Student Blog: Food Science Course in Italy
Michelle Chaffee '12 - Undeclared
"I loved everything about Italy and I cannot wait to go back and explore the food, wine, culture, and history to an even greater extent."
March 25, 2010
This trip would not have been possible without the help of many people. First, I would like to thank my parents for their financial, moral, and emotional support throughout this journey. Without them this experience would not have been possible. I would also like to thank my extended family for their support as well. I am so grateful for their generosity and thoughtfulness. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Catawba College Honors Program and Deborah and Dyke Messinger. Without their contributions this trip would not have been the same. This experience immersed me in the Italian culture and broadened my knowledge and ways of thinking. I learned so much about art from the Academia which houses Michelangelo's David, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and the architecture of the cities and cathedrals.
My knowledge of the art of food was also increased dramatically from the visits to the parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and chocolate factories, as well as making homemade ravioli and fettuccini. I also want to thank Giorgio for his excellent leadership. He was a fantastic tour guide who taught us so much about the Italian culture and way of life. A huge thank you to everyone who went on the trip with us as well. It would not have been the same without you. I am so grateful for the support of those who made this experience possible.
Day 1 and 2 ( 3/7 and 3/8): Before Departure to the Airport
I have been full of anticipation for weeks! Every time I had a hard day, all I had to do was remind myself of how many days were left until this trip and I would feel better. I can't believe that it's finally here and we are leaving the country today. I am not looking forward to a full day of traveling and sitting on planes. Sleeping on the plane is going to be incredibly difficult even though this will be the only opportunity to sleep before we get to Italy, because after our landing we immediately meet with our tour director and depart for Parma. I did buy a natural sleep aid, so we will see if that helps at all because typically, I can't sleep at all no matter how long the plane ride. Well, it's almost time to ride over to the science building with Kyra and her parents to meet everyone and drive down to the Charlotte airport together. I still don't believe this is happening!
A Short Introduction
Before we go any further I feel that I should introduce those who went on the trip with us. Dr. Sabo and his wife Jan Sabo were our only adult chaperones. The students who went on the trip were Kyra, Jarrett, Lizzie, Crystal, Zach, Quinn, Claire, Danielle, Vanessa, Ryan, Carrie, Dustin, Laurie, Katie, and I. I'm a bit nervous because I am not good friends with most of the people who are going on the trip, but I'm hoping that spending a week in one of the most beautiful places in the world will change that!
On the 8.5 hour flight to Munich:
So far, the trip has been all travel. The drive to Charlotte was stressful because of the accident on I-85, but we arrived at the airport on time. Getting through check-in and security was, as always, stressful and painful, but we all got though safely (minus a bottle of sunscreen). This flight has been great so far. We are flying with Lufthansa and I am very impressed with this airline, which is highly unusual. The planes are very clean and surprisingly comfortable, and the flight attendants are very friendly and helpful. I was also shocked by the quality of the food. While it was by no means restaurant quality, they meals they served were the best plane food I have ever eaten. For dinner I had chicken and rice, with peas, bread, salad, and a brownie, all of which were adequately cooked and tasted decent. The plane is the largest I have ever been on – I have never been on a plane with middle seats before. I was
in an aisle seat (thank goodness!) and Carrie sat on the other side of me. We talked a lot about movies and we both ended up watching "The Invention of Lying," which was a very funny movie. You should see it. I did try very hard to sleep on this flight, and I even took four (low dose) sleep aids, but nothing helped. I could only sleep sporadically for a few hours. I kept waking up with cramps in my neck even though I was using a neck pillow and the seat was becoming very uncomfortable by this point. But, I got a little bit of sleep and hopefully this will be enough to get me through the day until we get to the hotel in Parma. Overall, my first trans-Atlantic flight was great! (Aside from the severe butt ache...) This flight is finally coming to a close, so it is now time to get off the plane in Munich, go back through security (how exciting!!!) and wait for about two hours to board the plane to Milan.
On the flight to Milan:
We are officially in Europe! It is still not sinking in that we are no longer in the United States, even though people are speaking in other languages. By the way, German is one of the most confusing languages to try and understand. It sounds great when the natives speak it, but when I tried to decipher some of the words written on the safety flyer and was completely lost. It doesn't seem to be strongly related to any other language, and has many long complicated words with strange combinations of letters that make it nearly impossible for anyone, like me, who knows very little German to understand a word. But somehow we once again all survived. After arriving in Munich, we went through customs and security, which was a much smoother process than it is in the U.S. We then walked to our gate
through the very tempting duty-free stores. Many of us played Bananagrams which fascinated an Asian family who was standing nearby. One older man even filmed one of the rounds. (Some of the best words of the trip included howdy, rhapsody, torr, zealot, and thorny.)
I'm currently on the plane which will take us from Munich to Milan, and then we will finally be in Italy! The best word to describe this plane is teal. The seats, the floors, the food boxes, and the flight attendants are all covered in teal. I am assuming that this is the color of the Italian sector of Lufthansa called Air Dolomiti. Thank goodness this is a much shorter flight! I don't think I could handle another arduous flight today, although I have two seats to myself which is very nice. At this point I am just ready to be in Italy eating the food, tasting the wine, and experiencing the culture.
