Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Bologna Italy ~ Infused with a Taste for the Good Life

Bologna Italy is infused with the feeling that every day is a luxurious adventure. Shop windows and stalls are a constant presentation of delights. Cheese, prosciutto, wine, and pasta feed a vibrating elation of taste and transaction throughout Piazza Maggiore. The zenith, though, of this sensuous verve may be Cafe Gamberini, the oldest bakery in Bologna.

Cafe Pasticcera Gamberini
Seeing a Gamberini display for the first time, a visitor may thrill at the wonder of how such perfection could be produced for ordinary consumption. And then be further astounded the following day by a whole new array of flawless confection.

So to begin this new year with the sweetest of dreams, treat your eyes to this feast of Gamberini creations.  Enjoy 2015!

Cork City Ireland

Cork English Market Main Entrance Interior
English Market Main Entrance
Cork City is the culinary capital of Ireland, and anyone who doubts that claim has only to visit The English Market to be converted. Built in response to Cork's economic prosperity in the eighteenth century, it opened on August 1, 1788, and has survived many challenges, including a devastating fire in 1980. Today it is the centerpiece of Cork's thriving culinary economy and a vibrant reminder of its long history in artisan food production.
Quoting from The English Market Website: 
The unrivalled ability of Cork Harbour to shelter the biggest fleets assembled during the American War of Independence and later during the Napoleonic Wars was a major factor in the expansion of the provisions trade in Cork. The Cork Butter Market, with its strict and rigorously enforced system of quality control, was world famous and became the largest butter market in the world for its time.

The First Quality Control System for Food

Cork Butter Early Export Map
Cork Butter ~ Early Export Map
The Cork Butter Museum is another testament to Cork County's centuries old artisan food industry. Illustrated through rooms of detailed displays, the museum pays tribute to the city's strategic contribution in expanding global trade routes soon after Columbus sailed to the Americas. Perhaps its most important and lasting innovation, though, was the establishment of a quality grading system for butter, essentially creating the world's first food quality control system.

Celebrating the Science of Good Food

University College Cork Dairy Department Signage
UCC Dairy Department Signage
Crowning Cork's reputation for good food is the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at University College Cork (UCC). In addition to being one of Europe's most respected food science research centers, it is also the oldest dairy science training institution in the world.  It's no surprise then that milk and cheese have such prominence in this UCC video production about 5th century Irish foods.

Copper Cais ~ The Milk of Ireland Ripened in the Heart of Butte

Veronica Steele
Veronica Steele
In 2010, I took a break from work in the digital world to explore the ancient, multi-sensory realm of artisan cheesemaking.

While employed as a cheesemonger at Cowgirl Creamery in Northern California's Point Reyes Station, I read an article in Culture magazine about County Cork and Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the Beara Peninsula who make a variety of “washed-rind” cheeses with a distinctive red hued rind. It struck me that the color much resembled that  of smelted red copper which is the economic mainstay of Butte, Montana, where I grew up.

The Irish immigrants who worked in the copper mines of Butte more than a hundred years ago mostly came from County Cork. Thinking it would be wonderful to introduce Butte to this savory variation of copper, I wrote to Veronica Steele of Milleens Cheese in Eyeries, Ireland, and asked about her willingness to teach cheesemaking classes during An Ri Ra 2013, Butte’s annual Irish Festival. Her response opened a whole new understanding for me about the Butte - County Cork connection.
Hi, Cynthia, It would be amazing to go to Butte, Montana to conduct a class. This area of Ireland has huge connections to Butte. It's spoken of as though it were the next village. If you ever get the resources together, I'll be over in a shot! Best wishes, Veronica

Allihies Copper Ends - Butte Copper Begins

Allihies, Ireland
 Allihies, Ireland
Everyone with Irish ancestry in Butte grows up hearing about County Cork, but no common mention is made about the bulk of Irish miners coming from Allihies, a small copper-mining village on the southwestern reaches of the Beara Peninsula.

Milleens Parish Ancestry Record
Beara Ancestry Record
Copper mining began in Allihies as early as the Bronze Age. In the Industrial Era of the 1800's, it became a full-scale commercial production.  Then, in the 1870's, the veins began to play out just as the Copper Kings in Butte, half a world away, were getting started.

