Parole: Vaporetto-(“Bus” type boats in Venice), centro commerciale-(mall)
I have been meaning to write for a few days now, but I have not had the time! I got back from Venice on Sunday evening (public transit held out for us), and between the weekend, many field trips, and the sunshine, I have not had a chance to write.
Venice was gorgeous. In the words of Lucas Fuess “It is a city that truly took my breath away when I stepped out of the train station”. It is amazing how the train station is right there on the Grand Canal. The city is very walkable, and is easy to get lost in. When we got there, we just wandered around, not really having a specific place to go. There were literally 1000s of tourists, many of whom were American. On some vaporetto rides, we would get into a conversation with other Americans. There was a guy in the same room as me on the Hostel who was from Erie, PA. The city was warm and beautiful, and definitely worth visiting. Also on a vaporetto, we saw huge cruise ships close to the islands. The cruise ships were towing tug boats. I haven’t quite figured that part out yet.
While we were there, we figured that we would get cultured. We did this by wondering around streets in non-touristy areas. I don’t find touristy areas that attractive anyway, because they were that—tourist oriented and full of overpriced, low quality food and goods. One of the places we wandered to was the Ghetto. Apparently, it is where the first Jewish ghetto was. We could not see anything other than a brick wall with barbed wire over the top of it, and some plaques expressing sorrow for those lost to the Holocaust. Nonetheless, it was powerful. We also visited San Giorgio Island, where there is a church, and we took an elevator to the top to see views of the city. Next stop was the hostel to check in, drop off out backpacks, and head back to the main part of the city. While we were there, we saw a beautiful sunset on the water. For dinner, we cultured Victoria by eating at the Hard Rock Café of Venice. The atmosphere was lively and the food was delicious. We ordered an appetizer that included potato skins, onion rings, buffalo chicken wings, chicken fingers, and more. For the main course, I got a combo of part of a pulled pork sandwich and part of a rack of BBQ ribs. We were so full. I think Victoria enjoyed the American culture of the restaurant.
After dinner, we wandered through San Marco Piazza again. It was so peaceful. The air was warm, and there were less than 100 people in the piazza. Everything was so quiet, except for a small band playing at a high-class restaurant on the piazza. The next morning, I made sure to get up to catch a glimpse of the sunrise on the water. Later, we wondered around some more, took some another 100 photos, visited a modern art gallery, ate at a more traditional restaurant, and said goodbye to Venice.
For those of you wondering, Liz and Lindsey went to Cinque Terre for the weekend. Cinque Terre literally means 5 lands, and refers to 5 towns along the west coast of Northern Italy. They said that it was also touristy with many English speakers, but it was a beautiful, must see place. They didn’t go to Venice with Aubrey, Victoria, and I, because they will be going over spring break with some family members.
Cultural Aspects of Food Field Trip
Monday was an all day trip with Stefano, our Cultural Aspects of Food instructor. We headed north to Busseto to see for ourselves exactly what is involved with pork processing. Our first stop was a commercial food processing facility, which makes mortedella (similar to what we know in the US as Bologna), more types of salami than I can even think of, and Culatello. The salamis we saw ranged from big to small. After they were hung on racks, the salami began the completely automated maturation process. Robots work around the clock picking up the 4 meter tall racks, and moving them from room to room as needed, based on temperature, humidity, and mold growth. They would even sense when their battery was dying and would take themselves to their charging station.
The commercial facility also made Culatello di Zibello, DOP. Culatello is an aged ham, from the back part of the thigh. It usually weights 3-5 kg, and is aged for at least 10 months. It does not have a bone in it, so it can be matured in the more humid air in regions near the Po River without worrying about rot. At the factory, there was a lot of mechanization, however, some of the steps, such as sewing the pig bladder around the Culatello, are still done by hand. The maturation room for culatello was made to look like an old fashioned culatello cellar. It was dark, and included a special room for guests, just like the traditional rooms. Even the light switches were the style of another era. The secret to proper maturation lies in the molds and bacteria in the room. This is often found in the floor tiles. Stefano told us that one Culatello factory had to relocate in order to comply with DOP regulations, and they took all of their tiles from their maturation cellar with them, in order to have the same bacteria and mold growth, and to guarantee their flavor.
For lunch, we ate at an eatery called Al Cavallino Bianco, where we enjoyed several cold cuts of types of hams and salamis, tortelli, and a pasta with pieces of Culatello in it. For desert we had semifreddo.