I was so excited to see the Alps on our flight from Munich to Milan. They were so beautiful and it always amazes me to see marvels of nature like this. It touches me spiritually, reminding me of God's incredible power, grace and love. While it was incredible to see these mountains from the sky, I would love to be able to experience their beauty from the ground one day. Although, I might want to learn how to ski or snowboard first... But I will worry about that later. Right now it's time for food!
3/7/10 2:10 pm
Italian rest stops are very different than American rest stops. There is a self-serve restaurant where you can buy meant and cheese, pasta, bread, fruit, or salad. There is also a café where you can buy espresso and cappuccino. I ate cheese tortellini and a bowl of fruit. It was decent food, much better than American fast food, but it was not great. I also had an Italian candy which was an espresso shot covered in chocolate. It tasted wonderful and the caffeine was very effective! I can actually feel myself becoming more and more awake. The Italians so far are surprising me. I have almost been run over a few times and many people have been rude. I was expecting the people to be friendlier, but I can't judge everyone by the few I've met so far. It is also a stereotype of Italians to say that they are all incredibly friendly invaders of personal space.
On the bus Giorgio, our tour director, was telling us about Italy and I learned so much from him. Here are a few of the tidbits of knowledge that I picked up from him. Italy can fit into the US 33 times, and the population of the US is 330 million while the population of Italy is about 60 million. Essentially, people in Italy cannot be claustrophobic. The longest river is the river Po at 653 km. The government in Italy is composed of a parliament of 936 people. These include deputies who are analogous to congressmen in the U.S. government and a Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister is a member of the Center Right party, which is a conservative party similar to the Republican Party. There have been up to 66 different parties at one time because anyone can run and put up a political party; however, if they don't get at least 4% of the vote they are only recognized as a movement, not a political party. This has
reduced the number of parties to 12, which is more conducive to an efficient political system. There are also 15 ministries and each has a different house and responsibility, and there is also a President of the Republic which is a symbolic figure of the country with little power. It was a very interesting to learn about the Italian government and how it differs from the American government.
Hotel Number 1
We stayed in the Tricolore Hotel for our first night in Italy. I was in a room with Kyra and Lizzie and we had a very interesting experience with European light switches. We did not realize that the lights would only work if you put the key card in the slot next to the light switch. We were turning the lights on, but within a minute they would always turn back and we thought for a while that by turning the lights on and off so much that we were overloading the circuits. It took the three of us about 10 minutes to finally figure it out, even though the diagram on the wall clearly demonstrated that the card should be placed in the slot. This system is actually very smart and conserves a lot of electricity. The hotel itself was interesting. European hotels
are very different than American hotels.
The shower was tiny, but the bathroom was very nice. The marble stairs which we had to climb to get to our room were very dangerous, as they left me with quite a few bruises on my arms and legs. The dinner they served was very good for our first meal in Italy. We were served multiple courses, beginning with prosciutto, cheese and bread, which was delicious. We then ate pasta with a meat sauce, which was not my favorite. The sauce was much darker than American sauces and did not taste very much like tomato, and the pasta did not taste like pasta, but rather tasted like the sauce. The next course, however, was very good. It was veal in a sauce and potatoes, both of which I enjoyed. For dessert we were served some kind of apple pie/cake/tart which was fantastic! The first Italian wine I tasted was not my favorite. It was carbonated and tasted heavily of alcohol, but the flavor of the wine did not compliment the taste of the alcohol. The wine was too sweet and tasted too
much like grape juice for my liking, but I'm sure as the week goes I will taste other wines that I like, especially at the wine tasting. Finally, I am off to bed to try and refresh my energy for a very long day tomorrow.
Day #3 - 3/8/10
Today was packed with excellent food and incredible food experiences! First, we drove into Parma to take a guided tour of the parmigiano reggiano factory. When our tour guide for the day, an elderly British woman, got on the bus, she promptly taught us how to say "parmigiano reggiano" properly, and also told us to never call the cheese "parmesan cheese" as this was considered insulting to the cheese and those who make it. This cheese is a highly important food to the economy of Italy and the Parma region, as this is one of the few regions where the cheese is allowed to be produced, but it is a staple in every Italian home. While the process was done historically with red cows, milk is now obtained from black and white cows which have a higher milk yield. Eventually, the red breed that was used in the past was almost extinct. There has recently
been a movement to go back to using the native breed of red cows to produce the cheese, and there is currently a 2,000 herd. The cheese made from this milk, however, is almost twice as expensive.
Making parmigiano reggiano is a labor intensive process to make the cheese, as the cows must be milked twice a day, 50 lb curds must be drawn up from the bottom of a vat of milk, and the cheese master must handle all the ingredients of the cheese to make sure that it is properly made. The real cheese is recognized by a stamp all the way around the cheese saying Parmigiano Reggiano. It is also recognizable by the white dots which are enzymes, especially in the older cheeses. We tasted different cheeses that had been aged for different amounts of time and the cheese that had been aged for a shorter amount of time had a weaker flavor and creamier texture. I preferred the 36 month cheese to the 18 month cheese because the flavor has developed fully, as the cheese smells strongly of pineapple and contains other fruit and nut flavors. I also like the texture of the cheese, even though it is very different
from the cheeses that I typically eat such as Gouda and havarti. It is not spreadable, and is instead gouged out of a block and eaten in large chunks or is shaved over other foods. I enjoyed the tour of this factory, aside from having to wear a very unattractive plastic gown, hair net, mask, and booties. The production of this cheese is a heavily scientific and historical process which is highly respected in the Italian culture, as is the product.
