Published on October 29th, 2013 | by Rachel Budke1
Modena, Italy: Parmesan Cheese & Balsamic Vinegar
In my Science of Food and Wellbeing class this fall, we took a field trip to Modena, Italy. This field trip was something I have been looking forward to all semester – and it definitely surpassed my expectations. At home, I attend Kansas State University and study Bakery Science. My degree is in the agriculture department, so it was a real treat for me to get to see how food is produced in Italy and compare it to the methods in the United States.
Our first stop was to an organic Parmegiano Reggiano cheese factory, Hombre Organic Farm. In Italy, organic parmesan cheese is a very rare specialty. It was such a charming farm, and they put a lot of extra care and effort into every aspect of the farm. Hombre grows all of the animal feed at the farm, takes care of the cows, and produces the delicious cheese. They treat all of their cows with great respect and care, which is an element of the farm that I loved. When a cow is ill, the treatment is homeopathic medicine and not antibiotics. My class got to visit the room where all of the cows are milked. Visitors are not allowed in the room when the cows are inside because it will cause them to become very anxious. To help keep the cows calm while they are being milked, classical music is played for them.
Next, we were taken to a room that was a special surprise. Hombre Organic Farm is owned by the Panini family, a wealthy family who produces books, comics, magazines, stickers, trading cards. There is a room inside the farm that houses luxury cars and motorcycles. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know anything about cars, but it was still very exciting to see! The small car is a tiny Ferrari that Umberto Panini had produced for his young son.
After looking at the cars and motorcycles, we went into the room where the cheese was aged. It was filled floor to ceiling with Parmesan cheese. Each wheel of cheese weighs about 80 pounds and is aged anywhere from 1-3 years. Before the cheese is sold, it is cleaned.
After our visit to Hombre Farm, we visited a balsamic vinegar producer, The Acetaia Caselli. As soon as we arrived, we could smell the sweet grape flavor coming from the boiling pots. I could have stayed there all day! Once we saw the vinegar cooking, we went upstairs to the room where the vinegar was aged. There are a series of small barrels that are laid out in order from small to large. As the vinegar ages, it is moved from barrel to barrel. In order for the product to be considered a true balsamic vinegar, it must be aged a minimum of 12 years. The highest quality of balsamic that Acetaia Caselli sells has been aged for 25 years. It is very thick and sweet, and very different from the vinegar you get at the grocery store. As a tradition, when a new family member is born, a new batch of balsamic is cooked. Once it is fully aged, it is given to the family member as a wedding present! How neat!
We finished off the day with a delicious “light lunch”. Everything that was made showcased the different aged balsamic vinegars. We were also given Lambrusco wine, which is typical of this region. It is a sparkling red wine that is served cold. Our meal started off with a delicious plate of appetizers. The most unique dish we ate was a paprika flavored Pringle chip topped with ricotta cheese and 25-year balsamic. It was a strange combination, but it completely worked. I could have eaten an entire tray of them! Our next course was a pancetta and balsamic pasta. After the pasta, a tray of different cured meats was brought out. We finished off lunch with two delicious desserts. One was a fig cake and my favorite was ricotta cheese that was sweetened with brown sugar, layered with crushed cookies, and topped with 25-year balsamic. It was such an interesting combination of flavors and textures.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my field trip to Modena, Italy. It was an amazing day filled with even more amazing food! Italy is such an amazing place and I am so lucky that I get to study here. Ciao!