True Italian Taste in Emilia-Romagna

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True Italian Taste in Emilia-Romagna

Our host for the trip was Chef Roberto Fracchioni who worked in the Toronto restaurant scene for decades before moving over to the education sector. Not limited to hosting duties, he served as translator, handler and chauffeur for the trip. His wealth of knowledge about Italian culture, people and cuisine served us well during the trip, not to mention his familiarity with this specific region where his family happens to come from. His comprehensive expertise on Italian craft and culture lead him to be named the ambassador in Canada for the prized Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of cheeses. We were accompanied by Chef Andrew Thorne of Good Earth Food and Wine Co., in Niagara, ON and Chef Fraser Macfarlane of Quarterfoil Restaurant and Brux House, in Dundas, ON.

As I wrote this, I was traveling south on Highway A1 from Val Tidone en route to Parma. This highway dissects the heart of Emilia–Romagna and it is the avenue down which most of the regions high quality products travel to local business and abroad. To the east, the snow-capped Apennines mountains rise above the horizon and its hard not to be in awe of the pristine beauty of this region. On this morning, we were up at the crack of dawn to meet a local prosciutto producer in Parma. Red eyed and empty stomached, ready for our daily intake of all things Emilia–Romagna. Although not my first time in Italy, it was my first time to have ventured out of the major cities and into the rustic rural communities.


Starting in Bologna, we zigzagged our way through the Emilia–Romagna region, culminating a week later in Verona at the worlds largest annual wine event in Italy, called Vinitaly. One of our first stops was the small town Forlimpopoli at the food culture hub, a museum and school Casa Atrusi where we would spend two days integrating ourselves into local food culture. Named after the Italian gourmand Pelligrino Artusi who’s meticulous record keeping helped catalog and print the Italian gastronomic tome La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar benne. We were instructed by local Nonas on the finer points of hand making pasta. We learned a myriad of shapes and styles of pasta, and the reasons why each shape and size exist. This class was followed by dinner in Casa Artusi’s restaurant which was fantastico!! 


The following day we were instructed by Chef Fabrizio Mantovani on modern interpretations of Italian street foods in the region. Polenta with Mortadella di Bologna, Taleggio crostini and my personal favourite chicken tortellini in meat ragu; all presented in interesting and non traditional ways. One note on tradition in Italy. It is the essence of food culture and not be played with! Chef Fabrizio was brought in to teach given the fact that Canadian chefs aren’t put under the same stringent pressures to conform as their Italian counterparts. In us, he had an audience open to new interpretations of the cuisine. 

Later we toured the oldest university in the world in Bologna and were treated by the faculty to a technical tasting of virgin olive oil. We were instructed on key identifiers in flawed oil and the classification of graded oils. Afterwards, we toured the laboratories to learn about the tools they used to assist with grading on a molecular level and in quantifying their results. These final conclusions are then used to grade and award olive oil from all over the world. 


Throughout the trip we continued to hear certain acronyms being dropped by producers, often like a badge of honour. DOP this.... IGC that... were common opening phrases regarding products. We were taught of the high quality and methods which make these designations a sought-after honour and the protection it guarantees the consumer. I won’t get into the meaning of said acronyms as that would fill a whole issue of this publication but rest assured if you see either DOP or IGC, the products are elite in quality. We visited dozens of producers on the trip and their passion for quality ingredients is unapologetically frank and compromise is not and option. Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella di Bologna, Grana Padano, Culatello di Zibello, Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamico di Modena we’re just a few of the producers we visited on the trip. Of course, we visited many more regional producers who don’t fall under the designation umbrella but in my opinion, equally as good. 

I could go on and on about the passion evident in the craftsmanship and the integrity of the ingredients, but words only do them half the justice they deserve. Both myself and the Italians agree that the best form of appreciation is to eat them! In the spirit of the ultimate appreciation, Chef Roberto and I will be hosting an upcoming dinner on the island, Friday, June 7th. This dinner will pull inspiration from the trip and introduce Members to the true Italian products we were able to enjoy. To accompany the dinner, there will be a cocktail hour beforehand and naturally Italian wines paired by Elayne Bassett of Profile Wine Group. I look forward to seeing you all there. Ciao!

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Posted: 5/22/2019 12:09:05 PM by Chef Michael Russell | with 1 comments

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