Ravenna

Ravenna is a small city with a big place in history.  Sally, Lisa and I boarded a train one day and took a day trip to this seaport town.

Pallazzo della Provincia, Ravenna

Pallazzo della Provincia, Ravenna

I’ll keep this brief, but allow me to refresh your memory with 6 little statements of history that illustrate Ravenna’s importance:
 
-By 330 or so, the Roman Empire was in decline.  To spread risk and tighten the reins of government the Empire had been split in two, with the Western portion based in Rome and the Eastern half based in Constantinople. 
-By 400, Rome was on its last legs and barbarians were banging at the city gates. 
-In 402, the Western Emperor, Honorius, moved his capital across the country to the newly formed port city of Ravenna.  He brought with him all the luxury and trappings of the court, as well as his sister – the bold, adventurous and beautiful Galla Placidia, who later would rule the empire for many years.

Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia

-In 476 AD the Roman Empire collapsed and Rome, Ravenna and the rest of the Western Empire were overrun.
-By 540 AD the Eastern half of the Empire, the Byzantines, had reconquered Italy. The Byzantines made Ravenna the westernmost stronghold of their empire. They showered it with favors and made it one of the greatest cities on the Mediteranean.
-In 751, the party ended when Germanic tribes conquered the region. Ravenna faded into history, and became a backwater for nearly a thousand years.

I hope we’ve all noticed that it is in backwaters that history is preserved. Many of the treasures lavished so long ago on Ravenna, during its 300 glory years, are still there. The city has 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and some lovingly preserved medieval architecture, but the name Ravenna is most often associated with its world-reknowned mosaics.

San Giovanni Battiste

San Giovanni Battiste


A couple blocks from the train station we came to the church of Santa Giovanni de Battiste (St. John the Baptist). It was built about 420 AD by Galla Placidia to fulfill a vow she made after she and her children were spared from a shipwreck.  This land is marshy.  The city is built on pilings.  San Giovanni began to sink into the land as soon as it was built. It has undergone many renovations, floor raisings and even a complete dismantling and reassembly. 

Cow

Cow

Over time, the reputedly magnificent original mosaics were lost.  On display are mosaic panels that belonged to a floor laid in 1213.  Many of the panels showed soldiers from the Fourth Crusade, during which Constantinople was sacked by the Crusaders.  These were current events when they were preserved in stone, having occurred in 1204.

Leopard

Leopard

We learned that this art from the Middle Ages is crude – like stick figures – when compared to the work of Eastern artisans 700 years before which we saw later in the day,  but  as story-telling folk art it is priceless.

Crusaders

Crusaders

The Sacking of Constantinople

The Sacking of Constantinople

We strolled through the city center, the Piazza del Popolo, which sports 2 Venetian columns dating from 1483. We briefly visited the covered market (Mercato Coperto), full of splendid meat and produce.

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo


Our next destination was the Basilica di San Vitale, consecrated in 547 AD. The mosaics we found there were the most splendid of the day. The colors were rich greens, reds and golds. The walls were bright and vivid even after 1500 years, not like the painted frescoes that had darkened or faded in the other cathedrals we have visited. The decorative floors were just as intricate.
Basilica di San Vitale

Basilica di San Vitale


Imperial Procession, San Vitale

Imperial Procession, San Vitale


Floor mosaic, San Vitale

Floor mosaic, San Vitale


Adjacent to the Basilica was the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, a small, vaulted building measuring maybe 30 feet by 20 feet. It was built near the time of her death, around 450 AD. Here, the mosaics portray early Christian themes in deep blue colors, with accents of gold. The windows are made of alabaster slabs, which allows only a dim, yellow light to enter. Photos were difficult here with the somber lighting, but here’s one. After all that work, they’re not sure she’s actually buried in there.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia


A few blocks further on we toured a newly discovered gem. Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra (House of the Stone Carpet) was discovered in 1993 during routine city maintenance. It was first opened to the public in 2002. It is the ruin of a private palace from the Byzantine era. It is special because, for a change, the art themes were from real people, not the church. It was also very grand, and 14 rooms of mosaic and marble floors have been found and restored. The floor patterns have the complexity of modern woven carpets, hence the name. The floors are located 10 feet below street level under a 17th century church that is, itself, charming.
Floor mosaic, Tappeti dei Pietra

