May 14, 2017

The Perfect Italian Pair | Celia's Saucer

When everything is so convenient and available to buy here in the UK, it’s easy to overlook what makes a product and where it has come from. We simply consume without much thought towards the journey it has had to take along an often complicated chain, to the extent that we’ve almost commoditised some of the greatest things the world has to offer. The cost of bread, milk, cheese and tea, for example, have been driven down to mere pennies, ultimately offering no value to anyone, except a ‘saving’. The product is terrible quality, giving you very little for your money and also giving nothing back to the workers along the way. In many cases, it leaves them in such extreme poverty - or animals in such diabolical conditions - that ‘a saving’ can by no means justify the social ill it causes, especially when it doesn’t taste great or do you any good to begin with.

A more conscious consumption is on the rise with consumers looking to discover products with a story, with provenance, and demonstrative of great skill and passion from masters. Paying more for these products rewards them for their craftsmanship and benefits the supply chain, as well as providing a better quality of taste and experience for you. You will have seen this movement rippling through artisan coffee, cheese, bread and meat and it is moving through the rest of the ways that we consume. While the words ‘artisan’, ‘craftmanship’ and ‘handmade’ are making their way onto the labels of commoditised foods and becoming somewhat commoditised  themselves, more discerning or ethical consumers are better equipped at knowing what to look for and where to find something authentic. 

It’s no wonder that many brands – large or small – are investing so much more time in storytelling and in their corporate social responsibility programmes; that is to say, they can no longer just throw the term ‘handmade’ or ‘ethical’ around without backing it up with thorough and transparent content, and reinvesting a portion of their profit back into the chain that supports them, be it in the education of women and children in the communities from which they source, or in protection of the land where their product is grown or cultivated, and so on. 

Many things inspired this article. To name a few, working for a tea company that strives to protect and interpret the ancient Asian tea culture and ceremony of tea (JING Tea), understanding climate change and sustainability in coffee working with Caffe Nero, and a recent education in foods from the Emilia -Romagna region of Italy. 

I recently attended an afternoon at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, to understand more about Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O. (yes, they're both a bit of a mouthful) and how they come together to make 'The Perfect Italian Pair'. The quality, stories, and culture of these products were fascinating. Where I earlier referred to 'craftmanship' this is what I'm really talking about. You can read more about the partnership and its tour at the footer of this article. 

The 'King of Cheeses' (Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O.), there are nine centuries of tradition behind this cheese 'produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna, on the plains, hills and mountains enclosed between the rivers Po and Reno.*' The land upon which the cattle graze is rich and fertile - one of the main criteria for this cheese is that 100% of the milk comes from the area and that more than 60% of the cow's feed is also from the area. Protected by a consortium, Parmigiano Reggiano is a serious, serious cheese. It can come from nowhere else - quite like how Champagne can only be from Champagne. 

It is the same for Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O. - every batch must be tasted by a commission of certified tasters to be able to classify it as so. There are only two grades that are tasted and sold - one aged at 12-years old, and the other aged at 25-years old. It is guarded carefully not only for its incredible quality and taste, but for the preservation of age-old traditions, and for pride. 

The excellence of both of these products relies not only on terroir and cultivation, but on the patience and skill of the makers who make their livelihoods in these prized professions. 

Our afternoon was spent with a presentation delving deeply into the traditions and methods of both of these products (you can read more on Parmigiano Reggiano PDO here and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.DO. here) followed by tastings and meals created to include them in innovative ways. 

Now that I know a little more about them, I'll be creating my own recipes, so stay tuned for ideas on how to use these at home. I won't be looking at either ingredient - or commoditised versions - in the same way again**. 

**(That is not to say that everything I eat and buy is informed, but learning more and more about where and how our products are made go a good way in fostering respect for them, the labour of love that comes behind them and, ultimately, making decisions when and where we can to consume consciously.)

24, 36, 48 Month Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. Spring vegetables, speck, haye farm egg - Damian Clisby
25-year old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O. extra vecchio

24-month Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. cheese terrine, herbs, asparagus tips, flowers - Daniele Repetti
12-year old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O.

36-month Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O Cappelletti pasta in asparagus, mushroom and seaweed broth - Daniele Repetti

Lamb cutlet, artichoke alla Romana with 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. - Damian Clisby
12-year old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O.

Mousse, chocolate ganache, creamy cardamom milk, beetroot coral & green coffee meringue - Daniele Repeti
25-year old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O. extra vecchio

About The Culinary Project “Assi nella Manica” in London

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Emilia Romagna Region in Italy have funded a special project to promote Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O. in the UK. The Culinary Project “Assi nella Manica” campaign promotes the history, production, quality and uniqueness of these P.D.O. products and highlight the importance of the Emilia Romagna Region.
The Culinary Project “Assi nella Manica” includes; events at Massimo, Petersham Nurseries, Sager and Wilde and Bocca di Lupo; culinary trainings at Selfridges, Briciole Deli and Harrods; as well as online and social media marketing programmes. Italian chefs from the Chef to Chef organisation will work with chefs from the above mentioned restaurants to create bespoke menus featuring Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena P.D.O.

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