A Travellerspoint blog

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6. Gastronomic Camaraderie

She's in her element...

sunny 75 °F

Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Monday, April 10, 2017

How did we sleep so well? Jet lag cannot defeat us. Awakened by our alarm at seven we are soon clean and shiny and off to breakfast before stepping across the courtyard from the Hotel de la Ville to Academia Barilla by ten.

Greeted by Roberta, we are given a tour of their library of 1,000 cookbooks, some dating back centuries to be handled only by gloved hands. Soon after Roberta ushers us to the kitchen where Chef Tommaso Moroni gains authority over his American guests. It is only B4 and me but really only her; I will be taking the occasional photographs and enjoying her delight. Tommaso early on explains that there should be no stress in the kitchen because the eater of the food can taste it; this is the reason that I do not cook.

Tommaso and B4 are making: (1) Focaccia Liguria Style. Liguria is the farthest northwest coastal region of Italy, home to Genova. Flour, Water Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Fresh yeast, salt, sugar. (2) Millefoglie of Mozzarella di Bufala and Semicandied tomato. Mozzarella di buffalo, Extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, basil. (3) Light Yogurt Mousse with Fruit Compote. Plain Greek Yogurt, Sugar, Gelatin, Cream, Fresh Mint. (4) Raviolone with Butter and Thyme. Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Egg, Nutmeg, Salt, Pepper, Butter, Thyme. (5) Parmigiano Reggiano Flan. Parmigiano Reggiano Grated, Liquid Cream, Cornstarch, Eggs, Salt, Pepper. (6) Roll of Guinea Fowl with Lard. Guinea fowl breast, Sage, Rosemary, Bay, Juniper, Garlic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Pepper, Marsala Wine, Lard, Salt.49fefc10-2e45-11ea-9dae-59b842220fcd.jpg4a0341d0-2e45-11ea-bb4e-9372f380ec65.jpg4a06c440-2e45-11ea-b553-6d0d5bc253f2.jpg4a1a2530-2e45-11ea-970b-03ce35a88c89.jpg49f33c40-2e45-11ea-ac2d-f75781001643.jpg4a076080-2e45-11ea-a958-75e9a6a9fb6d.jpg49ed48d0-2e45-11ea-929f-17683011b706.jpg49e113d0-2e45-11ea-9f40-d3a275f30110.jpg49e88de0-2e45-11ea-8091-6b6c24883c2f.jpg49d2e300-2e45-11ea-9cd3-636e6e604485.jpg49cb68f0-2e45-11ea-80fa-b1cbbc3b7544.jpg492e3e90-2e45-11ea-9f36-054733e4f723.jpg497e8170-2e45-11ea-969a-2d5ae317269c.jpg49666590-2e45-11ea-9f36-054733e4f723.jpg49457010-2e45-11ea-969a-2d5ae317269c.jpg4918e1d0-2e45-11ea-969a-2d5ae317269c.jpg

Tommaso works quickly speaking fine English with a semi-heavy Italian accent, his hands always in rapid if not rabid motion, abandon being his method of operation, eyes flashing. B4, on the other hand, is tentative to the point of caution, slower, taking notes to the point that she nearly misses the experience itself. But, as time passes and recipes pile atop one another, she relaxes and becomes more Tommasocentric. Her watch and fitbit and even beloved ring come off to reside in my pocket as she drenches her hands in olive oil and kneads or pokes or knuckles or massages or tosses ingredients.

Whether or not she adheres to his advice of "add whatever you want," is questionable as she seems to be now more interested in doing it the Academia way than the Raffian one.

There is much washing of hands, dialog between them about details of temperatures or quantities or technique and an evolution of hesitation evolving into camaraderie. I watch, take a few photographs, sip espresso and, after discovering that Guest WiFi is available, begin extemporaneous authorship of these notes. I am unused to "real-time" blogging and I find it fun. I fear that verbosity will be the result with an over-abundance of detail creating tedium rather than enlightenment, entertainment or education. Forgive me for too many words.