Floor mosaic, Tappeti dei Pietra


Dance of the Four Seasons, Tappeti dei Pietra

Dance of the Four Seasons, Tappeti dei Pietra


Had a late lunch at an Osteria called Ca’ de Ven (House of Wine), which is kind of a rustic 16th Century warehouse that has been fitted out like a medievil dining hall. It was big, and you sat at long, heavy, shared tables among the wine casks.
Piadina

Piadina


Here we had local specialty found throughout Romagna. Piadina is a soft, grilled flat bread made of flour, lard salt and water – the same formula as tortillas. Like tortillas, they are often served filled with meat, cheese, and other stuff, or served as a side bread with other foods. The name and process sound a lot like pita, which fits with the Eastern influence of the Byzantines.

Visited the lovely Basilica di Santa Apollinaire Nuovo (6th century), another UNESCO site, on the way back to the station for our return to Bologna.

If your are interested, click here to see a slideshow more Ravenna photos.

Abbondanza!

Setting up for Market

Setting up for Market

MARKET IN OUR BEDROOM

Our new location, Albergo delle Drapperie, is a comfortable, tasteful, recent restoration of a very old building, used for lodging since 1800. But a faulty heating system caused our room to swelter, and we were obliged to leave our windows open in the cold winter night. As the sun rose, the rattle and buzz of the market coming to life provided a gentle awakening. By 8AM the trading was in full swing.

Market scene Vie Pescherie Vecchie

Market scene Vie Pescherie Vecchie

  

Fish shops, green grocers, butchers and delicatessens are everywhere in our neighborhood. The competition keeps everyone at the top of their game, selling the best quality goods and displaying them like works of art. When we step out on the street, the scene is vibrant and brisk and colorful.  

Fish shop, Via delle Drapperie

Fish shop, Via delle Drapperie

  

The Market from our Window
The Bologna Market from our Window

  

Funghi, Bologna Market

Funghi, Bologna Market

  

Pomodoro

Pomodoro

  

Carcioffi (artichokes), Bologna market

Carcioffi (artichokes), Bologna market

Frutti, Bologna market

Frutti, Bologna market

Don't Touch!

Don't Touch!

  

A VENERABLE TRADITION OF FINE FOOD  

Food is a passion here. Bologna is the city that considers itself the culinary capital of Emilia-Romagna, which in turn is the culinary capital of Italy, which is a nation obsessed with good food.  

Bologna invented mortadella – the pink sausage with polka dots of white fat that has been made here for over 500 years. True mortadella is a velvety smooth mixture of the finest pork with a delicate blend of spices and a heavenly scent, packed in a casing that can range from 4 inches to 16 inches in diameter. A greatly compromised and adulterated version is known throughout the world as bologna.

Mortadella

Mortadella

  

There is Sauce Bolognese, the age-old, rich, delicious meat sauce (more meat than sauce) made with pork and beef and cream that has graced pasta here since the Middle Ages. In this city the sauce is always paired with tagliatelle, but it is also essential to the very special lasagna found here. The world has adopted spaghetti with meat sauce and lasagna from these roots. This place also lays claim to many of the pastas familiar to us, such as tortelli, tortellini, and tagliatelle.

Sauce Bolognese

Sauce Bolognese

There is Cotoletta alla Bolognese, which is breaded veal with prosciutto, Parmigiano and mozzarella, sometimes served here with a slice of truffle. You’re likely to find a version at your favorite Italian restaurant anywhere, often called Veal Parmigiana.  

Bologna shares in all the other bounties of Emilia-Romagna – the cheeses, salumi, the wines, pastries and breads, the fresh fruits and vegetables. They also share the customs that govern their proper preparation.  

A RESTAURANT TRADITION  

The waitstaff are patient with foreigners. Our first night in Bologna, after some hours with a phrasebook, Sally asked the waiter’s name with the words “Chiamo Sally, tiamo?” which translates as “My name is Sally, I love you.” With an indulgent smile, he responded “Thank you very much, Madam”.

At least 900 years ago, as home of a university and an important crossroad for wayfarers, inns were offering food and drink and lodging to travelers and students. A culinary tradition was born, as well as a custom of hospitality.  

The descendants of those early hostelries are the osteria, ristorante, trattoria, pubs and wine bars of today. Each meal we had here was beautifully prepared and presented. Their customers demand it, and follow the ups and downs of a particular eatery the way they track their favorite football team.  

