Day 20: Near Modena
POTD: Two: Dois(Duas)
Weather: Pleasant in the mountains to warm at night
Couple of very famous b’days today! DB goes up one more on the charts and Bob turns 75.
THB and DB are up for a walk and to kick-off DB’s birthday dining with more of those great croissants with coffee and fresh fruit.
Today the group is visiting several local food manufacturers of varying sizes. At the first stop, a parmesan cheese factory, we’re met by Massimo. In the spring and summer he runs a local small hotel and aids with organizing various local stops. We’re in the Apennines (App-ah-knee-knees), and it is a glorious clear spring day. Massimo closes down in the winter as tourism slows down and skiing starts up.
The parmesan cheese factory is in the process of converting to a more upscale brand: organic, local cows, more prestigious. We meet the president of the cooperative, the cheese master, and our tour is led by a woman who helps with the regulations (all food-related businesses in Italy appear to be severely regulated) and exporting.
|Middle and bottom grades|
We see giant blobs of cheese being lifted out of the whey bath, wrapped in a stencil that helps detail the identity of the cheese, how the cheese is stored in a salt bath, how the cheese master determines quality (light taps for sound around the surface), and finally the huge storage racks for finishing the aging (12 or 18 months, THB can’t remember, for the first stamp). For export to the US the cheeses need to be aged another 6 months because they are made with un-pasteurized milk, and then they’ll get another stamp.
|B'day girl wearing a freebie|
Finally the cheese master shows his ability to halve one of these 20 kilo behemoths and we get a taste. Salty…and great with a drop of balsamic vinegar (of sufficient quality). There appear to be three levels of cheese: the top one that gets an official stamp on top of the stencil (two if export variety), a tweener that has the stencil partially scraped off, and the bottom where the stencil is obliterated. In the tour they only tell us about the top and bottom, one of the Canadian brothers figures out the middle ranking.
As they ramp up the factory for the new brand, we see the storage facility: when it is full it will hold upwards 25,000 of these 20 kilo rounds. That’s a lot of cheese!
Massimo leads us to the second stop of the day, a small village with an old church where frescos from the 1400s were discovered 50 years ago. They are quite beautiful.
The guy who unlocks the church is the owner of an extremely small candy producer.
First we get a demo of how the “master decorator” produces sculptures out of what is somewhat like Bit-oh-Honey (for those of you who remember these old candys), a “seed” like concoction which is made with the hazelnuts growing just down the way.
|Part of the tasting|
AHHHHHHHHHHH, now for the tasting, and there are some mighty fine choices. THB and DB decide to buy a few packages of the hazelnut and chocolate wafers and a few jars of Nutella (and think maybe we’re also buying another suitcase to help lug all our purchases home). There was a substantial number of other items tested for market readiness. Too many are ready!
|She's a woman of many hats on her big day|
The group remounts the van for the third stop of the morning: a prosciutto processor. The 4th generation owner, Julianna, leads the tour and Massimo translates (with the Canadians helping, they all speak Italian). We start with the hams (from the back legs of the pig only) being de-salted, then hung for additional aging. The hams are trimmed, deboned, sliced into two pieces, and then further trimmed until you have the final product.
Julianna’s family just happens to run a restaurant where we have lunch. Donna kicks off the lunch with a nice reverse toast about how happy she is to be here celebrating her birthday. Fortunately, Bob isn’t playing in the background.
Considering we just spent an hour studying how a pig leg turns into prosciutto, lunch starts with a primarily veggie pasta, served al dente. Then comes the prosciutto in two styles (more and less aged versions, seems like the Italians like the 30-40 month version and the export market prefers the 24 month – and lighter- style). The prosciutto is served with “crumpets” that come out hot from the oven. THB is not wild about them, they are too “wet” eaten while warm and don’t seem to have all that much flavor. Of course, there’s plenty of wine to accompany the meal, and strawberries for dessert.
Massimo now leads us to the (re-instated) old castle, owned by a guy that was a big general that helps keep the Turks out of Europe. Amazingly, after he went off to war in the 1500s, the family castle fell out use. It’s got an amazing view of the mountains and valleys, and now is an art gallery and site for weddings.
A goodbye to Massimo and, at last, a return to Opera02 (much snoozing accomplished on the van) and a quick dip for THB.
Shots from the dinner site;
Dinner is in another one of these event castles, this one very close to the hotel. Departure issues we’re outlined by THB in the last post: half the group seemed desperate for alcohol, which is okay if the desperation is satisfied during their own time. Instead, half of us were made to wait twice before dinner finally kicked off.
Dinner was at a large square table. That tended to make table discussion with the person on your right or left, the table was too large to facility much more than that. DB talked a lot to the middle Canadian bro and THB talked a lot to the guide who works for a local Berkeley restaurant and whose husband is from this region. THB got some info on how challenging it is to run a small business, especially with the coming of a higher minimum wage on the way.
Dinner included a green salad (lightly dressed), grilled veggies, pasta with peas, tomatoes, and prosciutto on top of pea sauce, overdone pork loin smothered in a balsamic sauce, an amaretto parfait (pretty decent), a mediocre couple of white wines and a San Giovasse red not from the area (remember, still wine is not the forte of the area). Back to the hotel at midnight (and the next morning we learn that the other 10 stayed up for another hour drinking).
Shots from the day, and one last sunset: