Thursday, October 9, 2008

Slow Food Nation - Heritage Pork Workshop

Check out this great blog to see what Eliza MacLean, Gordon Hull, Marla Thurman, and I did at our workshop during Slow Food Nation in San Francisco

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What Did I Find? All This And More!

I went to Italy seeking inspiration. Did I find it? Yes. Did I find all the answers I was looking for? No. The school I attended was fantastic and exceeded my expectations, the food spectacular, the people wonderful and the scenery breathtaking. But, instead of feeling sated with as much as I learned about food, language, and culture I left the country feeling like there was much more for me to absorb.
The experience gave me plenty to ponder, one of those things being teaching. I am going to say something and I hope it does not sound preachy, but I think that all teachers should be required to return to school to experience being a student again. Turning the tables makes it very easy to evaluate effective teaching methods, gives us insight into our own strengths and weaknesses, and reminds us to have empathy with our students. Simply put many teachers forget what it was like to be a student, and if you want to be a great teacher you probably shouldn’t.
I was reminded of how wonderful it is to be a student, and how easy it is compared to work! Studying is fun!
I was reminded that my love and passion for food has never been greater.
I learned I could eat more than I ever dreamed possible. But, a couple weeks before leaving I thought to myself “I can’t go on eating like this much longer”; I could not believe my mind! About half way through the course the Japanese students began to ritualistically rub my belly. Il Pancha was my name.
I can’t tell you how many incredible meals I ate while listening to crappy American music, the culture is far from perfect.
I could get great espresso at any roadside gas station, but I can’t get one here even at the local Starbucks?
I am more committed than ever to the Slow Food Movement, and to supporting local food which is good, clean, and fair.
I did discover a deeper passion within myself to learn more about our country’s regional traditions, products, and cooking techniques. I feel more compelled than ever to pass my knowledge on to others and help fight to restore and protect the great food heritage of this country.
I would like to send out a sincere thanks to all that helped make this possible especially the students, faculty, and staff at the Art Institute of Charlotte, and to my wife and daughter who experienced La Dolce Vita with me. Go out and buy some locally grown products from a farmers market near you and go home and cook some real food with your family! Keep it fresh, and keep it simple! Buon Appetito

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Passion for the Piemonte? Yes!

I have probably said this many times while writing these articles and I mean it every time, but I love the Piemonte. The rich and glorious Piemonte is set in the North-West of Italy and borders France and Switzerland. I have had the fortune to travel, explore, and consume the Piemonte on several occasions. From the magnificent Lago Maggiore in the North to the beautiful and elegant city of Cuneo in the South the Piemonte is a region which inspires, both because of its natural beauty and from my point of view more importantly, its gastronomic treasures. In fact you may remember reading two years ago in this paper about some nutty people so inspired by what they found at the local market in Cuneo that they decided to cook lunch on the engine of their rental car as they drove from Cuneo to the town of Barolo. Those nuts would be me, farmer extraordinaire Sammy Koenigsberg, Charlotte Slow Food Convivium Leader Thom Duncan, and his wife Nancy Duncan. I don’t mind reminding you either that we had an extraordinary meal in a field overlooking the town and vineyards of Barolo. Yeah, I love the Piemonte.

Where to start and where to end? The region is so gastronomically rich it is hard to narrow it down to a few primary ingredients or dishes. The big guns, the white truffle of Alba, Barolo wines, and Piedmontese beef are opulent and obvious choices. The white truffle, limited to a small region around the town of Alba, is only available from about mid-October to January, and cost about $2,500 per pound. The region’s beef is featured in the classic dish of the region Gran Bollito Misto a dish of mixed boiled meats usually served with three dipping sauces. The beef is also featured in Insalate di Carne Cruda, chopped raw meat seasoned with Ligurian Olive Oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Though Barolo may be the big name, the region produces many more fine red wines such as Barbaresco, Gattinara, Barbera, Dolcetto, and tasty and fun whites such as Asti Spumante and Moscato d’ Asti.

Although the above mentioned are some of the most famous and expensive products the region is rich with many more affordable, yet exquisite offerings. Spectacular cheeses such as Castelmagno, Raschera, Bra, Toma and more are produced throughout the mountainous part of the region. In the plains the famous Grana Padano and Gorgonzola are produced in large quantities. The Piemonte is famous for its rice, and is the largest producer of rice in Europe. The plains of the Po river valley offer optimum conditions for growing short grain varieties such as Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone to be used in risottos, salads, and desserts. The region is particularly noted for its quality of several vegetables including cardoons, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, and leeks. In the hills mushrooms, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and wild berries are plentiful. Turin is the largest city in the region and is considered the Chocolate and Coffee capital of Italy. The pasta used to create classic dishes such as Agnolotti and Tajarin is rich egg pasta. The Tajarin are the Piedmontese version of Tagliatelle, only thinner. They are hand cut very fine noodles, like Angel Hair pasta. The classic recipe can have as many as 20 egg yolks per pound of flour! The Agnolotti al Plin are a stuffed pasta like a ravioli, but they are typically pinched (Plin) off before cutting.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


“When the moon hits your eye” – oh wait a minute we did not even discuss pizza pie in our studies of the region of Campania. In fact the cuisine that we prepared representing the region of Campania was quite different than what I had imagined we would be preparing. Baccala’ alla Napoletana and Parmigiana Melanzane perhaps, but Baba alla Crema, and Paccheri alla Genovese huh? Putting my ignorance and preconceived notions aside and embracing the culinary offerings of Chef Antonio Tubelli proved to be a fun, tasty and enlightening experience. The cuisine of the region is infused with international influences and offers gustatory pleasures far beyond Pizza, Mozzarella di Bufala, and San Marzano tomatoes, all of which I consume liberally with glee.
It was interesting that the chef used the word contamination to describe the influences of other cultures. From my American point of view I took the use of the word contamination as a negative, and asked the chef if he meant that the cuisine had been “polluted”. He said that he was not using the word in a negative context, but to describe the influences of centuries of contact with peoples and cultures of a diverse nature. The city of Naples was founded by the Greeks and means “new city”. Naples was located on the Via Appia and connected Rome to Brindisi and across the Adriatic, and Ionian Seas to Greece. Following the years of Roman rule Naples came under Arab, Norman, Swabian, French, Spanish, and Austrian rule all influencing the culture, food, and eating habits of the region. For centuries Naples was the most important city in the Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s, which included all of southern Italy and Sicily. The chef stressed that at one point in history there were two main world cuisines French and the cuisine of the Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s. The chef’s discussion of the final stages of the unification of Italy was interesting. In his eyes we were not discussing the unification of the country, but the conquering of the south by the north. The cuisine of the south as it was prior to 1860 was destroyed in his eyes. Surprisingly although introduced much earlier it wasn’t until the first half of the 18th century that tomatoes and potatoes would become staples in the daily diet of the people of Campania.
Traditionally the lower classes of the region ate primarily the fruits and vegetables of the land and thus were known as “leaf eaters”, later when the consumption of pasta became commonplace this same class of people came to be known as “pasta eaters”. An interesting tidbit about a dish you will find in both Campania and Sicily called Caponata. In Sicily Caponata is a vegetable dish based on eggplant, but in Campania the dish is based on dry bread. In Campania it is a fishermen’s dish in which traditionally the dry bread would be dipped into sea water, broken up, and mixed with tomatoes, and if available fish.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Rugged, tough, and intense can be used to not only describe the region of Abruzzo, but also hints at the personality of our chef Peppino Tinari for the study and preparation of the cuisine of Abruzzo. The region of Abruzzo is considered by many to be Italy’s last great wilderness. Peppino said that two thirds of the region is national park land and is Italy’s greenest region. The region is sparsely populated, and is dramatic with the Apennine Mountains cutting through it making it necessary for many towns and farms to be in locations with drastic vertical slopes. Driving through Abruzzo on the A24 you will traverse the Gran Sasso and in mid June you will find plenty of snow on its peaks. The Gran Sasso is the highest peak in the Apennine range and is the highest point on the Italian mainland south of the Alps. If you remember last week’s comments regarding Umbria you are probably thinking that Abruzzo must have a coastline, and therefore seafood. You are correct and the coastal cuisine is similar to other regions along the Adriatic with various rich hearty Brodetto’s (fish stews) being found up and down the coast. Peppino did not talk a lot during our two days of cooking the cuisine of his homeland, but he did say that he had a passion for the products he used, he did not like modern technology in the kitchen, and he preferred the ancient traditional ways of cooking.
Probably the most famous dish of this region and one of the most famous pastas in the world is Chitarrina. The pasta is cut with a special tool, the chitarra, or guitar. The instrument is a rectangular box strung with strings and resembles a small guitar. You roll out your pasta dough usually made with egg yolks to about 1/8-1/4 inch thick, lay the dough over the strings and use a rolling pin to press the dough through the strings to obtain square-cut spaghetti like pasta noodles. The pasta is usually served with a meat ragu, but can also be served with simple, seasonal vegetables like tomatoes and fresh herbs. Farro or spelt wheat is grown and used extensively in the region. Farro can be used as featured item in soups, but also ground to make flour to use in pastas, which is common in this region, read, and coarse ground to make polenta.
Lamb is the primary meat raised and utilized in the region, and therefore you will find sheep milks cheeses in the region. The chef brought in a whole lamb for our class which we promptly dismantled, and we cooked about 10 different lamb dishes over the two days, utilizing every part of the lamb including all internal organs, and splitting and roasting its head. As in other regions rabbit and pork play an important part in the cooking of Abruzzo. Pig as in the rest of Italy is particularly important for its ability to not only be eaten fresh, but more critically its ability to be made into salume, and to be eaten all year.
Almonds grow plentifully in the Abruzzo and are featured in many desserts, and breads. The region produces excellent Olive Oil and wines. In fact some call the region the ”land of olive groves”. Red and white wines are produced in the region with one of the wines Colline Teramane holding the highest DOCG status. The most known wine of the area is the red Montepulicano d’ Abruzzo which holds DOC status. The region has recognized the importance of developing and promoting the quality products it has to offer such as wines, olive oils, cured meats, pasta, and truffles. It can be said that the cuisine of the region has been shaped by its environmental and economic history, that it is rooted in tradition, but embraces the opportunities of the future.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Umbria the Heart of Italy