When a speaker of English who comes to the language as a second or even third option, he adopts the words but often rejects the American choice of which syllable to emphasize. That is to say, SIL-uh-buh-l evolves to sit-UH-buh-l. Both B4 and I chase the emphasis for understanding and, depending upon Tommaso's pace, grasp ever other sentence firmly while the alternating ones escape us.

As time passes, she is more hands on and notes off; as well, her demeanor evolves into more joy at the learning of it all and less stress of documenting details. Will she be able to duplicate all of this at home without notes for reference? I don't care a whit as our reason for being here is to see her smiles rather than growth of repertoire. Sometimes, Tommaso whips out the calculator on his phone to convert centigrade into Fahrenheit; "We will bake at 194." The sound of it is more "one HUHNdred and NINEtee Four-ah." Meat becomes Meat-ah. But becomes But-ah. (not to be confused along the way as "butter." There is much for me to follow but, when I become lost along the way I don't care; all I have to do is look at her face to know that all is well here. When they stroll to the map to point from where this recipe or that ingredient comes, I am more in my comfort zone as geography is a strength where cooking is not.

Occasionally the oven beeps or a question is called out but as time passes the sounds cannot compete with the smells. The kitchen warms not in temperature but in warmth itself. A gastronomic camaraderie has been formed and she is having so much fun that I fear the time is passing too swiftly. "There's a difference between a white brown and a brown egg?" "Yes! The white egg, no offense to anyone, is too rushed. It's not the chicken; its the time inside. All purpose flour and white eggs can create a serious problem for you." "The brown egg costa more. SpendA the MONee."

Time stops as she tells me, "There's a few more utensils I need to buy from Amazon." I am shocked, shocked to find that shopping is going on in here." My apologies to Captain Renault. (for non-filmophiles, that's a Casablanca reference)

It is 1:30. We have been in the kitchen for over three hours but, for her, it has been moments only. Where before I was patient, I am now hungry. But, as with all things B4, perfection takes time. She makes a hole where one should not be. "Can't I save it?" "No." Tommaso insists. "Be brave. Throw it away." B4 does not throw away. "Can I freeze these?" she asks. "No." Tommaso insists. "Is better any moment fresh." I know but he doesn't: she freezes, she saves, she does not throw away. Will his insistent instruction hit the mark? Time will tell.

The music I hear? "I could do this at home!" she says. True I am sure but only after we get those "few more utensils from Amazon."

Tomasso has stories. He cooks. He gestures. He whips, he drizzles, he pushes and pulls. She says, It's delicious." He replies, "It is also your deserve."

Posted by paulej4 08:21 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

7. They Can't All Be Winners

You can never have too many purses

sunny 75 °F

Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Monday, April 10, 2017

Parma; synonym for food.

This afternoon, we took a city tour with our guide and new friend Giulia.

Item: At the Cathedral of Parma, (1196) an impressive Duomo if I ever saw one and I've seen plenty, the door is flanked by impressive lion sculptures. Over their heads is a sculpture portraying the slaughter of a pig, the oldest known depiction of someone working with pork meat.

Item: At the Baptistery diagonally across the square, a cycle of months is celebrated showing people growing wheat, harvesting grapes, reaping turnips and making suasages.

Item: Nearby is the Magistrale di Santa Maria della Steccata—a church. Above the altar, there are several food-related images including paintings of crabs, doves, shrimp, goats, scallops and fruit. There, food was blessed for the spirit.

Item: In 2004, Parma was appointed as the official seat of the European Food Safety Authority. I suppose there was an abundance of qualified potential employees nearby.

Local food is often centered on egg pasta, the traditional pasta of the region: tortelli d’erbetta, tortelli di zucca and anolini in brodo. Everywhere there is Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma; I mean everywhere. There are other cured meats to be sure, Culatello and Salame Felino among many others. If you can handle it, there is quite a bit of horsemeat on the menu at the restaurants we’ve seen.

Tonight, it is Trattoria Corrieri, a few blocks away from last night’s venue but still within a fifteen minute walk of the Hotel De la Ville. We stopped by just in case they might be open and have a WC for B4. The door was open so we walked in. Not only did the chef who was prepping for dinner offer the facilities for her, they offered me an espresso which I happily downed in the Italian style: no milk, no sugar.

