What’s the difference? Parmigiano vs Grana Padano

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First things first – Parm, Parmesan and all other variations with Italian sounding names and Italian looking packagings are definitely not the real deal. We are talking about a traditional production that follows an 800-year old tradition, the King of cheeses that needs time, care and expertise to reach its final complex and rich flavor. Not a rushed and processed ‘cheese’ to sprinkle or melt over any dish… the game is just not on. Our topic of interest is the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano – two Italian cheeses that share a number of characteristics and may seem identical but have significant differences that make them two distinct products.

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AREA OF PRODUCTION
Parmigiano has a more restricted area of production within the region Emilia Romagna – in the provinces of the cities Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna and Modena. It is a little like champagne – it can only be made in a very specific area.
Grana, on the other hand still has a designated area of production but a much broader one that includes the regions Lombardia, Piemonte, Trentino, Emilia Romagna and Veneto.

DAILY PRODUCTION
Parmigiano is made every morning with a blend of milk from the night before and the fresh morning milking. This process makes the fat content rise. Grana can be made twice a day, with one batch of milk. It tends to be slightly leaner thus have a less round flavor. Fat content 2.7% Parmigiano 2% Grana.

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COW’S DIET
The cows that make the milk for Parmigiano can only eat fresh grass or dry hay from pastures. The ones that make Grana don’t have a regulated diet and eat mainly silage – fermented forage that carries fermentation elements that have a negative effect on the quality of the milk.

RENNET
Parmigiano uses exclusively traditional natural veal stomach, Grana can use vegetal or selected bacterical rennet.

PRESERVATIVES
No preservatives of any kind are allowed in Parmigiano. Grana’s regulation is looser and often contains lysozyme.

AGING
Containing less fat, Grana develops faster. Once it reaches 9 months it is ready to be consumed. Minimum aging for Parmigiano is 12 months, up to 36 – 48 months or more in some unique cases, developing incredible flavors, just like a really good vintage of wine.

PRICE
A strictly controlled process and the time spent sitting on a shelf have a cost. Parmigiano is always a little more expensive.

FLAVOR
Parmigiano is more round, complex and umami-like, Grana is milder and lighter.

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Like for everything there is no right or wrong, but there are a number of production standards and details that make Parmigiano a much higher quality and unique product. Parmigiano is a century old tradition, still made following the same knowledge and techniques developing an unbeatable and incredible flavor praised worldwide. Grana is a contemporary response to the need of a cheaper simpler option. Grana is good for cooking with, Parmigiano is the perfect finish to dishes adding a touch of perfection.

Take a trip to LIGURIA

liguria5A boomerang shaped region, facing the Mediterranean sea, filled with some of Italy’s most stunning beaches, unique cuisines and host to a diversity if rare landscapes and architectures.

You might have heard about Liguria thanks to the famous and gorgeous national park Cinque Terre. With no doubt a must see destination when in Italy, magical landscapes and dramatic views overlooking the deep blue sea. A Unesco world heritage, made up of five fishermen villages with ancient colorful buildings clinging on the side of steep cliffs. This paradize is no best kept secret, so beware it’s a very popular destination, it’s good to visit out of high season. To help preserve the landscape and the naturally peacefull scenario, cars were banned a few years ago, and the small towns can be reached hiking, by ferry or with a 19th century railway line.

Cinque Terre aside, this region has so much to offer, many hidden spots off the beaten track, where most tourists don’t make it. Don’t miss out on the intriguing town Genova, once one of the largest maritime republics of the Mediterranean. The region’s coast is divided into Levante (south east) “of the rising sun” where Cinque Terre and the luxurious town of Portofino are located and Ponente (north west) “of the setting sun”, towards the border with France.

Ponente is a destination for Italians on holiday, mainly flowing from Milan and the Piedmont region, where they have been coming year after year. It’s the real deal, where you can explore the simplicity of Italian style summers: lying on the beach under colorful umbrellas, eating gelato and waiting for the fishermen to come back from sea with the daily catch.

