Student Blog: Food Science Course in Italy
jarrett jackson '13 - History
"My hands shook and I embraced the cold stone of the Coliseum like a soul mate. It was like I had been there before."
My adventures in Italy were once in a lifetime opportunities that have formed eternal memories for me and I would like to thank all of those who made such an amazing experience possible. I enjoyed learning about Italian culture and food such as Parmesan cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and much more. I thank my parents for their love, support, and willingness to allow me to experience a new culture and for their financial support. I thank Catawba College, especially the Honors Program, for its aid in making this trip affordable and for the opportunities it gave me on the trip. I thank Debra and Dyke Messigner for their donations to the trip and their obvious support and caring for those of us who wish to use our college years for broadening our global experiences.
Today our trip to Italy began. I was so excited at the beginning of the day that I could hardly contain my excitement... in fact I still have goose bumps. The van ride to Charlotte International airport seemed like a two second trip, I can hardly even recall more than a bit of chit chat with the rest of the group and some of the music from my i-pod. The process of checking bags and getting through security was a bit long and my jittery nature made it seem even longer than it was. I was ready to be gone to Italy and I wanted to run to the plane. But there was little trouble getting through security and after passing I had plenty of time to quickly head to the gate and observe where I would need to be when the time came to board our ride to Italy (or in this case Munich, Germany).
After making a mental note of which gate I had to be at I made my way back to the shops located towards the center of the airport and bought a nice, big bottle of water to drink on the plane and keep myself hydrated. I also decided to buy the Iliad, which is a book I have always enjoyed reading yet never had the pleasure of owning. Even though I had brought my book "Odd Thomas" I figured some extra reading material couldn't hurt. After this short detour I headed back to the gate and sat down. I pulled out the Iliad and began to read. I chatted with a few of my classmates before the plane arrived and got to know a little about them. It was good to finally be able to talk to people that I had thought of as strangers since the class began. I saw that Crystal was crying due to her fear of something bad happening on our flight and wished that I could help her. However, I couldn't think of anything to do to make her less nervous.
Soon after, it was time to board. I quickly moved to my seat and got ready for take-off, all the while occupying my excited mind with the video screens on the back of the chairs. Then we were in the clouds. Suspended in the air on our way to Italy, I could hardly believe it. The flight however, was long and grueling. To distract myself from the pain in my back and tailbone I watched several movies. I fell in love with the movie "The Invention of Lying" and got choked up during "Where the Wild Things Are." I listened to some calming trance music and tried to sleep, but it eluded me and I turned to my book for a while. I counted down the miles/kilometers until the plane would land.
After landing in Munich our group made our way to the next gate. There we sat and played a game called Banana grams, which is kind of like Scrabble only it involves being quicker with the formation of words. It was very addicting, and a great bonding experience. Following several rounds of this game the group boarded the bus and we were on our way to a little "pond hopper" plane that would take us over the Alps and into Italy. Although my "underside" dreaded the thought of sitting down on an airplane again, my heart, mind, and soul couldn't wait to get into Italy.
After the flight ended I slowly came to realize that I was FINALLY ON ITALIAN SOIL! The group and I got our bags and met Giorgio, Our tour director is very fun and charismatic. I can't wait to experience Italy through his direction and knowledge. From the airport we boarded a bus with our driver, whose name is Claudio, and then we continued to a roadside food stop and had our first sample of true Italian pasta and pastries; it was delizioso! Afterward our group traveled to Milan, where our hotel was located. Upon arriving I learned that I was to be roomed with Zach and Dustin. We took our stuff and went to our room where I immediately began to mess with the television (which was apparently a computer as well). I got to know Zach and Dustin a little more and found them to both be pretty awesome. I have a feeling that all of us are going to enjoy Italy well together. Then our group met downstairs and went on a little tour of Milan. It was a quaint
little city, but not many people where around. Giorgio told us that it was due to a big soccer match being held downtown. Upon arriving back at the hotel a game session erupted. Many of my classmates played Banana Grahams, while I went and played a very interesting card game with Dr. Sabo. I felt bad that I wasn't as fast as he was and needed him to help me out with it for most of the game, but the game was pretty fun. Afterwards dinner was served. It was at this dinner that I was introduced to Pruchuto ham and another dish taken from calf meat. It was all delicious, interesting, and very filling. After this I was exhausted and decided to retire to bed. I slept very well that night.