On the way back to the hotel, I bought a shirt just to get even with the two purses acquired by you know who. You are, of course, familiar with the expression, "You can never have too many purses," a truism frequently cited by the love of my life. I admit that I had not heard it before meeting her.

fb1d3d40-2e45-11ea-a6e1-33e0e3b81e8d.jpgfb25efd0-2e45-11ea-970b-03ce35a88c89.jpgfb183430-2e45-11ea-8be6-af6c81b36c62.jpgTrattoria Corrieri was a disappointment. Garish LED lighting in the main dining room reinforced my effort to be seated elsewhere. Even though multiple empty tables existed, I was denied. Then, a party of twenty or more—a birthday perhaps—sat immediately behind me; multiple children included. Not only was the noise cacophonous, the party was up and down, bumping into the back of my chair every time. I offered the maître d’ 10 Euros to seat us elsewhere.

We were moved to a nicely lit table…situated between the swinging kitchen door and the toilet staircase—which was an improvement. The service was perfunctory and brusque. The food was just OK. We started with Fried Bread (a pillow-like light pastry) with a variety of Parma hams and salamis, then a selection of large raviolis (potato and mushroom, spinach and ricotta [my favorite] and pumpkin [her favorite]) followed by pork shoulder (ham slices) with mashed potato with a side of roasted potato. Strange.

A lesson to all: Go to Gallo D/Oro but skip Trattoria Corrieri.

Icing on the cake: B4 had time to successfully take her conference call at 10:00pm as we walked back to the hotel. I heard, “So moved,” “Aye,” and “Bye.” She is non-stop; no confidential information was revealed.

Posted by paulej4 08:26 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

8. We Eat It; They Make It

another purse?

sunny 75 °F

Langhirano, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

After breakfast at the hotel, guide Giulia Marinelli and Luca Benassi driver Simoni call for us at 8:30. We are off to Parmigiano Reggiano producer Caseificio Traversetolese--a thirty minute drive at most. Oh, my. Parmigiano Reggiano being made is a sight to see.

First, the cows (we didn't see them because they stay indoors so they cannot eat the wrong thing) are fed only a strict diet of locally grown grains. They are milked daily and their milk is unpasteurized. That whole milk is promptly skimmed in large shallow tanks, mixed with the naturally skimmed milk from the previous day, drained into deep copper lined vats where the milk is heated and some becomes curdled. Those curds are gathered in muslim cloth, they "gel" a bit, are sliced in two and placed into wheel molds and then salted. There are too many steps for me to list here but, suffice to say, this is quite a time and labor consuming process which delivers wheels of cheese to be aged from two to two-and-a-half years. We tasted quite a bit--some with honey and sparkling regional wine. Yummy. Kraft parmesan cheese it ain't. We bought some--it is remarkably good. abc31a20-2e46-11ea-8091-6b6c24883c2f.jpgabcba5a0-2e46-11ea-969a-2d5ae317269c.jpgabbb2ae0-2e46-11ea-a6e1-33e0e3b81e8d.jpgabbead50-2e46-11ea-ac2d-f75781001643.jpg

Next, we are off to Salumificio Conti, a producer of Prosciutto di Parma. We met the owner, her daughters and grandchildren and watched as the prosciutto is taken from freshly butchered (we did not see that) to finished, salted as a preservative--the only one--and aged to deliciousness. The hogs can only be grown in a finite nearby area. The area for raising the pigs and processing the meat is restricted in that no polluting industries can be near keeping the air, soil and water pristine. No smoking, freezing, etc., as it has to be done as it has for centuries--all natural. ac715b80-2e46-11ea-892d-d1804eda1ded.jpgabcb5780-2e46-11ea-80fa-b1cbbc3b7544.jpgac621940-2e46-11ea-a285-2fc2d078b874.jpgabc16c70-2e46-11ea-b553-6d0d5bc253f2.jpg

