I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Reggio Emilia, Italy a sister city of Fort Worth, Texas, with the Culinary School of Fort Worth.  Reggio Emilia is located in northern Italy, in the Romanga Region, southeast of Parma.  The Fort Worth Sister City International Program of Fort Worth and the Culinary School of Fort Worth had been planning this trip for a couple years and I first heard about it when I was attending Culinary School from 2008-2009.  Chef Heather Kurima, Director of the Culinary School, visited Reggio Emilia with the Sister City group and told us about her adventures. We also had a couple visits by the culinary students of Reggio Emilia and sampled the local balsamic vinegar and some of their food.
Chef Kurima and Beth Weibel, a Fort Worth Sister City International Program Manager, met with the twelve travelers several times in anticipation of the trip.  Beth told us all about the travel details, brought in TCU students to teach us some Italian, (which was really, really helpful) and was overall a terrific source of information and support.  Chef Kurima developed a detailed and exhaustive itinerary by seeking input from all of us.  We knew exactly where we would be during the entire trip and it sounded fantastic.  In  a nutshell–twelve people (9 chefs and 3 significant others) representing the Culinary School of Fort Worth, traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy, stopping at JFK in New York, then to Milan.  We spent several hours in Milan, boarded a bus to Reggio Emilia, approximately two and a half hours away.  During our stay at the B & B del Vescovado in Reggio Emilia we visited other cities by train, including Parma, Florence, Bologna, and Verona.
I don’t want to give the impression that all we did on our trip to Italy was eat—but really, it is true to some extent since it was a culinary trip, although we spent time doing many other things besides studying food and eating, such as taking a walking tour of Reggio Emilia, visiting beautiful churches, seeing the Uffizi Museum in Florence, and touring wineries in Verona. Il  SalottoRistorante, Milan After a long day and night of traveling we were bleary eyed and exhausted. A few of us toured the beautiful Piazza Del Duoma, including going into the beautiful duomo.  We found a little restaurant in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Not wanting a multi-course meal we looked around and saw most people were eating pizza. We had pizza with salami and pizza with ham and mushrooms. Both were hot, crispy, and delicious. Later we enjoyed a cup of seriously rich hot chocolate as we tried to stay out of the rain for a few minutes. Cioccolata Calda, or hot chocolate in Italy is like drinking a melted chocolate bar—really it has to be eaten with a spoon, it is so thick. With panna (whipped cream) and some biscotti, it’s divine. Reggio Emilia
Reggio Emilio street with flags for Tricolore celebration of 150 years
 
Bruschetta at La Casseroula
 
Penne Dorate
We arrived at the B & B del Vescovado in Reggio Emilia after a long bus ride. After getting situated in our rooms we set out to find a recommended restaurant. With a little help we found La Casseruola, one of a few restaurants open on Sunday night.  Steve, Sharon Cofer, a wonderful lady and new friend I met on this trip, opened our menus and saw they were all in Italian.  Fortunately we had a handy restaurant translation guide so we could figure out the menu. It took some effort to figure out all the dishes and we finally ended up ordering a variety of dishes. We had antipasti of bruschetta with salsa rosa, prosciutto, and grana. This was bread with red sauce, prosciutto and cheese—OK but nothing special. We tried the penne dorate with allo speck (ham) and pepeverde (green peppers). The pasta was excellent and the best dish of the night. We ordered braciola di maiale (pork steak) which was tough and dry and spiedino di carne (skewer of beef with onions and peppers). It was also dry and lacked flavor. As I looked around I noticed that just about everyone else in the restaurant, who came in after us even though it was 9:00 PM, was ordering pizza!
After a morning of walking around Reggio Emilia and having an official welcome at City Hall, we stopped in a little restaurant called, Sotto Broletto. This was an unassuming little place but one of my favorites during our stay. I had Tortelli Verdi in Salsa Bianco with Salsiccia (chard tortellini in white sauce with sausage). This is at the top of the tastiest dishes I enjoyed during our stay. It is also one of the local specialties and on every menu (and we would be served it time and time again!) Steve ordered a pizza, Quattro Stagione, with prosciutto, cotto, funghi, salsiccia, and carcioti (prosciutto, salami, mushrooms, sausage, and artichokes). I loved the toppings but the crust was bit soggy.
Sotto Broletto near our B & B, a favorite spot
 
