And had the best meal ever. Seriously. BEST. MEAL. EVER. Unfortunately, the internet connection is terrible here so I’m looking at this really awkward html version of WordPress and am having a hard time adding pictures or really even knowing if I’m typing in the right space. Oh how far we’ve come since 1995.
We did a food tour in Bologna on Monday and ate more than I’m comfortable with admitting to. Let’s just say more than a lot. Way more. I’ll have pictures and everything up eventually. Anyway, we visited a Parmigiano Reggiano factory where there are four cheese makers including the cheese chef. We saw the whole cheese-making process which they do every morning. The cheese is then aged and either approved by the DOP for Parmigiano Reggiano 1st class, 2nd class, or lower quality grana or table cheese. With the leftover whey from the cheese ‘broth’ they make ricotta which translates to ‘recooked’. Real ricotta is recooked cream and whey from the PR vats, which is then drained and sold to locals. MMMMMMmmmmmm. Fresh ricotta is the best thing ever. We had some with Aceto Balsamico, or aged balsamic when we visited a local family. We tasted several different balsamic ages, 14 years, 46 years, and then regular store-bought kind to see the difference with age and REAL balsamic. As Alessandro (our tour guide) said, if you read the ingredients and it doesn’t say “Cook-ed grape must” only, then it’s not real balsamic aceto tradizionale. We even had vanilla gelato with the 14 year aged balsamic and it was DELICIOUS. Next we headed to a prosciutto factory where learned how a piggy’s leg becomes a tasty thinly sliced crudo ham. Lot’s of drying and salting involved in this process. The room with all the aged piggy legs had a really sweet smell to it, which was strange. But the prosciutto was delicioso. Finally we had a ‘light’ Italian lunch which included four different pastas, two meats (rabbit and wild boar), and finished with, get this, a mudslide. Or an ‘freddo espresso with rum’ according to Alessandro. Wow. That meal was lavish and we didn’t eat the rest of the day.
Monday evening we headed to Rimini for the night, so we could catch the bus to San Marino the following morning. We walked around a bit, and then passed out in a food coma. Tuesday we headed to San Marino and enjoyed a gloriously sunny day on the tippy top of a rock/mountain/hill, where the historic center and towers of San Marino stand. We headed back to Rimini after our beautiful day, and caught a train to Faenza for the night. We had an excellent meal at a tiny Osteria that served vino della casa, rosso, our FAVORITE because you can order it by the half liter, or mezzo litre. Wednesday we spent the morning in the Faenza ceramics museum, which I talked about before, and then caught the commuter train to Firenze so Cynthia could see the beautiful hillside patchwork of the Apennines, March, Tuscany, etc. Once we arrived in Firenze we quickly made our way to the bus station and caught a bus to Siena. PHEW! We’ve been traveling non-stop! We arrived in Siena, made our way to our hotel, dropped everything off, and went to discover this Tuscan gem of a town. It’s lovely with medieval buildings lining the tiny streets – there is a historic air to this city. The buildings are old, yes, as they are in most places in Italy, but these buildings clearly have a vibrant and varied history. Take the Scala, which was a hospital, meeting place, church, refuge, to name a few, all throughout history and usually simultaneously. It’s still just as multipurpose since it houses private exhibits, the archaeological museum, the Scala museum, and offers meeting space rentals in vibrant frescoed rooms. I loooooooove Siena.
We also had the best meal on Wednesday night, at an Osteria (Il Vicolo) just down the street from our hotel. It was amazing. AH-may-ZING. We had typical Sienese food, and if it is truly typical (which I believe it is) I might just move to Siena. Or never leave. Pasta in a cream sauce with pecorino cheese, zucchini, walnuts, and leeks. Ohhhhhhh, it was so delicious. Zuppa, which turned out to be just a broth (made with veggies and ham bone) with sautéed leeks, poured over chunks of bread and served in a crock similar to what you would get french onion soup in. Sigh. Oh and there was cheese in that too. Yum. Yum. Yum. I think our waitress was overwhelmed by how happy we were with our meal. But she was so very sweet and still offered us the dessert menu anyway. And yes, we chose something from it, too.
Thursday we saw the sights: the duomo, the baptistery, the mausoleum, the Civic museum, the Scala, and on and on. I was worn out from all the sight-seeing! More important than any of the amazing frescoes or riotous stripes of the duomo, was the loaf of bread we bought from a tiny Il Forno di Pane something or other. AKA a bakery. It’s called Pan Co’Santi and I really think that it is my downfall. I kept seeing this round loaf of bread, dark and bejeweled with raisins and walnuts. RAISINS AND WALNUTS IN BREAD! I MUST HAVE SOME. So we finally stopped in this bread shop and pointed to the window case and the kind baker said, ‘No we don’t have any right now, there are some in the oven, come back around 2pm’. So we continued to walk around and visited the crypt of the duomo. I was getting very antsy when finally 2pm rolled around and we ended up back at the bakery, SURPRISE SURPRISE. And there were about five men there too, standing around like they were waiting for something. Like they were waiting for Pan Co’ Santi! Sure enough, the baker started taking orders and would pop back into the back room and come out with brown bags lightly colored with grease. She’d open the bag, let the men look and smell the loaf and they would say, ‘Si si si si, mmmm’. Oh my goodness, just the mouth-watering scent of the freshly baked Co’santi was enough to throw me into a food frenzy. I finally received my slightly greasy bag, and was barely able to pay as the buttery nutty smell wafted over me. The baker cut up a couple of pieces of the Co’santi for everyone in the shop to taste. Needless to say, we were all buying Co’santi. Cynthia and I rushed to the Duomo (OK, I rushed to the Duomo, Mom walked a normal pace behind me) to sit and have our picnic lunch of an apple, co’santi, and almonds. IT IS THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER EATEN, this week. Or that day. I don’t know. It was crisp on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside, chock-full of golden raisins, walnuts, anise seeds – slightly salty, slightly sweet. I can’t wait to make it at home. In fact, Cynthia is sitting next to the bag and keeps saying ‘all I can smell is that bread’. Even a day later you can still smell the sweet buttery nuttiness (the nutteryness, if you please) of the loaf.
We did other things yesterday, and had a tasty pizza slice with walnuts, pecorino, gorgonzola, olio, and arugula. And some socca! Italian style! It was delicious.
Today we did a lot of shopping and walking. There are so many alleyways and tiny streets to walk down, and you never know what you’ll find! Like ricciarelli cookies, which are made from almond flour and taste like macarons without the jelly/cream fillings. So light and crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, they’re typical to Siena (as are paneforte and co’santi, which is why I’ll never be leaving and will have people roll me up and down the streets!). I will be doing so much baking when I get home, it’s going to be scary. I’ll make sure to do it when I come to see everyone so I can share the love for Siena. 🙂 And because it will be more difficult to roll me around an area that isn’t as pedestrian friendly as it is here.
Tomorrow we’re off to La Spezia. Or somewhere. Tomorrow is ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ Saturday, so who knows where will end up. We’re slowly making our way back to Milan. Anyway, sorry the internet is so terrible! I have so many pictures to share but it’s impossible here.
Must go so I can get a quick nap in before dinner!