Next lunch at Castello di Torrechiara. The castle, built around 1450 is amazingly well preserved. Our mission here, however was lunch. Taverna del Castello was just what we needed. Good food, good wine, fine weather, great service and time to relax. The pasta was wonderful.abcabb40-2e46-11ea-9f36-054733e4f723.jpg

Last for the day was a stop at Colli di Parma winery, Axienda Agricola Lamoretti. Proprietor Giovanni Lamoretti personally escorted us through the vineyard and winemaking facilities where he makes, from only his own grapes, 100,000 cases annually--most of it sold locally. They like sparkling wines in this region and we sampled his Malvasia which was reminiscent of a prosecco but not one. His cabernet sauvignon was remarkably good as well. We bought some sparkling Malvasia to enjoy on the balance of our trip.

Back at the hotel, we dropped off our purchases and walked back into town to buy--another purse!

Dinner is at the local Michelin starred Parizzi Ristorante which is but a five minute walk from the hotel. Parizzi is one of 2,187 Michelin one-star restaurants in the world. (There are 970 with two stars and only 112 with one star). Marco Parizzi, the third generation to operate this restaurant at this location, earned one-star status in 2113. His restaurant is special, pleasantly sparse in design, uncrowded, quiet and elegant. The food--we opted for the five-course tasting menus (one sea and one land) with wine pairings and we were well pleased.

Tomorrow, we bid Parma goodbye, recommending it to any who will listen.

Posted by paulej4 08:31 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

9. Berylaggio

among other things, a massage beckons

sunny 75 °F

Bellagio, Lombardy, Italy
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Its a good long drive from Parma to Bellagio, at least by Italian standards. We leave Parma at nine and are in the lobby of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni by 11:30am. The last few miles are fun--as long as Simoni is driving, which he is. The road twists and turns and is as narrow as a fashionable tie. Only once did we have to come to a full stop so that our mirror did not kiss the mirror of the vehicle headed the other way.

At the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni we have booked a deluxe double room, Lake Como view. On the map, Lake Como forms an upside down Y. Bellagio sits at the saddle of the Y with views of the Alps. The Romans were here before us at around 225BC. Our hotel opened in 1872; adding the new fangled electricity 16 years later. 200 people live in the village; there are 900 hotel rooms.

Ours is 110. It is one of the few with a tiny balcony; we overlook the main entrance to the hotel and the Lamborghini parked next to the Bentley. We arrive in a Mercedes so, up to now, we are passing.

Roberto, concierge extraordinaire, is a fountain of information. Yes, of course, B4 will have a massage and a facial. Yes, of course, we would like a reference or two or three for restaurants nearby. Yes, of course, we would like an ice bucket for the Lamoretti Malvasia we brought from yesterday's winery. Yes, of course, we would like a power strip so that we can plug in all of our typical Americans' electronic devices and, yes, of course we would love to enjoy the free WiFi. Breakfast is from 7:30 until 10:30; Paulo will show you where it is whilst we whisk your baggages to your suite.

It's nice here. 97208cf0-2e47-11ea-9f36-054733e4f723.jpg9720db10-2e47-11ea-82f7-c53c76714a0a.jpg97128330-2e47-11ea-970b-03ce35a88c89.jpg972f32f0-2e47-11ea-a285-2fc2d078b874.jpg9711bfe0-2e47-11ea-ac2d-f75781001643.jpg96ead6f0-2e47-11ea-82f7-c53c76714a0a.jpg97014520-2e47-11ea-a285-2fc2d078b874.jpg968cff80-2e47-11ea-82f7-c53c76714a0a.jpg968a8e80-2e47-11ea-a285-2fc2d078b874.jpg

Our first choice for lunch is his favorite: La Punta, a ten minute walk. It is lovely but once we are seated at a lovely waterfront table, the baby two tables behind B4 begins to wail. His call was answered by the toddler two tables behind me. From the far end of the patio another member of the new age tribe answered. We excused ourselves and went to restaurant choice number two: Trattoria San Giacomo. A bit of pasta and some lake trout washed down by some prosecco and house red erased the decibel war at La Punta from our minds. We will try it again after bedtime.

