I have often talked about how on each of my trips to Italy I always try to learn more about history, culture, art, food, architecture and so much more. Most of the time I do not even have to try. It just happens.
One of those ‘Aha” moments happened when I was visiting a member production facility of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium to witness the production process of the ‘King of Cheese.’ As you may be aware, this most coveted cheese is a product of the Emilia Romagna region and can only be made in five provinces – Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Bologna, Modena and Mantova. During my tour it was explained that the cheese whey, which is the remains after the formation of the curds is taken to the pig farm, which was literally the next property and fed to the specially bred pigs which were soon to become another prized product from a town in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna – Parma. Only in this town is the truly special Prosciutto di Parma produced from pigs which are fed only products produced in the town. Indeed, the pigs also roam in an area where they eat the “grass of Parma.”
Bingo! “What grows together, goes together.” In this region alone, there are forty-one products which are produced or processed only there. And this does not include the wine. This pairing of foods is typical of Italy where farmers grow crops and rear animals for their villages and the vineyard owners and wineries would produce wine to compliment them.
I can remember sitting with Robert Mondavi and learning how the soils and climate vary to each geographic location and contain influences like vegetation, flowers and other aromas. He made me smell a couple of products which naturally empowered my senses. When he gave me a glass of wine to drink I could taste and smell each of those products.
The cows of the Emilia-Romagna region begin the local chain of events since they eat the local forage or grasses in the soil of the province and produce the milk used in the production of the cheese. The flowers and local growth of nature with the climate are influences on the wines also because the vines are in the same soil with the same nutrients and properties. Thus, the matching or pairing of wine with food can be made easier by remembering “What grows together, goes together.” Try this approach for all of the regions when you are matching the food courses for your next menu.
And as a personal post script…Please leave the fat on the prosciutto when you order it next time. This is where the flavor is! Too many restaurants and people cut it off – No – No.
Look for more on the subject “What grows together, goes together” in a future edition.