Today is March 8th, or, as the Italians call it, Woman's Day. Today, flowers are passed out to all of the women. It is reminiscent to St. Valentine's Day in some ways. Zach, Dustin, and I all awoke together. I took a shower and we all went down stairs for breakfast. We were the first group down and so we enjoyed our spoils of the food that was present. I had some kind of cereal, some fruit, and a pastry. It was very good. Soon after, many other people began to enter and join us in our "breaking fast." After breakfast we all loaded our stuff onto the bus and kissed the hotel goodbye. It was at this point that we were off to the Parmigian cheese factory. On the way to the Parmigian cheese factory we met our tour guide, a British-Italian woman. She was very knowledgeable on the topic of Parmigian cheese, which the particular brand of this area was Parmigiano-Reggiano. It is a cheese that is well known throughout Italy as being one
of the best types of Parmigian cheese.
Our tour guide remarked that the cows used to produce the milk to make the Parmigiano-Reggiano were very labor intensive and needed to be milked twice a day. This meant that many workers could not have vacations due to their work with the cows. According to our guide there are 3 million cows in the area and all are used for Parmigiano-Reggiano. We learned in the factory that the milk that is taken at night is put out, overnight, exposed to the elements. After this, the fat rises to the surface of the milk and it is skimmed off to make butter. Once the fat is removed the leftover concoction is put into a large bowl that helps to separate the grain of the cheese from the liquid residue known as wei. Then the cheese is separated from the wei and put into a mold with a weight on top of it to press the cheese into the desired form. The cheese is "branded" with the Parmigiano-Reggiano label and then put into a salt water bath where it sits for a while. After
that the cheese is aged by being placed on large racks. They sit for a few months until they are ready to be shipped.After the tour of the factory we all had the opportunity to taste some Parmigiano-Reggiano. It was interesting and unlike any cheese that I've had before. The texture was almost gritty and it had a very sharp taste.
We then returned to the bus and headed to our next location: a pruchuto factory. This particular type of pruchuto was located in Parma which is known to be the ham capitol of the world. There 26 are million pigs used for ham products and 11 million are used specifically for pruchuto. Pruchuto is a unique kind of meat in the sense that it is not cooked and is instead dried for eating purposes. The ham is dried using salt and used as Salumi, which is another word for Italian cold cuts. We saw rows upon rows of pruchuto being prepared. We were told that it takes months to make a good pruchuto. I was shocked; it seems that almost everything in Italy takes an abundance of time to make, something that Americans can't comprehend at all. A pig must be at least 1 year old and 160 kilos before it can be considered for slaughter. It was explained that hams, before slaughter, must be inspected, fasted for 4-15 days, and be
unstressed. If a pig is stressed then it releases a hormone that compromises safety of the meat. After slaughter a pig must be begin the process of becoming pruchuto within twenty-four hours or the meat will go bad. It was amazing to see how the meat was dried over time, although the smell became a bit overwhelming at times, and howAt the end of our tour at the pruchuto factory our group was presented with a surprise snack of various kinds of pruchuto sandwiches. They were strange to me, due to the texture that they had, but also very tasty.After our visit at the Purchuto factory we all piled onto the bus once more and headed to lunch at a sparkling wine producer. Can you guess what the lunch was? Why pruchuto of course! It was good, but admittedly I was getting bored of it. The wine was very strange, now I am no wine fan, but this wine was particularly weird. It was fizzy. We toured the rest of the grounds and saw a vast amount of bottles as well as the machines that made the
bottling and fermentation happen.