For Umbria we had a great, energenic, young named Enea Barbanera. We had a lot fun cooking classic recipes of the region. If you can picture rolling hills dotted with olive trees and vineyards, fields filled with bright yellow sunflowers, and medieval villages perched high on the hill tops it will help set the mood for this week’s region, Umbria. Big, bold, and beautiful is how I would describe the cooking of one of Italy’s smallest regions. Umbria is located in central Italy and is one of the few regions in Italy to be land locked; the other land locked regions are in the northern most part of the country bordering France, Switzerland and Austria. Some say that Umbria has resisted globalization more so than other regions of Italy, and that it continues to strongly cling to its traditions, family traditions, recipes, and artisan food products. I first learned of Slow Food from Chef Lorenzo Polegri in the town of Orvieto, in Umbria 10 years ago. The Slow Food philosophy is thriving in Umbria and you will find many traditional places where local products are the foundation of the typical dishes of each area.
Umbria like the other regions of Italy has its share of duality in the history of its cuisine with dishes both from the noble courts and upper classes, as well as the peasant customs. The Etruscans and Romans both ruled Umbria at one time, and play a part in its cuisine, what we do not find in Umbria is the influence from the Arab or eastern world. Of course the surrounding regions of Tuscany, Lazio, the Marche, and Emilia-Romagna influence the cuisine in Umbria, but the cuisine here is still primarily based on the meats, game, vegetables, pecorino cheeses, and truffles of the area. The land in Umbria is very fertile and Apennine Mountains help to create many micro-climates in the region. Sagrantino di Montefalco a world class red wine is the product of one these micro-climates. Umbria also produces the famous white wine Ovrieto Classico in the hills surrounding the town of Orvieto. The olive tree is another beneficiary of the climate in the region, to some Umbria is known as the “land of olive oil” because of the quality and quantity of the oil produced in the region. Legumes are plentiful, as well as farro, wheat, potatoes, onions, celery, peas, mushrooms, and saffron. Truffles are found in the summer, fall, and winter.
Umbria is certainly known and respected for the quality of its cured meats. The town of Norcia in the southeast part of the region is best known for its artisan salumi and pork products, thus the term Norcino in Italian has come to denote an artisan craftsman in the field of salumi and pork processing. The typical products such as capocollo, prosciutto, guanciale, coppa, pancetta, mortadella, coralline and many others are produced in artisan shops throughout the region. The one pork product that you must try if you visit Umbria is Porchetta. Other regions make it also, but it is a masterpiece in Umbria. A whole pig stuffed with wild fennel, rosemary, garlic, and salt and pepper and roasted until it is crispy on the outside, juicy, tender, aromatic, rich, and tasty on the inside! Go to a piazza on market day, and find the Porchetta truck, all they have is one pig, get a slice, on a simple crusty piece of bread and munch it down, the perfect breakfast. Go early, but not too early because you don’t want the first couple of slices, let them get down into the loin a little, heaven! We cooked:
Panzanella, Penchi della Valnerina (cool folded pasta), Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli della Battitura, Torta al Testo con Coratella d' Agnello, Zuppetta di Fagioli Cannellini con Sformatino Fegatini e Buccia d' Arancia Carmellata, Coniglio in Porchetta, Zuppa di Farro Spezzato con Verdure e Pecorino, Stracciata con Cipolla Rossa, Orzo Mantecato con Faraona in Salmi', Bandiera, Gnocchi al Sugo d' Oca, Ravioli di Pecorino Fresco alla Crema di Peperone, Angello Farcito con Battuto e Patate Arrosto, Schiacciata con Salvia e Cipolla Rossa, Tagliatelle al Ragu d' Agnello, Zuppa di Lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia, Strangozzi all Spoletina, Filetto di Maialino al Latte con Salas di Pecorinio e Pera Cotta nel Vino, Baccala' con Uvetta e Prugne, Tegamaccio del Trasimeno.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sicilia Bella

The doors of the kitchen were flung open wide revealing beautiful golden rolling hills, small farms, and blue skies as the Chef gestured grandly with his arms and exclaimed “Sicilia Bella”. Whenever I hear or read of Sicily this scene immediately comes to mind. The image was branded on my brain almost 10 years ago when I was visiting Sicily and cooking in the kitchen of an agriturismo with the chef, Lino when he made this proclamation. Lino was not exaggerating as Sicily is a diverse beautiful region with the sea and the mountains less than 50 miles from each other on many parts of the island. The cuisine of the Veneto is probably the only other cuisine in Italy that can rival the complexity, and diversity of the cuisine in Sicily. Our chef/instructor for Sicily Damiano Ferraro said “that Sicily has 1000 years of fusion cuisine”. The Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Spanish have all played significant parts in the development of the cuisine of the region. Because of its central position in the Mediterranean sea Sicily has been of strategic importance for over 2000 years.
Recipes have been found in Sicily which date back to the 4th century B.C. when Sicily was part of Greater Greece. Like many places as the cuisine developed two styles of cooking evolved, one for the wealthy and noble, and one for the lower classes. The wealthy brought chefs from France who reworked traditional foods into new, modern, and more elaborate preparations of fish, meats, fruits, and vegetables. Within the lower classes it was common to find focaccia, dried figs, olives, and salted fish. A few centuries later during Roman times wheat was introduced from Egypt and bread became a staple for the people.
Damiano stressed that the period of Arab rule was particularly important from a culinary standpoint for Sicily. There is a long list of food products that were introduced by the Arabs which include almonds, pistachios, raisins, asparagus, peaches, apricots, artichokes, various spices, oranges, lemons, and rice. In fact Sicily was the first region in Italy to grow rice. Agro-dolce dishes are a product of this era as well as the famous dessert Cassata alla Siciliana. Dishes that are prepared agro-dolce are sweet and sour and evolved as a food preservation technique. Today agro-dolce dishes are prepared because they taste delicious. The Spanish ruled Sicily after the discovery of America and contributed cocoa, sweet peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, squash and turkey to the kitchen. By this time Sicily was well on its way to becoming a culinary powerhouse.
Obviously seafood is very important to the diet of people on the island, Tuna, bottarga (tuna roe), and pesce spada (swordfish) playing major roles. Olive trees grow readily everywhere on the island and have been cultivated for oil for centuries. Sicily is becoming known for its wines both red and whites. The indigenous grape Nero d’ Avola is used to produce quality red wines, but international grape varieties like Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay are also grown with great success. Sicily is also known for producing high quality Marsala and dessert wines such as Passiti di Pantelleria. I highly recommend a visit to Sicily not only for its natural beauty, but also to sample its gastronomic treasures.

Monday, June 30, 2008


La Cultura Gastronomica Della Costa Marchigiana
For two days we did nothing but cook some of the freshest, tastiest, and beautiful seafood of the March region with a wonderful Chef Massimo Bomprezzi. Massimo is a teacher at one of the finest schools in Italy, IPSSARCT “A . PAZINI” in Senigallia. Massimo did an excellent job organizing the class, and guiding us through production while we cooked all the delicate seafood to perfection, all in a tranquil environment.
Massimo made a couple of interesting points – We made many Brodetto’s – flavorful fish stews – but he explained that we would not use clams or mussels with the Brodettos because the fish swim freely, the clams are buried under sand, and the mussels are attached to something. They should not swim together in the broths.
He also said he does not like to use egg pastas with seafood. He prefers to use dry pasta for its flavor and texture with the fish and shell fish. We made:
Acciughe Marinate, Brodetto all Anconetana (Ancona Style), Brodetto alla Fanese (Fano Style), Brodo di Porto Recanati, Brodetto di San Benedetto, Vongole alla Poveraccia, Minestra di Pesce, Polipo con le Biete, Pesce alla Griglia, Raguse in Porchetta, Cozze Gratinate, Seppie con Fagioli, Stoccafisso all’ Anconetana, Tagliatelle con lo Stoccafisso, Zuppa Inglese, Granita all’ Arancia, Biscotti al Vino, Biscotti con le Mandorle, Cavallucci di Cingoli - Plus we made many dishes that were not on the menu like - Red Mullet Stuffed with Mussels and Wrapped with Guanciale, Baked Polombo - Shark, Mussels with Ray, Pannochie -Mantis Shrimp, Prawns, and Cozze in Brodo
When looking at the plan for all the weeks at the start of the course I was thinking that the class on seafood would be interesting, but not great. I was wrong. This turned out to be one of my favorite classes. Thanks Massimo!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Visiting Umbria

Last week we had some visitors arrive and made a trip to Orvieto to visit a friend and as it turns out make a new one.
CJ Whitt a 2004 graduate from the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Charlotte arrived on Wednesday and Ron Smith an instructor at the International Culinary School arrived on Sunday for about 2 weeks. Ron is spending part of the trip in Croatia. Me, Christine, Francesca, Greg, Gloria, & CJ went to Orvieto to visit our friend and collaborator Chef Lorenzo Polegri owner of Zeppelin Restaurant. Lorenzo takes our students for 3 month internships and was featured in the Italian DVD series shot for the international Culinary Schools. Lorenzo will also host our students for a study abroad course this fall. We also planned to visit Pasticceria Adriano the pastry shop of our pastry instructor for the upcoming class this week. We had a wonderful meal at Zeppelin restaurant and a very interesting and surprising tour of the Etruscan underground. As part of our visit to the pastry shop we were given a tour of 600 meters of underground cisterns, chambers, tunnels, and even ancient trash pits. You could see the black lines in the rock that are from the ash from when they burned the belongings of the plague victims. We were all taken by surprise by the immenseness of the Etruscan underground. This underground is owned by the pastry shop, and I will have much more detail on the owner Maurizio when I post on the pastry class.
We also had a wonderful dinner at a Slow Food restaurant overlooking Lake Bolsena. You arrive to this restaurant by driving a kilometer or so way up a hill on a dirt road. The place has its own garden, uses fish from the lake and local wine. The food is simple but uses stellar ingredients, and it is well prepared-you sit outside on the deck overlooking the lake, it is perfect.
While everyone was at the lake I took CJ to Civita, the “dying city” because it is such a unique place and I thought he would enjoy seeing it. You can only reach Civita by crossing a long foot bridge, there are only a few citizens left in the small town, but it offers stunning views, and some of the best bruschetta you will find. We went to the small little building that houses an ancient olive oil press, and serves bruschetta, and local wine. A young woman was there and I asked her were the man in picture on the wall was, because he made the bruschetta and poured the wine last time I visited. She explained that the man in the picture was her grandfather who had died over 10 years ago, that is was here father that I probably met, but she explained that they looked very much alike, and her was fine, just not there at the moment. I asked her how long the place was in her family and she said for 500 years! Wow-it made me think what will I be able to pass on to Francesca, I have a lot of thinking, and work to do. I asked the young women why she spoke English so well and she explained that she attended University in England. She said that after high school she felt she had to get away and experience the world, but now she could really appreciate her family place in Civita and felt it important to keep it alive. We talked for a while about culture, family, and tradition. She felt that England is in a similar boat to the US in regards to overall health and quality in the food system. She had been to NY and brought up a store that sold organic food, but it was so expensive only the wealthy could afford to shop there regularly, yes it was Whole Foods. She also brought up how MacDonald’s and Starbucks had taken over England. She said she understood how MacDonald’s infiltrated Italy, because of its appeal (brain washing) of children. But she stated that Starbucks will never succeed in Italy, that Italians will not drink a liter of coffee at time, or put all the syrups and junk in the coffee that turns coffee into some kind of sugary beverage with a splash of coffee. She is convinced that the coffee culture of Italy cannot be conquered by the US giant, I hope she is right. It was interesting to get a different perspective on these issues and a perfect setting for the discussion over delicious bruschetta-plain with olive oil and garlic, truffles & pecorino, and tomato & pecorino.
It was a great weekend of family, friends, food, and fun.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Veneto - Full of Suprises

