Nomadic beekeeping and monofloral honeys

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Bees deserve to be defined as one of the most interesting, intelligent and important insects on our planet. Often only known for their delicious nectar, it’s their societal harmony and organization that never ceases to amaze scientists, as well as their incredibly fine-tuned work procedures, which turn out to be vital for our entire ecosystem. Bees are like chemists, using their own delicate but complicated technology to produce honey. They are also far older than humanity: according to fossil record they have been around for some 50 million years.

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Though most honeys are the result of a mixture of nectars, some 300 different single flower (or “mono-floral”) honeys are produced around the world. To obtain them beekeepers adopt a “Nomad Beekeping” system. Nomad Beekeping moves the hives from place to place according to the position & season of plants in bloom. Bees are naturally attracted to specific flowers, particularly when these are in bloom. It’s as if you had a table filled with boring foods such as plain rice or a steamed potato…and then out comes a delicious looking cake. What would you go for?

A mono-floral honey is so defined when at least 40% derives from a single flower variety. It has very unique, distinctive notes and color as well as texture can vary significantly. The time of year and area in which the honey is harvested also have an effect on taste and appearance. Just like olive oil and wine, honey is linked to it’s terroir.

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Honey can be used in the preparation of a wide variety of dishes, particularly cakes. It pairs perfectly with yogurt, fruit and certain vegetables such as carrots. But the perfect match is undoubtedly cheese, and playing around with pairings can turn into a fascinating gastronomy journey. Here are some suggestions:

Acacia Honey: blue cheese
Eucalyptus Honey: Parmigiano Reggiano
Lavanda Honey: Pecorino
Chestnut Honey: aged goat’s milk cheese
Citrus honey: Caciocavallo
Thyme honey: spicy and aged cheeses

It’s a custom in Italy to start a meal with a beautiful board of assorted antipasti. Try pairing your favorite craft cheeses and fine meats with honey and jams. Garnish with olives, fresh fruit and nuts, playing with different combinations of crostini (a smaller version of bruschetta).

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As far as recipes go, here’s a very original idea for an appetizer which will surely tickle the palate of your guests: Ricotta, walnut and honey crostini.

Ingredients
4 crackers or toasted bread
½ cup ricotta cheese
4 walnut halves
2 tablespoons rosemary honey
Salt, pepper

Method
Top the crackers with ricotta, garnish each slice with a walnut and a drizzle of honey

Buon appetito!

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 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.

 

 

The making of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Called the king of cheeses, made following 800 year old recipes, using only local raw cow’s milk, aged for at least 12 months,  this cheese is one of the most delicious foods Italy has to offer.

It not only tastes amazing but is also a very nutritional food, extremely digestible and rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. It’s production is regulated and made completely naturally with respect to tradition. We can’t get enough of it, grated over pasta, crumbled in salads or enjoyed pure, on a cheese board with honey or balsamic vinegar.

We went to Emilia Romagna, a region that is home to some of the finest gastronomic products  (think Parma Ham, Mortadella, Culatello, Balsamic Vinegar, etc..), to learn more about this extraordinary delicacy.

Like any top quality product it all starts with the ingredients, in this case raw milk, from cows that live in the region and only eat locally grown forage. DSC09900 2The cheese is made using the milk from the evening milking that by resting overnight naturally separates bringing the fatter part to the top. Early in the morning this cream top is skimmed and used to make fresh butter and whole milk from the morning milking is added. The process rigorously happens in large bell-shaped copper cauldrons. Calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments, obtained from the processing of the day before, are added. Once the milk coagulates, the curd is broken using a traditional tool called ‘spino’. The liquid solution is heated using open fire and the cheese granules sink to the bottom. After resting for around thirty minutes, the cheese mass is removed, with deft movements, by the cheese maker. Cut into two parts and wrapped in its typical cloth, the cheese is then placed in a mould which will give it its final shape. DSC09418The process is very skill intensive, the cheese makers perform an astonishing precision and perfection in each and every movement. A perfection that can only be achieved by the repetition of tasks, day after day, the precision that only comes after years of experience making the one and only product. IMG_0381.jpgOnce settled, the wheels are immersed for about a month in a brine solution, where the cheese is slowly salted by absorption. After that starts a whole new journey, the ageing process. For at least 1 year the wheels rest on wooden shelves, they are turned and checked upon frequently, taken care of and nurtured with affection. In this time the cheese develops all those exceptional intense and complex flavours, that only time can help achieve. Just like an aged wine or ham, this is where all the magic happens.DSC09437Benito makes parmigiano reggiano 365 days a year. He has been waking up at 4.30 am for over 40 years to do so. He jokes about how cow’s don’t go on holiday, so neither does he. It’s a passion and a tradition, he explains, a devotion that is hard to understand from a distance.