Afterwards we headed towards Florence. On our way we stopped by a balsamic vinegar producer. It was mind blowing when we found out that only about two complete batches of it could be made in one lifetime. We tried the normal balsamic vinegar from the stores as well as all of the natural aged stuff. It was interesting trying them all, even if some of them were a little gross on their own. But the final vinegar was put on ice cream like chocolate syrup and it was DELICIOUS! Never in my life could I have imagined that balsamic vinegar could taste so divine on ice cream! After finishing up with that we continued on to Florence. After arriving in Florence I was roomed with Zach again. Once we all settled in our rooms we were allowed to tour the city. Giorgio led us to a large square located in front of a large Cathedral known as the "il Duomo." From here we split into groups. I accompanied Zach, Quinn, Kyra, Michelle, Crystal, Claire, Lizzie, and several
others to dinner. I got a pizza that contained German sausage and it was fantastic. The conversations were good as we all got to know each other a little more. Not to mention Crystal got "creeped on" by the maître. After some more time spent walking around the city, laughing and enjoying the company of friends, we all decided it was time to return to the hotel. That night I slept well under the Italian sky once more.
Upon awakening the next day Zach and I headed down for breakfast which consisted of pastries, sandwich food, and eggs. After breakfast we all gathered with Giorgio in the lobby and discussed what the plans were for the day. I couldn't wait to explore the city of Florence. There was so much wonder to be found here and I felt like sitting around and talking was wasting my precious time to explore this incredibly historic city. Then, finally we were off to the same square as the night before. The tour that we were meant to take was not for a while and so Giorgio told us to walk around for a while and see some of the sites before we began our tour. Michelle, Kyra, Dustin, and I walked around the "il Duomo" and some of the surrounding areas. The wind was harsh and cold but it was well worth it to see all of the sites. The group gathered once again in front of "il Duomo" and began our tour with a guide inside of "il Duomo." It was beautiful inside the art and sculpture on the
walls and ceiling took my breath away. I especially enjoyed the references to Dante's Inferno that were presented in the dome's murals. After the "il Duomo" we toured a greater part of the city, seeing the open market, and the three bridges of the city. We even passed the Uffizi. After our tour of the city Giorgio took us to a leather shop that demonstrated how to tell the difference between real leather and fake leather. Here I bought my younger sister a puzzle ring. I knew that she would love it.
My true joy came however from walking around the city of Florence after our scheduled tours had ended. Our small group ate some pizza and then proceeded to the Galleria dell'Accademia, one of the most well known art museums in Florence, and home of the Michelangelo's original David. Here I wandered the museum with Kyra and Michelle as we admired the wondrous religious art that surrounded us and enjoyed many conversations about religion. The original David was a sight to behold, I admired the handiwork of a true master of stone craft for many minutes. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the museum also contained art from the dark ages. It was awesome to be able to see the evolution of art during the enlightenment. It was somewhat interesting to also see so many artists interpretations of different biblical events. The assumption of the Virgin Mary seemed to be the most popular subject for many artists of both
medieval and Renaissance time periods. After Leaving the Galleria dell'Accademia Michelle, Kyra, Dustin, and Claire decided to go up into the Duomo, which is something that could not previously be done during the normal tour. Going up was a daunting climb of zigzagging steps. Once we reached the inside of the Duomo however, I was shocked by how much more beautiful the paintings were up close. And the outside of the Duomo was even more breathtaking. From up there I could see the entire city of Venice and its surrounding country side sprawled out before me. It was... breath taking.
Though the wind was made me feel like I was about to be blown away I wanted to stay there for the rest of the evening and watch the sunset. But sadly we had to disembark. After our time in the Duomo our little party had a quick stop for some gelato. It was great, and the time with good friends was even better. We talked about Italy, each other, and laughed as Kyra tried to roll her "r's." After Gelato we returned to the hotel where we hung out until it was time for Giorgio to escort us to dinner. We got lost on the way but me Michelle and Kyra all talked about Disney movies and sang some songs on the way, so it wasn't so bad. Then we ate some of the most delicious food I have had, in copious portions. I felt like I was going to explode from all of the food. The mood was upbeat and enjoyable, even though the conversation turned to serious topics at times, such as politics and opinions on world affairs. It was interesting to see what everyone thought about
America and the world we live in.
After dinner it was time to return to our Florentine hotel. Here I spent some time before bed discussing the Marvel comic book universe with those who wished to listen. It was good to know that others enjoyed this talk; made me feel like part of a family. After this I retired once again to dream land, awaiting another great day in Italy.