To get to the prosciutto factory we traveled up into the hills surrounding the historical center of Parma. We also passed a castle called Torrechiara which was constructed by Pier Maria Rossi for his lover Bianca Pellegrini da Arluno.
I wish we could have toured this castle, or other historical sites in Parma. While we learned a lot about the food industry in this region, I fell like there is a lot of history in the city which we missed. This castle is a stunning landmark and I would have loved to see what it looked like inside, and to learn more about the man who had it built and the woman for whom it was built. After traveling past the main part of the city, we drove up to a hill overlooking the valley in which Parma sits to the factory. This type of ham is only produced in the Parma region according to DOP regulations.
Approximately 26 million hams are produced here, and about 11 million are Prochutti di Parma. The air here has a special quality because it comes from the nearby sea and contains elements of salt, chestnut, oak and pine which impart the hams with these unique flavors when they are aired traditionally. To make prosciutto the hams are trimmed, then salted and left to sit for 5
days. They are then re-salted and sit for 10 more days, and then they are washed. The hams then rest for 20, 24, or 30 months and are ready to be consumed. They are typically eaten raw in paper thin slices. We tasted many different types of ham and they all tasted amazing! We were served traditional prosciutto, neck meat, bacon, and salami, all of which had different flavors, textures and appearances. All these meats were very good, but one of my favorites was the salami because of its intense flavor and spice, but I also enjoyed the neck meat. Typically I am not very adventurous with my food choices, but this exploration was well worth it! The meat was very tender and flavorful, and very smooth, which seemed to be a characteristic of many of the meats we tasted. Visiting these factories was an incredible experience because we were able to see how certain foods are made and processed, but we also experienced the respect that the culture has for their food. The methods
and standards of food production in Italy are completely different than those in the U.S. Staple foods in the United States come in colorful plastic packaging and hold little to no nutritional value despite the man claims these packages display. They are mass produced with on personal involvement and their production is run almost entirely by machine. In Italy, the process was completely different. All of the production is completed by smaller factories and people rather than machines handle the food. In the prosciutto factory the hams are trimmed and covered by hand. The process of making parmigiano reggiano is completed entirely by workers handling the different ingredients. The curds are pulled up from the bottom of the heating pots by hand and the cheese master feels the texture of all the batches to make sure they are the proper consistency. While machines are used for certain processes, very little is left entirely in the hands of computers and
technology. I wish that the American food industry would take some cues from this method of production, as it creates a better and healthier product. So much of American food is made and consumed without thought, while food in Italy is considered an art form. This is a cultural tradition for the Italians and much of their cuisine involves the use of these specially made ingredients. The natural movement in the U.S. is moving closer to this ideal, but there is still too much industry surrounding our food production. Touring these factories is was educational and motivating, and I hope that someday American can establish food traditions similar to these.
Vineyard and Lunch
The location of this vineyard is similar to the location of the prosciutto factory – it is up at the top of a hill overlooking the countryside and large fields of grape vines. They are bare now, as it is still winter here, but soon they will be green with new life. I wish we could be here to see this! We think the country is beautiful now, but I can only imagine how incredible it looks in spring and summer when the bright colors of nature reappear. The lunch we were served was excellent, and consisted of the Italian staples prosciutto, salami, and parmigiano reggiano. The cheese was served differently here and it could be eaten with either balsamic vinegar or fruit preserves. The balsamic vinegar complemented the taste of the cheese perfectly and brought out the deep, strong flavors in the cheese. I also enjoyed the cheese
with the fruit preserves. The preserves were very sweet and highlighted the fruit flavors in the cheese. Both methods of service tasted wonderful, which attests to the complexity and diversity of this incredible cheese and I can't wait to get home so I can start eating the huge block of 36 month parmigiano reggiano that I bought. As usual, there was wine served with our meal. We tasted a red and white Lombardo wine, which are both carbonated wines. They are served up to a year after making them, and they are not aged before their consumption. The white wine was very fruity, sweet and wet. It smelled like white grape juice and tasted bright and fruity at the tip of the tongue. While it was not the best wine I have ever tasted, I like it enough to finish my glass. On the other hand, I could not finish my red wine. It tasted like grape juice that had been mixed with alcohol to me. The flavor was very acidic which did not balance the flavor of the alcohol, so the flavors of the wine
did not mix and complement one another. I think that I like wines that are not carbonated and ones that have been aged for a longer period of time so their flavors have time to mature. I have been disappointed so far with the wines we have tasted because they have not met my expectations for Italian wines; however, I am sure that there will be other opportunities, such as the wine tasting later this week. After the lunch we toured the wine making facilities. I learned about the importance of fermentation in the making of wines because the yeast in the wine eats sugars and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. More sugar can be added to increase the alcohol content. This was explained to us by one of the workers in the winery who spoke very rapid Italian, and Giorgio translated as best he could, but it seemed like the man was very difficult to understand. It was very interesting to watch him translate because for every few word the Italian man spoke it seemed like Giorgio only used one.
