Suppose you are really into Hummus. You eat it almost daily, you feed it to your family every other day, and you live in an area that is known for it. Hummusville, Kentucky, the birthplace of Hummus! Many moons ago it was established that the 30 mile radius that surrounds Hummusville, Kentucky has the perfect terroir for growing the most perfect organic Chickpeas. And some time later, the formula for Hummus was created, only to be challenged by less than perfect Hummus from imitators all over the world.
Fearing sudden danger from those pesky imitators, and a slip in quality from some producers who opted for second grade ingredients in order to increase their margins (a scandal dubbed Tehini-Gate), a Hummus Consortium was established to protect the integrity of its product. A Hummus Czar was appointed, and Hummus cops are dispatched daily to inspect the producer’s daily production. They inject a special strip made by HumTech that determines the quality of the product. The items that pass make it to the market as “Hummus”. Those that fail make it as well, but labeled “Sabra Hummus” as a more affordable item that should be eaten immediately.
You get the idea, right? Because if not I can go on and on and talk about the Annual Hummus Festival that includes the famous Hummus donkey race, the tossing of the chickpea game, and the famous Hummus Bucket Challenge.
Such is the food culture in Italy, and especially in Emilia Romagna. I visited Eataly in NYC the other day and I saw this “Felino Salami – Made in Utah” Is there Felino in Utah? I asked the girl. Because as far as I know Felino is a small town south of Parma, famous for its Felino Salami, dubbed King of Salami in Italy and US. How can it be made in Utah. “Its just the style” she says. Hmm, “Parmesan” is a style as well. EU Courts have been banging heads for years trying to determine whether “Parmesan” is a generic name that can be sold in other countries. I’m no expert but “Felino” resembles “Felino” name more than “Parmesan” resembling “Parmigiano Reggiano”
Emilia Romagna is the home to the famous Prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena), and Parmigiano Reggiano, king of cheese. If these items dont excite you than most likely your home country did a masterful job selling you poor imitations. All three are protected by governing bodies that protect the authenticity and integrity of their products. The point of this post is to highlight some of the area producers that accept English speaking visitors. If you dont have a car there are tours you can take from Bologna, Modena, and Parma, some of which will take you to all three in one day. But I recommend renting a car in order to do it at your own pace, visit some castles, and eat something delicious while doing so. The challenge is to find producers that Speak English…
I dont have Prosciutto producer recommendations (Bravo Ziggy, what a start). Instead I got something similar but much more prized. The creme de la creme of cured hams, the Culatello di Zibello. Prosciutto so good it has a different name. And the place most known for it is Antica Corte Pallavicina which I already discussed in full length. A visit to this old Castle/farm and its world famous Culatello cellar, preferably over night, will leave a lasting memory and a plethora of wet dreams.
But if you rather visit another producer, you can contact the consortium. I’m aware of one member that is open for English speaking visitors and that is Terre Ducali which you may contact at email@example.com
CiaoLatte is a small family producer located between Parma and Fidenza. For 10 euros per person, you get a private (unless other show up) tour with young Serena who speaks English well and is a wealth of information. But you will need to be there early (8 am if I recall) in order to see the entire process that lasts about two hours. Well, not the whole process. For that you will need to spend the night in their Agriturismo and help milk the cows early in the morning. The farm is very popular with local schools, mainly due to efforts of Serena’s mom who is quite a character (she turned into Liza Minnelli as soon as we mentioned NYC). Also included is a tasting of various aged Parmigiano, jams and other homemade goodies. Well worth a visit
Forget everything you know about Balsamic Vinegar. Unless you already know what you are supposed to know. Know what I mean? Out of the three amigos (Parma cheese, ham and balsamic), this one may completely change your buying habits, and the way you use Balsamic. Ice cream anyone? Don’t leave Villa San Donnino, just outside Modena without having some ice cream with Traditional 18 year aged Balsamic Vinegar. “Traditional” has an entirely different meaning in the Balsamic Vinegar universe. You will learn all about Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, its much younger, hence more affordable cousins, and the eye opening process. An absolute must. Free of charge. After that, a power lunch at the legendary Hosteria Giusti in Modena is in order.
Buon Appetito my friends!