Today day is the day of the cooking class! I couldn't wait until it happened. But first we had to go to wine tasting. Now I have never been a fan of wine due to its bitter taste. I was surprised to find a treasure during this tour though. The olive oil that was made along with the wine was spectacular. It tasted like butter and the taste was addicting. Every time it was served with bread during the wine tasting I lunged for it. It was so delicious. Most of the time during the wine tasting I found myself watching Kyra try to drink all of the wine offered to her. The faces she made were quite amusing. I discussed the wine a little with Zach as I questioned him as to how he could taste anything beyond the alcohol. He told me it was an acquired skill. Although the tasting was not enjoyable I did enjoy smelling the wine and picking out the flavors in that way. I felt bad, but sadly I threw most of the wine out. After wine tasting our tour guide for the day sang a Latin chant for us.
He was VERY talented.
It was that this point that we were separated into our cooking groups and sent to make our own lunches. It was fun making the dough for the noodles and ravioli... even though I dropped mine on the floor. I'm sure it added some good minerals and proteins to the dough though! After creating our ravioli's and our noodles we were sent into the next room as we waited for them to be prepared. When we finally received our pasta I was amazed by how good it tasted. I didn't think there was any conceivable way that WE had created something as delicious as THAT lunch. But it was true, and after we finished eating, we headed back to Florence where we bid our tour guides farewell. It was here that we found that we could do as we wished for the remainder of the evening. A small group of us split off and went back to the hotel to put the items we acquired from our wine tasting adventure away. Then we wandered the streets of Florence mostly window shopping
and enjoying each other's company. It was simple and peaceful. And as we walked around I couldn't help but wonder were the next day would lead me. We returned early to our hotel and I decided that I desperately needed some early sleep. And so I retreated to dreamland for the evening.
Sadly most of today was a blur. The rain, wind, snow, and cold kept my eyes glued to the ground for most of the time spent in Siena, our city for the day. It was an amazing town from what I could see because it was still set up like an old medieval village in many ways. But the most brilliant part of the entire town had to be the Duomo that was located here. Florence had nothing on Siena's Duomo. I walked in and it was like stepping into heaven. I couldn't speak, the majesty of the place filled me with awe. All I could do was look at the majestic paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and light that filled the spaces around me. My heart leapt in my chest and my mouth gapped open as I stood in awe of the splendor of God and man on earth.
After the Duomo the weather lightened up a bit. Me and my companions took to the streets, had lunch, and visited an interesting modern art museum. We had some form of fried rice ball as well and it was delicious. Out time in Siena came to a close after this and we headed back to the bus and began heading to our next destination. The rest of the day was spent on the road for the most part. We passed through some beautiful scenery in the mountains and valleys of Italy as we made our way to our lodging for that night. I slept and spoke with friends and we all shared headphones as we exchanged music. It was some good, and much needed, downtime after a series of very busy days. Then we arrived at our destination, and I was shocked as we entered what appeared to be some kind of Italian, country resort. Although it was dark, I found it to bebeautiful. Dustin was my roommate for the evening and he busied himself with talking to his mother. After I set my things
down, I showered, and then left the room for some exploring. I wandered around the premises a bit. I met some friendly dogs who seemed to live on the property and they accompanied me as I wandered around seeing everything that the place had to offer, and then returned to my room, where I was shocked to find Dustin who seemed to be having the longest conversation of all time with his mother. I put in my headphones and slowly drifted to sleep.
Today was chocolate day. The Nestle factory that we visited contained a slew of delicious chocolates for me to enjoy. For some reason I felt very quiet today. I didn't know why but I just felt like being alone, I felt bad about it, but I started to shy away from most of the group and didn't talk much. The tour was interesting, but I was more occupied with getting my sister Savannah one of the chocolate Easter eggs. I got her one with princesses on it, and I knew she would love it. We returned to the bus where we began our journey to our next destination. We were headed to a "dead village" that was left from medieval days called Civita di Bagnoregio.