(Once again I am fascinated by language.) But we got the general method of how the wine was made. One of the best parts of the tour was seeing how the wine is bottled. This process is completed by machines, but the bottles must be sanitized and rinsed, then the wine is added, then it is corked and caged. All this is done on a fairly short conveyer belt in a short amount of time. This was not the most interesting tour for me because I have been to many wineries and seen the process of making wine many times. It was incredible to see this winery though because if its beautiful location.
Balsamic Vinegar, Gelato, and Italian Cats
This was probably my favorite tour of the day because balsamic vinegar is one of my favorite foods. Once we went inside the smell would have been overwhelming had it not smelled so wonderful. The tour was very short and simple, but it mirrored the process of making the product. Traditional balsamic vinegars only ingredient is grape juice. No vinegar is added to this product, as it is to most of the manufactured balsamic vinegars today. It is aged in six barrels of decreasing size and, unlike wine, the older the barrel is, the better the vinegar is. The aging process takes 12 years or more, and the longer it is aged, the better the product. We tasted the many different types of balsamic, including the industrial product, non-traditional vinegar that had been aged for four years, and traditional balsamic vinegar that had been aged for 12 years or 30 years. Each type of vinegar had a very distinctive flavor and texture, and
my favorite was by far the 30 year old vinegar. The industrial product which has many more ingredients, including actual vinegar, had a very strong acidic taste with a lot of bite. As the product got older, the flavor became smoother and sweeter, while the texture became thicker. The oldest product tasted almost like caramelized brown sugar. I was amazed at the difference between the taste of the traditional balsamic vinegar and the balsamic vinegar I was used to consuming. I'm not sure I will ever be able to go back to loving the vinegar you can buy here in the U.S., which is why I bought a bottle of the 12 year traditional balsamic vinegar to take home with me. Again, I am so excited to try this vinegar, especially with the cheese I bought earlier today!
First Night in Florence
Driving into this city, even though we were all completely exhausted, was incredibly exciting because I have heard so many amazing things about this city. When we first starting driving through the streets I was not impressed – it looked like any other city to me. But after we checked into our rooms and started walking around me saw the beauty of the city. All of the buildings are old and very historical, which is difficult to see at night. When we turned a corner and saw the Duomo, we all had the same reaction. It did not look like a real building! It looked like a cardboard prop that was just sitting off in the distance, like you could run up to it and kick it and it would fall over. However, as we got
closer and closer it began to look like a real building and it was breathtaking at night. There was a pizza place nearby where Lizzie, Kyra, Dustin, Jarrett, Claire, Laurie, Quinn, Zach, Crystal and I all went and ate dinner. The food here was decent. Kyra and I split a cheese calzone but there was very little cheese in it, and there was very little crust and the bottom was burnt. We also ordered tiramisu for dessert which was good, but it was not as good as other tiramisu that I have had in the U.S. I was disappointed by the quality of this restaurant, but it was mostly a student and tourist trap, so I am not surprised by the food quality. I was shocked at how many people came up to us to try and get us to come into their restaurants, and they were all very aggressive. Restaurants in American do not do this, but these advertisers were everywhere in the city. There
were also many people selling flowers and handing out flyers for clubs. It was an interesting experience but I am very glad that it is not like this in America because it made me very uncomfortable. After dinner we braved the streets of Florence with very bad maps and tried to find "The Fish Pub" and to students from the U.S. who were studying took pity on us and showed us where it was. They were giving out free champagne to women because it was ladies day in Italy. The bar was interesting to see, but it seemed Americanized. It was also very small and there very few tables, but we all had a great time hanging out and getting to one another better. I can tell that this city is beautiful, and I love the squares and churches everywhere. A lot of the city reminds me of parts of New Orleans, but there seem to be a lot more people here and the city seems friendlier and more upscale. There are many nice clothing stores that I am interested in exploring,
although I don't know that we will have that much free time, and there are other things I would rather do. It is also freezing cold because of the wind in the city. The buildings seem to tunnel the wind and make it much stronger and colder than it actually is. Hopefully, it will be warmer tomorrow because we are going on a walking tour of the city. Overall, today was a good day. It was incredibly busy and felt more like three days, but I learned so much and had so much fun! I'm looking forward to seeing more of the city tomorrow!