The third recommended spot, Bilalus, is right across the street from S. Giacomo and it seems perfect for another day.

We stroll back to the hotel in perfect weather, uncrowded streets with beckoning shops each more beckoning than the last. We look at purses and glasses frames, two passions of the woman about whom I am passionate.

After responding to a fleet of emails, a catnap at the room prepares B4 for her massage. I will walk. As I head through the small central town, I pass by the water taxi stands--there are two competitors there. I am trying to arrange transport for Friday to Cernobbio and our next hotel, the Hotel D'Este with a stop on island Locanda Dell' Isola Comancina for lunch. Could be difficult; I'm working on it. Then it's up the hill, around a few corners, up another hill...all the while keeping tight to the rock walls when there is no pedestrian/cyclist lane (which is often.)

Back at the hotel, B4 is not back just yet so I decide to pass the time by uncorking the Lamoretti Malvasia which has been on ice since noon. Tasty.

She returns well massaged and we have about a couple of hours before sunset and dinner time. The email monster grabs her while I shower and then we are off to try again at La Punta.

At eight, there are no age deprived patrons so it is as we like it; intimate, quiet and reserved. We take our concierge' recommendation and order the lavorosa--a lake como fish. It is just OK. But the pasta that preceded it was wonderful. Also, the wine and the prosecco.

The walk home was chilly but we kept a brisk pace. A warm Bellagio bed beckons.

Posted by paulej4 08:37 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

11. Ursalunch

When Ursula Terrasi recommends...

sunny 75 °F

Isola Comacina, Lombardy, Italy
Thursday, April 13, 2017


Our breakfast in the massive dining room is quite nice. How could it not be in surroundings such as these? The hotel has more than its share of amenities, all designed to make the guest feel welcome and well satisfied. One need not be thirsty, as an example.

Our dear friend and guide to all things elegant and Italian, Ursula Terrasi, purveyor of only the finest of sheets at her Kansas City Plaza shop, Terrasi Living, when learning of our trip to Parma, insisted that we make our way to Bellagio and then, most importante, devising a way to visit Locanda dell/Isola Comacina to meet Venvenuto "l'Oste della Locanda."

I find Australian Jeannine, along with her Italian husband Luca, who run a lake water taxi company. I arrange a trip for us. Along the way in her beautiful boat, we are enchanted by the beautiful surroundings, both natural and man made.

b2ef0d50-2e4a-11ea-970b-03ce35a88c89.jpgb2e9dd30-2e4a-11ea-823e-3b65920d4771.jpgb2f28fc0-2e4a-11ea-9f36-054733e4f723.jpg After a twenty-minute boat taxi ride from the center of Bellagio on a southeasterly course. Jennine supervised new-hire Venitian Luca (not her husband Luca but another Luca) as he piloted us on the 30 minute journey. On the mirror smooth waters of Lake Como with abundant sunshine and 70 degree pristine air, we landed around the corner of the island from the ferry dock and walked up the ancient mossy stairs trod by Conrad Adenaur, Kim Novak and George Clooney (photos prove it to be true and accurate).

Here, proprietor Benevenuto Puricelli, born on the mainland of Sala Comacina, the village just across the water from the island of Comacina, serves luncheon extraordinare and learned and now performs the fire ritual that the English writer, Francis Dale, suggested to his predecessor. The ritual would, it is told, undo the mysterious curse cast upon the island by Vidulfo, Bishop of Como, in 1169. It seems to be working.