Friends in Fort Worth group
Tortelli Verdi with Salsa Bianca and Salciccia (I have to make this when I get back!)
Off to Parma where we had some time to wander around by ourselves. It started raining so we slipped into a covered patio and ordered some ciocolattacalda, hoping to have a great cup of hot chocolate like the one we had in Milan. I ordered dark and Steve ordered milk. We got very thick cups of chocolate, like the melted chocolate bar but even thicker than Milan’s. We ate it with a spoon. I have since looked up a recipe for Italian hot chocolate, Ciocolatta Calda and here it is:
1 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
2-3 T sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
Measure the milk, cream, and cocoa powder into a saucepan and set it over medium heat.  Begin whisking to incorporate the ingredients, and reduce heat to medium-low to prevent it from boiling.  When milk is warm, gently whisk in 2 T of the sugar.  Continue cooking over low flame until dissolved and steaming hot.
Measure cornstarch into a small bowl.  Spoon a little of the hot chocolate mixture into the bowl and stir it into the cornstarch.  Pour this mixture into the hot chocolate and continue to whisk over low heat for another couple minutes, until thick and smooth, but still drinkable.  Serve with a cookie for dipping, eat it with a spoon, but take the time to relax and savor it, a little at a time. We walked around Reggio Emilia Monday evening and found a restaurant called A Mangiere, a very pretty restaurant. Had we known what was in store for us later in the week we would not have ordered what we did (and you will see why when you read all the posts on Italy) We ordered gnoccofritto (fried pasta) and prosciutto along with some other local hams.
Gnocco Fritto (fried pasta) served with local meats is a local antipasti
 
Local meats, 2nd time
 
Husband Steve enjoying his lambrusco
 
Tortelli Verdi (2nd time)
We also ordered a bottle of Salamino De S. Croce Lambrusco. Lambrusco is a sparkling wine and we would have many more glasses of it during our stay as it’s also the local popular wine. Steve ordered Tortelli Verdi and I had the Risotto with Raddichio, cheese, nuts and bacon. We did not order a meat course after our experience the first night, and also because we had a pretty big eating day already! Cheese Factory
Lateria Sociale Villa Sesso
 
 
 
 
 
The visit to the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory was fascinating.  I had no idea what went into making this cheese but I developed an appreciation of the process after the morning we spent viewing all the hands-on labor that goes into making one wheel of perfect cheese.  There is only one authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and it comes only from this area of Italy.  The process is high regulated from the type of milk (only raw milk from certain cows who have a grass fed diet on local farms in the area), to the long aging process.  The cheese is sold only after it is aged for a minimum of two years and some at 30 months.  Younger cheese that doesn’t earn the seal of Parmigiano Reggiano is sold as parmesan.  We sampled their cheese, both the two year and the 30 month and the taste was nutty, salty, smooth, and hard to describe. We bought 2 kilos of both types to bring back and we still have a kilo of the 30 month cheese vacuum packed in our refrigerator.  We will bring it out when we have our Italian feast for friends and family.  So all that “parmesan” cheese you are used to eating is bland compared to the real thing and if you see that a pound of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is nearly $20.00 a pound in Central Market there is a good reason for it. The Motti School
Steve ready to cook!
We discovered a unique educational method in Italy.  Students at the Motti School were part of a high school program.  In fact the school itself was a regular high school with a section for the culinary program.  Students who are interested in the culinary field, to include cooking and serving, go to the culinary program instead of a regular school program.  When they graduate from high school they are certified to work as culinarians.  We may have some similar programs in the states but I’m not too familiar with them. We were introduced the the staff and students, some of whom had been to Fort Worth and visited the Culinary School of Fort Worth previously.  We changed from our street clothes into chef uniforms. Even the non-chef members of our group were required to wear the full chef uniform from the Culinary School of Fort Worth.  My husband, Steve, who does not cook much at all, was a good sport and wore the uniform without complaint.  We were assigned to various students to prepare the meal we would eat later. I was assigned to make pork tenderloin stuffed with ham and parmesan cheese with a lambrusco sauce.
Samuel pouring wine on the pork
Steve observed this time (but later in the trip he won’t be so lucky!)  My student, Samuel Carpi, was really sweet.  He asked me to help brown the tenderloins which had been tied with string.  The strange thing was there were no utensils to turn the hot pork.  He was merely using his fingers to turn the meat and had one spatula which was not very useful on round objects.  I did my best to brown the meat and turn it “by hand” but it was crazy.  We poured white Marsala and lambrusco wine all over the pork along with some fresh rosemary, sage, and garlic, and placed it in the oven.  The sauce was made from drippings in the pan, more wine and cream. Although it was a weird pink color it was delicious.  The stuffed pork with wine sauce was one of the best things I had during the trip and I already made a version of it at home.  I made an unstuffed pork tenderloin with rosemary, sage, and garlic with a red wine sauce.  The sauce stayed dark red because I used butter instead of cream.  It was wonderful. All the members of our group were busy in the large kitchen cooking the various components of our lunch. I wondered if high school students in America would have access to all these bottles of wine for cooking? Finally it was time to eat!
 