Some of the early eateries are still in business. Osteria de Poeti has served food in the same location since about 1600, and you can take a virtual tour of the place on their website.

Bar at Osteria del Sole

Bar at Osteria del Sole


Osteria del Sole (no web site), around the corner from our hotel was established in 1468, and I doubt it has changed much since its beginnings. Outside this seasoned establishment is a tiny neon sign that simply says “Vino”. Inside are long, whitewashed, low-ceilinged vaults with long tables and straightbacked chairs. At a small counter the proprietor, a friendly woman with flowing red hair and a leopardskin top, sells wine by the glass – one red, one white, one sparkling. They don’t sell food or much of anything else. Since the old days, patrons buy food at the market and bring it here to eat with their wine. The crowd and the conversation was overwhelmingly loud, male and convivial. Men in suits played cards with men who labor. I managed to snap a surreptitious photo or two as I imagined myself in a bygone time.
Playing cards, Osteria del Sole

Playing cards, Osteria del Sole

SIGNORE TAMBURINI’S SHOP  

A. F. Tamburini

A. F. Tamburini


Meat and specialty food shops number in the thousands in Italy, and they all radiate a sense of pride in their goods and concern for excellence. The shop known as A. F. Tamburini, however, is often recognized throughout Italy as special in this regard. This distinction stems from their commitment to selling the finest products made using the old ways and traditions, and the great variety of products available. The store was just steps from our hotel.  
Salumi & Baci

Salumi & Baci


Food has been sold here since the 1600’s. The Tamburini family bought the shop in 1932. It is filled with meats, sausages, cheeses, and pastas of all kinds. In recent years a wood fired rosticceria was added to roast pork and chicken. The old abbatoir was made into a “tavola calda” or hot table, where you can buy some of their mouth watering delicacies and sit down for lunch. The old hooks for hanging carcasses are still in place around the room.

But I’ve already talked too long. The photos can tell the story from here…

The meat and cheese counter at Tamburini

The meat and cheese counter at Tamburini


Shop window, A.F. Tamburini

Shop window, A.F. Tamburini


Tortellini & tortelloni

Tortellini & tortelloni


Cheese counter

Cheese counter


Gnocci

Gnocci


The Market at Night

The Market at Night

The Market After Dark

The Market After Dark

Bologna


As we know from The Prince and the Pauper, there comes a time when you must venture from your palace and see the world beyond its walls.

So it was with the Palazzo dalla Rosa Prati in Parma. It served as our sanctuary while Sally and Lisa recovered, and allowed us to reorient and find our bearings as we eased into the pace of Italian life. But one Thursday morning we said goodbye to our plush surroundings and to our host, The Handsome Vittorio dalla Rosa Prati.

Handsome Vittorio (R) and Asst.

Handsome Vittorio (R) and Asst.

We caught a train for Bologna. Even with its many stops, our carriage covered the distance in an hour and a half. The sky was sunny and clear. The landscape was flat as a pizza with the snowcapped Appenines in the distant west. My companions were clearly feeling better, you might say almost chipper, as we pulled into Stazzione Bologna Centrale.

Hotel entrance

Albergo delle Drapperie


We had booked two rooms at the Albergo delle Drapperie for 3 nights. It is in the Quadrilatero, the oldest part of the old city, where many of the buildings date from the Renaissance. The streets in the neighborhood are named for the bygone trades, and our Via delle Drapperie was once the street of the upholsterers. It is a district of shops and cafes, but more exciting is that it still is home to Bologna’s daily market. It surrounds our hotel. The narrow streets are normally filled with foot traffic, and the entire sector is a pedestrian zone.
Basilica San Petronio

Basilica San Petronio, Piazza Maggiore


After dropping our bags, we headed two blocks away to the heart of the city: the Piazza Maggiore, surrounded by the enormous Basilica di San Petronio (begun in 1390) and several palaces that are even older. The piazza looks today as it did in the early 1400’s.
Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore - Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo di Notai

Palazzo di Podesta

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna


The adjoining Piazza de Nettuno hosts the famous Fountain of Neptune, god of the seas, which was completed in the mid-1500’s. These two squares together make a grand forum, said to be one of the greatest public squares in Italy. The palaces house shops and cafes and museums and city offices. We snagged an outdoor table and enjoyed some cafe, sunshine and serious people watching.
Lisa, Piazza Maggiore

Lisa on the Piazza Maggiore


Fountain of Neptune

Fontana del Nettuno

Fountain of Neptune - detail

We learned that Bologna is a city of prosperity and culture, referred to as Bologna the Fat, or sometimes Bologna the Learned. It lies about halfway between Florence and Venice, so it became an important commercial center early on. The oldest university in the world is here. Founded in 1088, it had 10,000 students by the 12th century. The influence of this old money and advanced learning on art and culture are everywhere – in its architecture, art, museums, and cuisine.