When most Americans think of Italian food they probably are not thinking of Italian food from the Veneto region and in particular food from Venice and its immediate vicinity. When we think of spices used in Italian cuisine the first thing that comes to mind is not likely to be cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, curry, licorice, star anise, coriander, or ginger, yet all these spices play a part in the unique, and wondrous cuisine of the Veneto region. It is said that of all the regions of Italy the cooking in the Veneto is the most varied. Not only is the territory diverse with mountains, hills, plains, lakes, rivers, the Adriatic sea, and the infamous lagoon of Venice, the region has been greatly influenced by many other foreign cultures. Because of its geographic location in Europe, as well as being on the Adriatic Coast, Venice which was founded in the year 400 became a mercantile powerhouse trading with many nations including Constantinople, Beirut, Egypt, China, Russia, India, Germany, France and England. Trade with these countries brought a great variety of ingredients, particularly spices to Venice which are still present in the cooking of the region today. Because of its trading prowess and wealth there was an old saying about Venice that “nothing is produced there but you can find everything”.
Venetian cooking has always had two distinct styles the festive highly spiced and elaborate dishes, and the more rustic, simple, traditional dishes based on locally grown products and courtyard animals. As in other parts of the world many dishes evolved because the technique and ingredients preserved the food. One of the most famous dishes of Venice is Sarde in Saor, and you can find other seafood, and vegetables like eggplant and pumpkin, in Saor. In Saor is a dish where the seafood or vegetables are cooked first then covered with a mixture of onions and vinegar that pickle and preserve the product so it can be stored and eaten at later time.
In the mountains the cooking is hearty and simple with dishes like polenta often served with game, mushrooms or alpine cheeses. Barely, beans, cabbage, beets, snails, potatoes, are common, and pumpkin if often used as filling for the casunziei (like ravioli).
The hills between Lake Garda and Venice is the prime wine producing area in t he Veneto with several DOC wine production zones. This area also produces the red Treviso radicchio and the variegated radicchio of Castelfranco. A famous dish of this area is Baccala alla Vicentina. An interesting fact is that in the Veneto Baccala is known as Stoccafisso or Stockfish.
The Po River valley is the primary agriculture area for the Veneto.
The area around Lake Garda has a mild climate and produces excellent olive oil, wine, and citrus fruits.
The lagoon and the coast of course provides plentiful seafood to be used in the wide array of dishes that the coast region is known for, shrimp, crustaceans, cuttlefish, little squid, Moeche crabs(small soft shell crabs), sardines, and prawns. We could list many more ingredients such as the famous Padua Hen, but will just have to finish by saying the Veneto is a rich region filled with diversity, and surprise!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tasty Travels - Recent Field Trips

Parma – to a small organic Parmigiano Reggiano producer Azienda Agricola Biologica Ciaolatte who produces the milk, makes the cheese, and ages the cheese all on their property. They only produce about 5 wheels of parmesan a day. In their aging facility they had about 1000 wheels of parmesan in various stages of aging. Large facilities can easily have 10 times more cheese gaining. It was very informative to go through the steps of production, as well as discussing the consortium that inspects and approves all Parmigiano Reggiano Cheeses. We did a tasting of 12 month old, 24 month old, and 36 month old cheeses. It was very informative to taste these cheeses side by side and see how the color turned from off white to more yellow/tan. How the crystals were very small in the 12 month and grew more pronounced as the cheese aged, and how smooth and creamy the cheese was at 12 months, meaty and rich at 24 and full flavored and piccante at 36. We had wonderful lunch at Ciaolatte of classic dishes of the region and of course parmesan was featured in many of them a standout was a mousse made from Parmesan Reggiano and butter made from the cream that is skimmed from the milk during the cheese making process, it was decadent, delicious and dangerous. Call me Il Pancha!
Acetaia Dodi – Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale Di Reggio Emilia – We visited this producer of the magical elixir Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, not the stuff you buy at the grocery store, the stuff that costs about 50 Euros for a 3.2 ounce bottle of 12 year old, or over 100 Euros for the 25 year old nectar. The vinegar is the cooked must from locally grown Trebbiano grapes. After being cooked down the must is transferred to barrels. The barrels are of various sizes and types of wood. This producer likes to use Chestnut, Cherry, European Oak, Ash, and Mulberry. 2/3 of the must is moved from barrel to barrel while 1/3 of the must always stay behind and is mixed with must from a different barrel. The must slowly evaporates through the wood, flavors concentrate, and become complex and the liquid becomes like syrup. The barrels are keep in the top floors of the house so in the summer they get very warm, and in the winter they get very cool. No heating, AC, or fans are allowed. The temperature changes and changes in humidity help the vinegar to develop it flavor and character. We did a tasting of the “at least” 12 to25 year old vinegars. All were delicious with complex flavors. The older vinegars being thicker, more concentrated and much more complex on the palate. These types of vinegar are not for salad dressings. We were told by the owner of Acetaia Dodi that the consortium only grades to the standards listed below and that vinegars listed as 75or 100 years old are marketing gimmicks, and are not consortium approved. That maybe some portion of the vinegar is that old, but likely not a majority.
· At least 12 years old Lobster Red Label – still has a good level of acidity-uses- carpaccio, crudities, shellfish, lamb chops, game, and poultry
· Silver Label – softer and sweeter – pasta, risotto, soufflés, sauces for fish, boiled met dishes, filet of beef, and duck liver
· Extra Vecchio –at least 25 years old –Gold Label – almost always used at the end of a meal-strong spicy cheeses, strawberries, and other berries, cherries, custards, and ice cream. The best is to sip from a spoon or a glass after a meal.

We must give our thanks to the great minds, products, and traditions that have developed and have keep alive two of the greatest food products we have today Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.
We have visited a small Salumficio Artignale in the town of Matelica where we went through the process of making salami. The company produces several styles of salami is particularly noted for its Fabriano and Ciauscolo Salami. The products are very tasty.
We also visited a small organic farm that is part of the local agricultural university, Azienda Sperimenta di Agraria. Part of the program there is grow rare indigenous fruits and vegetables help to distribute them to farmers to help keep the species alive and to bring diversity to the market and the table. It was a beautiful farm and we enjoyed eating cherries from the trees.
We visited another small farm/agriturismo Salomone that mainly produced honey. We did a great tasting of many varieties of honey, saw how the honey is harvested and had a wonderful lunch.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Inevitable Evil

One part of this program among many that has been pretty cool and very informative has been the monothematic classes on Olive Oil with Renzo Ceccaci. We have tasted about 12 oils a session and have focused on finding flaws and positive qualities in the oil. We got into the science of olive oil, the growth, production, and storage. It is interesting to note that olive oil and breast milk have the same ratio of essential fatty acids, and that consumption of 30 grams of Olive Oil a day can help reduce the risks of many types of cancer. Our final for the class was to blindly smell and identify 4 of the majors flaws found in Olive Oils. During our tasting of 36 or more Olive oils during the class it is interesting to note that we found serious flaws in several of them. These were not “plants” by the teacher, but actually poor quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil bought at the store, and one that was entered into a contest at a food tradeshow. Buyer Beware!!! The four major flaws found in Olive Oil are:
1. Riscaldo – Heated – at some point during either transport – production the olives have been heated. The smell is of strong olives, but also a kind of rancid smell.
2. Avvinato –winey or vinegar aroma and taste – caused by bacteria
3. Muffa – mold – smells moldy and of paint-olives stored in wet or damp areas
4. Morchia – Marc-to long of contact with its marc or sediment. Smells really bad like smelly feet.
5. Rancido –Rancid – exposed to light, air, heat -smells of cardboard-rancid smell

The “inevitable evil” is the entire period of processing when the olives and its oil can become tainted.
Only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil, not Olive Oil, or Pomace Olive Oil. Products marketed as “Olive Oil” are almost tasteless and odorless and have a much lower content of all the substances (like polyphenols) that make extra virgin olive oil so tasty and nutritious. In olive oil production oil that has above 2% acidity and some of the above flaws will be classified as lamp oil and is unfit for human consumption. This oil can be sent to a refinery, deodorized, de-colored, de-acidified by chemical and physical processes and transformed into Refined Olive Oil. Then it can have an unspecified amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil added and be retailed as Olive Oil. Only buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil!!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

We are Tuscans!

