Sunday, June 24, 2012

Good Parma: Day 3

They say an army travels on its stomach.  So does a group of American women touring northern Italy!

Wednesday morning I tried to limit myself to fruit at breakfast, but lost my resolve when I discovered the croissants were filled with Nutella.  So yummy!

We piled onto the bus and drove out to the Modena region to tour a balsamic vinegar factory.  Aceto Balsamico del Duca has been producing balsamic vinegar for over 100 years.  Much like Champagne is only Champagne if it's produced in a specific region of France -- everything else is just sparkling wine -- all balsamic vinegar comes from Modena.  This particular company is one of the larger producers -- 1 million bottles per year.
We were given a tour of the operation by Alberto, who spoke very good English.  He explained that the vinegar is made by combining the juice of four different grapes that grow in this region, cooking it down to a liquid called 'must,' and aging it in a series of wooden barrels.  As it ages, it's moved from the larger barrel into successively smaller ones, made from a variety of different woods to enhance the flavor.
The oldest barrel in the factory has been in use since 1897!  The older the barrel, the better.  The stuff you buy in the supermarket is usually aged
The oldest barrel, dated 1897
They use bigger barrels for the less expensive stuff, which is not aged as long.
The cheaper stuff is make in larger barrels
Before we toured the factory floor, we had to put on while coats and hair nets, as did our guide.
Alberto rocks the hairnet as he shows us a traditional bottle
Bottles are labeled by hand
And carefully packed into boxes. These bottles are going to Japan!
Either they shrunk us somehow, or these are some humongous barrels!
Before we shed our white smocks and hairnets, we posed for a group photo in the shop.
Wearing the latest Italian fashions
And then, the tasting!  We tasted several kinds of balsamic, ranging in age from "mature" (at least two months), to "aged" (3 years), to the really expensive stuff that is aged a minimum of 25 years.  Of course, there was Parmesan cheese to go with it, which is especially tasty with the good stuff.
The tasting -- with Parmesan cheese, of course
We also tasted some jams made with balsamic vinegar and different types of fruit, including strawberry, pear, and fig.  It was a delicious complement to the cheese.

After doing some shopping in the factory store, we piled back into the bus and headed off to our next destination, passing under part of the Calatrava Bridge along the way. 
Calatrava bridge in Reggio Emilia
We also passed the Barilla pasta factory.  We did not get to stop for a tour, but wondered what they might sell if they had a factory outlet store.  Broken spaghetti?  Untwisted fusilli?
Our next stop: Parma!  A city known for its ham, cheese, and architecture.
We got to experience all three as soon as we arrived.  We sat at an outdoor cafe across from this beautiful post office building...
And ate pizza with Parma ham and Parmesan cheese.  Yummy!
Then we met up with our guide, Luca, in the main plaza for a tour of the city.

Tower with WWII memorial
Nice frescoes along the top of this building
Another war memorial with the Palazzo della Pilotta in the background

Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata, consecrated in 1539
Interior of the dome
The altar
Trompe l'oeil ceiling
The opera house
Nice art nouveau building
Another art nouveau building (I can't resist!)
The last stop on our tour was the Piazza Duomo, where the city's large cathedral is located. Just adjacent to the cathedral is the Baptistery, an octagonal building faced with pink Verona marble that dates back to the twelfth century, and is considered one of the most important Medieval monuments in Europe.  The interior is elaborately decorated with frescoes and statues representing biblical scenes and the months of the year/signs of the zodiac.
The Baptistry
Exterior detail
Ceiling interior
Like many other historic buildings we saw in this region, the Cathedral -- or Duomo -- was covered in scaffolding as it was undergoing extensive restoration work.
Cathedral (Duomo)
We were not allowed to take photos inside, as indicated by this helpful sign by the entrance.
After a visit to the gelato shop, we piled back on the bus and headed back to Bologna, where we had yet another delicious dinner at a restaurant near our hotel.  Of course we had to stop for more gelato on the way back.  So many flavors, so little time...

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