With enticement from copper barons like Marcus Daly, the exodus of miners from Allihies seemed to take place overnight. Veronica's comment about Butte being "spoken of as though it were the next village" was no exaggeration. This story captured my imagination. Six months later I was seated with Veronica at a table in her house, enjoying Milleens Cheese and learning about the very people I knew while growing up.

Midway through our visit, Veronica and her husband Norman introduced me to volumes of Beara family histories compiled by Riobard O'Dwyer.  Called "My Ancestors (Annals of Beara)", the words "Butte, Montana" echoed through the pages like a supplication. That day, Veronica and I outlined a nascent plan, called the Copper Cais Project. Cais is the Gaelic word for cheese. Given that the most common association to Ireland in Butte is about alcohol, we intended to diversify that bond with the addition of fine food.

The Milk of Ireland Ripened in the Heart of Butte

From Allihies, I went straight to Butte and began laying the foundation for Veronica to conduct cheesemaking and cultural history classes there the next year. As a long-term economic incentive, we also proposed to experiment with using an old Butte copper mine as an aging cave for cheese made in Ireland. Abandoned mines have been used successfully as aging caves throughout the world so this was an achievable dream. In fact, our slogan - The Milk of Ireland Ripened in the Heart of Butte - had the ring of a perfect marketing campaign.

I built a project website, made arrangements for Veronica's classes, and even scouted an old Butte mine shaft as a possible affinage site. Back in Ireland, Veronica researched ways to bring her cheese through customs without fear of confiscation. All was proceeding on target until fate took control of our plan. Less than a year after I met Veronica, she developed Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), a fatal neurological disease. Though we tried to move forward with modifications, it was soon obvious that our vision was no longer possible.

Veronica and I kept in touch over the internet as she survived a few more years. Despite extreme physical and psychological challenge, she remained an active member of her family and community. Cheesemakers from around the world paid ongoing tribute to her.

Of course, I felt deep disappointment at the loss of a new and magical friendship with Veronica whose depth and force of capability created an international legacy, all from a remote farmhouse on an ancient island; and of the opportunity to share her inspiration in the place where I grew up. But the insight to be gained from such turns lies in appreciating the voyage from a wider view.

Locations at the outer reaches of Ireland are served by infrequent public transportation. Most people simply rely on car rides with others. So Veronica and Norman arranged for me to stay overnight in their daughter's house in Allihies before returning to Cork City. (The Steele family, by the way, personifies the kind of relationship that will only be an aspiration for most of us.)

North Star beckons to Allihies
In a small village with no artificial night light, Polaris shone bright above the black horizon of the North Atlantic. It called my attention to the West, and I saw what they once saw, those ancestors who braved their way from Allihies to Butte. The phrase "beacon of hope" will never have a more fitting rendition in my mind.

Now I'm taking this experience to life through animation.  The working title is CopperMind.  Let the stars be my guide.

Allihies Ireland

Entering Allihies
Entering Allihies
Situated on the extreme western tip of the Beara Peninsula, Allihies takes pride in being the farthest from Dublin of any village in Ireland.  It even celebrates the fact that the Allihies Copper Mining Museum is ‘the most inaccessible museum in Ireland.’ Yet it still keeps vigil, on a daily basis, for relatives who emigrated to Butte more than a century ago.

Sullivan Family Headstone in Allihies
Sullivan Family Headstone in Allihies
Enveloped by rippling mountains, deep green hills, and the beckoning fingers of its rocky Atlantic coastline,  the streets and structures of Alllihies village are bright and pristine.

Adding an unexpected touch of magic is the sub-tropical vegetation.  Fuchsia, bamboo and, especially, palm trees are everywhere thanks to the warm flow of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. It is a remote, independent, and stunningly beautiful place.

Only the Man Engine House stands as a visual reminder of its hard rock history. Without visiting the Copper Museum, it would be nearly impossible to imagine the tragedy of daily life for those men, women and children who worked the mines in Allihies.