Street Busker, Bologna

Street Busker, Bologna


Bologna is a walking city. Not only is the city center compact and filled with interesting shops and cafes, but the city also has 43 kilometers of proticoed arcades. These are the covered walkways you can see in the photos of the Piazza Maggiore. They keep you dry in the spring showers, and cool in the summer heat. Everyone in Italy walks, and what we did more than anything in our time here was walk and shop, though we bought very little. There were interesting nooks and alleys everywhere, and the charm of Bologna’s streets and people drew us on.
Pharmacy clock

Pharmacy sign


But you can’t talk about Bologna without talking about food. Bologna is the capital of Emilia, which considers itself the culinary capital of a nation obsessed with the freshness and quality and heritage of its food. We were living in its most important marketplace. I’ll tell you about its epicurian treasures in my next post…

Shoemaker sign

Shoemaker sign

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Sally, Lisa and I journeyed to the hills above Modena, east of Parma and just south of the Via Emilia, to visit a place of alchemy. Here the juice of grapes is transformed over time to a liquid whose taste nearly defies description. It is one of the most precious of all culinary delicacies – Balsamic Vinegar. At 6% acid, it is as strong as other vinegars, yet at the same time it is sweet and loaded with other flavors that evolve with age.

We visited Acetaia La Noce (ach-e-TIE-a la NO-che), a small maker of the dark syrup, situated on a bluff overlooking the valley. It has been documented that families in this region have been producing this stuff for at least 1,000 years, though the name Balsamic Vinegar seems to have come about in the 1700’s. (a balsam is a dark, resinous substance used for medicinal purposes) The work and the knowledge needed to make the vinegar span generations. At La Noce, the family of Giorgio Muzzarelli has been making this vinegar for at least 5 generations, and now involves his sons Davide and Elise.

Actually, you could say generations are involved from birth. Davide showed us the barrels his father made for him when he was born, in the tradition of Balsamic makers. Giorgio also has barrels made for him when he was born, but they are still at the home of his father, Davide’s grandfather.

The process begins with cotto mosto or cooked must, which is the juice which has been pressed from grapes and then boiled over a wood fire. Giorgio gave us a sample and it is delicious on its own. It was once the only form of sugar available to country folk.

The cotto mosto is placed in a series of barrels of graduated size which are positioned on their sides, sometimes in racks. Barrels are never completely full, nor completely empty. The bung holes of the barrels are left open to the air with a swatch of cloth covering the opening and a rock on top to hold it in place. The cloth helps keep out flies and other critters. And with time the vinegar starts to break down the rock, and the cloth catches the dust.

Soon after the fresh must is in the barrel a spontaneous alcoholic fermentation takes place. Not long after that, bacteria go to work converting the alcohol to vinegar. Air also acts on the liquid, oxidizing the must and adding another flavor dimension. Over time the enzymes in the juice also act on the compounds therein to break them down, and they then combine with other compounds in the mix. The liquid evaporates and concentrates the flavors over the years. These reactions are complex and I expect they are not completely understood, but the results are truly remarkable.

Each year, a portion of the contents of smallest barrel is withdrawn. It is replaced from the contents of the next largest barrel. The second barrel is topped off from the contents of the third, and so on. A battery of barrels, which Davide called a Family, can have as few as 3 barrels or as many as 14. Aging continues indefinitely. There are vinegars, thick and barely pourable, aged 40, 50 and more years. To be Tradizionale Balsamic, it must be conditioned to an average age of 12 years. 18 and 25 year agings are also commonly marketed. This luscious goo is used only by the drop on grilled meats and vegetables, Others find it irresistible on strawberries or even vanilla ice cream.