00bbe440-2e4b-11ea-8822-89fad4fcd8ef.jpg00b29570-2e4b-11ea-b806-a722bfb19ba0.jpg00b18400-2e4b-11ea-9830-094e26cbb420.jpg00cdbe90-2e4b-11ea-9156-07924d2e0ef4.jpg00c1fec0-2e4b-11ea-8bb3-a96a37f6ec5b.jpg00b8fe10-2e4b-11ea-9c67-91ca333689a0.jpg00b135e0-2e4b-11ea-9b39-89b54044b4d3.jpg00be5540-2e4b-11ea-82ad-514acc56de1a.jpg00aec4e0-2e4b-11ea-b7c7-b338439e0e28.jpg00a83530-2e4b-11ea-9e71-0f2ea6a4a0ee.jpg001962b0-2e4b-11ea-970b-03ce35a88c89.jpg001a9b30-2e4b-11ea-9f36-054733e4f723.jpgI know not of any of this. What I know is that Ursula was correct. Lunch here is not to be missed. Serenaded by church bells from across the channel, Locanda Dell’Isola Restorante delivers an enchanting experience, lively repartee and scrumptious cuisine.

Our multi-course feast began at 1:30 served by Benvenuto himself (and an able assistant) for what began as a private lunch on his vast terrace overlooking paradise. (To be fair, an artist from Bruge and his quite younger paramour arrived later and sat nearby.)

Here is the menu for our pre fixe luncheon (unchanged since 1947):

First Course – Antipasto All’Isolana: a slice of tomato with a slice of lemon on top, salt, extra virgin olive oil, peanuts oil and oregano. Following this we serve 8 different fresh vegetables: celery, carrots, baked onions, sweet peppers, courgettes, beans, cauliflower and beetroot. (our favorite? The amazing baked onion) On a separate plate we serve Prosciutto Tipo Praga (ham cooked in a steamer and lightly smoked in a wood-oven) and Bresaola della Valtellina, air-dried beef that is additionally aged in our cellar.

Second Course – Trota Alla Contrabbandiera: Fresh salmon trout grilled on a wood grill. (we visited the kitchen and this grill is wood and charcoal fired). The trout is served boned and dressed with salt, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, peanuts oil and pepper.

Third Course – Rottami di Pollo in Padella: A high quality chicken, opened, crushed, fried in an iron pot with peanut oil and then put in the wood oven. This is served with salad.

Fourth Course – Grana All’Escavadora: Famous Parmigiano Reggiano, cut out of the middle of the form and given into the hand of the client to provide great emotional impact.

Fifth Course – Sliced oranges, served with a delicious homemade ice cream called “fior di vaniglia”.

Bread – Finishing Touch: Caffe All’uso delle Canaglie in Armi: It is a tradition that at the sound of the bell the host enters into the room and burns brandy in the “pot” and tells the history of the Island. Then sugar and coffee are added to the brandy before being served.

Wine – The white D.O.C. wine which is served with the meal is included in the prince (sic) of the menu.

The price per person, including wine, water, cover charge, tax is: €75.00. (about $80.00 US.)

Having no sense of self-control whatsoever, we ate it all. We have an eating plan for next week and several months hence and it involves water, celery and not much else. To burn off a calorie or two, B4 responds to a few thousand emails.

After a stroll around the island, we grab the Ferry back to Bellagio. For €5.50 each, we stop in Lezzeno, Lenno and Cadenabbia enroute home. It is very pleasant and, I am reasonably certain about this, B4 did not nap.5066a2f0-2e4b-11ea-9156-07924d2e0ef4.jpg

Back at our hotel, beyond a beautiful sitting room, we pass by the JFK suite en route to our own. It is marked with this plaque:

“This suite is part of the original 19th century Villa, with high ceilings and frescoes. The uniqueness of this suite are the two pillars in the bedroom. The large window and balcony with stunning view on the lake make this suite one of the most requested accommodation since the Villa was opened as an hotel. In fact, famous guests like Queen Marie of Romania, Grand Duchess Catherine of Russia, King Farouk of Egypt, President Delano Roosevelt, and many others have enjoyed this suite during their stay on Lake Como. The suite was later dedicated to the President J. F. Kennedy, who stayed in this suite during his visit in Italy in June 1963.63384b40-2e4b-11ea-9156-07924d2e0ef4.jpg

As soon as we depart, I fully expect Villa Serbelloni to place a plaque on the door of Suite 110 which will read: "Here B4 once stayed along with an unidentified gentleman."

It is 7:00pm as I write this. We will most likely skip dinner.

Posted by paulej4 08:54 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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