Friday, October 9, 2009

Formaggio e Aceto Balsamico e Pasta....oh my

Emilia-Romagna, the region we are in, is famous for its food.  And deservedly so.  What makes it this way, is the selection of the ingredients, available for the cook.

We had the good fortune of taking a tour of COOP CastelNuovese, a medium size cooperative that makes Parmesan Cheese.  The process of making the cheese is very simple, but the results are anything but.  It is a labor intensive process that produces an amazingly flavorful cheese. Not all cheese is good enough to make it as parmigiano-reggiano.  And not all cheese from the same factory, with the same methods make it either.  The cheese is inspected 3 times a year and then separated into 3 categories.  I was able to take a bit of film on my flip, which will take you through the process..but please remember that I am neither a professional nor an amateur videographer...i am terrible at it.  Please pay special attention to my joy at seeing the cheese and my very hearty laughter after my own joke!  COOP Casearia Castelnovese
If you don't have the time to watch the  video then....
I do want to tell you this...Parmigiano-Reggiano uses natural rennet, which allows for the long aging and is the traditional product.  Grano Padano (which is not made at this factory) uses synthetic rennet and cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The classifications and distinctions are very important.  What I learned at the factory, and what you would have seen in the video is, that buying the cheese with the rind still attached, meaning not already important.  The classifications of the cheese are indicated on the rind.  It receives a stamp if it is 1st quality.  It also receives the stamp if it is second quality, but also has ridges cut into the rind.  If it is 3rd quality, it does not receive a stamp and has all of the parmigiano reggiano marks ground out of it.  This cheese is typically sold to companies that make "american cheese". There is a price to pay for good ingredients and it is typically worth it. When it comes to cheese, it is definitely true.

cutting the cheese (tee hee)

After the cheese factory we took a drive to Acetaia Villa San Donnino.  This is a villa built in 1911 for an artist.  During WWII, it was occupied by the German Army.  In 1947, the Donnino family purchased it and planted vineyards,and the property and tradition has been passed to now the 3rd generation.  These grapes are used exclusively for making aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar).  Again, not all vinegar is traditional balsamic.  There is a process that has to be followed and the vinegar must be aged a certain time.  The only grapes that can be used are San Giovese and Trebbiano.

 The grape must is cooked and aged for a minimum of 12 years, but they also have some that is 25 years and a very special production of vinegar aged in barrels over 100 years old.  So, while the vinegar is definitely over 50 years from these barrels, it could also contain product that has been in the barrels for 100 years or more.
 They only pull 1 litre of product from each of  the smallest of barrels every year.  It is a fascinating process that will give you a whole new perspective on the balsamic market.  I encourage you to take a look at David's website to see his offerings.  He is a lovely man with a great passion. Not only does he make tremendous balsamic, he also is a collector.  He has been collecting metal figurines for over 35 years now, and has amassed a amazing collection. 

 His mother collected gorgeous lalique crystal and David allowed us to view part of her collection that sits in a salon on the first floor.  Villa San Donnino is  featured in a 1970s movie called 1900 starrring a young Robert DeNiro.  David will ship his product for a nominal fee, which is wonderful.  I am happy to announce that I purchased several bottles of the 12 year and 25 year balsamico. should hope you are on my Christmas list! I found the grounds to be beautiful, David to be charming and the product to be superior to anything I have found elsewhere.  Even if you are not lucky enough to visit Villa San Donnino, pay attention to what you are buying.  For finishing,  use as good as you can afford.  This is not for salad, unless you are il Duco. This is special and it carries with it years of love and attention to detail.

To finish our morning, we took a cooking lesson from Luigi.  Luigi is from the South of Italy, but has been in Emilia Romagna most of his culinary life.  He runs a restaurant near Villa San Donnino and uses the products of the region in his cooking.  The menu was a large salad of prosciutto di parma, parmigiano cheese, lettuce and balsamic vinegar.  Remember when I said, this is not for salad? Well, we used it to finish our salad.  The salad was dressed with a light olive oil dressing and then the balsamico was drizzled on top.  We then had risotto parmigiano with balsamic, and to finish, gelato and strawberries with balsamic. It was lovely to see the ingredients we had been learning about all day, at the table.  The food was delicious and Luigi was adorable.  Very proud of his work and his traditions.  He works in a small kitchen but produces amazing amounts and wonderful tasting food from within.  What struck me the most however, was how much fun he was having.  He and his staff.  They obviously love what they are doing and it shows.  Oh...I must mention, because it was a surprise to me...we drank Lambrusco with our meal.  It was red, sparkly, and not sweet at all.  It is not the cold duck of my youth!

We finished the day with a pasta making lesson, which was amazing.  But I want to save the pictures and explanation for another day because i have recipes and techniques to share.  Stay will come soon!


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