You may think you have some Balsamic Vinegar in your cupboard right now, but few of us have the real thing. Many things are sold with the name Balsamic Vinegar. Often they are red wine vinegar with caramel color and sugar. Some contain a bit of real balsamic vinegar. Some are fermented cotto mosto, but only left to age a few years. Others can have any number of flavorings combined to imitate the complex flavors of real Balsamic. Because the real stuff is so rare and expensive, these other vinegars have their place and its okay to enjoy them for everyday use. Many acetaia produce these condiments in addition to

the traditional vinegar.

To protect their product, producers joined consortia in the 1980’s to establish quality standards and police the counterfeiters. Though anyone can label their product as Balsamic Vinegar, the only word they are not allowed to use is Tradizionale. If that word is on the label, you can be assured the vinegar is genuine. Members of the Consortium in Modena submits samples of their product each year to a blind tasting panel of 6 master craftsmen. If the vinegar passes muster, the product is returned to the maker already sealed in special 100 ml bottles which only the Consortium possesses. If it is not approved, it is returned to the acetaia and goes back to the barrel for more aging. Balsamic vinegar is also produced by a consortium in Reggio Emilia, a little ways down the road, and is said to be equally good.

Why so pricey? It takes 220 pounds of grapes and at least 25 or more years to produce enough 25 year Balsamic Vinegar to fill a wine bottle. When I was in Boston in January I priced a 100 ml bottle (a little less than 4 ounces) of 25 year Tradizionale Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. It carried a price tag of $218. After a tasting of their delicious offerings, Giorgio and his family offered us a far better deal, and we bought as much Tradizionale and condiment vinegar as we felt we could reasonably carry.

Got to watch how much you buy when you have to carry it all, and soon we will be moving on…

Prosciutto di Parma – Showing a lotta leg

We three travelled to a rural area south of Parma with the gentle and descriptive name of Pastorella. The plant was surrounded by tall fences and security gates, evidence of the precious treasure within.

This was the plant of Leporati Prosciutti, maker of Prosciutto di Parma, located just south of the town of Langhirano where the most celebrated Parma hams are produced. The company was founded in 1969 by Nello Leporati and it remains a family business. Nello’s daughter was our tour guide. She was a charming hostess, patient with our Tarzan Italian and gracefully stretching her limited English to enlarge our understanding.

We donned hairnets and lab coats in order to enter the facility. We were briefly shown the cutting room, where incoming fresh hams were processed. In my last post, I alluded to the special diet necessary for a pig to be selected for Prosciutto di Parma. In addition to a diet of parmigiano whey and rinds, the pigs must be raised in Parma or Lombardy and must weigh 330 to 400 lbs, which is a might big pig indeed. The pigs are slaughtered elsewhere and only the legs are delivered to the plant. There they are then trimmed and salted and delivered on trays to a refrigerated room. For the most part, the skin is left intact. It is a natural protectant and keeps the ham from drying too fast. The ideal fresh leg weighs about 26 lbs.

When we were there, work had ceased in the cutting room. Seems a conflict had arisen between the tag on an individual leg and the records of its origin. Until the heritage of the pork could be properly established, the process could not proceed. Any ham “not worth its salt” was returned to the slaughterhouse. To be Prosciutto di Parma, the hams may only be produced in the area of Parma province south of the Via Emilia at an altitude not greater than 900 meters.

The hams rest for about a week after the first salting. Then they are brushed and salted again for a second week. After being brushed again they are hung from hooks and placed in a storage room at about 68 degrees F for 7 months, at a relative humidity of about 76%.

In the photo at left, hams aged 7 months are prepared for washing.

At right, the hams are spray washed in tepid water.

After washing, the fleshy surface of the ham is trimmed and the only bone left exposed is the ball of the hip joint. The remainder of the exposed muscle is smeared with a mix of pork fat, salt, ground pepper and rice flour. This protects the quality of the flesh and keeps it from drying out.

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The hams are then returned to the aging room for an additional 10 to 12 months before they are offered for sale. Total processing time from butchering to sale is therefore 18 to 20 months. The Leporati plant has an annual capacity of 90,000 hams per year, meaning they have about 180,000 hams hanging at any given time.

We can testify to that. I think we saw them all.

As a reward for keeping our mitts off the goods, our hostess sat us down to a selection of the finest ham Leporati had to offer, washed down with a lovely local wine. The ham has a much less salty taste than other hams, even other Italian prosciutti, which enables a sweetness of flavor and a rich aroma to come through.