For the region of Tuscany we had a fun energetic Chef named Marco Stabile who owns one of the top rated restaurants in Florence, Ora di Aria. We did one day of traditional Tuscan cooking and one day of modern interpretations of classic Tuscan combinations, and as you can see from the pictures we did some cool stuff. Marco really stressed knowing tradition and classical dishes before you started trying to changes dishes, create fusion dishes, or experiment without foundation. He stated “everything starts with tradition, and then you can evolve from that historical point”. He also said it was “molto importante to study the history of the town you work in” so you know what your customers likes, dislikes, and culture expectations are. “Tendencies are tied to the past …everything is tied together, know the history, but add your own style-understand the past –it helps you look to the future”. Marco had spent time working in a Michelin two star restaurant and is well versed in both classical and modern cuisines.
Although the Chianina is known for its Bistecca, Marco said he prefers its meat braised or Bolito because the animal is a very strong breed and develops muscle so the long slow cooking works well with its meat. He stated that Tuscans don’t like their desserts too sweet, and two of the most popular Cantuccini and Brutti ma Buoni are not overly sweet, but they do like to consume them particularly the Cantuccini with Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine. Panforte di Siena is very sweet, but he said in Italy is usually just eaten around Christmas. Marco explained that the north of Tuscany is influenced by Bologna and uses fresh egg pasta, south of Florence the region does not use much fresh pasta and uses more vegetables, stews and grilled meats. The famous soup of the region Ribollita has many variations and the ingredients change with the season. Marco did a cool thing and took parmesan rind that had maybe a 1/8 inch of cheese on it and baked them until they were puffed up and crunchy, and really tasty. He said it is cool to dice them and use them for croutons.
Tuscany gets all the press, and it is easy to get jaded and think it is overblown. But, there is something about the region that is regal and distinct. Driving through Tuscany you feel as if the countryside has been manicured and prepared for your visit. Perhaps it is the contrast of the beautiful golden rolling hills, the tall coned shaped green Cypress trees that jut high above the fields, the hilltop towns, and the old stone farmhouses. Whatever it is the region has an undeniable presence.
The Etruscans cultivated the land in what is now Tuscany 2500 years ago. Today the region is full of tradition and produces many products that are known throughout the world. Although the region is rich in gastronomic products it is known for dishes which are humble, simple in composition, and often making use of “leftovers”. One notable exception to this rule is the famous behemoth Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the great grilled steak from the Chianina cow. Tuscany is known for excellent cured meats like salumi, prosciutto, and lardo de Colonnata from Carrara, a delectable cured fat that melts from your body temperature as you eat. There has also been a revival of a breed of pig called the Cinta Senese which is considered to have superior quality meat for curing, in our region we may compare the qualities of the Ossabaw with the Cinta Senese. The cheese produced in Tuscany tends to be sheep’s milk cheese and can range from fresh and delicate to aged and piccante.
Most people know about Tuscan bread and how they do not use salt in their bread. One reason for this is because it goes well with the salty salami which is produced in the region. The other reason behind making the bread without salt is for preservation purposes. If there is salt in the bread, the salt attracts moisture and eventually the bread gets soft from absorbing moisture. Without the salt the bread will last for several days, and eventually dry. Traditionally bread was made once a week, on Sundays. A little bit of fresh bread would be eaten on Sunday, and then for the next couple of days. By the end of the week the bread was getting dry and hard, therefore dishes were developed to utilize the bread with various other seasonal ingredients thus we find recipes like Panzanella, Ribolita or Minestra di Pane, and Pappa al Pomodoro.
The entire world knows that Tuscany is synonymous with Chianti, but the region also produces many other fine wines like Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montipulciano, Carmignano, Morellino di Scansano, Vernacchia di San Gimignano, and the Bologheri area of Tuscany is known as the Italian Bordeaux because of its production of big red wines.
There is not enough space here to discuss all that Tuscany has to offer, but other common products include excellent olive oil, Farro (Spelt Wheat), a wide array of fresh and dried beans, chicken, pigeon, and rabbit, and even fish such as prawns, squid, octopus, and cuttlefish as Tuscany has miles of coastline. We made: Carabaccia, Panzanella, Tortell di Patate, Cavolo Nero Con le Fete, Crostini di Fegatini al Vin Santo, Farinata con Cavolo Nero, Minestra di Pane, Pappa al Pomodoro, Ravioli Gnudi alla Fiorentina, Trippa alla Fiorentina, Fagioli all’ Uccelletto, Cantuccini di Prato, Brutti ma Buoni, Ricciarelli di Siena, Panforte di Siena, Carciofo Alla Toscana Animelle di Vitello Croccanti, Tortelli di Vongole e Zucchine con Fonduta, Farro con Petto di Piccione Arancia e Olive Amare, Uovo di Paolo Parisi, Tartara di Tonno con Falso Uovo di Baccala, Pomodoro Confit Ripieno di Burrata, emulsion tiepida di basilico e pepe di Sezchouan, Grissini all’ Origano Fresco

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Isola Giglio

This weekend we took another trip to Tuscany, but this time we went to visit Chef Marcella Ansaldo on the island of Giglio, her home town. I met Marcella last year in Charlotte when she conducted some classes for our local Slow Food Convivium. Marcella currently teaches Italian cooking at the school Apicius in Florence. Marcella contacted me the day I arrived in Italy and we had planned to get together earlier, but unfortunately her son had a bad motorcycle accident and has been slowly recovering, first in the hospital and now at home. He is still unable to walk, but Marcella thinks he will be able to in a 1 o 2 weeks.
The last ferry to Giglio leaves Porto Saint Stefano at about 7:30PM – the drive from Jesi is about 3.5 to 4 hours, so the ferry is too early for us to make after class on Friday evening. With Marcella’s ok, I invited the other students in the class to come and Toshi, Sadao, and Masa came with Christine, Francesca, and I, but Jennifer stayed to meet some friends in Ancona. We decided to drive ¾ of the way Friday evening and spend the night in Siena. Siena is a beautiful city; I think the Piazza Del Campo is probably the most striking Piazza that I have seen. Last year when we were in Siena it was set up for the Palio – so there was dirt and grand stands filling most of the Piazza. This time I stood alone in the Piazza at 7:00 am – it was awesome. Marcella drove to Siena to meet us for dinner and she hit it off with my classmates, Christine and Francesca immediately.
Saturday morning we headed for the small island of Gilgio which has a population of about 1000. It is wonderful to hear Marcella speak with such passion about her island. As soon as we walked off the ferry she was hugging and kissing people, it seemed as if she knew everyone on the island. Is was interesting hearing about how the Romans used the island for wine production and to see the old roman foundations. The island has three main parts all very different Porto, Castello on the hill top, and the beaches. Marcella has dreams of building a school, and cultural center on the island. She is currently working the local government trying to make her dream become a reality. I hope she does as the island and its people have much more to offer than crystal clear water and beautiful beaches.
Other thoughts: - Not to sound like a broken record, or preachy or that I don’t love the US, but I had some thoughts and observations over the weekend.
Francesca fell asleep during dinner in Siena on Friday night so I needed to carry her back to the hotel when we were done. We took a lovely walk through the city and came to a set a stairs to go down. Usually I would just quickly walk down the stairs without a thought, but since I was carrying a sleeping Francesca and could not see down in front of me I walked carefully sliding my feet down the stairs so I wouldn’t trip. I noticed the steps were very smooth, slightly slanted and rounded on the edges. As I went down I thought how many hundred years old these steps must be, how many thousands of people have gone down them to smooth and round them, and how many hundred years more will they be there after I have gone? For some reason my first thought was how fleeting our time is here on earth and that I should enjoy each moment and step. Stay in the moment and don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Then I thought why we (America) look at things so differently than other cultures. It seems we may have viewed the steps as “old”, “worn out”, needs to be “replaced”. Yet the steps still work, they tie us to the past and help make one small connection with those who came before and those who may come after us. I thought of where I live and how we viewed a perfectly good less than 20 year old, multimillion dollar structure (the Charlotte Coliseum) and blew it up so we could move it 5 miles to downtown? How strange? How disposable our culture has become, it does not make much sense to me.
Driving from Siena to Porto Santo Stefano we stopped at a gas station (not an Auto Grill – but a small unassuming place) to get a café. Like all the roadside bars in Italy you can get a great café. But, when you ordered an orange juice, the guy took a couple of oranges cut them in half, juiced them, and gave you a glass of orange juice. In the US you can get a good coffee and a fresh squeezed OJ in the big city, but what do you get on the side of the highway or small towns for the most part? The simple answer-junk food – you know the names. Why do we put up with it? It is crazy we can get an egg mcmuffin and crappy coffee, and orange juice from concentrate or powder. We can get a Walmart, a gas station with a junk food vendor inside, but can we can something simple, fresh, healthy and good? The little beach huts on Giglio actually had fresh, made to order food. Not microwave hotdogs and burritos. One had a wood burning pizza oven waiting to make you a fresh pizza, they had salads, pastas, and great café. The other had the chef waiting to make you fresh mussels, or pasta. The beach was tiny –like 20 yards- there were 6 tables. These were on the beach, not in town. Why don’t we demand quality, are our bodies and minds not worth it?
Stand up and scream “I mad as hell and I am not gonna take it anymore” come on you can do it – did you see the movie?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Emilia-Romagna - Pasta!!

The region of Emilia-Romagna contains some of the greatest treasures of Italian cuisine with well know cities like Parma, Modena, and Bologna lending their names to products like Prosciutto Di Parma, Parmesan Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, and Ragu Bolognese to name a few. To many people the city of Bologna is considered the gastronomic capital of Italy. The city is known as Bologna La Grassa or Bologna the Fat. I think that after my course I may be known as Joe the Fat, I feel my borders expanding. The city is famous for it’ s Mortadella , the often huge yet delicate and wonderful cured meat invented by the Romans about 2000 years ago, and resembling nothing like it’s bastard child in the US bologna. The city is also well known for several pasta dishes Tagliatelle Bolognese, Lasagna, and Tortellini in Brodo, but Bologna is not the only city in Emilia-Romagna known for its pasta, fresh pasta is the common denominator for the region. Parma and Agnolotti, Reggio Emilia – Cappelletti, Modena –Tortellini (along with Bologna), Ferrara-Tortelli di Zucca (pumpkin), and Piacenza-Pisarei .
The pasta of Emilia Romagna is rich egg pasta that is typically quite yellow from the abundance of egg yolks used in the dough. Regardless of the individual variations in the region the sfoglia produced is rich, fine and subtle perfect for making any of the famous pasta dishes of the region like lasagna, tortellini, cappaletti, cappalucci, cannelloni, tortelli, anglotti,and garganelli. It is quite amazing to see someone roll out a ball of pasta to the size of a bed sheet, and use the matterello (long rolling pin) to hold it up high like a curtain so you can see through it, all in a matter of 2 minutes.
The region currently has over 20 products that are either DOP (registered designation of origin), or IGP (registered geographic designation of origin) the highest in Italy. There are several reasons that this region is so capable of producing such high quality products born from its land. The geography of the region creates several micro-climates which creates the conditions that are required for man and nature to work their magic. The Po River runs through the region depositing rich sediment in the valley, providing water to the region, and producing humidity which is essential for curing the great meats of the region. The Po River bed, The Apennine Mountains, and the sea are the magical combination. The region not only produces great cheeses, meats, and pastas, fruits and vegetables such as grapes, peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, tomatoes, and wheat.
Obviously meat is important and pork, veal, beef, horse, rabbit, and lamb are common. One doesn’t usually think of seafood and the Emilia-Romagna, but on the Romagna side(eastern part) the region reaches to the Adriatic and fish is more often found.
Lambrusco is produced in great quantities. Lambrusco is not held in high esteem as many Italian wins, but there is a history and reason for consuming this wine in the region. The effervescence and fruitiness of the wine helps to cut the fattiness and rich of the cuisine of this region, it is a perfect match!
Just imagine trying to cook without Parmesan Reggiano, thank goodness for the Emilia-Romagna.
We had a great time making a variety of fresh pastas. We all had sore shoulders from kneading dough – it was awesome!!We made Punta di Vitello al Forno, Lasagne alla Bolognese, Agnolotti, Cappelletti all Reggiana, Tortellini Modenesi, Tortelli di Zucca, Stricchetti with Herbs and Tomatoes, Tortelli D’ Erbetta, Pisarei e Faso, Gnocco Fritto, Piadina Romangnola, Farfalle, Cured Meat Platters

