Parma Is a Charmer (Week 8 Recap - Nov 19, 2018)
Monday we arrived in Parma. I will admit to being a bit nervous. We loved Bologna and were bummed to only be there for two days. We had a great stay at our agriturismo outside Modena, and I was sad to leave. We had booked a week in Parma never having been, and while one of the brilliant things about this trip is that there is zero time pressure and so zero pressure to optimize every night away like on a shorter trip, you still don’t want to spend a week in a place that kinda sucks. Since we were coming off two hits, I was a little worried.
Well I needn’t have worried. We loved Parma almost immediately. We ended up in another perfectly located Airbnb right at edge of the centro storico (though this one was a bit lacking in some provisions like sufficient forks and glasses, so I won’t pat us on the back too hard). We walked out the door and could buy an excellent da porta via lasagna and an excellent piadina kebab (very necessary Turkish break from Italian flavors once a week or so) within two minutes.
Our third night there I went out for a walk with WP and we watched them string up holiday lights. We stopped in the bookstore down the street and I bought one of those board books with a finger puppet in Italian for her (Il Bruto Anotroccolo, it ended up being the story of the ugly duckling, the grey fuzzy finger puppet was a little cygnet, but I’ll admit it took a couple readings of the story in Italian before I realized it). We picked up bottles of Lambrusco and - big news - cheered as WP took her first two steps on her 10 month birthday.
The week was going well! We had big plans -- around food, of course -- for Parma, but I got a bit sick (well really I’ve been a bit sick for awhile but it sort of caught up with me finally) so we ended up doing a lot of picking up and taking out. We cooked Thanksgiving dinner and it was a bit of a revelation - our first course was squash ravioli (culture mash up!) and it was so good. Because, duh, the components were super fresh and high quality. The ravioli was handmade in a shop window hours before we bought it. The parmesan was grated to order, and we bought the butter at the cheese shop too (those three ingredients plus a few tablespoons of pasta water to emulsify the cheese and you’ve got a dish). So it was kind of like oh, if we can make our own ravioli this good, why struggle with WP in a restaurant all the time? Important data.
The biggest highlights of Parma were no surprise, though. We went to the Consortia Vacche Rosse to tour the parmesan cheese facility. Yes, we stole this idea directly from the Fat episode of Salt Fat Acid Heat. We were kind of shocked when Mike looked into it and realized that you could do the tour from the show for five euros. The we got there and realized that all the cheese is made by five experts in a surprisingly normal sized room and it’s totally the same dudes from the show.
The tour is two hours and you see the whole process of them making like five wheels of cheese (well up until the aging obviously) and you meet the red cows. It was so interesting!! And after they peel the curds from the bottom of the giant vat and saw the huge ball of cheese in half to drain and wrap, the main guy grabbed a handful of the unsalted, fresh parmesan-to-be off the ball and handed it to us! Mike and I preferred the salty aged stuff but WP ate like half the cheese curd ball, perfect snack. Seriously a must do.
The second tour we did was to to go Rosa dell’Angela for a prosciutto tour. We splurged on the farm visit as well, which is priced per group at €100 regardless of the size so it was kind of a lot for 2.25 people but we figured we were only there once so… I’m glad we ended up spending the extra money just because it was pretty cool to see the pigs and cows and all the biodiversity they are preserving and WP got a kick out of the animals (she laughed quietly to herself the whole time we were with the cows).
We started the tour by meeting the pigs and ended the tour by eating the pigs. I guess if you’re going to eat meat, you should confront it! In the middle we were lucky to see the process of the raw haunches being salted in the first part of the preservation process, and then we toured the rest of the facility, and stood in a room with €2 million worth of bespoke ham. Not bad.
All in all it was a fun, very relaxed week punctuated by a couple key excursions. It was nice to rest up because on Monday Grandma Joan arrives and we split our last week in Italy between Milano and Genova!