The Allihies Copper Mining Museum

Allihies Copper Mining Museum Displays
Allihies Copper Mining Museum Displays
From the Allihies Copper Museum Website
In the mid-nineties a group of Allihies residents came together to discuss how they might preserve and present the local copper mining heritage of this unique area. The idea of Allihies Copper Mine Museum (ACMM) was born and hard work and dedication on the part of the local community brought it to fruition. 
Attended by then-president Mary McAleese, the museum finally opened its doors in May, 2007.
Butte Story - Allihies Mining Museum
Butte Story
The Museum is housed in an old Methodist church which once served the Cornish miners of Allihies. Now filled with displays and historic artifacts, it is a reverent tribute to those who got little or no recognition while alive. Notable throughout the stories is the mention of Butte, Montana. No wonder it is still thought of, "as a village down the road."

Rome Beyond the Ruins (on a skateboard)

Skatepark in an abandoned Fiat Factory - Rome Italy 2004

I believe that travel is the best form of education.
So my son, Patrick, was destined to explore the world in whatever way I could afford, even camping outdoors at the Winter Olympics.  In 2002, he was a twelve-year-old in love with hockey. The Salt Lake Olympics was less than an eight hour drive from where we lived in Montana. We had to be there.

Tickets to hockey games in the elimination rounds were surprisingly affordable. But lodging, even within a hundred miles of downtown Salt Lake, was on exploitation overdrive. So I rented a spot with electricity at a Kampgrounds of America (KOA)in the center of the city. 

Even camping had a premium price tag but the location was perfect. Free public shuttles took us directly from our tent spot to all the downtown Olympic venues. My only regret was not getting tickets to a wider array of events because it was all so easy to access.   

Camping at the Winter Olympics demonstrated to my son that the unconventional can have unique rewards.  Aside from a few TV production RVs the only other campers were all Canadian hockey fans! He left talking about attending the 2006 Olympics in Turin (even if we had to camp). 

By 2004 I was ready to introduce him to Europe. My fantasy itinerary began with backpacking and train rides but soon scaled down to my budget and ten day timeframe. I decided his first experience would take him to the root of Western culture. We'd pretend we lived in the Eternal City of Rome. 

Patrick was enthusiastic about the trip but, as a fourteen-year-old, his sporting obsession had migrated to perfecting new skateboarding tricks. He scanned photos of Roman street scenes for boarding potential. Leaving behind his trucks and deck, even for ten days, would absorb his thoughts no matter how ancient the ruins and marvelous the art around him. So I researched skateparks in Rome and the board came with us as a carry-on. 

The decision to stay primarily in one place turned out to be fortunate because a month before our departure the Madrid Train Bombings happened and all of Europe was on the highest alert. Train travel became the same security ordeal as flying became after 9/11. 

There were no official skate parks in Rome at the time, so the recommendations took us into ordinary neighborhoods that most Americans would never visit. Through a common language of ollies, grinds and kickflips, Patrick connected with his Italian peers, who then included me as a respected elder accessory. We became honorary citizens of Rome. 

After a few hours of riding on rough cobblestone streets, our young Roman friends invited us to a skating site in a gutted Fiat factory. The location wasn’t on any of my tourist maps so they drew some instructions in my notebook and said to meet them there in the evening. 

Of course, this could have been an unfortunate set-up but instead the outcome was even better than I imagined. While planning the trip, I'd read about notorious underground communities in Rome that hosted subversive art events. Being illegal and transient, they were virtually impossible for an outsider to find.  Of course, I wanted to be there!

Arriving at the makeshift skate park made of plywood and scaffolding, Patrick was thrilled (in a teenage way) to be immersed in a gnarly scene half way around the world. While he was busy grinding and flipping, I explored the grounds outside and met a British expat my age who made sculptures from discarded car parts.

As we chatted, it dawned on me that this was one of those underground venues, a renegade Roman live/work/play space that I'd never have found on a tourist map. I was awe-struck. 

Since he wasn’t feeling skateboard deprived, Patrick engaged with the attractions of ancient Rome. He loved the Pantheon and, for a teenager, was remarkably touched by Pompeii which was our only side trip.  For both of us, though, the most enchanting experiences were the result of taking a risk.

