Another great story by Maryke Roberts on her recent gastronomic tour of Italy.
Scroll down for the English Translation and enjoy!
...traipsing and tasting your way through Italy...
When South African travel writer Maryke Roberts got the chance to visit Italy, it was not
the charms of Rome, Venice or Milan that drew her, but the tantalising foods of Parma,
Bologna and Norcia.
Indeed, by the time you have walked Mother Earth for forty odd years, you know what best tickles
your taste buds. I include parmesan cheese (its pungency maybe just a tad too much for sensitive
palates), truffle oil (reminiscent of forest nights, fungi and fertility) and Parma ham with pickled
artichokes. It makes perfect sense then, having landed at the airport outside Rome that we would
head straight to Bologna.
Spaghetti- cause of comfort or contention?
Spaghetti, in my esteem, is comfort food. My mission; to find the best there is in Bologna. Alas,
the lady at the tourism bureau in the centre of the city does not share our enthusiasm. Whilst her
friends are lazing away on inviting bright beaches, she has to deal with the ill informed naivety of a
foreigner’s search for the best Bolognaise sauce in the world. “There is no such thing as ‘spaghetti
bolognaise’, she broadcasts for our attention, and everyone else within hearing distance. “It’s a myth
we wish to vanquish, once and for all. Try our linguine or tagliatelli with a ragù sauce...” she advises
Rapped over the knuckles, my high falutin bolognaisan notions proving to be a mere rumour, we
content ourselves with a buffet at Caffe Maxim on the Piazza della Mercanzia, just around the
corner. The purchase of two drinks at the bar allows one to snack away all night long on the spread
of delicacies: thinly sliced prosciutto wrapped around plump cantaloupe, chilled melon chunks sweet
as honey with homemade coppa, rosa tomatoes wrapped in fragrant basil leaves, thick slices of
mozzarella cheese mellowing the fruity melange- the list goes on.
Well fed now, with at least some of my romantic notions of Italian cuisine restored, we choose as
our next taste bud sensation an excursion to the Gelato Museum in Carpigiani on the outskirts of the
city. Sadly, it turns out they are closed for the holidays. Undeterred, we press our noses against the
windows and take in with childish delight the ice-cream colours in the churns, the antique ice-cream
tins and the splendid designs of the ice-cream scoops dating back to the fifties and sixties.
A little sign indicates 1970, my bonny year of birth, as the year in which whipped cream served on
top of ice-cream became popular, along with the machine that could beat it up twice as nice (and as
No mean truffle...
We drive through little villages advertising culinary festivals of all sorts and it seems there’s no end
to the ingenuity with pasta: gnocchi, pumpkin, sweet potato, not forgetting spaghetti, tagliatelli
A whole evening is whiled away in Loro Piceno at the Vino Cotto wine festival, where we develop a
taste for cooked wines and an affinity for the locals who prepare and pour this potent pick-me-up.
They let us in on the bit of colloquial culinary knowledge that no visit is complete without spending
some time (and money) at Norcia, the place where truffles come from. We feel compelled to visit
each little butchery and to discover the carnal treats on offer. We savour salami with truffle oil,
chewy ciabatta dunked in olive oil, blue cheese and olives vying variedly for the attention of our
oil factory and taste sensations. I buy a small jar of wild boar sauce and tiny bottle of truffle oil and
hope to get them back home intact.
A beseeching e-mail from South Africa hints at not missing out on visiting Venice or Milan. The
most delectable Maschere biscuits can be bought here and preferably enough tins of them to share
back home. Parmesan cheese takes precedence over these sweet treats and we follow the road to
the Musei del Parmigiano Reggiano which is one of four of the Musei del Cibo group; its aim to pay
tribute to the pioneers whose culinary proficiency popularised visits by passionate food lovers to the
different regions. The other three museums celebrate tomatoes, Parma ham and salami.
We spend many a day visiting little street cafes in the area where we eat bowls of tagliatelli ragù,
which believe it or not (but don’t tell the Italians) tastes just like our adopted bolognaise sauce back
home in South Africa! We devour chunks of grated parmesan cheese on our pasta and sometimes
pop in at street markets to buy scrumptious ingredients for our evening meals.
Good news travels fast and when we hear of a wonderful guest house with a South African as part
their invitation we take over their kitchen from time to time trying our hand at preparing the robust fare of the region. Sharing our gastronomic delights brought no complaints!
Sure, we did do a little non-food related sightseeing as well. We saw the Black Madonna at the
Loreto Cathedral and took a spin to the Ferrari museum in Modena. But mostly, we just ate and
had our heavenly fill of exquisite foods, way more colourful and sensual than we anticipated! We’ll
be back soon to follow the trail of food through all the other villages inviting our naive but ardent
search for sublime Italian gastronomy. Viva Italia!
Quick facts for the Foodies
- Tours to the local Parmesan Farms in and around Parma, Modena and Reggio Emilia can be done in your own time. The full name if this cheese is Parmagiano Reggiano. Some 270 000 cows are milked twice a day to make proper Parmesan cheese. A complete list of farms with directions is available at www.parmigiano-reggiano.it
- Present your airline ticket at any of the Musei del Cibo to get a discount. More info is available at www.musiedelcibo.it
- Pre-book to visit the Gelato Museum in Carpigiano, via Emilia in Bologna to avoid disappointment. Bookings at email@example.com
- In Bologna one can do a one day food and wine tour. The short amble through the city includes a visit to the food markets and a free copy of a book with traditional recipes. To confirm tour dates go to www.bolognawelcome.it or ask for more information at the tourism bureau.