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After a few weeks of travelling around Italy, you may feel like all you have been eating is charcuterie, cheese, pasta, pizza and meats. Although that’s not how Italians eat in their everyday lives, it represents traditional and festivity foods and it’s what you ought to get into as a visitor. Liguria will give you a break from all of that thanks to its veggie centric cuisine. It’s all about seafood, legumes, vegetables and EVOO. It’s the land of pesto, one of Italy’s staple dishes, a pasta sauce highlighting the freshness of summer basil with the addition of few other essential ingredients (check out our previous post for the original recipe https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/42191836/posts/1101598313).

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Get into torte salate savoury vegetable quiches and farinata flatbreads made with chickpeas. Don’t miss out on focaccia genovese – fluffy flat bread topped with EVOO or focaccia di Recco thin crust dough filled with creamy fresh cheese, believe me this dish will get you hooked for ever, so simple and so satisfying. Taggiasca olives and pure EVOO will be flowing from all sides, enjoy it while you have it! Being a coastal region, you will sure find some of the freshest seafood ever. Accompany these beautiful light foods with the freshest mineral wines, growing overlooking the sea in incredibly heroic conditions. Ancient terraced vines are very hard to work on, everything must by carried out by hand, with no help of machinery and tractors.

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Where to stay?

Liguria is filled with wonderful hotels and private homes. Here are a few picks: If luxury is what you’re after why not rent a castle? https://www.icastelli.net/it/theme-stay/soggiorni-in-castello/italia/liguria, or opt for breathtaking views from this gorgeous B&B http://laterrazzadicasebastei.it/, or be in the centre of it all at  http://www.hotelpasquale.it/it/.

Buon viaggio!

 

Salt Matters

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Salt, otherwise known as Sodium Chloride (NaCl), is like no other substance we eat. A basic inorganic mineral found in oceans and rocks, an essential nutrient our bodies can’t live without.

The word itself, in most European Languages (Italian – sale, French – sel, Spanish – sal, German –selz), comes from a single Indo-European root. In English many words such as ‘salary’, ‘sauce’, ‘salad’, ‘sausage’ are rooted and correlated to the word salt. In each of these words lies a reason for the correlation: before the invention of refrigerators there were some natural techniques for preserving food such as fermenting, drying, smoking, and salting.Thus the importance of such a compound in ancient times, for instance during the Roman Empire when soldiers were payed with ratios of salt – hence the word salary. Many artisanal foods still use salt as a natural preservative today: just think of all the cured meats, pickles or salami (again, a word rooted to “salt”).  Salt is also a taste enhancer and modifier: it strengthens the impression of aromas in food and suppresses bitterness.

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Roughly 50% of the salt worldwide comes from the oceans while the other half from mines: in the USA for example 95% of the production is mine derived. Since Italy is a peninsula surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, here most salts are sea derived instead. The most renowned salt production plants are based in Trapani, Sicily and in Cervia, Emilia Romagna.

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As consumers we don’t spend lots of time selecting the salt for our everyday use and tend to take for granted that all salts are the same. Artisanal salt production from seabeds is very expensive and labour intensive. Sea water is drawn into large shallow basins and left to evaporate in the sun. No chemical process is involved, it’s just a question of time, sea, sun and wind. The salt is then harvested manually, raked under the boiling sun. This is why globally most salt is produced through artificial, industrialised evaporation, often undergoing refinement at over 600°C. The final product is then sold as table salt, used in industrial manufacturing as well as during winter for de-icing of roads. Unsurprisingly, during this process most of the natural nutrients are lost. Depending on how the salt has been extracted the percentage of sodium chloride varies from 98% to 99.7%. Standard table salt is often supplemented with preservatives, an average 2% of its total weight. Natural sea salt, on the other hand, contains 2% of magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and many other minerals in smaller quantities. Iodine is naturally present, not added as is the case with Iodised salt.

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Natural sea salt tends to be milder and somehow sweeter than its industrial relative and slight differences in taste depend on where it has been harvested. Try out different natural sea salts in your recipes, and see if you can spot the subtle differences!