A footnote finale:
We did not go to the 2006 Turin Olympics because I opted instead to take him to Amsterdam when he turned eighteen the following year. That is a whole other story.  In 2013, however, I was in Turin by myself and went to the main venue. Again, that is a whole other story...that brought me to deeply question and alter my perception of their value. 

Making Pasta in Bologna

Fresh Laid Italian Eggs
Fall was the season for holiday food preparation in my mother’s Italian family. Raviolis were the centerpiece. Through October and most of November we made hundreds of them. All rolled, stuffed, and closed by hand on a massive kitchen table.

In 2013, I decided to deepen my childhood ravioli memories during a trip through Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and registered to attend an official pasta making school in Bologna, the place even Italians recognize as the source of authentic Italian cuisine.

Cooking schools are an industry in Bologna and are plentiful since just offering lunch in a home kitchen could qualify. Visitors looking for particular experiences, especially with time and money constraints, should do as much research as their satisfaction level demands.

Francesca Prepares Dough
Being on a limited budget, value was a significant part of my decision mix. But I also wanted to "live" the culture of an Italian kitchen.  So I chose the Vecchia Scuola Bolognese primarily because of its very affordable five day immersion course, allowing me to spend an entire workweek absorbing the sights, sounds, and sensations I craved.

Minimum research suggestions:
  • Identify your parameters for the experience, including cost, location, and particular food interests
  • Use guide books, magazines, and a variety of Web resources in your research.
  • Pare down candidates using available reviews. Interact with reviewers whenever possible.
  • Correspond directly with the schools by email or even by phone. This can assure you that the school is still operating, will give you a sense of their customer service standards, and help you to better understand important details such as payment options.
  • Finally, as a general rule of travel, be open to making the best of whatever actually happens.

Ancient but Accurate Scale
I didn’t fully appreciate Vecchia Scuola Bolognese as a serious culinary production and training facility until I arrived. They do offer a casual half day tourist course with lunch included, but their primary students are those beginning or extending professional careers in Italian pasta and pastry making.

The five day course I took is actually considered the first step toward earning the school's three month professional culinary certification. Vecchia Scuola is also an ongoing pasta production facility supplying food establishments throughout the region. Students are expected to practice their skills creating usable product. Nothing is wasted. What may not be “beautiful” enough for sale to an outside client will certainly be used in the school's student staffed Trattoria.
Basic Riccota Filled Tortelloni

I paid for the class about six months before my trip. Arrangements such as available course times and dates were made through email in both Italian and English, using Google translate when necessary. Payment was sent and confirmed via an international wire transfer made through my bank.

My hotel in Bologna, Albergo Rossini, was a short portico covered walk from the Vecchia Scuola. Class started at 9 AM and lasted about four to five hours. The only new students on the day I started were myself and a twenty-four year old Israeli pastry chef who had just completed a four month certification in gelato making. He was planning to open his own cafe on a beach in Tel Aviv.

Alessandra Spisni (shown above in a screenshot from their website) is the unifying force of Vecchia Scuola. Though she was traveling outside of Bologna during the time I were there, signora Spisni was none the less a constant presence in the many attractive product displays throughout the school. Alessandra Spisni and her entire family are endowed with an insatiable appetite for life.

Maestro Allessandro
The signora's brother, Alessandro, casually oversees the culinary school by correcting students with warnings lightly disguised as jokes. Much of his work day was spent enjoying food, family and friends. 

Our actual teacher was an impressive twenty-seven year old Sicilian woman named Carla.  She is the real head and heart of day to day pasta instruction and production at Vecchia Scuola. Alessandro even acknowledged this fact by joking about how often he loudly called her name. (CarrrrLLA!!)

Carla Instructs a Student from Texas
Fluent in four languages with a graduate degree in Cultural Anthropology, Carla led an ever changing group of students through various levels of instruction while managing overall production (rolling sheets of perfect pasta herself), quality control, and distribution for Vecchia Scuola.

