Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Study Of Sardinia

The structure of school in Italy is SO much different than what it was in New York. It's safe to say that what we did in the New York portion was almost like basic training of cooking. We acquired and learned many of the fundamental skills that we'd need to move forward toward being refined and, now that we're in Italy, it's almost like game on! This is the real deal. This is a whole new level and now we all feel like we're really in culinary school. It's going to be crazy intense, very long hours and a lot of focus and dedication. NOW, I'm psyched. 

Our weekly routine will consist of history classes, wine classes, chef demos, practical training and many other things. It's far more information and much more in depth which is amazing. In our history classes, we'll be taking each of the twenty regions and studying everything about them. This week, we've begun with Sardinia which is an absolutely fascinating island. It's culture is deeply rooted in the mountains which make up over 80% of the island. It's divided into 8 provinces with shepherds being the primary people of the island. There's a large Spanish influence in Sardinia and the cuisine is very very interesting. La cucina dei pastori, or 'herdsman cuisine' is largely dependent on meat. The two primary ways of cooking it are so wild! They either roast it over an open fire of aromatic wood, juniper and olive branches or they cook it in a pit dug in the ground lined with aromatic wood and wild herbs. 

One of the most amazing things our teacher showed us was a short clip of the Tenores, four shepherds in Sardinia who, through music, recreate the sounds of the mountains. Their voices are literally meant to represent sounds of the cow bells, cattle lowing, etc . Take a moment to check this out, it's so fascinating to me:
Sardinia is widely known for being the leaders of making pecorino cheese, a sheep's milk cheese. Over 90% of pecorino is made in Sardinia, though it's native to Rome. Pecorino happens to be one of my favorite cheeses so I was really interested in learning more about it. The three main types of cheese made there are pecorino sardo (made with veal rennent), pecorino romano (made with lamb rennent) and fiore sardo (made with lamb or goat rennent). Rennent is an extract from the stomach of animals that's used to sour or curdle the milk in cheese making. 

In Sardinia, they also make a bread called pane carasau which is a thin, unleavened bread made from durum wheat semolina and wheat flour. It's super thin and crisp, almost like a cracker, and it's served tossed in olive oil, salt and herbs. It's delicious! Humor me again and check it out here, it's nuts.

Sardinia is also where several known aromatics were discovered in the 4th or 5th century. These include garlic, parsley, onion, wild fennel and saffron. These come from traces of the Byzantines' presence on the island at that time. Around 1720, Sardinian Kingdom began and it was the first territorial and political nucleus of the future kingdom of Italy.

Coupled with history lessons, we'll be fortunate enough to have guest chef demos with chefs from the corresponding region we're studying. These demos take up the rest of our day with a break for lunch so they're very involved and intricate. We had the extreme pleasure of spending the day with Chef Stefano Diedde who owns a restaurant in Sardinia. He spoke no English so we relied on our wonderful history teacher, Michele, to translate. The food this man produced in our afternoon together was stunning:
Remember that rennent I talked about? Yep, we tasted it. It was funky, to say the least, but oddly good at the same time. It's the darker colored stuff and we ate it along with ricotta salata to try and cut the pungency a bit:
I'd just like to note that I didn't alter this photo of the roasted tomatoes in any way, color or anything. I can't even explain the quality of produce here, seriously:
This native Sardinian pasta is incredible. It's called pasta filindeu and it's hand stretched in a way I've never seen before:
Humor me for a third time and watch this clip. So so cool.

Pineapple puree and goat milk gelato rounded out the demo and it was out of this world:
Did I mention he's a graduate of our school AND that he's only 30 years old? Yep. It was fascinating to watch him create this dishes from start to finish. I won't lie, it's a long day of sitting and watching, but it's also very inspiring. I've often dined at very nice restaurants with gorgeous presentations but it takes you to a whole new level when you see it being created before your very eyes. 

We all walked out of there feeling so motivated and moved. I can't even believe this is just the first week. There is SO much more to come!

1 comment:

Erica said...

Wow, unbelievable. So envious of your cheese situation :)