Today has been my favorite day so far! It started out with a very bland breakfast of yogurt, a tasteless croissant, and some toast. The continental breakfast at the hotel was not very impressive. Again, it was another incredibly cold and windy day which was disappointing, but it was still a fantastic day! We walked as a group over to the Duomo where our guided tour of Florence was to begin, but we had almost an hour before our guide would arrive. While most people went and found a café and got coffee, another group of us walked around the city on our own and explored the area around the Duomo. We were surprised so many times because each time you turned a corner you saw another incredible building or work of art. No corner or pizza was the same, which I really liked. It made our walk very interesting, and we ended up finding all the places we were going to visit on our tour before the tour even started. The tour
was very interesting and informative, and our tour guide was very knowledgeable and fun to listen to. It was very interesting to hear about the history of the city and its many historical landmarks. For example, Florence used to be the capital of Italy and was ruled by the Medici family. The cathedral was also built using the money of the people, not just money from the private sector, which ensured that it was the church of the people. She also told us a lot about the art in the city and the many artists who loved the city, which was of great interest to me because I love art and art history. She highly recommended going to the Academia to see Michelangelo's David and to climb the dome of the Duomo to see amazing views of the city, and to get a closer look at the art on the inside of the dome. With the rest of the day free, a group of us decided to grab some pizza (which was great even though we had
to wait a very long time for it), and then head on to the Academia. Most of the art in this museum was religiously based and certain rooms contained art
that was all of the same era and style. Many of these started to look the same, especially the many paintings of Mary with Jesus, but there were also very unique pieces. One of the first pieces we saw when we walked in was The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. This is a striking sculpture that has so many angles and lines, and it looks different from every viewpoint. The circular motion creates so much movement and power in the figures, which in turn has a significant impact on the viewer. There is also a lot of history in the scene it is portraying and in its construction. I loved this sculpture and I wish that we were allowed to take pictures in this museum. Michelangelo's David was also incredibly beautiful. It is a much larger statue, but it has a similar element of power. The figure is an almost perfect human whose body contains so much power and tension. The realism of the art
is striking and very personal. When I looked into his face, I could see what he was feeling, and I began to feel the same anxiety. His stance seems relaxed, yet there is so much tension in his body and in his face. These two elements are juxtaposed which also contributes to the power and beauty of this piece. After our visit to the Academia we walked to the Duomo and climbed all the way to the top of the Dome. We conquered 463 steps and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the city. I was amazed to see that Florence is in a small valley and is surrounded by the beautiful, green hills of Tuscany. It was incredible to see the city from this viewpoint because you get a better idea of its size and nature. The city is made up almost entirely of very old buildings, most of which are of a similar color; there are also so many large churches, statues, and large historical buildings throughout the city. It would have been great to have a guide that told you what each of the landmarks were!
I was so happy that we decided to do this because it was such an amazing experience! It was exhilarating to stand at the top of the dome in the gusting wind and think about the people who built it. I am amazed that it was possible for people to build these buildings without the machinery and expertise we have today. The painting in the top of the Dome was also very impressive. The artistry and detail creates a beautiful work of art that also carries a lot of meaning, and it was very interesting to see it up close. Everything here seems to have so much character. Later tonight we walked to a slow food restaurant and ate one of the best meals I have ever had. The food was cooked perfectly and the style in which it was served was perfect! I ate pâté for the first time, which was surprisingly good. It had a
very rich flavor, but it was still very light and the taste was wonderful. I also tried rabbit, which had a very strong rosemary taste which I enjoyed. The beef was good, but it was not as good as the other meats that were served. The pork was perfect! It was some of the best pork I have ever had. They also served many pasta dishes, including fantastic ravioli. We also ate great appetizers including caprese and prosciutto, and the most mouthwatering dessert tray! It is impossible for me to pick my favorite dishes from this dinner because they were all so delicious. I enjoyed trying new things, tasting the different types of cuisine, and experiencing the slow food, family style restaurant.
Olive Oil, Wine and Homemade Pasta
Today was yet another great day! We had an all day wine tasting and cooking class in the hills on the outskirts of Florence. We drove up to the winery in two small vans and the views were spectacular. It would be amazing to live in Florence because the gorgeous hills of Tuscany are only a 20 minute drive away from the city and I would absolutely love to look out my window every morning! After driving up we toured the winery and the olive oil facilities. The methods and machinery were a mixture of modern and traditional to create the best product possible. Most of the process is mechanized such as the process of separating the oil from the excess water. Traditionally the oil was put into large pottery basins which had holes in the bottom and the oil was allowed to separate for a period of time. The water would settle to the bottom of the basin and was drained out. This process is now achieved in a much shorter time period
by using a centrifuge. The olive oil is a mixture of three different types of olives and when they are ready for harvest they are a black and green mixed color. The olives that are grown here have a much lower acidity than those grown in the region typically associated with olives, which gives the oil a much smoother, lighter flavor. We tasted the oil on bread with a little bit of salt and it had a very rich, butter taste, but was still very light and smooth. The same facility also houses a winery. There are three different types of red wine that are produced here, and all are aged for different amounts of time in different barrels to give the wine different flavors. We tasted all of these wines, but I could not taste all the different wood flavors in the different wines. I did, however, taste the difference in the acidity and the sweetness of each of the wines. My favorite was the Chianti Reserva, which was aged in the large barrels for a period of time, then moved to a small barrel
for one year. We also tasted a dessert wine that was made from grapes that had been dried. This wine was very sweet and strong, but it tasted very good. I really enjoyed this wine tasting and I would love to participate in more of them when I am old enough.