Festa della Repubblica

This past weekend was a holiday weekend in Italy, the Festa della Repubblica. We decided to take advantage of the Monday holiday and visited Florence for the weekend. Florence is such a beautiful and historic city that is full of wonder, and tourists. The city is not only an international tourist destination, but also for Italians, especially on a holiday weekend. Francesca made a little friend and we all had a wonderful time.We visited the restaurant Ora D' Aria which is owned by our Chef/Instructor from Tuscany Marco Stabile. The restaurant is a small 50 seat restaurant and is rated among the best in Florence. It is a beautiful place and Marco does modern takes on classic Tuscan Cuisine. You will see more when I do my Tuscany Post

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Trentino Alto Adige with Chef Fiorenzo Varesco

Chef Fiorenzo emphasized that Italian cuisine is based on the region, the product, and the producer. “True original cooking is based on the land, not imported or exported. It is better to have less dishes, but to know your products.” This chef also used the terminology “Zero Kilometer Cooking.” As you can see in the pictures the chef has a very large organic garden on his property from which he gathers many of the products he prepares. He had basement with many fruits, vegetables, and juices that he preserved and uses in the restaurant. He has a cheese aging room and meat aging room under the restaurant. At breakfast we not only had jams and preserves from his property, but apple juice that he made and put up and Sambuca from foraged Sambuca flowers. It was a wonderful few days cooking with a passionate, traditional, locally minded Chef; it is his life not a trend.
The Trentino region is a very diverse region in the north east part of Italy above and to the east of the Lombardy region and west of the Veneto region. It is in the Dolomite Mountains and borders Austria. The area has a varied climate from a Mediterranean climate capable of producing olives, and citrus fruits in the southern part of Lake Garda to the Alpine harshness which offers its own bounty of products. The area produces many wines, and is known for producing a variety of excellent white wines in particular. A variety of grapes are grown in the region from the southernmost point to the mountains. The mountains are known for their quality of livestock to be used for both cheese production and for beef. The mountain areas produce a variety of cheeses using the milk from cows, sheep, and goats. The cheeses of the Trentino tend to be less potent tasting then cheeses in some of the other regions of Italy. It is a reflection of their proximity to the German world where many of the cheeses tend to be on the milder side. The area does produce a cheese called Trentingrana which is a wonderful aged cheese that is made high up in the mountains that is very similar to Grana Padano, and Parmesan Reggiano, but has its own wonderful characteristics. It is worth seeking out. The Trentino has an amazing agricultural heritage and produces a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The area produces an amazing amount of apples, but also apricots, cherries, berries, kiwi, olives, figs and many other fruits. The area has many wild herbs and plants, and mushrooms are abundant in the fall and spring. There are areas in the Trentino such as the Gresta Valley that are dedicated to farming based exclusively on the use of natural and organic methods. The mountains provide wonderful grazing land for cows, sheep and goats. While these animals spend the cold winters inside barns eating grass and hay cut over the summer, they spend the spring, summer, and fall grazing the mountain pastures, eating grass, plants, and wildflowers. The meat and milk from these animals are very flavorful because of their alpine diet. Asino (Ass) is used in the region, as is game. Cervo (deer) is prevalent and is used both cooked-often in stews, and cured. We tasted prosciutto made from Asino and ate cured and cooked Cervo – all were wonderful. Many people here do their own curing. Speck is a favorite of the area- Speck is a cured and smoked pork belly that is popular in Germany and Austria. The region also provides for excellent fresh water fish, primarily trout. Honey is produced- think flowering alpine meadows. Chestnuts are prevalent and are used in a variety of preparations sweet and savory. And lets not forget polenta – this area grows a special corn that is dried and ground for polenta. Flour of Storo is the preferred cornmeal for making polenta in the region. Interesting what we call Caraway Seeds – is called Cumino , I was confused at first. Also at every meal we drank Sambuca – a sweet drink made from simple syrup and the Sambuca flower that grows wild here.
We cooked: Tortel di Patate –like a Roesti Potato, Vellutata di Asparagi (w/ white asparagus), Gnocchetti di Ricotta ed Erbe Fini, Strangolpreti (choke the priest), Canederli, Polenta Normale, Polenta di Patate, Sguazet (offal stew), Cervo in Umido (Wild Deer Stew), Salas Anice, Torta di Carote, Zelten Trentino, and Grostoli. We tasted many wonderful cured meat and cheese. We had prosciutto made from Asino (ass) it was really tasty. Also some carpaccio of Cervo (deer) that had been marinated and then aged in a sealed vacuum bag for many months, very tender, and great flavor. We tasted many the jams and preserved vegetables and fruits the chef made, including a Pepper Preserve that reminded me of being in Texas and eating Jalapeno Jelly – it was a nice surprise.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Perfect Field Trip - Just Maybe?

At 6:00 am Tuesday morning I took the two minute walk to meet my classmates outside Chichibio restaurant so we could travel north on the A14 across Italy to the Trentino Alto Adige. We left the rolling hills of Jesi, traveled along the coastline of the northern Marche, and then hit the flat plains of Emilia Romagna, passing through Bologna. We entered the Veneto Region and passed the exit for Verona and shortly after for Lago di Garda Sud, and that is when we got into the hills again. Within a short time the terrain changed, we climbed in elevation, the architecture of the buildings started to look German/Austrian, and you had the definite feeling of being in the Alps. We were high up in the Italian Dolomite Mountains breathing in cool fresh air, and taking in beautiful panoramic vistas. We stayed on an Agriturismo called Masa Speron d’ Oro near the town of Marco Di Rovereto in the Trentino.
I thought a good way to describe this trip might be to think of the movie “The Sound of Music” –but it is all about awesome food, take out the Von Trapp kids and add 5 crazy student s and Chiara, one super passionate Chef Fiorenza Varesco, and subtract the Nazi’s . Fantastico, Benissimo, Ultimo! The chef wanted us to meet the producers of the products that he uses, he wanted to cook with us, but he was interested in us understanding what makes the Trentino Alto Adige so unique and wonderful. I must say he succeeded. All in this class are capable of executing a recipe at a high level, what is more valuable is understanding the background, culture, ingredients and techniques so when we execute a dish from a region we understand what the parameters and the outcomes should be from a regional, and micro regional perspective. The cooking component of this trip is contained in another blog on the Trentino. Places we visited included:
Casaficio Malga Cerin- in Tesero – an organic cheese maker. It is a small two person operation that uses their own milk to make both cow and goat milk cheeses. They only use raw milk (unpasteurized) to make their cheeses. They make a variety of styles from fresh ricotta to flavorful washed rind aged cheeses. We did a tasting of their cheese which were all very good, but the best part was going through the process of making the cheese from 280 liters of raw milk, heating to 36C, adding rennet(from calf), watching and checking the formation of the curd, cutting the curd to the correct size (in this case noce or hazelnut size), heating the curd to 55C (this is considered cooked cheese), checking the feel of the curd frequently (these are handmade cheeses), and at the right time draining the curd into baskets and weighing them down with heavy weights, after a few minutes turning the curd over in the basket and weighing again for even draining and shape, covering the baskets in the perforated bin that contained the whey in the lower portion so it was humid. The cheese would sit out like this over night. Then put into salt water, then the washing process, and aging process. None of the cheeses are sold outside the region, but one of them has been put on the Slow Food Presidia. Their most famous cheese is called “Bad Smell”, it doesn’t. It has strong aroma, but a nice rounded flavor.
Birra di Fiemme – Birra Artigianale – Artisan Beer Producer – This is a one man beer company. This area has a history of beer making that in recent times has become lost. This man is a leader in reviving the tradition; he started making his beer over 10 years ago. He uses organic ingredients and mountain water, which he says is of the utmost importance to the quality of his beer. We tasted the malt, barley, and hops. The malt had such a great aroma and taste. He said in past times people of the area used to make risotto with the flowers of the Hops plant. We tasted three wonderful beers – 1. Chiara – it had low temperature fermentation at 6C – it was pale golden, very smooth with great flavor – 2. Weitzen- a wheat beer fermented at 18C-darker color, much more pronounced flavor, with hints of herbs and spices. 3 Rossa Speciale – Red Beer toasted and caramelized malt and barley – had a great full flavor- he was sold out of this beer. With the beer tasting we had some awesome cured Pancetta that Fiorenzo made – we ate a ton- plus a couple of cheeses from Malga Cerin, one of them covered in toasted/crushed malt and barley. We all got some beer to bring back to the school and our apartments.
We visited an unnamed small organic farm-a piccolo agricoltori – they pasture raised Suffolk and other breeds of sheep for both milk and meat. Cows for milk and meat, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. They also cured their own speck, prosciuttos and salame, not only from pork,also from sheep and wild game. We were invited into the family’s house and had a wonderful tasting of cured meats, and pickled vegetables, and homemade bread. The pickled vegetables reminded me of being back in the south and enjoying a good chowchow. Wine produced on the farm was also served and was very good. I had my first taste of Sambuca on the farm, and I drank it with every meal thereafter. This Sambuca is made from a mountain flower called Sambuca. The flowers are mixed with simple syrup and left to steep for a few days. The drink is sweet, floral, with hints of spice, a kind of exotic taste, which I really enjoyed.
Allevamento di Salmerini – a fish farm that was in an offshoot of a flowing river, so there is a constant flow of water into and out of the fish ponds. The fish which is like a Salmon Trout are not fed an artificial diet, but feed from the river system. The fish are raised until they are between 2 and 3 years old. The fish looked beautiful and healthy. After touring the grounds and getting the low down on the production we all grabbed poles, and worms and proceeded to catch our dinner. We cleaned the fish and got ready to eat. We were invited to eat with the family who owned the farm. They had a great outdoor wood burning stove/flat top. The burning oak smelled great. They stuffed the inside of the trout with fresh cut herbs, and olive oil and placed them on the flat top. They set up an outdoor covered dining area and we all drooled as the trout cooked. We had a great family meal with the trout, crispy potatoes, salad, wine and Sambuca. For dessert they brought out Strudel, a berry tart and Grostoli, a typical fried sweet of the Trentino that is prepared around Carnevale. I had a piece of strudel, a piece of tart, and about 5 Grostoli – everything was very good. They also served an interesting drink made from the fruit of pine trees. The family was so warm and hospitable, it was a wonderful time.
Botanical Garden on Mount Baldo – it was interesting to see and discuss all the herbs, edible flowers and plants that not only grew in the immediate vicinity, but those that grow in the micro climates around the region. It was interesting to see and taste some of the products we had already experienced like Sambuca. We also saw many poisonous plants and flowers. An interesting visit.
Azienda Agricola Biologica –Terleth Ignaz – on Monte Baldo – an organic farm that primarily raises organic grass feed beef in the high mountains. This is a stunningly beautiful place – that is remote. The farm is situated on land that used to divide Austria and Italy. Several times on this trip Chiara would say “ I don’t know what they are saying, they are speaking in dialect”. We took a tour of the farm and saw this huge three story beautiful barn where the animals live in the winter. Spring, summer, and fall the animals graze the lush pastures of the mountain side. The farm has about 130 head of cattle, and the primary breed raised is called Razza Scozzese Highland or Scottish Highland Breed. We saw an old church that they say sits directly on the old border of Italy and Austria, the church is now filled with the most amazing variety of cured meat products your heart could desire. Whole sides of pig were hanging making the slow transformation into Speck; it had become the “Church of Cured Meat”. We walked back to the farmer’s house and the chef started a fire in the huge fireplace used for heat and for smoking cured meats hung high up in the ceiling. Then we sat around the table and tasted a variety of cured meats (Speck to die for), cheeses, and boiled potatoes-peel, salt and pepper-yum. Then the chef called us into the other room and he broke out about 15 huge Bistecca a la Trentino (T-Bone steaks). He lightly seasoned the steak and used branches of herbs to brush oil on the steaks, and then he cooked them in the fire place. He asked how we wanted our steaks and I asked for mine rare. We discussed beef and steak while the meat was cooking and resting. When it was time to serve, he found a particular steak – the biggest, most beautiful rarest piece and he said “this is yours”. It was not only huge, but delicious. Most people were sharing steak; I finished mine and ate half of Masa’s. The farmer and the chef loved that I could eat! The wine flowed like there was no tomorrow. The conversation was great, at times there were conversations going on in 4 languages Italian, German, English, and Japanese. We laughed and laughed, more wine, Grappa, then the homemade Grappa flavored with the Sambuca flower and local herbs. Café – but don’t forget to add the Grappa! The chef had the farmer fill a bottle of Grappa for Masa to bring back to Jesi (he was the Grappa guy, I was the steak guy). It was a magical night. Back to the agriturismo for the night, and another day of cooking ahead. The perfect field trip!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cheese One

