Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Emilia-Romagna Food Souvenirs

I recently returned from a wonderful week in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy where my holiday focused on the area’s gastronomy. That part of the country is truly Italy’s food heart and soul, as it is the birthplace of Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and many other Italian food specialties.

It was a great trip, loaded with cooking lessons, visits to makers of artisanal food products, great meals, and more, providing me with lots of interesting stories and recipes to post here. This first one is a round-up of the souvenirs I brought home. Of course they are all food-related.

Balsamic Vinegar

We visited Acetaia Malpighi in Modena, producers of fine balsamic vinegars, where we learned about the ancient process still used today to make this magical elixir and then enjoyed a tasting of different vinegars aged for 6, 12, 25, and 50 years. What amazing differences between them.

I splurged on a bottle of 25 year old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, which is so good by itself it can be lapped from a spoon. The white balsamic vinegar is also very tasty. Much lighter, it is used like lemon juice, sprinkled over fish or even fruit.

They threw in a couple of handfuls of some interesting candies, too. The Vin Royal candy (“cioccolatini ripieni di Aceto Balsamico”), is a chocolate shell filled with balsamic vinegar, which makes quite an interesting combination. The Vin Drop candy (“caramella ripieni all’aceto balsamico”), a strawberry-flavored hard candy filled with the vinegar syrup was an even better combination.

Parmagiano Reggiano
I watched firsthand how this king of cheeses is made, from the raw milk to the aging, and then had an opportunity to taste. The entire process is quite detailed and labor-intensive, taking several years from cow to consumption, which explains why this cheese is so expensive. I shot many pictures so I’ll be posting them here in the near future.

The casearia had an outlet shop where they sold their cheese and other dairy products and the shop was packed with locals, so I knew this was a good place to buy cheese. I purchased two shrink-wrapped chunks of the stagionato (aged 36 months) for only 13.40 a kilo, less than half the price of 24 month parmigiano back home.

Majani Candies

Majani, a fine chocolatier of Bologna, makes a wonderful array of chocolates. One of the most popular is the Fiat, layers of chocolate and hazelnut that just melts in your mouth. It comes in dark chocolate, too!

Pocket Coffee
I still don’t know why this Italian made candy has an English name. Although not a fine candy, this popular tidbit is very coveted because it is sold only in the cooler weather. Pure espresso syrup fills the chocolate casing. Two of these and you’ve had your caffeine for the day!

Amarena Fabbri
Fabbri, a local manufacturer of fine fruit products, make this delicious cherry treat. The wild cherries in syrup are perfect for topping ice cream, swirling into yogurt or embellishing a slice of cheesecake or plain pound cake. The traditional blue and white patterned ceramic jar is pretty too.

Nocino Liqueur
Every place we dined, whether in a restaurant or at someone’s home, the standard after dinner cordial served was homemade Nocino, a dark digestive liqueur made from green walnuts. I had never had Nocino before, and the first sip revealed a mysterious blend of complex flavors evocative of jungle roots, sweet dark spices, and aromatic bitters. I really enjoyed it.

I obtained the personal recipe of one family but will have to wait until June to make it, when the green walnuts are ready. In the meantime I purchased a bottle of commercial Nocino to bring home. Unfortunately, I found the commercial version quite disappointing. It lacks the deep complexity of the homemade one and had an almost medicinal flavor. I’ll definitely be making my own.

Mostarda di Cremona
Italian mostardas are not like regular mustards but are chutney-like condiments made from candied fruits. This specialty from Cremona contains contains peaches, pears, apricots, tangerines, figs and cherries in a hot, spicy, tangy mustard syrup. It is traditionally served with Bollito Misto, a regional dish made from various boiled meats, but it also makes a great condiment on a cheese platter. I love this stuff! My taste buds tell me mostarda will be very complementary with smoked ham, so the next time I bake a ham I will be creating a relish made from this.

Crema Novi
A hazelnut chocolate spread, like Nutella, but of much higher quality. Containing about 3 times the hazelnuts and almost twice the cocoa, Crema Novi is to Nutella what real gold is to pyrite. Another difference, Nutella adds hydrogenated oils to their product to make up for the paucity of nuts and cocoa. After tasting Crema Novi I can never eat Nutella again.

Crema Novi is nice on toast and great in crepes. I’ve even spread it on a soft flour tortilla and rolled it up for a tasty snack.

Porcini Mushroom bouillon cubes
I don’t usually use bouillon cubes because they are so salty but when I saw these porcini mushroom cubes made by Knorr, I decided to try them. I think they may add great flavor to quick soups, sauces, and rice dishes. We’ll see if they become a future “must have” trinket from Italy.

Mostarda Bolognese
In one of our cooking lessons we filled ravioli cookies with this thick dark fruit spread. Made from apples, pears and oranges, this not-too-sweet spread, somewhat reminiscent of apple butter, is also great on toast and a fine addition to a cheese platter.

Cuneesi chocolates with liquor
They certainly don’t skimp on the liquor in these candies! They greet you with their booze-scented breath before you even unwrap one. The chocolate shell surrounds a soft truffle center that is flavored with Gran Marnier, whiskey, rum, Strega, or one of several other liquors.

The best shops in Bologna to buy food souvenirs

I spent many hours exploring Bologna’s streets and shops and can recommend these two shops for their prices and selection. The fancy shops in the historic market district of Bologna are certainly worth visiting to admire their boutique-like beauty, but these two shops, just short walks from the Two Towers, are the places to make your purchases. Some items were half the price there.

Best Shop for food souvenirs and gifts:
Strada Maggiore, 31
Wines, liquers, groceries, candies, cookies and more

Best shop for candies :
Il Caffe Bazaar
Via Guerrazzi, 8
They also have a large selection of wines and liquor.

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