We had the opportunity to go to a cheese, meat, and vinegar market. Gino Cacino taught us all about the process of parmegiano reggiano, balsamic vinegar of Modena, and specialty meats unique to Siena.
Some interesting facts I learned:
-Parmigiano reggiano is tested by a professional cheese tester after the first year of aging to make sure it's a quality cheese. The cheese that is rejected is still ok to purchase, it's just not certified so it will be a little cheaper and a little less tasty.
-Pecorino Cheese is a Sienese specialty. Back in the day there were a lot of sheep in the area and therefore they were able to use sheep milk to make cheese. There is pecorino fresca that is very soft and comparable to Muenster cheese - this type had to be eaten within 15 days or it will go bad. It's delicious. Another pecorino cheese is preserved by being coated in tomato (for its acidic quality to eliminate bacteria - yay food microbiology) and it's left to age. It's a little less moist and more flavorful than the pecorino fresca.
-Balsamic vinegar is left in wooden barrels to age. The longer it ages, the more valuable it becomes. They sell 40 year old balsamic vinegar that is 30 euro= $45 USD for 1.3 oz. I didn't get to taste it but they claim that it's really sweet and absolutely delicious - hence the price per oz.
-The Sienese people were overtaken by Florence and their spices used to preserve their meat was taken away. They then had to find a new way to preserve meat and used fennel to do the job. This type of salami with fennel is now considered a food eaten to celebrate Siena's new found independence from Florence.
-Jon pointed out that in Tuscany there isn't salt in the bread. This is because salt was very expensive (salary and salt have the same derivative) and they needed it to preserve their meat. All of their salt went to the meat. It was also a benefit and continued tradition because their meat is so salty that they didn't want to combine salty bread with salty meat so they have kept it that way since. Neat right?
I LOVE FOOD - particularly Italian food, real Italian food.
I want Gino's job, I got a picture with him but another girl has it. I'll post it here when I get it from her.