January 31, 2011

Bologna's mortadella, no baloney


In 1963 Oscar Mayer, a brand of KRAFT in the United States, coined the catchy jingle to make his bologna a household name. "My bologna has a first name" and so on.. Yes, the song gets stuck in your head, but what is the sausage made of?


Mortadella, the real Italian Bologna sausage, originates right here in Bologna! Home to the Taste of Italy.

The hearty, yet surprisingly healthy sausage has been made in the area for nearly 500 years, but has very little resemblance to the packaged, thick slices in the grocery store. Mortadella makers, using the traditional Italian style - leaving nothing to waste, use fat and spices to pack the thinly sliced delicacy with flavor. Often times the additions can literally be seen in the finished product. Though fat is used in the product, mortadella is relatively low fat. Only the tastiest fats are added into the sausage for the burst of flavor.

Bologna, the city is better known as 'la grassa' or 'the fat' leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to taste and enjoyment in the dining department. Like the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, the sausage must pass criteria to be the official Mortadella di Bologna. The genuine product is protected by PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). This means the products are free from fillers, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
Mortadella is a must-try when wandering the small streets of the city. Appetizers with mortadella, sometimes with other meats are generally accompanied by some type of cheese which make great pallate pleasers before the meal. Yum!

Oh, and just in case you were curious, the Oscar Mayer jingle is no longer used. The company wanted other products to be represented as well. I wonder what will happen to its Bologna sausage? One thing I am sure of, mortadella, the original Bologna sausage isn't going anywhere!

You can find more information about Mortadella at the following:

January 19, 2011

Meet me at the Towers

A stunning view of the towers against the blue Bologna sky.
Sure, everyone has heard of the leaning tower of Pisa. It bustles with tourists year-round, but who knew Bologna offered one better in the heart of town?

In the 12th century two Bolognese families decided grand towers built in their name were a sure way to would be remembered. 

It seems the towers of Garisenda and Asinelli have successfully made their mark on Bologna. As one of the city’s well-known symbols, the hard to miss duo lean and stand tall to make for
the perfect meeting spot in the center of
town. Passing shops with postcard adorned windows will
surely have the towers, maybe in their lit-up holiday glory.

Not only were the towers built to inspire postcards, but each signifies the power of the families who built them.  This is one theory of scholars as to why towers were built in the area in that time period.  The towers came in quite handy through the years in other ways as well.

The taller of the two, Asinelli, standing 97 meters, was used as a lab for scientists in the 17th century and later as a sight post in WWII. Garisenda, leaning at 48 meters, made it’s mark when Italian author Dante Aligheri mentioned it in several of his works. Keep in mind, Dante is the Shakespeare of Italy, big deal!

Tourists and Italians alike are able to pay a small fee to climb the 500 steps to the top of the Asinelli tower to get an incredible view of Bologna.

Not only is Bologna the gastronomic capital of Italy, home to the oldest university in Europe and the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, but the city’s rich history offers a non-stop lesson on the culture. Everywhere you turn there is an opportunity to see and experience the Italy in a small, less touristy city.

Looking down the side of the Asinelli tower.
A view from the top.
          
                   The leaning base of Garisenda tower. 



             All photos by John Nissen-Hooper
JM

January 11, 2011

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar: Part II

Now that you have a grasp on the age old method for how the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is made, let's go back a few hundred years into its history.

Sadly, there is no official documentation when or where exactly Balsamic originated, but similar products, used in various ways throughout history have been mentioned in literature from ancient Greece and imperial Rome. However, some early documents for the still-flourishing condiment can be traced back to Modena 1598.

Centuries later, traditional balsamic became a condiment for kings. King Victor Emanuel II was lucky enough to find the 'black jewel', a cask found in Duke Francesco IV of Ferrara's palace. The king demanded that the best casks being produced in the region be moved to the royal castle in Piedmont. Thus, began the royal balsamic batteries. Who knew balsamic could be a hobby for kings?

A few years later, in 1860, author Francesco Aggazzotti took the time to write the practice to create traditional Balsamic vinegar. This became the basis for the production in Modena that remains today. Good thing someone decided it would be a good idea to pass on an actual recipe.

Today, the production of the Traditional product can be found to Province of Modena in the region Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. The province is home to more than great balsamic. The birthplace of Enzo Ferrari, several other noted automotive lines, balsamic and countless other gems make Emiglia-Romagna a must-visit in Italy.

JM

January 2, 2011

Tradtional Balsamic Vinegar: Part One

Strict rules apply to just about everything produced in the world today. Those rules also apply to the age old process for Balsamic Vinegar. The authentic ‘Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena' or 'ABTM' has a lengthy process that brings the product to the top of the charts in condiments.

Casks containing grape must maturing as natural enzymes
infuse the product during the acidification process.
Traditional Balsamic is made through steps of fermentation and maturation of grape must. The number of steps and methods vary slightly from one producer to another, but the basic practice remains.

The process involves boiling grape must and natural maturation in a series of wooden barrels, called casks. A minimum of five casks must be used in each battery. A battery is the official name for a group of casks in a series. Each cask is smaller than the last and made from differing types of wood. Softer, more porous woods are used in the initial stages to allow for evaporation and acidification. Over time the product is transferred to smaller, harder wood casks. The specific types of wood and the number of casks, over three, is up to the producer.

The typical balsamic vinegar on a run-of-the-mill store shelf doesn't have quite as many rules when it comes to production. In most cases basic grape vinegar and caramel are mixed to mimic the color and taste of the real thing. In the best case scenario the vinegar is aged in one cask, certainly not up to the costly traditional balsamic standards. Thankfully there are several ways to separate the authentic Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena from the other guys. The official seal of approval by The Consortium of Producers can be found on each of the glass bottles. Expert tasters and a series of tests earn each numbered bottle the official stamp of validity. The glass bottles ensure the product does not deteriorate over time and the seal guarantees the products' quality.

Shelf-ready products can take anywhere from twelve to twenty-five years to complete. When a batch meets the twenty-five year mark it graduates to 'Extra Vecchio'. This means the product has reached the height of maturation and nearing the peak of perfection. The older the product, the more time it has had to mature, therefore making it a higher quality.

JM