Cheese Tasting One
This is a summary of cheese tasting one it does not include the lecture notes. We also taste other cheeses during our regional sessions in the kitchen and notes on those cheeses are included in the regional discussions. It seems strange to tastes wines, cheese, salume, and olive oil that are not always great, but being able to compare products that are flawed with those that are not flawed is very informative and really gets your taste buds, olfactory senses and your brain working to determine what makes something bad, ok, good, or great. It is a great workout for the brain and all your senses.

Mozzarella di Bufala – from Campania –smells of sweet cream, has a good taste sweet taste of milk, but is probably about 7 days old, it is has a slight skin – a fresh mozzarella should not have any skin. If a fresh mozzarella tastes a little bitter it can be from the grass the animal has eaten. Bufala and Capra – don’t digest carotene therefore their milks and cheese are very white. Pair fresh Mozzarella di Bufala with Spumante

Burrata – cows milk, a stretched curd fresh cheese like mozzarella – that is stretched and filled with fresh cream, then it is closed. When you cut it open a buttery, creamy center is revealed. It is a great fresh cheese. Molto Dolce – Exterior is little chewy – probably made at too high a temperature.

Stracchino – cows milk, in the old days the cheese was made from the milk from cows that worked the fields and it was called “Stracco Stanco” – milk from tired cows. The milk was not as rich from these cows. It is a fresh cheese, smells of milk, off white color – nice and tangy flavor. Very little aging – 10 days, soft cheese.

Ca Sciotta D’ Urbino – DOP Cheese- sheep’s milk “Pecora” - aged 30-90 days- The rind should be thin, if it is thick the cheese has been age too dry or too hot. Has small holes, aromas of butter, cream, cheese, slight straw, potatoes. Mild flavor not bitter(amaro), low acidity, balance. Can be used for dolce.

Asiago – DOP – from the Veneto region -90-100 Days- the best Asiago’s are aged for 1 year or more. This one has small holes, yellowish color, Simple aromas of butter, potato, milk. Semi soft – dolce, no acid, sticks to the palate, a common cheese-not distinguished, too young.

Camoscio D’ Oro – mould ripened cheese, like a Camabert or brie-it is found all over Italy. The rind has slight aromas of mold, ammonia. Inside smells of butter. Taste-butter, fairly sweet, mushrooms(from the rind)

Chevre di Capra – 2 days old, acid, tangy, brewer’s yeast, bitter(amaro) – the cheese has a defect.

Robiola Di Roccaverano – DOP-made from Latte Di Capra ,from the Piedmont, but can be made with mixed milks also. Smells of male goat, butter, and mushroom. Taste is full flavored, rich, creamy, animal, and mushroom.

Gorgonzola - Dolce- aged 50 days – too young. Smells of buttermilk. Not a nice consistency, soft, runny, not a lot of character- not a very good cheese.

Wine 1 &2

Wine Tasting One and Two
I am not going to summarize the lectures and all the information but simply review the tasting and tasting notes. “Aging means evolution – Thanks to evolution we can have harmony”

Spumante - Serenelli Brut – from the Ancona Province
Small bubbles, light yellow color, aromas of pineapple, green apple, lemon, butter, hazelnuts, Ginestra – a fragrant yellow flower that is prevalent in the region. Tastes light, dry, fresh, bright, good balance of minerals and acidity. Grapes are Montepulciano and Chardonnay. A good Spumante –can go with all types of food

Casal di Serra 2006 -Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi-Classico Superiore – by Umani Ronchi
Color – straw, limpid – Aromas of lemon, apricot, flowers, pineapple, butter, Molto minerale, dried fruit and almonds. Dry, mineral, molto caldo, citrus, pineapple, good structure, balanced, and ready to drink. More mineral than most Verdicchio because it comes from old vines. 20% of the wine is aged in barrels. Would go well with a seafood risotto, Pasta with Truffles, Seafood

Vigneti Del Parco 2003- Rosso Conero Riserva – by Moncaro
100% Montepulciano – Very deep burgundy color, good limpidity, Aromas- toasty oak, cherry, vanilla, plum, leather, spices, blackberry – intense and complex. Tastes- medium tannins, fairly smooth, black fruit, oak, good structure, and body- has not reached perfect balance yet, but is ripe. Would go well with a good Sugo from the Marche.

Biano Pecorino 2006- Velenosi – by Villa Angela
Made with the Batonnage technique – Limpid,-Color is amber –yellow, deep consistency, aromas of apple, straw, honey, overripe fruit, exotic fruits, pears, grapefruit bitter almonds, oxidation-maybe not good Batonnage technique- Tastes-soft, little fresh, sapid, lost structure, not a perfect balance- should have been drunk earlier. Made from Pecorino grapes.

Irpinia 2003–Aglianico – Cinque Querce
-A wine from Campania, Color Rosso, it is limpid, deep/rich consistency, Aromas of oak, wild cherry, preserved fruit, clove, leather. Taste-dry, abastanza morbid, fresh, abastanza, tannic, buona saptida,. Ready, but not old-Perfect color and perfect tannins, good taste of fruit and good strength. Pair with lasagna al forno, game, lamb.

Tordiruta 2003 – Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi –Passito – by Moncaro
Passito – means it is a sweet wine- made with botrytis effected grapes. Deep golden, yellow color – Clear and bright- great limpidity, -thick – Intense aromas – a lot of perfume – exotic fruits, apricot, peach in syrup, honey, sage and white pepper. Tastes of pear, and exotic fruits and spices- sweet, but not too sweet – great structure –elegant. “ Something you can eat and drink”.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Macellaio – The Butcher

Macellaio – Paolo Novembrini
Paolo’s butcher shop is in the town of Moie 9km from Jesi, it is the same town that Chef Giuliano Pediconi is from. Paolo arrived to the school in a small refrigerator truck in which a ½ of cow and a ½ of pig were hanging. Paolo comes from a family of butchers; his father and grandfather were butchers. He says “it is in his blood, he has a passion for butchery, and it is not just a job”. He also stated that his family is the first consumers of his products, so they have to be great. Paolo was not only a butcher, but a certified Body Builder and Trainer (he showed me the official cards-but I could see the muscles myself). Paolo was serious guy; we had a great conversation regarding the eating of meat, fat and vegetarians and what the human body needs to be healthy. You would never convince Paolo to stop eating meat. It is important to note that like the cuisine of Italy, the butchery and cuts of meat can vary from region to region.
· Macellaio – the butcher
· Macellerira – the butcher shop
Paolo picks his animals while they are alive and still fairly young so he can establish a relationship with the animal, see how it is raised, he knows the animals’ food, and how the animal was cared for. The beef side he brought in had his name written on the inside rib of the carcass. The carcass also had an official tag on it with a tracking number, stated where it was born, raised, and slaughtered. And a blank line, butchered by-because the animal was bought by him whole.
The breed of cow was typical of Marche, and is called Grasso Marchigiana. The ½ of cow was about 12 months old and weighed 126kg and cost between 7 & 8 Euro per kg. The back 2/3’s of the cow is called the Pistola Longa, the long gun. The butcher deftly and swiftly began to dismantle this into pieces: Pancia – Belly, Lombata –loin, Filetto – Filet, (he took of the loin and filet together with the head of the filet exposed – Testa del Filetto – he did this to cut Bistecca (T-bones from the loin), Sotto Fresa–Rump, Girello – Eye Round, Noce – round, Fesa Interna-Inside round, Codone –tri tip, Campanella (little bell) – back of shank, Muscolo Disosatto-lower shank without bones. The front part he broke into three parts at first-Spalla –Shoulder, Petto-Breast, Collo – Neck, and then broke down those – the skirt, Bianco Costato –White Ribs –the inside of the belly after removing the bones, Golla – Throat –for ground meat, Girello di Spalla – Shoulder Round, Fesa di Spalla – Shoulder Rump, Punta de Spalla – Top of shoulder, Collo – the over meat of the neck for ground beef, Costata – front of the loin – steak, and other pieces to be ground.
Maile – Pork
The butcher first laid out several cured cuts of meat on the table in the shape of a pig and then he brought in the ½ of pig that was about 6 months old when slaughtered. We discussed the cured meats and where they came from the pig.

