Italy's culinary epicentre - The Farmers and the Winemaker Dinner Part 2 - Gippsland Food Adventures

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Italy's culinary epicentre

Published by Paul O'Sullivan in European Adventure · 12/3/2014 18:13:19
Tags: ItalyFoodCulinaryepicentre

Any serious Food Adventure to Italy must include Bologna in Emilia-Romagna on the itinerary. This is the country’s culinary epicentre. But before arriving, there is Milan to pass through.
Milan is the capital of the north with a population of 1.3 million, and best known as a great fashion centre. Indeed the locals do look very smart (once you get through the usual oddbods living at the Stazione Centrale - Central train station). But how many clothes stores, or "fashion houses", do you need? These were not the main game for this Food Adventurer.
Milan is also famous for its Duamo (cathedral) and two soccer clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan. The Duamo is an amazing piece of architecture and construction, complete with 135 spires and lots and lots of marble- building commenced in 1387 with the finishing touches applied in the 1960’s! And the Italians love their soccer, so in the Football Clubs’ stores, all possible merchandise is available. Naturally, massive clothing lines in teams’ colours, but also everything from homeware, office equipment, pet accessories, baby wear to snow toboggans.
But the real must do activity is a visit to Pecks food emporium. Where to start? To call it an upmarket deli would not do it justice. It has been operating since 1883, and features a retail shop front as well as wine store and restaurant. And there’s a commercial kitchen out back where prepared foods are made for takeaway dinners.
The pasta window display sets the scene. Upon entry is the fresh pasta section, where beautiful looking tortellini, gnocchi and ravioli are scooped into bags according to demand, then a delicatessen front over 15 metres long. This section had the full range of cured meats (including very expensive Spanish prosciutto) and cheeses from both Italy and France. But there was also caviar tartlettes, lobster, snails, muscles, premium beef for steak tartare, seafood salads, marinated vegetables …..the list goes on.
Another counter of similar size has prepared dinners on offer -  a variety of cooked meats, vegetables, pasta salads, risotto, savoury pastries etc etc …….do you get the picture?
Shelves loaded with immaculate looking fresh fruit and vegetables were in the centre, along with stands of jars of Peck’s brand pesto, olive tapenade, truffle paste. I i was interested to see large and small jars of porcini mushrooms in olive oil for approx  $A270/kg.

I had a chat to the butchers in the meat section – they were excited to meet an Australian producer. They sourced their lamb from either New Zealand or England, but their beef was Italian. Their T-bones were enormous – coming from carcasses over 300kg (I think I got the translation right) 30-40% heavier than those handled by butchers at home – and the meat is hung for 4 weeks before being sold. He showed me a piece of T-bone already cut and packed in cryovac – it was 5 to 6cm thick, weighing 1.1kg. His cooking instructions were to cook on each side for 3 minutes, quickly seer the ends and sides and its ready. Now I don’t mind my steak rare, but this would have been barely hot in the middle, let alone cooked! Alternatively he suggested cooked in the oven for 20 minutes, it would be beautiful.

In line with the philosophy of using the whole of body, there were plenty of pigs’ trotters for sale next to pig’s heads halved and their stomach linings (I think).
Moving onto something sweeter , there was a magnificent display of chocolates to be purchased individually or in bulk, and hand crafted small cakes and macarons showing superb patisserie skill. And there was the coffee bean and tea leaf section. I could go on……
No experience here could be complete without checking out the wine cave underground. I didn’t know much about the Italian wines on display, but here for sale, were magnums and double magnums from some of the Grand Crus chateaux I’d just seen in Bordeaux – Margaux, Latour , Lafite-Rothschild and d,Yquem with price tags of 2000 euros ($A3200) and higher. And even if one was to buy a lesser bottle, it would come individually wrapped in cardboard and paper. Just for the record there were some bottles of Penfolds Bin 389, 2010 vintage, for the equivalent of $A150.
So what was on the dinner menu? I thought risotto had to be top of the list so had two over two nights. The first with porchini mushrooms in a rather smart restaurant, which I must say was rather underwhelming. I haven’t used these mushrooms at home – they normally come packaged in a dehydrated form which needs soaking prior to cooking. Indeed the headwaiter recommended no parmesan so as to fully enjoy the flavours, but I didn’t get any richness or earthiness that I expected. "Mi scusi…….parmesan??? ……..grazie"
More success on the second night. I feasted on a creamy and delicious risotto with gorgonzola and pear, which had been thoroughly incorporated into the risotto. The rice grains were much softer than the slightly crunchy ones from the previous night. A great experience to try to recreate at home.




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