 

 

 

 

Take a trip to ISTRIA

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You probably wouldn’t associate fresh pasta, prosciutto, truffles and seafood carpaccio with Croatia. Particularly in Istria, a point shaped peninsula in the north Adriatic Sea, there’s endless resemblances with Italian food culture, in its own unique way.

History has played an important role in the creation of Istria’s eclectic culture. Romans left their mark with beautiful buildings such as the perfectly preserved Arena in Pula inspired by the Colosseum. Venetians strongly influenced the architecture, dialects and food of the whole region with the stunning town of Rovinj standing as a scale version of Venice with its Sant’Eufemia church bell tower. The whole area was under the Asburgic Empire for centuries until Italians took over after WWI, only to loose it after WWII when the Socialist Yugoslavia adventure of Tito began. It was only recently in 1991 that Croatia was declared independent.

Today this strong cultural diversity and richness is being translated into amazing restaurants and top quality foods – making Istria an exciting gourmet destination. Perhaps because you get the best of both worlds, Mediterranean dishes like fresh pasta with scampi and tomato, or continental recipes such as potato gnocchi with goulash.

In addition, its Mediterranean climate makes it an agriculture heaven. Until very recently one wouldn’t have this area on their radar when thinking of extra virgin olive oils. Some of the world’s top quality EVOOs are produced here and many producers are receiving important recognitions and prizes. You can for instance check out the unbeatable Chiavalon http://www.chiavalon.hr/ or Mate http://www.mateoliveoil.com/.

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Really amazing wines are hitting the market as well, make sure to try Giorgio Clai’s creations (http://www.clai.hr/), honest wines containing just grapes and nothing else, an incredible representation of Istria’s terroir.

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And it keeps coming. Together with Italy and France, Istria is possibly the only other place on the planet where white truffles of the Tuber Magnatum Pico variety can be found: enough to make it your destination for the end of October.

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And shall we talk about cheeses? The goat being the symbol of this region, it’s no wonder we discovered the best goat’s cheese producer ever. Ales’s fresh and aged cheeses are praised by chefs worldwide. Year round his herd of 250 rustic goats – a maximum he does not want to exceed – grazes freely on 250 hectars of land. Any bigger herd would make the process of milking more industrialised, and that’s not where Ales wants to go. You need to pay a visit to his beautiful farm (http://www.kumparicka.com/ ) to purchase his unique hard to get cheeses.

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And don’t miss out on the flourishing restaurant scene. Chef David Skoko in Batelina (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Batelina/202005836507281) comes from a fishermen family and serves his daily catch from boat to plate. He is also experimenting with local algae and sea plants, a soon to come addition to his menu. Stari Podrum instead (http://www.staripodrum.info/it/momjan.html) is where we suggest you go for a more continental feel, it’s great for meats and vegetables and the perfect spot for truffles when in season.  If you’re looking for the fine dining experience check out the first Michelin star restaurant in Croatia, Il Monte (http://www.monte.hr/) in Rovigno.

Think of Istria next time you plan a foodie trip to Europe, you will get a lot out of this region of the beaten track.

 

 

Get those Meatballs rollin’

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Did you celebrate national meatball day this year? Read on to discover how Italians love their meatballs and get your fix with a simple recipe!

In Italy we call them polpette, a staple dish across the peninsula, cooked in different variations depending where you are. The two main categories are fritte (deep fried) or in umido (braised). Fritte are very common in the north, and are eaten as a fun finger food, tapas style during aperitivo. They are bite size delicacies hard to resist, perfect with a glass of bubbly. In umido are braised, either in a white wine sauce or in tomato salsa. This dish is served as a secondo, the course that comes after primo (usually pasta) and before dolce (dessert).

