Roma, and others were go bungie jumping. Since a majority of the group was heading back to Florence, that is what I did too because I am a chicken and will not bungie jump...maybe skydive, but not bungie jump. ;) Anyways, going back to Florence was no fun and I (and everyone else) was wanting to be back in Rome the entire time we were there. Although, seeing the David was really cool. We spent too much in travel costs and hostel. Maybe that was a hint that I should have gone to the Swiss Alps to bungie jump for 200 euros?! haha. just kidding.

After Florence, we headed to Modena. The city of aceto balsamico. Aceto Balsamico Di Modena.

Modena is home to Aceto Balsamico, a species of balsamic vinegar unparalleled anywhere else on Earth. The balsamic vinegar that you have probably tried- even the pricier versions sold at specialty stores, may be good on salads, but it bears only a fleeting resemblance to the REAL thing.

The tradizionale vinegar that passes strict government standards is made with Trebbiano grape must, which is cooked over an open fire, reduced, and fermented from 12 to 25 or more years in a series of specially made wooden casks. As the vinegar becomes more concentrated, so much liquid evaporates that it takes more than 6 gallons of must to produce one quart of vinegar 12 years later.

The result is an intense and syrupy concoction best enjoyed sparingly on grilled meats, strawberries, or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

We saw this aceto balsamico being made in this family's home. Below is the daughter and the mother. Families in Italy that plan on having children will start to cook and ferment their aceto balsamico when the child is born and usually by the time the child is ready to get married, that balsamic vinegar gets passed onto his/her family and the tradition continues.

The father, the mother, and the daughter. Look at Dr. Probart's face! haha.

The outside of their home. The inside was gorgeous. The floors were so unique and she had a huge and lovely kitchen. I would have taken pictures of the downstairs of their house, but I didn't want to be rude. :)

Aceto balsamico is aged always in the attic. This is the attic of their home where they create this wonderful concoction. See all of the wooden casks that the cooked grapes are fermented into?

These were the bottles that we sampled from. We tasted the young balsamic which was aged for 12 years, the older balsamic which was aged for 25 years, and a cherry balsamic which she suggested goes wonderful with vanilla ice cream. It was all so good! It is also all natural, just grapes. No added ingredients (besides natural fruits like the cherries for the cherry balsamico), no pesticides, no added sugar, water, etc. It is a DOP product here in Italy which means it is the real thing.

More pictures of the wooden casks:

I bought some of this aceto balsamico for everyone to try at home, it was really expensive and I can't believe how much I spent on balsamic vinegar, but it was worth it. Just wait and you'll taste for yourself. :)

After the balsamico tasting we headed to the hotel for our night stay in Modena.

But before we got to the hotel...we got pulled over by the polizia!

Our poor bus driver got a ticket for running a red light. Who knew! The drivers in Roma do it all the time! I guess not in Modena, they are more strict about their policies.

Our bus driver getting his ticket :(

(yes, I had to walk all the way to the back of the bus so that I could capture this moment)

Our hotel in Modena:

Once we reached our hotel, we ate the leftover aged cheese from the day before and bread for lunch. Then we went for a stroll around the tiny town of Modena.

An olive stand that I found. I love olives!

Who does this remind you of? Penelope! Oh, how I miss her.

More locks of love.

Our first course from dinner in Modena. It was soo good.

The fly in my wine. Can you see it?


After Modena, we traveled to Parma! Home of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese! Also known as the King of Cheese here in Italy.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a granular cheese produced around parts of the Po River in northern Italy. It is a hard, cooked cheese, made with both the morning and evening milk. One can get mesmerised by the whirling curds and sniffing the scent of fresh milk.

La Traversetolese.

The factory that the parmigiano reggiano is produced in. We all had to suit up in white outfits, bonnets, and blue booties before we headed in. Sorry, no pic, my camera died before I even thought to take a shot of me in my cutesy factory outfit.

The huge and very deep copper bowls that the milk curd is heated in.

While the curd is heated, it isn't pasteurized, which means that the character of the milk is left intact.

Skimmed milk is placed into these copper-lined basins and then cultured, heated, and then whizzled with a machine that looks like a small motor. The cheesemakers dip their hands into the basins and feel for the granular texture of the curd to make sure it's just right.

They then lift the curd into the cheesecloth. Each vat's curd is gathered with care into a single cloth, cut in half, drained over the whey in two cheesecloths and placed into moulds.

The cheesemakers putting the parm cheese into its famous shaped moulds.

Dr. Probart said that the women here in Italy look for the cheesemakers for their husbands because they are strong and have soft silky hands from being in the cheese curd/whey all day long.

The huge wheels are then placed in a salty brine for the better part of the month.

They are then stored in this storeroom and are stacked on shelves that tower over the cheesemaker. The parmigiano is aged for at least a year, usually 2.

Every 2 weeks they are turned and wiped clean. While this was once done by hand, a machine now works its way up and down each row automatically.

At some time towards the end of each parmigiano's maturation, professional testers take each cheese and hit them all over with a small hammer. An expert ear can pick up faint hollow sounds, a sign of cracks or faults in the cheese, and if it doesn't meet a certain standard, it is rejected. It is not thrown out, but rather taken home for the families of the cheesemakers.

The Parmigiano reggiano are marked on the rind with their name, the producer and the consortium that oversees their production as well as the date. The consortium checks every cheese before it is sold.

Every wheel is worth a pile of money so there is a lot of fraud to counter. To be sure you're getting the real thing, never buy pre-grated cheese, and always buy a wedge where you can see the distinctive marks on the rind.

At the end of our tour, we got to taste some fresh parmigiano reggiano. It was extremely salty but very delicious.

The hard cheese is used all over Italy for grating onto pasta and in other savoury dishes or even as a table cheese.

One of the greatest of all of the world's cheeses! That is why it is called the King of Cheese!

Coming up: Visit to Volpetti's, Pompeii and Paestum (southern trip)!

Tomorrow is back to the routine of classes, my new nutrition class starts tomorrow! I am not all caught up on here with my adventures like I wanted to be, but I will be tomorrow!

Love and kisses.


1 comment:

Luv, Momma said...

Wow! What an experience. Thank you for eloquently sharing! Would be nice to share with you ... this is the next best thing! :-)