During a break, I asked Carla how she chose pasta making rather than pursuing a career in her degree. She told me that she came to Vecchia Scuola to do a cultural research project then discovered she both enjoyed the physical exercise of the work and had a natural talent for it. Signora Spisni offered her a job. Carla took it, still loves it, and sees no reason that will change.

Filei Calabresi ~ Our First Pasta
Culinary Cathedral
The Israeli pastry chef and I were given official aprons, assigned lockers, oriented to the work space, and began making pasta alongside more advanced students.

We started with a batch of Filei Calabresi, a simple pasta made with just water and flour rolled by hand into a hollow tube that embraces any sauce. Using a classic industrial scale, we weighed rather than measured all ingredients. Weight, even for liquids, makes it easy to accurately increase or decrease the size of a recipe. We got a feel for how to properly knead dough and assess its readiness for rolling.

Tortelloni in Process
The most exciting part of the process was using long wooden rolling pins or poles, called matterellos, to flatten the dough. In the video at the end of this post, Carla uses a matterello to roll a double volume of dough into a translucent gossamer sheet, closely resembling fine cloth, in less than five minutes.

Both the matterello and table must be made of wood. Marble and stainless steel are too cold for pasta making. In contrast, wood warms the dough as it is worked and the grain imparts a surface texture that better holds sauces and condiments to the pasta.

Dried Spinach Tortelloni
At the start of this post I mentioned that making ravioli was my reason for taking the class. And we did make one batch of ravioli at Vecchia Scuola. But what we produced every day in quantity was tortelloni, the much larger version of tortellini.

Bologna is known for its tortelloni, pasta with a big stuffed "belly" that brings to mind the city's Medieval nickname, "La Grassa" (The Fat).  Of course tortelloni is much more popular than ravioli in Bologna!

One fundamental variation between types of stuffed pasta is the thickness of the dough. Tortelloni requires pasta that is as thin as possible because of its many layered folds.  On the other hand, ravioli doesn't have any folds and needs to be slightly thicker to hold stuffing in place with just crimping around the edges. I may not have made many ravioli at Vecchia Scuola, but I did gain a deep reverence for the skill and talent of handcrafting this seemingly simple food.

For those wanting to experiment for themselves, we used the basic recipe below for all variations of stuffed and flat pasta. A large wooden rolling pin can sufficiently flatten the dough but it's actually the length of the mattarello that makes it fun (and an art) to use.

There are no handles on a mattarello.  It moves with pressure applied from the palm of your hands, pushing and pulling like a massage as they move back and forth across the entire length of the pin. Yes. It is sensual. Lacking a real mattarello, a two inch diameter dowling, thirty-six inches long, sanded and bleached, will work.

Have fun making pasta! Even the mistakes are edible.

Basic Filled Pasta Recipe for +/- 100 Tortelloni

Ingredients are measured by weight so the recipe can easily be scaled for quantity.
Ingredient Ratio:
100 grams of "00" Flour
per 50 grams of liquid.

Liquid can be water, egg, broth, or a cooked vegetable such as spinach or mushroom.

One shelled egg = 50 grams
(Should be weighed if very large or small)

50 grams of cooked spinach = one egg.

 The following mixtures allow for additional
50 grams of flour during kneading.

Plain Pasta
6 eggs and 550 g flour

Spinach Pasta
6 eggs, 50 g cooked spinach, 650 g flour

 To Mix
Form the flour into a bowl shape on the table.  
Place liquids in the center of the flour.
Gently blend flour into liquid.
Knead until dough forms and stickiness is gone.
Add flour as necessary.
 Wrap kneaded dough in plastic.
Let dough rest at least one hour before rolling.
Quantity Ratio:
 Filling Weight = Dough Weight

1.5 kilos Ricotta (cow)

200 grams grated Parmesan cheese

20 grams salt (to taste)

 1 Egg

Nutmeg to taste
Roll dough into a sheet carefully but quickly to avoid drying.
Cut rolled sheet into one inch squares.
Place a dollop of filling into the center of each square.
Fold dough corner to corner into a triangle over the filling.
Squeeze the bottom tips of the triangle together to form a tortelloni shape.
Practice often and eat your work!