Sally and Lisa nibbled gamely.

We were soon back in the car and on to our next adventure involving barrels and barrels of goodness.

Photo credits: Lisa Nori

Parmigiano Reggiano – A visit to the Caseificio

It was early morning. Sally and Lisa still looked a little green, but were game to give the tour day a try.

Our driver, Roberto, spoke little English. His son Andrea a little more, but both were cheerful companions. .We had a full day planned to see the delicacies of Parma being made. With a bit of a language barrier, we would rely heavily on visuals.

First stop – Caseificio Lasignano Bagni, where making Parmigiano Reggiano has been a family business for at least 3 generations. When we arrived, the process was well under way.

Making the cheese began the night before. After the evening milking, the milk is delivered and placed in the long, shallow pans shown here. The cream rises to the top and is partially skimmed, and the cream will be made into butter. When the morning milk arrives the next day, the whole milk is mixed with last night’s skimmed milk to make the cheese.

The beautiful copper cauldrons are steam jacketed and the milk is heated to about 90 degrees F. A tiny amount of cascio (calf rennet) is added which enables the milk to develop a curd in less than ½ hour. The curd is then stirred using a spino, also shown in the photo, which acts like a giant whisk and breaks the curd down into rice-sized pieces.

Our cheesemaker then set the curds to stir with an automatic mixer. During this time the temperature was being raised slowly to about 130 degrees F to “cook” the curds. The curds expel whey during the process.

The cheesemaker was checking them with his hand repeatedly until they gained exactly the right consistency. This is where art and experience come into play.

When the curds are just right, they are allowed to rest for a time. The real show begins after that, as a large cheesecloth is slipped below the curds and around them. Each batch makes two cheeses weighing from 55 to 88 pounds after pressing, so the curds have some serious heft. Two men struggle mightily to lift the curds from the vessel and onto a pan to drain. Unfortunately, we had to move on before the curds were ready so we missed this wrestling match.

The cheese is then formed in a wooden form overnight and allowed to drain. The next day a plastic band is inserted in the from that presses into the cheese the legend “Parmigiano Reggiano” which you will see on every piece of genuine parmigiano you buy, together with the date of production and the code of the plant which produced it. The day after that they are refitted into the stainless forms shown here for another day.

This photo also shows Sally, still in recovery, enjoying the pungent aroma of fresh cheese.

The cheeses are then soaked in a saturated brine for about 3 weeks. The salt is replenished and each cheese is turned daily to ensure even exposure to the salt. With a cheese this big, you can imagine it takes a lot of salt to penetrate all the way to the inside of this mass.

After salting, the cheeses are moved to a cellar where they are held at about 68 degrees F. They are turned daily for about 3 weeks to ensure even distribution of moisture and butterfat. Thereafter they are turned and brushed regularly while they ripen. Cheeses are matured for a minimum of 12 months. 18 months is more common and cheeses up to 36 months of age are available in good formaggeria.

Many producers ship their cheeses to huge warehouses owned by a consortium of banks for the aging process. That way, they are able to borrow against their cheeses instead of waiting years before they sell. The average price for a single cheese is about 400 euro. The bank will lend 280 euro to the cheesemaker, until the product is sold.

A statue of a pig adorns the grounds of the caseificio. In Parma, the making of parmigiana is closely linked to the raising of pigs. The whey from the cheese is sold for the feeding of pigs. Pigs selected for making Prosciutto di Parma must be fed on this whey and on the rinds left over from parmigiano cheese. But then, who can argue with the combination of Ham and Cheese?

More on this connection to come…

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Parma and the Palace

Hey everybody, I don’t know if you noticed that these maps I include are interactive. You can zoom in, zoom out, move the frame and other things to get a better feel for where we are and where we have been. Sometimes you can even get Google’s Streetscenes pictures to get a view of the actual location. Play with it and have some fun.

Thanks again to Lisa, whose pictures are better than mine. Many of the shots in today’s post are hers also.

We were having lots of fun in Busseto at the Carnevale Parade when last we talked. From there, we piled into the car to get Spin to her train in Parma so she could head back home. Had a lovely drive on back country roads to get there, thanks to our GPS. Got there about 6PM and the train was at 7:30, so as the sun went down we all got a brief stroll on Via Garibaldi during passeggiata before having to drop Spin at the station. It was crazy crowded there, so without a lot of fanfare we said a quick goodbye and she disappeared into the crowd.