We discussed the fat on the pig and the different qualities.
· Golla – fat from the throat – it is the best fat because the animal is born with it-it has the most flavor
· Strutto – Fat Back – 2nd in quality for taste
· Pancetta – belly fat – the newest fat on the animal – therefore the least flavorful. Paolo says you can taste the difference if you start a dish with Golla as opposed to Pancetta, and I believe him-he was serious
He showed how to remove the skin and meat off the face for Guanciale – the cheek – it is cured like pancetta. Surprisingly to me it does not contain the actual round of cheek meat. He said the cheek meat is used in Coppa di Testa (head Cheese). He took the skin of the feet for Zampone. Removed the rear leg and trimmed for Prosciutto – he rubs his for 20-28 days with salt, washes and hangs to dry for 15-16 months at 4-5 degrees C. He showed us how to cut the thigh for Culatello- basically a boneless prosciutto from the best part of the leg - with the Noce removed. When he trimmed the pancetta he cut off the bottom –the breast because it was a female pig. For his Pancetta he rubs with the cure for 8 days with 3.5-4% salt mix and spices, then cleans and rolls and hangs for at least 90 days. He said the best pancetta’s hang for 90 or more days. The collo –neck he cleaned and showed how it can be used as a roast or for curing. For the neck he cures it 8 to 10 days, then washes, and then hangs for 90-100 days at 10-12 degrees C.

The cured pieces he brought were Guancialle, Collo, Lombo, Pancetta, Soppressato, Fabriano, and Prosciutto. We ended our day by tasting all the cured meats made by Paolo and discussing the wonderful items you can prepare from meat. The cured meats were all excellent.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pane, Pane, Pane

Pane – Giuliano Pediconi
“The recipe is the least important component; it is a guideline which allows for many variations. When the water and flour are mixed they begin a new life cycle”.
Always add the salt at the end of the mixing, helps to keep the dough tender
Malt is needed in the Grissini and is used in many recipes to help stimulate fermentation and helps to keep the items crispy, not chewy or gummy.
The temperature during mixing is very important, the dough should not heat up, it can change the texture of the final product. Cold water can be used to control mixing temperature.
· Temperature of the flour – can’t control, is room temp generally
· Ambient Temperature – can’t control
· Temperature of the water – can control – you can adjust based on the final mixing temp you are looking for.
A Biga was used for many of the recipes we made. The chef’s basic Biga was:
1. 1 Kg – High Protein Flour -like Manitoba
2. 10g – Fresh Yeast
3. 450g – Water
· Mix and cover with towel and let lit out for 15 to 24 hours –Than use.
Biga is an mixture made from flour, water and yeast. It is made up each time for a loaf of bread -- it is not meant to be reserved and carried over, as is done for a sourdough starter. The Biga is the first part of the ingredients for your bread, then to it you add more flour, water, etc. It provides good flavor to bread, and helps the final product to retain moisture and freshness longer.
Manitoba – Flour This comes as both a 0 and 00 flour. Made from the Manitoba variety of hard wheat, as grown in Canada and the States, it has a high protein content. Basically a strong, highly-refined white bread flour, it is mostly used as a flour to strengthen other flours.Substitutes:If you are making bread: in North America, some suggest 3 parts all-purpose flour to 1 part cake flour; Bread (strong) flour on its own is probably pretty much too strong for almost any Italian recipe. The absolute highest protein content you'd want in a flour for Italian bread would be 12 to 12.5%, tops (Practically
We made:
· Focaccia Pugliese – what made this a Puglia Style focaccia is that it uses Potato Flakes (or fresh) and a small % of Semolina Durum Wheat with the flour. Malt was also used. The bread is topped prior to baking with EVO, tomatoes that are torn into pieces by hand-so the juices drip into the dough, oregano, and salt.
· Focaccia di Recco from Genoa – this dough was stretched very thin like strudel dough and laid in a large pan, than prosciutto cotto and Crescenza cheese(semi soft, slight tang) were placed on the dough. Then a top layer of the thin dough was laid over the ham and cheese. It was brushed with milk, a couple small vent hole poked in the top, and baked at a high temperature. It needs to eaten when hot out of the oven. The chef stated that this expensive to by in Genoa. It was good.
· Pane Marchigiano – Marche Style Bread –made with a Biga- straight forward round loaf- crusty on the outside and tender in the center-good.
· Pane alle Noce – Bread with Walnuts – small amount of Biga added-about golf ball size, white flour mixed with 10% whole wheat , and a small amount of graham flour, butter added a piece at a time like for Brioche. Can make variations with the flavorings. We made some with anchovies. We rolled them nut shaped. Tasty.
· Pane Con Grano Spezzato E Farina di Farro – Spezzato is broken wheat or coarse ground unrefined wheat. The chef poured hot water 1500kg on the Grano Spezzato 1 kg and once it cooled some he mixed in 3 grams brewers yeast and let it sit out over night. The next day we mixed in 1250g Flour, 250g,Spelt Flour, 1500g Biga, Malt, Salt and Water. We made braided loaves. The bread had a great nutty taste, crisp outside and tender middle. It was good whole grain bread!
· Pan Brioche – Standard Brioche 1000g flour with the addition of 20% Biga and 1% Malt – Great flavor, texture and crumb
· Pane Mandorle Ricotta Limone – Almond, Ricotta, and Lemon Bread – made with 1000g flour, bran 6%, ricotta, 20%, butter 7%, almonds 25%, Biga 20%, Malt 1%, milk, honey, candied lemon zest and compressed yeast. We made inot flowers and roses. These had a great taste and texture. You could eat them with butter and honey. Or they would be great to use to accompany a cheese course!
· Grissini Stirati – great bread stickes, Marche style. They are pulled, not rolled or twisted, like ones in the Piedmont region. The twisted ones are more dry. 1000g Flour, EVO 4%, Malt 1.5 %, H2o 55%, salt 2%,yeast 1%, Struttto (lard) 4%. Once proofed some were sprinkled with cornmeal, and some with a mix of parmesan and sesame seeds, then cut and pulled. Proofed again and baked. Very crispy and really tasty. I have been eating them for two days know and they are great!
· Pane Pomodoro e Ricotta – 1250g Flour, 24% Biga, 5% sugar, 20% ricotta, 28% Pureed Tomato,16% EVO, 8% water, 4% milk, 4%yeast, 2% salt – Standard mixing. We cut rolled and tied in a knot. These were very good. Nice texture and great flavor.
· Maritozzi – Pane Dolce of the Marche region. They are usually prepared for festive occasions eapecially Fathers Day. Maritozzi means close to one another, like being married. When these are panned up the are placed close to each other so when they bake the are touching. After baking you tear them apart so the sides of the bread is white from being torn from the one next to it. You start these with 200gmilk, 50g yeast, and 20g sugar and let triple. Then mix in 1000g flour, 30% eggs, 1% malt, 3% yeast, 20% sugar, 25% butter, 2% salt, orange zest, 30% raisins rehydrated with rum. Make like brioche, mix dough and slowly add in butter. When baking brush tops with a thick simple syrup to turn white and add more sweetness. These came out really tender, soft, and great to eat. They make a great dessert, or a sweet breakfast bread.
· Ciabatta Pomodoro E Grano Spezzato – a nice full flavored ciabatta (means flip-flop), with a super crusty exterior and a light tender interior, a really good ciabatta. Much more tender than ones in the generally found in the states. 2 x Biga from above, 300g Flour, 350g Tomato Paste, 230g Grano Spezzato, 25g Malt, 6g yeast, 50g salt, 150g EVO, 800g water. Mix Biga and dry ingredients and slowly mix in oil and water, alternating each as they are absorbed. The dough is very soft, and it must remain smooth while you are adding the oil and water. Proof, cut and line cut side up on a table cloth with a lot of semolina dusted on it, cover and let proof. Very gently flip them over onto baking pans and bake.

I had dreams of bread last night – Pane, Pane, Pane!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Organic Farm & Mill and Salumi Tasting #1

Organic Farm & Mill and Salumi Tasting # 1
Today we visited an Organic Farm and Mill La Terra E Il Cielo (the earth and the sky) that follows the lunar cycles for the planting of its crops. The mill is from the 17th century and is water powered. They produce mostly organic flour and grains for pasta. They produce durum wheat, spelt, and barely (orzo). They also produce a corn meal based on an old variety of corn called Mais Ottofile, because it has eight (otto) rows. This corn is lower yielding variety because it only has eight rows. The mill and farms are a co-operative of 100 small farmers. They practice profit sharing. The company started in 1980 as an organic farm that only produced enough products to supply the families involved at the time. The group is now quit large shipping its products to many different countries. Their pasta’s have won many awards in Italy for being the best organic, whole grain pasta available. They stressed to us the same thing that Peppe Zullo did – Terra to Tavola!

Salami – Tasting-Nicola Gattanella
Salami derived from Latin Salumen – to preserve with salt.
#1 Start with a great product – 3 primary factors influence this:
· Wild or semi wild – animal is of utmost importance
· The Feeding is noble –no by products, little grain, Forago Fresco-wild foraged food is best
· Choice of breed- Very high quality Italian breeds include:
o Casertana – Black Pig –from the same area in the south that Mozzarella comes from
o Mora Romangnola – typical of Marche
o Cinta Senese- originally from Tuscany, but now found in other parts of Italy. Black with a white band around the neck. Considered to be one the best breeds in Italy.
The day before slaughter reduce the feed to the animals and move to the slaughter location so they are not stressed before the slaughter. If the animals are stressed before the slaughter the meat will have a higher content of lactic acid which will have an adverse effect on the taste and texture of the meat. Important that they do not see other slaughtered animals or it causes them stress. We tasted several types of Salumi –some industrial and some artisanal so we could compare.
· Tasting is a lot like tasting wine, start with a visual first, look at the outside and determine if it has mold. There should be mold, should be even coverage and should be white. A little green mold is ok, black is not. White is often faked with rice flour in industrial processing.
· Casing – should be natural, not synthetic, the natural casing lets more flavor develop in the salami
· Color- once sliced – should be even from the center out. Not too pink, if it is too pink too much Nitrite was used
· Skin – should peel off easily, not be sticky
· Smell – should smell of the meat first, spices and aging second, and some acidity
· Mouth feel- the product should dissolve in the mouth. Should not be tough or chewy (may be a sign of lactic acid).
· Taste-should be of meat first, then the aging and seasoning. Salt or spices should not dominate
Types tasted:
· Ciauscolo – Typical of the Marche 50-60% Meat and 50-40% Fat – Semi soft because of the high Fat content. Seasoned with Salt, Pepper and Garlic. Aged about 20-60 days. Made will Belly, shoulder, and other various cuts. They say people in the area like to spread it on bread. Tasted two industrial – neither great, but one was more flavorful and pleasant than the other.
· Salame Lardellata – from Fabriano – From the loin and fat back, Seasoned with Salt and Pepper, the lean meat is very lean interspersed with hand cut fat. Aged 50-150 days. These were industrial and were not distinguished.
· Salame di Fabriano- typically served around Easter. Lean meat only taken from the thigh – fat only from the back (best). Meat is ground and mixed with little fat, is fairly lean. Fat is hand cubed and mixed in. Tiny bit of smoke, because traditionally they hung in the kitchen and picked up a little smoke from the oven and fireplace. The diced fat is salted before mixing in so it cures a little and has flavoring on its own. Artisanal.
· Coppa di Testa – head cheese – Head, Nose, Ears, Tongue, Cheek, bones and other scraps – Salt, Pepper-can have things like green olives, orange peel, lemon peel, cinnamon, garlic paste, pistachios, almonds etc. Industrial, not distinguished.
· Salsicce – Fresh Sausage – we tasted raw and cooked. Good quality fresh sausage.
· Mortadella – True Mortadella de Bologna does not contain pistachios. Meat is from the leg, tripe, cheek (guanciale), and throat (gola). Spices – Salt, White Pepper, Nutmeg, Coriander, Garlic and in some versions Pistachios. It is an emulsion forcemeat using ice to make a very fine and smooth forcemeat. Back fat(lardo) is cubed, blanched and folded in. Pasquini is a high quality producer in Bologna. Very delicate, delicious
· Cervo Salame – Deer Salame – from Fruili region in the northeast. Deer 70%, Pork Fat Back 30% -salt, pepper, wine, garlic, and “mountain aromas”. It is lightly smoked, and has a “wild” taste. Actually very good, not too strong. It was covered in Farina di Mais (corn meal), and had a semi soft texture.
· N’ Duja – Calabria- looked like a bread loaf, but dark red, semi soft, like a big semi soft pepperoni, very spicy with hot pepper, left a lingering burning sensation, but good if you like spicy! He suggested that it is wonderful with pasta, and I concur that it would be tasty.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Marche Region

