We took a tour of local food producers with Viator, a company that specializes in unique tours. Their office was just a few doors from our apartment so they picked us up. We made a stop to pick up 5 more “tourists” and we set off in two Mercedes mini-vans.
First stop, a Parmesan cheese producer.
The milk is cooked in these big copper kettles, the lower half of the kettle is below floor level. When ready, it is lifted out of the kettle in a big cheese cloth and plopped into a round form.
Each wheel is stamped with ID information so they can trace it for quality control.
After it sets up, the form is removed and the wheel of cheese goes into a salt bath for 25 days. The rounds of cheese are flipped each day.
Then the wheels are stacked and left to age. They are “officially” inspected after 12 months and are graded for quality.
Italian Parmesan cheese sold in the U.S. is always over 2 years old because it is not pasteurized. We tasted a 2 year aged and a 1 year aged cheese. The one year is slightly milder and not as crumbly.
Our next stop – a traditional Balsamic vinegar producer. Unlike vinegar as we know it, this Balsamic is sweet, not sour. Traditional balsamic is all about the waiting. Grape juice is cooked to remove water and concentrate the juice, then aged in casks made of different kinds of precious woods. This building houses cask sets for local families, plus sets used to produce balsamic that will be sold.
Following an ancient process, each year a portion of the juice is moved from a large cask into the next smaller sized cask and new juice is added to the first cask. This process is repeated every year until juice has been mixed in 7 casks of graduated sizes. Only after the juice in the 7th cask (the smallest cask) ages a year can you remove Balsamic from it to consume. So to simply start this process takes at least 8 years. Then every year the process continues. Balsamic is removed from cask 7 to use, juice is moved from cask 6 into 7, 5 into 6, 4 into 5, 3 into 4, 2 into 3, 1 into 2 and finally, new juice is added to the largest cask, #1. Families start sets for their newborns. They are passed along when the child grows up and marries. They are given as wedding presents too.
The hole in the top of the cask is left open so the juice can evaporate and a cloth is put over it to keep dust and critters out.
This is not your Balsamic from Trader Joes! This is a super thick and sweet syrup, a little goes a long way. We sampled 30 year old Balsamic with mascarpone and parmesan cheeses and they poured a younger one over ice cream!
These are 50 and 100 years old! Can you see the price of the 50 yr. olds? Needless to say we did not taste these nor did we buy any to take home.
On the road again, we did a drive by of the Ferrari factory.
Then continued on to a prosciutto producer.
There is a lot of waiting here also. Hog legs are delivered, covered in salt, stacked on racks and then hung up to dry for around 2 years. That’s it! These meat lockers are temperature controlled to match the effect of changing seasons on meat hanging in a shed as in the old days. No chemicals, just mother nature. They can’t sell this in the U.S. either.
This is their slicing machine. Pieces come out paper thin.
Finally lunch! In this region traditional tortellini is served in a broth.
The most unique dish served was Pig Pesto…..a spread of lard with a few herbs in it. Sorry to say but no amount of herbs could make this taste like anything but lard. The breads were great!
Here’s a picture of another great meal we had in Bologna.
This tortellini was served in a light cream sauce. And the mixed green salad was a meal in itself!