A non-foodie within the Meals Valley: I went on a scrumptious mission to Italy for a crash course in culinary appreciation

Earlier than the pandemic, I by no means actually understood “foodie” tradition. As a journey author, I loved cooking lessons after they have been on the itinerary, however the classes have been misplaced on me as soon as the ultimate dish was plated. I used to be extra fascinated by the personalities of cooks than the precise elements.

However when journey locked down, one thing stirred in me: Watching Meals Community exhibits nicely into the night time (“Man’s Grocery Video games” was my guiltiest favorite) impressed my very own stabs on the recipes, to little success. An try at making honey sriracha led to melting a spatula — and the odor of burnt plastic for days.

I resolved that the following time I had the chance to sharpen my kitchen expertise, I might make it depend. So final fall, after I arrived in Emilia-Romagna, I used to be on a scrumptious mission to eat and drink my means throughout this Northern Italian area, the so-called Food Valley subsequent to Tuscany.

Whereas the latter will get a lot of the consideration from North American travellers, for Italians the cities and countryside alongside By way of Aemilia, the traditional street, are an almost-sacred culinary heartland, the cradle of among the most well-known meals on the Italic Peninsula: prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, balsamic vinegar and, maybe the jewel within the crown, Parmigiano Reggiano.

Touchdown in Bologna and picked up on the airport by a automobile service, I shortly discover myself in scorching water. The issue? I point out spaghetti Bolognese to my driver. “There’s no such factor!” says Luigi, weaving via site visitors and shaking his fist on the sky. “That meat sauce, it’s under no circumstances just like the ragu we make right here. And it should be paired with a broad noodle like tagliatelle. By no means spaghetti!”

He drops me in Modena, a good-looking, small metropolis of about 200,000, identified world wide for its vehicles; Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati all produce their vehicles close by.

Tucked into the Po Valley, Modena is a sleek place, with colonnaded walkways surrounding the Piazza Grande, a Twelfth-century sq. dominated by town’s cathedral and its Ghirlandina bell tower. And it’s house to Osteria Francescana, chef Massimo Bottura’s three-Michelin-starred spot, which has twice topped the ranking of the World’s 50 Greatest Eating places.

I don’t handle to eat there. Actually, after I pop my head within the door and ask to have a fast go searching, I’m informed, within the nicest means doable: no. So I discover a tiny little café and tuck right into a ragu alla Bolognese, and instantly agree with Luigi.

The sauce is meatier. The tagliatelle is large and broad sufficient to deal with it, standing as much as the boldness of the sauce with its personal power, all of it combining right into a hearty, scrumptious — and wholly unfamiliar — meal.

Over the following few days, I tour Emilia-Romagna’s regional specialties. In a rustic property referred to as Acetaia Villa San Donnino, I see the painstaking effort and literal a long time it takes to make a very good, conventional balsamic vinegar, an ingredient invented in Historic Roman occasions.

Main me via rooms stuffed with a whole lot of barrels and completely permeated by the pungent odor of getting old vinegar, a information named Francesca explains that they press grapes (Trebbiano and Lambrusco), boil and scale back the juice, after which age all of it for as much as 25 years in a sequence of barrels often called “batteries.” The result’s thick and savoury, excellent to pair with all the things from figs to feta.

Subsequent, it’s time for among the most interesting cheese on the earth. Travelling slightly additional down By way of Aemilia, simply exterior Parma, I stroll via the method to show native cow’s milk into Parmigiano Reggiano.

Whereas many North Individuals are launched to “Parmesan” as that dry, barely off-putting grated yellow stuff they’ll shake onto your fettuccine Alfredo at East Aspect Mario’s, the real-deal Parmigiano Reggiano is thought right here because the “king of cheeses.”

I tour a manufacturing unit identified by the quite industrial title of CPL-Consorzio Produttori Latte, watching as burly males extract curds from whey, utilizing the previous for excellent wheels of cheese, to be aged no less than two years. “Proper earlier than your eyes, a miracle is going on,” says my information, Sarah. “That is the start of Parmigiano Reggiano.”

Now, correctly educated within the native delicacies, I’m (nearly) prepared for the journey’s hardest half: the precise cooking. Strolling from Bologna’s important sq., I arrive at Il Salotto di Penelope, about 20 minutes away from the primary sights, the place I’m greeted by Barbara Zaccagni, the proprietor of the small cooking college.

First, we make the dough, a easy mixture of eggs and flour. Then, we knead. “By no means use machines! Solely your arms — and the rolling pin,” says Zaccagni, firmly. It’s a surprisingly bodily exercise, requiring a great deal of arm power to roll out the little hockey pucks of dough into skinny, spherical sheets. Mine at all times appears too dry or too moist, with an excessive amount of flour, or not sufficient. Then I take it too far, the dough rising so skinny I tear holes in it.

Zaccagni patiently fixes my errors. We then combine ricotta, parsley and Parmigiano Reggiano for the filling, fold it into the dough, and — “pinch, pinch, flip” — create little tortelloni pockets. We drop them into boiling water to agency them up, then right into a pan with simply butter, sage and a few pasta water, and our dish is full.

Scrumptious. It’s one of the best factor I’ve ever made. No burned spatula, and no Man Fieri in sight. Only a steaming bowl of pasta in an historic metropolis, and the remainder of the night time to get pleasure from it.

Author Tim Johnson travelled as a visitor of Emilia Romagna Turismo, which didn’t overview or approve this text.


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