Friday, June 20, 2014

Emilia Romagna-Post 2

The beginnings of Parmesan cheese
Two solid masses form per vat
Mention the city of Parma, Italy, and food immediately comes to mind—Parmesan cheese and Parma ham, that is!  Our first destination was to one of several authorized Parmigiana Reggiana plants in the Emilia Romagna region...and the cheese wheel cannot bear the official “Parmigiana Reggiana” stamp imprinted unless it IS produced in this region and moreover passes various inspections levied during the production process.  We watched as workers turned the result of two days of milking into 36 wheels of cheese that evolved through coagulation from large masses of cheese product floating in huge vats, to balls formed in sack cloth and suspended over the vats for shaping.  Each ball weighs about 75 pounds!  The final shape takes place in heavy round disks in which the almost-wheel is turned over and pressed down for one day before moving to the next step:  a 21-day float in water saturated with salt. Over the course of another month or so, codes and stamps are imprinted and the wheels are taken to a huge room filled with shelves and shelves of other cheese wheels (many tons worth!) to age at least a year. Then come the final inspectors who use their trusty metal hammers to tap each wheel to ensure there are no bubbles inside.  Only then is the final stamp applied.  The actual number of months each wheel is finally aged is reflected on it, with 24 months being the max.  Young cheese is milkier and more flexible; older cheese tastes less milky, is a bit sharper, and has a more grainy texture.  The older the cheese, of course, the pricier.  The shop at the factory sold most all age levels, and there was plenty of it available for sampling and purchasing, which we did. 

Inspectors stamping approval
On a hill south of Parma and its surroundings stands the Castello di Torrechiara, one of a series of well preserved castles located between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains.  Torrechiara is probably the best preserved of them and lies virtually unchanged since its construction in the 15th century.  The castle’s four rectangular towers (torre) make it quite a prominent and imposing structure and offer stunning views of the countryside.  Inside, the artwork is interesting, if not beautiful, with so called “grotesque” frescoes of fantasy scenes like naked acrobats performing impossible stunts while riding lions.   

Next up on our schedule that day was a visit to a prosciutto factory, home of the famous Parma hams that come from the back legs of 9 month old pigs only.  Over 50,000 hams are sold per year after they age a minimum of one year, with two years being even better.  We had never seen so many hams hanging to cure in one place!  After a lunch of (of course) Parma ham and cheese, we toured the historical center of Parma, including the Farnese Theater and Baptistery.  

Ferrara Cathedral
The city of Ferrara proved a pleasant surprise the following day.  We toured the Estense Castle, an imposing fortress inside the city itself with drawbridges over a real moat and towers dating back to the twelfth century.  Built by Niccolo II d’Este in response to a dangerous revolt, the castle still stands as a symbol of the famous House of Este dynasty.  Even more impressive to me, however, was the cathedral in the city that also dates to the twelfth century, particularly the facade.  The mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles, both pink and white marble and terracotta construction, and scenes from the New Testament combine to make it one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
Our final day of touring took us to Mantua for a historical walking tour followed by a lovely luncheon boat tour along the river and lake of the city.  It was the artwork inside the Palazzo Ducale that caught everyone’s eyes—literally.  Watch the pointing arm of a woman in one of the paintings as you walk the length of the gallery, and the arm will follow you!   

Sauro, Lynn, Orietta, Ben
Perhaps the most fun for us that day was sharing it with Ben’s Italian relatives, Orietta and Sauro Brunelli, who drove up from Ancona.  We first met Orietta’s family back in 1972 while stationed in Aviano and have maintained contact over the years.  With our substandard Italian but with help from others in our group who spoke the language much better, we all had a grand time! 

There is so much to treasure in this beautiful country.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit, please seize it; if not, however, I hope these small glimpses into Italia bella will send a little joy your way.


Cocoon Interior Design said...

Lynn thanks for letting us relive the wonderful memories (and FOOD)!
Mary Adams

Cocoon Interior Design said...

Lynn thanks for letting us relive the wonderful memories (and FOOD)!
Mary Adams

Topper Long said...

Lynn, both of your posts are wonderful and we appreciate your reminding us of the great time we had and the wonderful sites we saw with the wonderful people we weere with. Thanks!