After the tasting was finished we drove to a house on another hill where we learned to make homemade pasta. This was one of the most exciting experiences of the trip! We made ravioli stuffed with spinach, parmigiano reggiano, and nutmeg, as well as fettuccini which was then covered with a light pesto made of arugula, garlic, and other spices. The process of making the pasta was not at all what I expected. While you have to respect the pasta, you can't be gentle with it. If the dough is not handled enough the pasta does not taste as good. The best pasta, according to our leader Alex, was the scraps of our ravioli which were made into more fettuccini. I really enjoyed how hands-on this experience was and I would love to make my own pasta at home, but it is time consuming and I do not have the proper tools. Also, the ravioli we made was not
my favorite dish. The ingredients were very simple and natural, but there seemed to be little flavor, especially in the pasta itself. The texture, however, was perfectly al dente. I preferred the fettuccini with pesto, which was also cooked perfectly. This dish had much stronger flavor, but it was still made out of light, natural ingredients. We were also served eggplant lasagna and two types of quiche. I loved the lasagna and I want to find recipe for it so I can try to make it at home. We also had homemade tiramisu and espresso, both of which were to die for! I also want to learn how to make tiramisu myself because it is one of my favorite desserts and I have now eaten it enough to know exactly how I like it made. I also loved the house in which we were cooking. Parts of it were built with stones that dated back to the 12th century and the atmosphere was very relaxed and personal, while still retaining
an air of beauty and formality. The view from the window in the room where we ate was incredible! Again, I would move here in a heartbeat!
This morning came very early for me. It was also incredibly cold and it started snowing during the first part of our tour of Siena. The city was absolutely beautiful and the snow made it even more striking. We began our tour in a small church near the outskirts of the city and our tour guide gave us an introduction to the city. We then walked to the Piazza del Campo, which consisted mostly of restaurants. (We had the most amazing pizza and hot chocolate at one of them!) After passing through this square we toured the cathedral in Siena which was the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen. It was how I always imagined a cathedral looking. The entire cathedral was covered in frescoes, some of which were restored and the colors were beautiful. It gave the cathedral a very warm, comforting atmosphere because instead of being surrounded by cold white marble, the inside of the cathedral is bathed in warm colors. The floors
were made entirely of marble, but there were many pictures and intricate patterns in it. There was also a library with large books of chant and large frescoes all over the walls and the ceiling. This room was strikingly beautiful due to the intensity of the colors in the frescoes and the intricacy of the paintings. I would love to know the history behind the stories that are depicted in these paintings because I think they would have a much greater impact if I knew what they meant, rather than just looking at the artistry. Both elements have to work together to accomplish the full impact of a work of art, and I wish that I had taken an art history course before I came on this trip because I feel like I am missing out on so many things. But I can concentrate on that for the next time I come to Italy! The marble work in this cathedral is incredible. The patterns on the floor are a form of painted marble and the whole church is built out of alternating black and white marble rather
than just one solid color. I wanted to spend so much more time here to look at the many different alcoves and frescoes but we were on a guided tour so I wasn't able to do this. I am very happy that we are on guided tours though because I very little about the cities we are visiting and their history. Having a tour guide to give us the history is an enriching experience and I have learned so much from all of them. However, the next time I travel I want to explore the cities on my own and spend more time in the places I am more interested in. This was the best way to see the country for the first time though. I learned so much more this way than I would have if I had come to Italy on my own. For example, I learned so much about the bi-annual horse race that is held in the Piazza del Campo from our guide in Siena. This event is a competition between the different regions of the city and each region has a horse and jockey assigned to them by lottery. The horse, not the jockey is the
one that wins the race and the jockeys are bribed by different regions and people, because no betting on the outcome of the race takes place. The winner receives the pride of winning, but also has to pay the losers. It is a very interesting custom that I would love to be a part of and witness. After visiting Siena, we drove to San Gimignano. This was a very small, medieval town which is not a major tourist attraction, but the city itself was very pretty. There were two torture museums, which a large group of us visited, but I did not enjoy it very much. I would have liked to explore the city, the museum or have gone up in the tower which overlooks the city. However, it was way too rainy and cold to be outside this much so I did not see much of the city. This day was one that had good moments and not so good moments, and many people were starting to lose their positive mental attitude. I would not want to cut out the visit to San Gimingnano because I would have enjoyed it a lot more if
the weather had been better and many others in the group really enjoyed it. After this visit we drove out into the countryside to a beautiful resort that would have been the perfect setting for a wedding. I wish we could have spent more time here because I didn't get to appreciate the beauty of this place because I was so exhausted. The hotel was built in an old village using the original buildings, so it has a very old world charm and beauty (except that the heat did not work very well).
The Dying City, Chocolate and Rome
This day started off with a long walk to one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The views of the city, from the city, and from the bridge were breathtaking! Civita de Bagnoregio is also nicknamed the dying city because its population has dwindled to around 20 people and there are more cats in the city than people. While the walk was difficult and long, it was well worth it see this city. Once inside the city we did not have much time for sightseeing as we had to find a place to eat lunch. We walked up to a restaurant, where Dr. Sabo, Jan, and Giorgio happened to eat as well, but we didn't realize that the entrance to the restaurant was through the outdoor seating, so we tried to go in through the kitchen which looked like the real entrance
to the restaurant. It was also an adventure because the menu was entirely in Italian, which presented some difficulties, but it was fun to be surprised. I ordered the gnocchi, which (surprise!) was served in what the Italians call an "angry" red sauce. It was a meatless tomato sauce that had a very strong flavor with a lot of spice and basil. This food was some of the best food I have had so far on this trip! The pasta was cooked perfectly, the tastes all complimented each other perfectly, and the service was wonderful.
