Twilight, Travel, and Treats

Reflections of a Twihard on all things twilight, travel, and treats.

So far we've done

Bologna Part 1 - Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory

Click here if you missed our 40,000 wheels of cheese!
Bologna - Part 2

Balsamic Vinegar

Continuing on our Italian Days Food Experience led by Alessandro we left the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory and headed into another part of Modena.

Acetaia Villa San Donnino
We visited an Acetaia - no English translation but basically it's where they make the awesome balsamic. This is traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena that has a special certification that has to be granted every year to the makers.

these barrels have a hole at the top just covered by cheesecloth
This vinegar is aged a minimum of 12 years. The barrels are all made of different types of wood and cost about 3000 euros a set. Something very specific about the grapes and the air and bacteria mix you get in Modena makes this stuff so special. It takes 12 years before you get 1 litre of vinegar that you can sell or use. It's not a good way to earn money and is definitely a true labour of love.

Alessandro giving up lots of info - but it was hot as hell up there
This stuff has been made traditionally for centuries. They have a receipt on the wall for a balsamic vinegar purchase from 812 A.D.!

We got to try a 12 year old, a 25 year old, and a 120 year old balsamic vinegar. Just a few drops from the spoon and you the difference between them. The older ones are more syrupy and sweet.

120 year old balsamic - like drinking liquid gold

balsamic on home made vanilla ice cream - delicious!
That's Mr. TC's hand and those aren't my feet.
They sell all these products of course. The 12 year old was 40 euros and the 25 year old was 75 euros. Can't remember how much the 120 year old vinegar cost because it was way beyond my price limit.

They also served us nocino - an 80 proof walnut liqueur that they make on site. This stuff is sticky, thick, and delicate. I found my new favourite drink. If I could have I would have brought bottles of this stuff back home. But alas Mr. TC didn't want to lug bottles of liqueur through Tuscany and London. If anyone knows of where to buy this in Vancouver or the Pacific Northwest I will be thrilled.

The Acetaia is in a building next to the owners house. They live in this beautiful villa that was actually passed down from the owners grandfather. I don't believe he's ever had to work and when you see this house you see that they definitely aren't making balsamic because they need the money.

entering their beautiful villa
Part of the Robert de Niro film 1900 was filmed in this mansion. They actually show you the segment of the film that was set in the building and it's surreal standing in the same room that you see on the screen.

We hopped back in the minivan for lunch.


Next we went to a traditional Italian vineyard (cantina) Corte d'Aibo

view of the vineyard during lunch

an organic farm. Made me think of my 4 year old who loves tractors.
I love my ham!

as if we didn't have enough cheese already

The food was excellent and I didn't get a good shot of the pasta they served because I was too busy eating.
What this post doesn't show is me downing another two shot glasses full of nocino liqueur. God that stuff was so good if I hadn't already filled up on red wine (remember it's only 1pm) that I would have chugged back another few. I have to admit I was swaying a bit back to the car.

Prosciutto Factory

Last stop was at a factory where they make famous prosciutto. Everyone has heard of Prosciutto di Parma - well apparently to see the factory where they make that specific named product we'd have to go quite a ways away. So we went to a factory that makes Prosciutto di Modena - apparently same quality and price but just a different name.

By the way, vegetarians look away. Seriously.

Pigs must be at least 9 months old before they are used to make this ham.

legs of pork are washed
then refrigerated to just freezing
 It was boiling hot outside so standing in near freezing temperatures of this gigantic fridge was quite a nice change. But standing in a meat locker gave me some CSI flashbacks and the heebie-jeebies.

then heavily salted and left to rest at
2 degrees celsius for 8 weeks
They are then washed and dried. Then they are painted with a thin layer of paste made from lard, flour, salt and pepper.

imagine a whole warehouse just of pork leg
They are allowed to age for over a year.

branded for approval

The boss shows us how the ham is inspected before being stamped officially Prosciutto di Modena. They use a horse bone needle to check five places. They can tell if the needle comes out not smelling right that the product is no good. We got to try this out and, well, good thing it smelled like yummy prosciutto.

quality control with a horse bone needle
By the end of the tour we finally got to have some prosciutto. Yes it was definitely good but we were all so stuffed that there were actually leftover samples.

All right, we aren't done with food in Bologna yet! I've post Bologna - Part 3 soon.

Okay, back on track with my next travel post.

If you missed the posts so far we've been to:


I'm sure most of you are thinking about bologne (the deli meat) when you read this. It may not be well known to North Americans but Bologna is the food capital of Italy - this is where the Italians go on vacation to eat!! It is also home to the oldest university in the western world - University of Bologna was founded in 1088.

Our only goal for this part of the trip was to visit the home of Parmesan cheese, super good Balsamic vinegar, and Parma Ham. All in one day? You bet.

