Friday, April 23, 2010

Perugina Chocolate Factory

Parmeggiano Reggiano Parma, IT

Our trip started at 5.30am, leaving Orvieto for Parma. Our first stop upon arrival was a producer of the famous cheese, Parmegiano-Reggiano.

Not unlike the bubbly Champagne beverage from France, cheese cannot be called Parmegiano-Reggiano unless it is produced in the area of Parma and subscribe to strict production practices.

First, specially-fed cows from the Parma region are milked and the milk is brought to the factory and left to sit overnight so that the cream is separated from the whey, the cream then taken elsewhere to produce butter. This partially skimmed milk is completely raw and unpasteurized! In the morning, the morning milk from the same cows is brought in and added to the skimmed milk and cooked in large, bell-shaped vats, where rennet and whey from past production is then added. Rennet is an enzyme taken from calf stomach and is an integral component in the production and aging of parmesan cheese.

Cooking the whole milk in the acidic whey is enough to cause curdling which settles into the bottom of the dome shaped vat. This mass of curdled protein is cut in half, strained in cloth and put in a plastic mold that bears the symbolic markings of the cheese. It takes 158.5 gallons of milk to make one wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or one pint per ounce of cheese! Once the cheese drains after three days of bench aging, it is put into a brine solution for 20 days.

After the cheese is brined and stamped, it goes into an aging room where it will sit for a minimum of 18 months, and as long as 24 to 33 months. The cheese undergoes inspection for quality around 12 months, and is tapped by the hammer pictured to check for airgaps, and those wheels that pass inspection get the official seal and can be aged longer. The cheese that does not pass inspection is sold as Grano Padano.

We figured the aging room we were in contained over 5.5 million dollars worth of cheese- and this was a mall producer! The dogs that reside at the factory are some of the biggest fans of the cheese-a testament to their roundness...

We tasted cheese aged 18, 24 and 33 months- I preferred the the middle-aged cheese, and love how the rennet starts to "digest" the cheese as it ages, forming the crunchy crystals in the product.

Proscuitto Production Parma, IT

Next stop on our Parma tour was a traditional producer of Proscuitto di Parma. The buildings used for production are identifiable by their long windows, opened for part of the aging process of the ham. This modest building contained over $3 million worth of ham that we could see!

The ham is a DOP product, meaning that production techniques and origin of the ingredients are tightly controlled. All pigs used are grown in the Parma area and are fed a special diet, including Parmesan cheese! All the legs are the hind legs from male pigs.

The aging process mimics the conditions of the annual seasons. The legs are first salted and kept in a cooler just slightly above freezing. Here they are held for about a month before being resalted and moved to a warmer cooler to be aged for several months, where the humidity is also tightly controlled.

It takes twelve months to cure a leg of proscuitto, and part of that is done at a cool room temperature in an aging room. The proscuitto is painted with a paste of rice flour, salt and black pepper to keep the exposed area from rotting- 100% natural- no preservatives or chemicals! A horse bone is used by expert producers to check the quality of the hams, before they can be branded as certified Parma ham. It is inserted along five places, quickly and successively, and the scent lets the producer know that the aging process worked.

Janene LOVES proscuitto!
The group in the aging room.
Meat slicer by Porsche.
Picnic at a Tuscan farmhouse.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Production

Thursday, April 22, 2010


After an early start and long bus ride through Tuscany, we arrived at the Prime Donne winery, a maker of the famous Brunello di Montalcino wine.

What's interesting about this winery, besides the fabulous wines, is that it is a winery run completely by women! Long a male-dominated industry, innovations in technology now make the wine industry less dependent on muscle, and more focused on technique and innovation.
Just before arriving at the winery, we found the dirt road blocked by a flock of sheep, and the Sardegnian herder- our large Pullman bus more the intruder on this Tuscan dirt road than the sheep! Our driver didn't seem all to happy about taking his bus down these roads either...

The painting is a depiction of a famous battle between Siena and Florence - the prize being the town of Montalcino. Montalcino was to arrive at the battle and pick their side- but in order to avoid picking the wrong side, re: the loser, the Montalcino forces arrived late after the battle was over. Siena won the battle, but to punish the Montalcino soldiers, they were forced to bury the dead of both sides. This earned the Montacinese the rather derogatory nickname of "gravediggers", still used today.

After the tour and tasting, we drove to the Cascina, or farmhouse of the winery for a fabulous five course meal, paired with wines, of course!

Brunello di Montalcino is a DOCG wine made from 100% sangiovese grapes that originate from the area only directly surrounding the town. The wine must be aged in oak cask for a minimum of two years before it is bottled. The riserva is aged a minimum of three years.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

More around Orvieto

The city of Orvieto is built on a hill of volcanic residue and clay. Caves and tunnels were dug below the city to provide storage, food production, and above all, escape and protection from marauders. All the homes have their own caves dug below.
In the picture to the left, the holes in the wall were for pigeon breeding. Families could go down into their cave and harvest fresh meat.
Also pictured is an grinding stone for making olive oil dated 1647. The in the picture, on its side to the left, sits upright on the base and a donkey walks in circles, attached to a pole of sorts, around the base to press the olives. In the other picture is a well dug by the Etruscans, about 6 stories deep, or 268 steps as counted by one of the students. There are stairs that go down and up like the strands of DNA, so that there are different levels- a double helix- so that carts could go down and up at the same time. What an amazing feat of architecture at that time!
The young gentleman photgrapher is Robert, an intern from AIOC, who is working with Chef Lorenzo now and came along on the excursion. He offered to take a group photo and got more than he bargained for! If you count the cameras in his pockets there are 12...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Around Orvieto

Yesterday we visited the Duomo in Orvieto, famous for its Renaissance era frescos and ornate carvings on the front. Due to an agreement signed during WWII, none of the historic area of Orvieto was bombed, lucky for us! The chapel below the organ, pictured left, contained the tomb of a man, Saint ????, who helped the Pope rid Orvieto of pagans- his mummified skull visible through a glass case below an altar (too dark to get a pic).

Next stop was the nearby Torre del Morro. This tower is home to a clock and chime that preside over the city on the hour. It's about ten flights of stairs to the top, but the view is worth every step!