I was blown away by this little hill top village. It was actually on a hill!!! Smack-dab on the top! It left me wondering how in the world those who had populated it long ago had managed to build it. At this point in time it was occupied mostly by cats. I was in awe of the people of the past as I walked through and ate lunch in this little town. I left in awe of that town... and I also left speaking in a British accent due to a conversation with Kyra, Michelle, and Dustin.
Now back on the bus we headed to our next destination. Another town on a hill top that held many museums, which was known as San Gimignano. Though there were many museums to be explored, I elected to go to the torture museums. The first museum was one of torture and death while the second one was of torture and witches. Although they were interesting museums I felt a little disappointed after leaving them seeing as many of the tortures discussed where things I already had knowledge on. Ironically, after viewing horrifying images of death and torment, we decided it was time to eat. Our group, consisting of Zach, Quinn, Dustin, Michelle, Kyra, Crystal, and several others, sat down to have snacks and to rehydrate. I chose to have a salami sandwich.
Then, finally, it was time for the grand finale. It was time to head to Rome! On the way I listened to music and talked with my fellow "Italian" travelers on the bus. When we reached the outskirts of Rome I freaked out. I couldn't contain myself. I needed to get out and explore. I fidgeted in my seat and rolled around. I was so excited and I couldn't contain it! However this great joy of being in Rome came at a sad time, because it meant that we were going to be saying good bye to our driver Claudio. However I couldn't contain my hype and soon I was able to put a smile on my face again as we stood in the lobby of the hotel. Everyone smiled and laughed at my excitement and it just made me all the more pumped to get back out on the streets of Rome and explore to my heart's content. After running up to my room and dropping my stuff and then heading back down stairs we had a group meeting
about courses of action that we all might choose to take in our evening explorations that night. However, I knew what the first stop had to be for me. It HAD to be the Coliseum. I could feel my "inner roman" tearing at my stomach and kicking my heart to pump harder. I was ready to be free of the hotel and get out onto the streets to see, and touch, and be one with the city of my soul!
Then, before I knew it we were on our way. It took everything in me to wait for my friends to keep up with me. I couldn't help it; I felt like the runner of marathon in the old Greek myth, I was running like my life depended on it. I could barely comprehend it when I saw it. It was like an image from a dream. But there it was, the Coliseum, the ACTUAL ROMAN COLISEUM! It was there, right in front of me. I could reach out and touch it. My hands shook and I embraced the cold stone of the Coliseum like a soul mate. It was like I had been there before. My mouth and mind couldn't stop racing as I unloaded facts and speculations and theories about the coliseum to all of those willing to listen. And then I was pried away, I knew that I would see it again upon the morrow. The rest of the night was spent touring all of the historical hot-spots on the map. We saw everything there was to see. We visited the Trevi fountain (and
slipped coins in so I'm sure to come back!!!), walked the Spanish steps, saw the Victor Emanuel II monument, and also saw the Pantheon, although we could not go inside. After all of this adventuring around Rome we all headed back to our hotel. I slept better than I have in a long time, and felt at peace with the world.
Rome, Rome, Rome, Rome, Rome!!! I can't believe I am actually here! It is grander than I could possibly imagine. And today we got to go to the Vatican. Although we didn't get nearly enough time in the Vatican to fully appreciate it. We rushed through the art galleries, with barely any time to appreciate the beauty of the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Renaissance art. We rushed through It enraged me that our tour guide rushed us so fast. I knew it was her job to be efficient, but I barely even got a taste of this amazing place! The Sistine chapel was gorgeous, so many people complained about how small it was, and yet I felt that they missed the point. The work that went into those paintings and the beauty of the anatomy and symbolism in Michelangelo's work, even though he was half blind, was evidence of miraculous things. I didn't think It could get any better than that... and then... we
entered St. Peter's Basilica. My God... It was beyond words. Tears began to stream down my face and I tried to wipe them away and hold them back. I touched the feet of St. Peter as I walk through this threshold of heaven and marveled in silent awe. I could not due such a place justice with my mere mortal words and I will not try. I saw that they were offering penance as well. I wanted to receive it, and yet I could not due to our tour guides insistence on moving swiftly.
