Sunday, October 16, 2011


Anyone familiar with Mario Batali knows what cheese I'm referring to:  parmigiano reggiano.  Now, I grew up eating very little Italian food.  When my mom made spaghetti she made the sauce with a packaged spaghetti sauce to which she added tomato paste and water - along with a pat of butter!  To top off this dish there was that ubiquitous green can, so well known on most American tables when I was growing up.  For some unknown reason, that stuff in the green can just never appealed to me - perhaps my taste buds knew they should be saving themselves for the real deal in years to come!  Last fall, on our grand tour of Italy, we were finally able to visit Emilia-Romagna, home of parmigiano reggiano, and to see it being made.

While I don't remember all the details about the process, but I can tell you that to be authentic parmigiano-reggiano cheese it must first of all be made within the designated region.  It must also be made from the milk gathered from two different milkings:  the milk that's collected in the evening has to sit and be treated, then it's mixed with the milk from the morning milking, stirred in giant copper vats.  The curds are then gathered up in cloth, drained, set in forms, and left to sit in a salt water bath for several days.  After that the wheels of cheese are stacked on shelves where they age for anywhere from 18 to 24 months.  Making parmigiano reggiano is serious business, and each batch of cheese must meet strict standards and must pass a taste test  conducted by a panel of experts before it can have 'Parmigiano Reggiano' emblazoned on its rind.

Here are some pictures from our tour:

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Quite a few years back, when my son and his wife lived in Italy, they bought a gift for my daughter and her family. That gift was one I was so jealous of! I wanted one of my own! And now, finally, I have something very similiar, and one that has special meaning for us. The gift? Ceramic letters, spelling my daughter's last name, mounted in an iron bracket. Ours is slightly different, using our house numbers instead of our name, but both the ceramic tile and the iron bracket were made just for us on our trip to Italy last fall.

Originally I thought we'd be able to find the ceramic tiles all over southern Italy, and my plan was to buy them while we were in Puglia. At the last minute we decided to see what was available in Deruta, which of course is very near San Venanzo. After searching through many different shops, I really wasn't happy with what we'd found - I know this must be hard to believe, since Deruta has more ceramic shops than you can imagine! We found ceramic tiles, measuring about 3" X 6", each with a small flower border on the top and bottom, and one large number in the center. For a four digit house number you'd buy the 4 number tiles, then two 'end' tiles that wrapped the border around the ends. Our problem was that we didn't like the border pattern or colors, and the two or three shops that had the number tiles all seemed to have the same thing.

We started out going into the larger shops but then turned to the smaller shops, hoping we might stumble upon the right numbers with the perfect design. As we were getting ready to leave yet another small shop, right across the street from Grazia, the clerk, an older man, asked if he could help. We explained what we were looking for, but no, he didn't have anything like that. BUT.......he could very easily make one for us.....and he motioned for us to follow him to the back of the store, to the workroom.

I, of course, was skeptical. Would there be enough time? Would having something custom made cost an arm and a leg? the man showed us various sized tiles, and various designs. It was pretty easy to make a decision - yes, that size would be, not that design, something simple, maybe just some variation of the traditional 'Deruta' not the one with the dragon, the other one.....Okay perfect. Now, how long, and how much? When we were told it would only take one week, and that the cost was only €40 we knew we'd found the right shop!

After picking up the tile a week later we knew there was only one place to find a bracket that would fit our tile - we'd have our fabro in San Venanzo, Paolo, make one for us! Paolo was very surprised to see us! Although we'd spent the day in San Venanzo when we'd first arrived in September, that was several weeks ago, and we hadn't seen Paolo then - I'm sure he was working. I tried to describe what I wanted - something simple, I told him. I drew a sketch on a piece of paper and that was all he needed! He told us to come back in a few days to pick it up! I know it's geeky, but we were both so excited to have this bracket made just for us! And Paolo was SOOO excited that something of his was going to the United States! (For so many people in Italy the United States is still thought of as the place where the streets are lined in gold and all the girls look like they do on "Baywatch", or whatever other American-style soap opera/sitcom/dramedy happens to be hot in Italy.)

Paolo wanted to show us how he made the ends of the brackets curled:

Fabro 010

Here's the finished product:

ceramic house numbers in iron_7595

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