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Spaghetti meatballs as we know them in the US, are actually not that common in Italy. In the southern regions there are some pasta dishes with polpettine – very small meatballs and tomato sauce, but it is definitely not something Italians consider a staple dish. Its invention can be attributed to the fascinating cultural exchange that occurred between 1881 and 1901 when more than 2.400.000 Italians migrated to the USA. You have to imagine that in those days Italy was a very poor country; people were used to eating from the land and would barely have access to meat. Italian migrants in the new world found plentiful land and an abundance of meat. They basically re-invented their cuisine recalling that of festivities and celebrations – adding more meat, cheese and sauce to dishes. This is how we believe the iconic dish Spaghetti Meatballs was invented. A great example of how cultural exchange and immigrant communities can give birth to beautiful and delicious things 🙂

Polpette fritte recipe:
Ingredients
¼ pound ground beef
¼ pound ground pork
1 egg
2 slices stale bread
½ cup milk
1 bunch mixed fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil, sage, chives…)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup all purpose flour
1 bottle frying oil (peanut is the best)
coarse sea salt to taste

Method
Tear the bread and soak it in the milk. Once all milk is absorbed add all other ingredients except the flour, oil and coarse salt. Mix well to get a uniform mixture. Place the flour into a flat plate. Shape a tablespoon worth of mixture into a ball shape, roll into the flour and set aside. Repeat for all. Heat the oil, test it with a piece of meatball and make sure it sizzles, don’t let it smoke. Gently fry all meatballs, once ready place them onto an absorbent sheet of paper to drain any excess oil. Sprinkle with some coarse sea salt and serve.

Buon appetito!

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Good morning, its coffee time

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Did you know coffee is the second most consumed drink after water? More than 2 billion cups per day are enjoyed in every corner of the world – served and brewed according to different cultures and traditions.

Italians love their coffee in two specific ways: espresso and moka. When out in bars and restaurants, the espresso machine rules – it is very uncommon to find filter coffee in Italy! Often espresso is ordered standing at the bar and drunk very fast similarly to a shot. The variations of this drink are endless: caffè nero, caffè lungo, caffè macchiato, cappuccino, caffelatte, caffè ristretto, marocchino, caffè corretto (with grappa!), goccia, caffè shakerato, americano, caffè schiumato, caffè doppio, caffè chiaro… the list keeps going, there are about 50 kinds – being a barista in Italy definitely requires some skills!

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The moka is the home version of an espresso, this simple percolator gives a concentrated dark brew somewhat a cross between an espresso and a filter coffee.

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Coffee just like chocolate, bananas or tea are often taken for granted. They have become staples in our everyday lives even though they originate and grow in few specific areas of the world. The coffee trees are native to east Africa, today production extends over the so called coffee belt (Central and South America, Africa and South Asia). And believe it or not, the biggest consumer of coffee is Finland – very far from the tree’s natural habitat.

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Coffee is grown and dried in its origin countries, the green beans are then exported, roasted, ground and brewed. A fascinating and long cycle that requires expertise and skills. Buying fair trade coffee is a great opportunity to ensure every party that has been involved in the production chain got a fair deal. Whilst sipping on your coffee this morning, no matter how it’s brewed, think of the marvellous journey your beans have undertaken to get to your cup.

 

Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad

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Fennel peak season calls for a one-of-a-kind Mediterranean recipe.  Healthy, fresh, crunchy, delicious and very simple to prepare. It makes for a great light lunch or the perfect side to a roast chicken or fish.

Italians love fennel and use it in a variety of dishes, making the best of all its parts, from the bulb to the flowers and seeds. And it isn’t just a matter of taste. Think of Finocchiona, the traditional Tuscan salami: the fennel seeds help preserve it while adding their characteristic flavour.  Its is rich in vitamin C, fibers and several essential nutrients for our diet. It also has unusual phytonutrients that give it ample antioxidant and immune-boosting capabilities.

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Ingredients:
3 large fennels (try and find them with the green tips)
3 oranges
2 spring onions
2 tbsp Capers in salt
2 tbsp pitted taggiasca olives
2 tbsp EVOO
1 tsp ground pepper

Method:
Finely chop the fennel, fennel tips and spring onion and place in a bowl. Peel the oranges using a knife, trying not to waste the fruit but taking away the white bitter outer layer. Slice the oranges, keep the juice and add to the bowl. Add capers with salt, olives, Evoo and pepper and mix well. The salad can keep for up to one day, but is best when just made.

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Buon Appetito!