After leaving the Vatican we proceeded to a shop where I bought a rosary and had it blessed by the Vatican as a token to remember my journey by and as a reminder to become more spiritually connected to my faith than I was before. Then it was off to the Coliseum and the Forum. Now I was able to experience the Coliseum from the inside. It was awesome! The tour guide for the Coliseum and the Forum was extremely knowledgeable on the sites and I was surprised at how much I learned and how much I didn't know about Rome. It disheartened me slightly, but in no way did it ruin my experience. It motivates me to learn more before I come back. The Forum was a history hot spot and I was exhilarated by all that I saw and heard in that place. I felt anger at the civilizations that followed Rome and decided to tear down the great monuments of old and use them for their own purposes, which were by no means as exquisite as Rome. When
we finished with my "ancestors in spirit" and their former Forum we began the long walk to our final dinner in Italy. It was to be pizza, and we were going to make it ourselves. Sadly it did not turn out that way. But we enjoyed the dinner and our last time together at dinner in Italy. We all had fun. Afterwards, Michelle, Kyra, and I returned to the Hotel and grabbed some gelato along the way. We sat on the steps of the hotel for a while and talked and then all of use went to bed. I was sad; I knew that this was the last night I would spend in Italy for a while. I don't want to go.
Not much to say... we left. There was a sad good bye when we left Giorgio. And then we got on a plane and came back. It sucked and not nearly as fun as when we were on our way there. I found all of the thoughts of home and responsibility weighing heavy on my shoulders again. Vacation was over. The flight was long. I spent the time reading my book: Odd Thomas. I finished it before we arrived back in Charlotte. It was sad to be back... but the longer I stayed the more peaceful I became. I became glad that I was home, and Italy seemed to become just a dream. We got home late. I went to bed. And my Italy Adventure came to a close with me sleeping peacefully in my bed here at Catawba.
In my family, there are not that many traditions involving food. This is probably due to the fact that my family doesn't have a very distinct cultural background other than being American. However, there has been one thing that I can remember my immediate family has done since before my birth. My father, after graduating college with a degree in mechanical engineering, decided that his skills could be best put to use as an officer in the Military; more specifically, the U.S. Air force. During this time he married my mother and the two moved to Dayton, Ohio to live on Wright-Paterson Air force Space, which was the military base located there. It was in this area that my dad met a couple of his good military buddies. Although my Dad has never told me the name of the friend who taught my dad how to cook the dish that would become a tradition in our family over the years, I will always be thankful for him. While in the
military my father learned a recipe for creating delicious Sausage gravy. Shortly after that event, I was born, and my parents became more than just a married couple but a "family group." My dad decided that, to give my mom a rest on holidays, he would make breakfast for the whole family (meaning just me and my mom at the time). However, the only thing he knew how to cook well at this point was the sausage gravy. Therefore, the sausage gravy became a part of our holiday tradition. Although it's made on every holiday, the most memorable is Christmas. On Christmas, I can remember that during my childhood I couldn't wait to eat the sausage gravy almost as much as I couldn't wait to open my presents. Often times it depended on the year, but the gravy could be eaten with anything from grits to biscuits (though biscuits were my favorite). The gravy has become a tradition in my family that, if abandoned, would create a void in our holiday life. Over the past
few years my father has been having me make the gravy alongside him so that I can commit the recipe to memory so that one day I'll be able to serve the sausage gravy to my family and the tradition can live on. It's hard to not be tempted to make the gravy for reasons other than holidays with family because it's so good. That's makes this lab is such a rare opportunity to enjoy some sausage gravy outside of holidays, and outside of my family.
1 lb pork sausage
~2 c. milk
~2-3 T. flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Cook sausage in a heavy skillet, crumble as cooking.
- Remove sausage with a slotted spoon; being careful to leave as much grease as possible in skillet. Set aside sausage for later use.
- Over medium heat, stir 2-3 tablespoons of flour into the grease. Stir constantly until browned, about 5 minutes.
- Continue stirring constantly & gradually pour in 1 cup of milk. Continue stirring until the gravy is thick.
- Add all of the sausage back into the gravy.
- If desired, season with salt and pepper.
- Serve over split biscuits, grits, or mashed potatoes, or pour into a bowl or gravy boat and serve on the side.
PHOTOS: Food Science Course in Italy