Via Farini

Street Scene, Via Farini

Parma, population 200,000, is a city of elegance. Founded as a Roman outpost on the Via Emilia, the city grew as a center of agriculture and trade. Over time it was ruled by the Farnese family, which produced Popes in its lineage, and later the French. In the first half of the 19th century the region was ruled by Maria Louisa, wife of Napoleon, who was a major patron of the arts. Under all these influences, the city embraced painting and sculpture, opera and architecture. Today it is a city of spotless squares, museums, monuments and beautiful buildings. The people of Parma are arguably the wealthiest in Italy.

Street scene, Parma

Street scene, Parma

Hail Fellow

Hail Fellow well met, in Parma

Teatro Rialto

Teatro Rialto, the Opera House

Mona Che

Mona Che, Art in Parma

Lisa at Parma Duomo

Lisa at the Duomo, Parma

Baptistry,  Palazzo

Baptistry left, Pallazo dalla Rosa Prati right

Our hotel and its surroundings are examples of the beauty of the city’s structures. The hotel, the Palazzo dalla Rosa Prati was begun perhaps in the 1200’s on the Piazza del Duomo. The Duomo (Cathedral) and its Battistero (Baptistry) are adjacent, and these two buildings are considered the heart of the City. The Palazzo is in a pedestrian zone, so we parked the car and walked with our bags to the hotel. We had reserved a suite with a double for Sally and me and a separate bedroom for Lisa. We shared a bath, and the rooms had a small kitchenette as well. Nice digs. We settled in before dinner, which we had prearranged for 8:30.

Suite Violetta

Suite Violetta, Palazzo della Rosa Prati

Baptistry wall

Baptistry wall

Dome Baptistry

Inside the dome of the Baptistry

Salumi Verdi

Salumeria Verdi

The Parma region is also, in many ways, the center of the culinary world in Italy. Just consider Prosciutto di Parma, Parmiggiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, culatello from Zibello, and a variety of wines and sausages produced there for centuries. Parma is home to Barilla, Italy’s largest pasta factory. Its streets are filled with beautiful markets and its restaurants preserve the ancient recipes and methods of the past.

This was Valentine’s Day and we had something special planned. Our dinner reservation was at La Greppia, perhaps the most touted of Parma’s restaurants and former training ground for a young Mario Battali. The restaurant presents just a modest doorway on the street, but the inside was crisp and modern, with tuxedoed waiters. We were seated promptly and ordered wine. Lisa ordered tortelli with meat sauce, Sally stuffed artichokes in a cream sauce, and I ordered rabbit in a spicy chocolate sauce. Service was impeccable and we were toasting ourselves when things began to turn bad. Sally began to feel queasy. By the time the waitress was spooning cream sauce over the artichokes she felt the need to excuse herself. She went back to the hotel, leaving Lisa and I to finish our meals and hers.

Not long after Lisa and I returned to our room, Lisa was having similar distress. Little did we know that Spin, now on a train to Milan with 24 hours of travel ahead of her, was undergoing the same symptoms. We traced the problem back to Busetto, most likely the warm eggplant condiment served with the bread at Salsamentaria Verdi. I didn’t like the flavor and left it alone. I was fine.

I’ll spare you the details. Spin’s trip was absolute hell. I’ll let her tell you about it if whe wants to.

We had scheduled tours of prosciutto, parmiggiano and Balsamico plants for the next day. Fortunately we were able to reschedule.

Sally and Lisa were out of commission for days and may never try salami again. They said their only consolation was being able to drive the porcelain bus in the opulent surroundings of the Palazzo.

I took the next day to walk the city streets a bit, had a great lunch at Trattoria del Tribunale , a haven for the traditional dishes of Parma. Lunch was a sampling of local sausages, tortellini in sugo (meat sauce) and braised guanciale (hog jowl) with balsamic vinegar.

Garibaldi

Gastronomia Garibaldi

Found an Irish Pub that night where no one spoke English, not to mention Gaelic. It was like a strange dream, and a reminder of what my beer buddy Dave said, “In Italy, when given the choice between beer and wine, always choose the wine.”

Next morning was the rescheduled tours of food makers. I was hoping the ladies would be much improved…