Time to eat! Menu Antipasti Course Rustici Di Sfoglia (rustic pastry) stuffed with frankfurters and anchovies Pizette Di Sfoglia (like a mini pizza with cheese) Erbazzone (the local savory pastry with spinach, ricotta, and onions) Brocolli Flan with Gorgonzola
Pork with Lambrusco Sauce
 
Primi Course
Lasagne Alla Bolognese
 
Secondi Course
Pork Fillet Stuffed with Raw Ham and Parmesan Cheese with Lambrusco Sauce
Contorni (side dish) Roasted Potatoes with Rosemany, Sage, and Garlic
Dolci (dessert)
Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce
Tiramisu
Did I say that this was just lunch?  We had lots of wine, course after course, and the school officials and staff were so warm and friendly.  The students were so sincere and hard working as they waited on our tables and poured the wine.  What a lovely place and great experience.  The food was outstanding.  My panna cotta never turned out so light and smooth.  My favorite dish was the pork and roasted potatoes.  Even the humble potatoes were special–perfectly cooked and creamy.  I am looking forward to seeing the Motti students on their next visit to Fort Worth so I can thank them again!
 
The Motti students
 
After our busy day we still had one more event, a visit to the Reggio Emilia Chamber of Commerce.
Their brand new meeting room was set up with a u shaped table where we sat and were treated to a variety of local products delightfully described by our host, Romeo Catallani.  Romeo was charming, funny, and entertaining as he described the traditional balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and the lambrusco wine.  He also emphasized that Lambrusco wine is good with pork and pork is plentiful in the area.  The whey from cheese production is fed to the pigs which makes for really good pork in this region.
Romeo is on Facebook!
 
Traditional Balsamic, the good stuff on Parmigiano Reggianno–oh my
 
Look familiar–the meats, grissini, cheese
A
Lambrusco!
Later in the evening we headed out to Sotto Broletto for a light (ha ha) dinner.  I had yummy spaghetti carbonara  and Steve tried the Tagliatella with ham and peas.  Both were hot, perfectly cooked, and delicious.
 
Spaghetti Carbonara
The next morning we left bright and early for Florence by train.  First on the agenda was a City Gastronomic Walking Tour.  It started at the Apicus International School of Hospitality.  The tour guide took us to the Mercato centrale, open since 1874.  She pointed out Nerbone, a popular place where a boiled beef sandwich is served.  We didn’t have time to try anythiing during the tour but Steve and I went back later in the week and actually tried a beef sandwich at Nerbone.  We didn’t remember that we were supposed to order it “bagnato” (dipped in juices) so our sandwich was very rare, very tough beef and barely edible.
in the Mercato centrale
Next was the Coltelleria Galli, a knife store, then the Procacci, a Florence style delicatessen known for a glass of prosecco and a finger sandwich with truffle cream.  We got to try the truffle sandwich and it did have a truffly taste, but truthfully, I don’t like the taste of truffles.  On to the Uscio e Bottega, a tiny place where excellent wines are served with traditional Italian cold cuts, breads and cheeses (here it comes again!) After sampling a variety of excellent wines, some fantastic eggplant, pictured above, we finished our walking tour at the Ribiglio, a  cafe and pastry shop.  I purchased some chocolates which we enjoyed the rest of the trip and brought home the rest.  During the tour the guide told us about the local foods.  I learned that people in Florence eat lighter foods than the Reggio Emilia area.  They tend to eat a lot of fresh vegetables, including minestra soup.  Minestra is turned into ribolitta, a vegetable soup with pieces of stale bread.  The bread is also used in panzanella, a mixture of soaked bread, cucumbers, basil, tomatoes, salt, and olive oil.  I tried the ribolitta later in the evening and it was rich and flavorful.  I have since made it at home and loved it.
Our tour guide
a steet in Florence
great shopping near the Mercato centrale
This was a great place to shop for food and gifts to take back.
View of Pontececchio from a  window in the Uffizi Museum
B Gallo Restaurant next to the Duomo–what an amazing place to have a bowl of ribolitta and a pizza.
a delicious bowl of ribolitta
 
We all liked this wine rack.
to be continued