We left around 7:40am and we'd be visiting a parmigiano reggiano factory in Parma, a farm called Antica Corte Pallavicina and a traditional balsamic making facility called Medici. What I thought we'd be doing doesn't scratch the surface of what we actually experienced. To begin, the parmigiano factory is not something open to the public, it's a special tour provided to just us students. They take it very seriously and ask that you dress in all the coverings provided. How funny is it that this is the entrance. I was thinking it was some huge elaborate thing but they explained that the word 'factory' in Italy is not at all the same as in the states. It means small, local, privately owned and operated and I think that's so cool:
We started by seeing the process of the cream and milk being heated, curdled and separated. They do it both by hand and by machine which is incredible:
When the curds are fully separated to the bottom (it takes about 30 minutes to rest after curdling), the men literally pull the curds up with a paddle and shape them into large balls to hang and drain in cheesecloth:
Once they've sufficiently drained, they are put into the cylinders to rest and shape before being brought down into the cellar to sit in salted brine and age:
Not a single pinch of salt is added to any of the cream, it literally gets all it's salty flavor from sitting in the brine for months and years. I thought that was awesome! I couldn't believe that the brine could penetrate the cheese that way inside nor did I realize that no rind at all is added, it's just the hardening of the outside that happens:
After we saw the brining room, we visited the aging room and I could not believe this place. Wheels and wheels of glorious parmigiano, some as old as 2008. You can see the difference in color from fresh ones of 2012 vs. 2008:
We got to taste one from 2009 that was out of this world. I've never had parmigiano like that. The room really was awesome:
Chef Bruno, our new chef here in Italy, accompanied us on the field trip and I totally love him. He's amazing. I sent this photo to our old chefs in NY telling them I missed them:
From the parmigiano factory, we headed on to Antica Corte Pallavicina, the most fabulous place I've ever been. It's also a stage site (one of the places that participates in our program where we're sent to work for 2 1/2 months) and I almost died. It is the epitome of where I want to be and what I want to do. It's a beautiful farm but also a one Michelin star restaurant/hotel and very exclusive. I knew when I walked in there that it's exactly where I want to be. I mean, wouldn't you just judging by the entrance:
We were shown around the entire farm and guys, I really can't express what their products are like. They've got animals, a vineyard, crops of endless, amazing vegetables and grains and herbs...it's heaven there. One of the most important things they produce is a type of prosciutto called culatello. It's an incredibly rich meat that is cured and cared for over a number of years in a remarkable cellar on the property dedicated solely to aging it. It hangs in a separate building first, along with true prosciutto di parma, before it's transferred to the cellar:
Michele explaining the details (he is SO awesome, just an FYI):
Culatello di zibello is from the white pigs and gran culatello is from the black pigs:
Now, on to the cellar. Holy crapola. I've never seen anything like this in my life:
Is that not insane?!
Michele is incredible. His knowledge is unending but his passion is even more wonderful. The way that he feels about food is contagious and he's an actual true gastronome. It's really exciting for me because I've never met one! He just finished school recently and you can tell he's still in that giddy, childlike state and we reap the reward of his passion, truly. As we were exiting the culatello cellar, he was talking about how the fog rolls in around November and they open the one cellar window everyday because the fog is instrumental in the aging of the meat. As we walked out, he said this place is magic. It was moving.
He brought us into one of the small wine cellars after, which is where we were having lunch, and it was beautiful. At that point, I was totally starving so I just about attacked both tables and I'm not even joking:
Every single thing we ate was directly from the farm be it cheese from their cow's milk, vegetables pulled out of the ground, wine from their vineyard...it was a a very special afternoon and I honestly felt like I was on another planet. There was still more to come, too!
We left there all starry-eyed and went on to the balsamic acetaia where they age traditional balsamic vinegar. The woman was adorable and so sweet to us:
I'm sure you can tell by this post that it was day full of wonder and memories. Each of us had our own experience that we'll personally take with us which makes it that much more awesome. We all got home around 7:00pm and proceeded to have such a fun night to top it all off:
We definitely celebrated our first week in Italy, that's for sure. I can't even imagine all that we have in front of us to learn, feel, taste, see, do...it's endless.