The Marche – visiting Chef Gian Carlo Rossi
The Marche is located in central Italy on the Adriatic coast. The region is rich in food products and offers great diversity. The region has 170km of coast line so seafood is prevalent in the cuisine with clams, mussels, sardines, shrimp, monkfish, John Dory, cod, cuttlefish and sea snails being common. The area has mountains and has an abundance of wild game, namely Cinghiale or wild boar, and rabbit. The mountains also provide a variety of mushrooms, and plentiful truffles. The mountains/hills also produce grapes for wine making with two main types being Rosso Conero and Verdicchio. Very high quality Verdicchio is produced and it can run from sparkling, dry, to sweet. Good quality olive oil is produced but not in large quantities compared with some other regions. The Marche also has plains in the south which provide plenty of wheat, grains like Spelt/Farro, and legumes.
The area is known for meats as well as seafood. Pork is king in the area, but beef is popular as well. The region raises a specific breed of cow called the Grassa Marchiagano and is said to rival the quality of famous Chiania beef of Tuscany. The area compares with North Carolina as pork loving country. Traditionally almost all dishes were started with lard instead of olive oil, the reason being that lard was more plentiful, and cheaper than olive oil in this area. There has been an evolution and now the people of the area generally start dishes with a 50/50 mix of olive oil and lard. We did cook a lot of pork during class!
The area uses eggs in its Sfoglia (pasta), the chef stated an interesting fact that it is only in last 50 years that they started to use Grano Duro (durum wheat, semolina ) in their pasta. Before that they only used soft wheat because that was what was grown in the region. The south had the durum wheat. Key terms or definitions:
Potacchio – something cooked with garlic and rosemary
Porchetta – something cooked with wild fennel (not just pork).
Frascarelli – like polenta, but made with white flour. Frascarelli di Riso – the same but made with the addition of rice. It was like rice porridge and can be served sweet or savory. A very poor and humble dish. We ate it with duck ragu and one with Saba both were really good.
Passatelli – a dough made from bread crumbs, grated parm, flour and eggs. Used like pasta and really tasty.
Cresc Tajat – a dough made from left over polenta, flour and water. You make a dough and use like pasta.
Tasting so many delicious dishes that are created and based on necessity, total utilization, taste, nutrition, and comfort reminds me how screwed up the US has gotten. I think about food a lot, and I am very connected to the source of almost all the food I cook and consume. Therefore I find it strange that I feel a little ill at the notion that as a country we were so ignorant, weak willed, and willing to be lead astray by marketing and big business that a majority of the food consumed in the US is not connected to anything, is unhealthy, and is really crappy. I have read all the books, know all the jargon, and am doing my part to help right the ship, but as a US citizen I feel embarrassed that we have let our food systems get so screwed up.

We cooked: Chicken Potacchio, Frascarelli di riso, Campofilone Pasta with Artichokes, Sfogliata Primavera, Viincigrassi (Lasagna-Marche Style), Gnocchi Patate con Sugo all’ anatra, Passatelli in Brodo, Zuppa di Cicerchia in Pagnotta, Cresc Tajat con Sugo Finto, Coniglio in Porchetta -2 ways, Stracciatella in Brodo, Zuppa di Farro, Fave in Porchetta, Spaghetti di Farro con Cicerchia, Freco – a ratatouille type of dish, Marocchini Biscotti, Ciambello – a cake/cookie

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Puglia -Heel of The Boot

Italy has 21 regions but during the Master course we are going to focus on 10 of the most important regions, spending about 2 to 3 days per region. We start the course in Southern Italy in an area called Puglia. I am familiar with this area as it was the first region of Italy I visited and studied in. The Chef from Puglia is Chef Peppe Zullo, who happens to be friends with Chef Dominico Maggi who I studied with over 10 years earlier.
Puglia is one of Italy largest regions and is the second largest producer of olive oil after Sicily. The olive oil from Puglia tends to be full flavored with a peppery finish, I particular like the olive oil from this region; in general I would pick it over Tuscan oil for it flavor and richness. The chef stressed several very interesting points:
v Cuisina Povera – It is a cuisine based on poverty. It is a fairly poor region of Italy. In fact we did not cook meat in the two days. The pasta is made only with flour and water, no eggs. Bread is used extensively as a stuffing.
v Terra to Tavola – from the earth to the table. The chef brought with him all kinds of wild (selvatico) herbs and plants. This I remember from my visit, we constantly passed by people on the side of the road with brown bags, or baskets picking wild fennel, asparagus, lemon verbena, onions, chicory, dandelion greens, rappini, borage, arugula, laurel , and other plants.
v Food at Kilometer Zero – Eat what you have growing in your immediate vicinity! This is why I wanted to come here! Thankfully this trend is growing in the US, get out and buy food from your local farmers!
We made a very interesting pasta dish of the very poor with Grano Arso, burnt wheat. The flour is almost black and smells of smoke. After the wheat harvest the fields are burned to start to be prepared for next year, people will collect the burnt pieces of wheat left in the field and make flour out of it. The smell was strong, but the taste was actually fairly delicate, you could taste the smoke but it was not over powering. We served it with a simple sauce of EVO, garlic, and tomatoes.
We made a lot of items in two days, I may gain 50 pounds: Polpette di Pane, Orecchiette E Cime de Rape, Hand Cut Pasta with Stuffed Cuttlefish, Pancotto (cooked Bread 5 Ways), Handmade Fusilli Pasta Tomato and Wild Fennel, Hand Made Cavatelli di Grano Arso, Hand Cut Pasta with Mixed Wild Greens, Carpaccio of Articoke with Lemon, Olive Oil, & Pecorino, Raw Fava Bean Salad with Mint and Ricotto, Dried & Cooked Fava Beans with Wild Chicory(One of the main dishes of this area), Articoke Primavera – boiled spring artichoke with Mint, Balsamic, and EVO, Tagiolini di Finocchi in Salsa di Arancia (Shaved Raw Fennel with Blood Orange Syrup , Pecorino, and EVO), Wild Asparagus with Mint, Crostini al Marascivolo (Mustard Greens), Pasta Fagoli with Cavatelli, Orecchiette with Borage and Chickpeas, Polpette di Pan con Fusilli
Cheese – Pecorino of sheep milk cheese is very popular in the region. But goats milk and cows milk cheeses are also popular. One cheese called Burata – is a cows milk cheese that when cut open reveals a creamy, buttery center-it is heavenly.
Puglese bread is very special-it is very hearty and has a very thick crust – we used it in many of the preparations.

Monday, May 5, 2008

If you visit this site please leave a comment and I will try to respond as soon as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
I always tell my students that “one of the best things about being a cook or a chef is that you will never know everything about all the cooking in the world and therefore you should never stop trying to learn”. An so here I am in Jesi, Italy. It struck me as the plane flew into land in Ancona that the land was small farm after small farm. It made me wonder if just maybe 50 years ago flying into Charlotte would have looked very similar, instead of new subdivision after new subdivision?
Students in the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Charlotte have to write a journal for everyday they have a cooking class, it is part of the educational process. Study recipes & techniques before class, practice in class, summarize and reflect at home. I plan that these weekly articles will serve me in the same manner, to document and retain the information. Ask my students, I don’t have the greatest memory. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my faculty and students at the Art Institute, because without their professionalism and dedication I would not have been able to take the time away to attend school.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Back to the Basics

The teacher returns to being a student? Why would I after having attended culinary school over 20 years ago and since that time worked in numerous jobs and in particular in culinary education for about 13 years would I feel the need to take a 10 week class on regional Italian cuisine from the Slow Food – Italcook program in Jesi, Italy. I don’t want to be an Italian Chef, I have already been to Italy 10 times from top to bottom, I have competed in a pasta competition in Bologna the Gastronomic Capital of Italy, the home of Tagliatelle Bolognese. I have also been blessed with the opportunities to travel through much of Europe and a good bit of Asia.
Why? What am I hoping to find?
It has been a long time dream of mine to spend more than a week or two in a foreign country. I have to admit that it goes far back to the days when I cooked on the side while my real plan was to make it as a musician. I had always dreamed that I would take my punk/rock band to conquer Europe. Well that never happened and as I am likely to tell anyone, thankfully I am a much better cook than I am a guitar player. Cooking has helped me to experience the world and has helped me accomplish things that I did not think were possible.
I love Italy, the people, the food, the culture and geography. I love how they embrace the regionalism of the country. The identity of the 20 regions remains strong and don’t confuse one cheese, wine, salami, or pasta with one from another region. The school is associated with the Slow Food movement, which I have been involved with for about 10 years. I had the opportunity to be a Delegate from Charlotte to the 2006 Slow Food Terra Madre Conference in Turino, Italy and from that moment on I knew I had to do more with the movement. I hope I can find inspiration in what I discover in Italy and return to our region, our land, and turn my attentions to discovering more of what our great country has to offer.

Each week I will be reporting on the regions of Italy that I am studying along with a recipe. If the ingredients in recipe are hard to find I will offer you suggestions for replacement ingredients based upon what is available from Matthew’s Community Farmers Market and the Yorkmont Regional Market. My goal is to connect one tiny little town in Italy with the local, organic food scene in Charlotte.

Truth be told I still do like to strap on my axe and jump around like a maniac every once and while. Helps, to keep me young!