After this visit we traveled to Perugia and toured the chocolate factory there. I was disappointed in the tour because it was very short, general and impersonal. After visiting the other factories, this tour taught me nothing about how the chocolate is made. I know the different types of chocolate made there, the basic ingredients and that it is produced completely by machine. I would have liked to have a tour of a traditional, small chocolate making family business which made chocolate as they have in the past. A tour like this would have taught us more about how chocolate is made and why it is made the way it is. The tour brushed over this topic in a short, very fast paced, general video. It was very difficult to see the process by which the chocolate was made because everything is completely automated and controlled by machine. The
chocolate did taste wonderful, but I feel like it was not a very educational experience regarding the art and science of the making of the chocolate.
After this tour we went on to Rome and checked into our hotel. The streets in Rome we so narrow that while the bus was parked no other cars could get around it, so there was a very large traffic jam behind us, and when Claudio got back on the bus to park it he almost ran over a motorcycle. So, of course he ran off the bus, and just picked up the bike and moved it over a few feet shaking his head. After we were settled into our rooms we decided to head out for some sightseeing. At first we were in a large group of about 10 people, but we decided that it would be better to split up because we wanted to do different things. Kyra, Jarrett, Quinn, Zach and I ended up walking to the many different monuments around the city. We visited the Colosseum and walked around the outside. It was beautifully lit at night, and I don't think I have ever seen anyone more excited than Jarrett was to see the Colosseum. We also visited
the Forum, Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. We tossed coins into the fountain, so we will all be coming back to Rome!
We walked to the top of the Spanish steps and had a beautiful view of the church at the top. We were constantly approached by people selling flowers at the many tourist spots which became very frustrating. They handed Kyra and I flowers and told us they were free, then turned to the guys who were with us and asked them to pay whatever they thought the flowers were worth. We saw many people like this and I was shocked at how many people were selling goods on the street and at how pushy they were. It took us a while, but we finally found a restaurant at which we wanted to eat, and we had excellent food. I ordered the risotto with shrimp and asparagus, and it was the best risotto I have ever eaten. All the flavors were perfectly balanced and the whole dish tasted very fresh and the rice was cooked to perfection. We all tasted each other's food and everything
was amazing, everything except the service. The waiters were very rude and unprofessional which was upsetting for the price we paid to eat at the restaurant. It was still, however, a great meal for our last bought meal. Even though we got lost quite a few times, saw a lot of homeless people and some hookers, this was one of the most fun nights I had on the whole trip. It was great to spend so much time with a small group of people and experience this incredible city with them.
Rome and Vatican City
This morning was one of the best mornings of the trip. We started with a tour of Vatican City which was an incredible experience. We went through the Vatican Museum, which houses many statues and tapestries that used to be in the Sistine Chapel, as well as some modern religious art. I was amazed not only by the many pieces on display in the museum, but also by the artistry of the building. In one room the ceiling was painted to look like it had been sculpted, put it was just flat paint and the ceilings were always very ornately decorated. I wish we had more time to spend in the museum portion of the Vatican because there were so many interesting pieces, and we didn't get to see any of the more modern art. Our guide was a very woman who was very knowledgeable, and also very good at crowd control. She frequently ordered other people to go around or to stop and let her "family" through. I enjoyed having
her as a tour guide because she was very friendly, knowledgeable, and fun to listen to. She did rush us on to the Sistine Chapel which is the main attraction for most people who go to Vatican City. While the Sistine Chapel was strikingly beautiful, it was not what I expected. At home I have a large book of lithographs of the paintings which are on the walls and the ceiling, so I am used to seeing the images in close detail, but when looking at the paintings in person they looked very unrealistic and simplistic. The colors were also much brighter than I expected and much more pastel toned than I expected. I enjoyed hearing the stories behind the paintings which increases their impact, and I would have like to hear more of these stories so I could better understand the meaning behind Michelangelo's masterpiece. I was not happy that there were so many people in one space at one time throughout our whole visit to the Vatican. This detracted from the spiritual impact for me because it
was very hard to concentrate on the setting when constantly surrounding by masses of pushy people. It was incredible though to see these historical masterpieces. After the Sistine Chapel when went into St. Peter's Basilica which was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I loved the many statues and marble inlays which looked like paintings. I was amazed at the beauty of this place. I wanted to spend much more time here. I cannot find words to express my feelings towards St. Peters or words that would do its beauty justice. I was constantly overwhelmed, and I am still overwhelmed, by the sheer volume of the cathedral, the statues, and the art, but also by the thought of holding mass here. Attending one of these services would be a greatly moving experience, even though I am not Catholic. I want to spend so
much more time here and see the many different statues and works of art, because there were so many and each has a story and purpose. After walking around the Basilica for about 10 minutes we walked outside to St. Peter's Square which was also very beautiful. I wish that there were not giant advertisements or scaffolding everywhere, because it was difficult to fully experience the art and architecture of the square because it was constantly interrupted. Being in Vatican City was an experience of a lifetime and I hope to go back again and go at my own pace to get the full experience.