Getting there

We took a train from Venice's Santa Lucia station to Bologna. I checked online at www.trenitalia.com and found out what time the Eurostar trains were leaving. We arrived at the train station about 90 minutes early and bought our tickets from the machines. We decided on second class tickets since we had heard the only benefit of the first class was a newspaper and drink cart.

bye bye Venice
in Venice the bus driver - boat captain at the helm
train station "panno Americano" for the Yanks
train station ice cream never looked so good
It wasn't hard finding the platform and our car. I was glad Mr. TC was there to lift our suitcases onto the luggage racks though since space was at a premium in the second class cars. The seats were perfectly comfortable for our short 90 minute ride.

our Eurostar train - no need to validate your ticket, just hop on

carrozza (train car) 7, posti corridoio (aisle seats) 24, 27 

second class seats aren't bad at all

We took a taxi to our hotel the Art Hotel Novecento.

old style hotel on the outside

modern on the outside - this is the breakfast bar during midday - free am continental

our Happy Anniversary surprise fruit basket
very modern feeling despite the country-esque look
my luggage nook

love modern showers, especially those with a bench
leopard print robes included

My dream for Bologna was to see the home of Parmesan cheese. I found a tour on Tripadvisor called Italian Days Food Experience.

For about 120 euro we got an almost full day of eating:
- 7:30am pick up from hotel in a minivan
- arrive at Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory
- next go to visit a villa where they make special aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
- onwards to the Parma Ham (in this case Modena ham) factory
- lastly lunch at a typical Italian winery (cantina) and a vineyard tour
- back at hotel almost 4pm

Alessandro is the tour guide and is originally from Tuscany. He keeps things entertaining. He and his girlfriend Barbara (who didn't come on the tour since she's pregnant) were very good at answering our emails.
In the minivan with us was a girl in her 20's from Quebec, two women in their 40's from Washington DC, and a couple from Manchester on their honeymoon.
By the way the couple from Manchester told us instead of a wedding cake they had a tower of various cheeses. Sounds so yummy!!

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory

Everyone has to wear a paper coat over their clothes, no hairnets though.
They clean the factory with whey from the milk and not harsh chemicals. The whole place smells very earthy and old milk-ish. Takes some getting used to.

seriously, a cheese map
True Parmigiano Reggiano can only be made in a very small region in the world and factories have to apply for the internationally recognized designation. Milk comes from the surrounding farms.

As we are looking at the map in the entrance of the factory a cart of fresh ricotta rolls by. Fresh = made less than 5 minutes ago!

freshest ricotta ever
We enter and stand in awe of the huge copper kettles in front of us, each filled with 1000 litres of milk. It's enough to make 2 wheels of cheese each.
The milk comes in the night before and is allowed to sit overnight and then is partially skimmed and then added to the subsequent mornings milk. Fermenting whey from the previous day is also added to the copper kettle. After some slow stirring and heating, a natural milk extract called rennet is added (man this stuff is expensive) which initiates the cheese making!
The milk separates into curd and whey and then the curd is broken up into small rice grain sized pieces. The heat is really turned on now.

huge beater to break up the curd
there is a master cheesemaker who checks to see if things are cooked enough
if the curds stick together when he squeezes things are almost done

curd in cheesecloth which is put into a big circular mold
our guide Alessandro and the factory president
the mold that has the PARMIGIANO REGGIANO to engrave in the cheese

they brine in salt water from the Dead Sea for 25 days
We then go into the gigantic refrigerated warehouse where they age the cheese for up to 24 months. It's dark and they flick on the lights and it's like a scene out of X-Files. Cheese as far as the eye can see. This is seriously a foodie's dream!

I think there are 40,000 wheels of cheese in here
the cheese cleaning machine keeps the oil off the skin
the wheels that are too big for the cleaning machine get manually washes

Quality control
if there's too much air it can't be aged too long
cheese on the left is second class Parmesan
cheese on the right has so much air that it's just cheese :(
if it passes the test by the inspectors it gets branded
We end our tour being able to quality test the cheese with a percussion hammer. Some very cheesy photos too.

Finally exhausted from an hour long warehouse tour we get to sit and watch their cheese making video. They offer us red wine, freshly made ricotta, and awesome Parmesan cream spread on toast. 
It is my new favourite food - Parmesan cream spread is just parmesan and whipping cream melted together in a double boiler. As if either of those foods didn't have enough calories on their own!

all we can eat Parmigiano Reggiano

ricotta made 20 minutes ago

Parmesan cream on mini toasts - so good!
Lastly we get to hit the factory store where locals also come and buy their cheese for the day.

Mr. TC wouldn't let me buy any to take home. His argument was that carrying 10 lbs in cheese in my suitcase across the rest of Europe made no sense when we could buy it around the corner at home. God, men are so practical!

Next post - Bologna Part 2 - Balsamic Vinegar Making and Parma Ham