Later in the day we went on a guided tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Our guide was very knowledgeable and helpful, even if he was a bit snobby. He disliked the new monument very much, even going so far as to call it an "ugly building." But he had great appreciation for the constructions of the ancient Romans. Seeing the Colosseum in daylight was a great experience. I still cannot completely envision what it looked like in the day of the Romans because there are many portions of the building that are missing because they were used for the construction of other buildings. While I knew much of the history surrounding the Colosseum it was interesting to hear other details that I did not know, such as that Gladiators were not considered human beings. I also enjoyed learning all the history of the many ruins, buildings, and
temples in the Forum. This was a place where I was very glad we had a guided tour, because otherwise I would not have appreciated the site at all. I would not have been able to recognize the ruins for what they used to be and I would have known nothing about the history, so I was very excited that the guide was so knowledgeable. I keep trying to envision what this place looked like in the time of the Romans when all of the buildings were still standing and in use.
After this tour we walked to the restaurant where we were going to make pizza. Making the pizza was not as exciting as I thought it would be. It was a good experience, but it took very little time and effort to make the pizza, but it was nice to make my own food. I would like to know how to make the pizza dough and learn why you are supposed to handle the dough the way you do. I still had a lot of fun making and eating the pizza. It tasted good, but it still doesn't beat the fantastic pizza I had in Siena. Once again, the wine that was served at dinner was very acidic so I didn't drink very much of it because I did not like the flavor. After dinner, a small group of us decided to go back to the hotel and on the way back Jarrett, Kyra and I stopped to get our final cup of gelato, which was the best gelato of the trip. Overall, it was another great day, but I feel like I didn't enjoy it as much as I should
have. I was very tired and ready to go back home by this point because I needed much more sleep and some time to relax and be alone.
The next day we woke up at an insanely early hour to catch our plane to Frankfurt, and then our connection to Washington. While I was not looking forward to traveling again I was so thankful to be going back home. I enjoyed the trip immensely, but I was ready for time by myself to get adequate sleep and relax. The plane rides were not too bad, but I do not remember much about either one of them. I was barely conscious during the flight from Rome to Frankfurt, and the flight from Frankfurt to Washington seemed much quicker than the trans-Atlantic flight to Munich. By the time we finally got on the bus in Charlotte to go back to campus we were all completely exhausted and slept most of the way back to school. This trip was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I am so thankful I was able to be a part of it. I loved everything about Italy and I cannot
wait to go back and explore the food, wine, culture, and history to an even greater extent.
Food Traditions Essay
The tradition of making German Chocolate Cheesecake began when I was about 8 years old. No one in my household is fond of grocery store cake, ice cream cake, or cake from a box. My mother and I have always enjoyed baking, and my step father is an excellent cook, so we prefer to make our own food rather than go out and buy something pre-made. This always caused a dilemma when it came to what to have on birthdays. One year, when my mom was in Williams Sonoma, she saw a spring form pan and discovered the solution to our birthday problem: cheesecake. We bought the pan, as well as a book of about 100 different cheesecake recipes. My step-dad Rob was the first to have one made for his birthday. Since he is a fan of rich dark chocolate with nuts he chose the German Chocolate Cheesecake. It was originally made with a graham cracker cookie crust, but we stopped using this crust in favor of one made from Oreos because it was tasteless
and hard. Otherwise, this cheesecake was a huge hit. We continued making cheesecakes for birthdays and tried a few different kinds including a classic New York Cheesecake and a Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake which was my favorite for many years. This cake had a lighter, fluffier texture and was much more difficult to make than the German Chocolate. One year on my birthday my mom ended up in the emergency room because she cut the ligament in her thumb while trying to get a slice of cake off the pan with a very sharp knife. There are many memories surrounding these cakes, including the great memories of being in the kitchen with my mother licking the spatula and beater from the mixer. This is a tradition I plan to continue for many years because this cheesecake is better than any store-bought cake I have ever eaten. The process of making it, as well as eating it, is enjoyable and always reminds me of home. This German Chocolate Cheesecake has not been part of my family tradition for very long,
but it will be a part of the rest of my life and hopefully those of future generations of my family.
Food Traditions Recipe: German Chocolate Cheesecake
Chocolate Cookie Crust
15 Oreo cookies
5 tbs butter, melted
In a small bowl stir together crushed cookies and melted butter or margarine till well combined. Press crumb mixture evenly into the bottom of a greased 9-in springform pan.
German Chocolate Filling
24 oz cream cheese
¾ cup sugar
½ cup sour cream
1 egg yolk
1 ¼ tsp vanilla extract
8 oz German sweet chocolate, melted
In a large bowl combine cream cheese, sugar, and sour cream. Beat with an electric mixer till smooth. Add eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. Stir in melted chocolate. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the crust.
Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 200 F (without opening the oven) and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or till the center no longer looks wet or shiny. Remove the cake from the oven and run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Chill, uncovered, overnight.
Coconut Pecan Topping
¼ cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 evaporated milk
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 cup flaked coconut
½ chopped pecans
1 ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
In a small saucepan melt the butter or margarine. Stir in sugar, evaporated milk, and egg yolk. Cook and stir over low heat about 10 minutes or until thickened. Stir in 2/3 cup of the coconut, chopped pecans, and vanilla extract. Spread over the cake. Garnish with remaining coconut, pecal halves, and chocolate curls. Chill till serving time. Makes 12-18 slices.
PHOTOS: Food Science Course in Italy