After lunch, we visited a black pig farm and traditional Culatello production facility. The black pig is an indigenous breed to the region, and is the traditional pig for prosciutto production. The owner also makes all of his own culatello, among other cuts of meat. In his drying room, which is open to the air as it traditionally is, he had almost 2 million euros in inventory. He had even more in his maturation room. The maturation room was located in the cellar of what is now a resort. The resort looks like a small castle, and it has some rooms for people to stay, some gardens, a really classy restaurant, and a culatello maturation cellar. Formally, the building was a checkpoint for shipments on the Po River. As it is on the Po River, it is subject to flooding. When the river floods badly, the owner has to take all of the culatello (by hand) from the cellar to upstairs by 3 floors to safety. He said that it took him about 36 hours when the river flooded badly a few years ago. A neat fact is that Prince Charles of Whales had pigs sent to this Culatello producer to be turned into Culatello, and some of it will be used in the upcoming Royal Wedding.
After our cured meat visits, we visited a Corte. A Corte is what used to be a large farm entirely enclosed in a way that made it its own self-sustaining community. We had a look around. This one included an area which had antique agricultural equipment, including plows, carriages, butter churns, and cheese caldrons.
Hogs, Biogas, and Afternoon Relaxation
On Tuesday, we went on a trip with our Agricultural Systems class. Giovanni and Giuseppe took us to a farm which was formally a dairy farm. With poor dairy prices, the farm sold all of its cows about 7 years ago. Now they raise pigs. However, that was not the most exciting part of the farm. For me, the highlight was their large biogas system. The farm uses hog manure, among many other ingredients, to produce (methane) biogas to burn in an engine to produce power. The power unit is made by General Electric of Austria, and they generate over 8,000 KW of energy a year. They use a little over 5% of this to power the biogas facility itself, and their house and farm uses less than 1%. The energy is bought by the government, as power companies are not allowed to purchase power from private sources. The facility costs almost 4.5 million euros, and has an expected payback time of 10 years. It has been in operation since July, and took 6-7 months to build. Maintenance of the entire system, from overhauls of the 20 cylinder, 60.0 Liter engine, to simple checks, is included in this price by law. This is because the government wants to guarantee that the power plant will always be running, so they do not want long term financial problems to interfere with mechanical issues.
So, how is the electricity produced? The secret is the biology between microbes and the ingredients in the two methane digesters that they have. Each day, 46-48 tons of “feed” are fed to the digester. The two main digesters each run at a different temperature, and contain a different microbial profile. The temperature is maintained from the heat of the engine that generates electricity. (Engine heat is also used to dry bales of hay). The ingredients are put into what looks like and operates as a very large, stationary, self-unloading wagon. As needed, and as controlled by computer, the conveyors turn on and off, and distribute the “feed” between the two digesters. The digesters are fed a special diet, as determined by a biologist that works for the company that builds the facility. This diet includes hog manure, runoff from the barnyard and around the bunks, corn silage, haylage, beets, onions, leftovers from olive oil processing facilities, bakery wastes, sunflower, sorghum, and potatoes. They can have such a diversity of ingredients because they have a large land base from when they were a dairy farm. Now they use the same land to grow crops for the digester. The methane produced by is captured, dehumidified, cooled, and burned in the engine to produce electricity.
The silages that they feed the digester are stored in bunk silos, covered in plastic. So, I asked about agricultural plastic recycling. In Italy, it is just like recycling plastic bottles. It is the normal thing to do. Further, the plastic does not need to be perfectly clean in order to recycle. If it is soiled, however, you will have to pay a fee to take it away. (I am not sure if there is normally a charge to have the plastic taken away to be recycled).
On our way back to Parma we made a couple of detours. Our first was to a town called Sabbioneta, a small village enclosed by a wall built in the 1500s. In the town, there is an antique shop which is a part of the owner’s house—as in his family still lives in the building. It was closed, however, Giuseppe said that you can wonder around the entire house, viewing antiques. Next, We stopped to see Giovanni’s farm. He has a small dairy farm and his milk goes to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese production. We also took a tour of a building that used to be part barn and part house. It is being renovated little by little to be turned into a home. Just like a lot of buildings here, it is mostly being reconstructed with brick. In the house we saw some antique tools for houses, including a framework to put under the bed covers to put hot coals in to keep the bed warm on cold days, and a machine to beat bread dough. At his farm, I noticed a small tractor with steel wheels and a set of drags behind it. He said they use steel wheels when they use the drags, because it is the last step in seedbed prep, and the steel wheels help to minimize compaction.
Following the grand tour, we stopped at his parent’s farm. Here, we spent an hour or more relaxing in the shade of their porch, enjoying homemade wine, homemade salami, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, crackers, and bread. This semester is such a change from Cornell in the since that in Europe, relaxation and being “easy going” are essential parts of your daily activities. (Grazie mille alla famiglia di Giovanni Ferri).
This week I came to the unfortunate realization that my sneakers were not going to get me through the rest of the semester, and that I needed to buy new ones before spring break. It is so hard to find a pair of shoes that are American sized and that are a regular, athletic/all-terrain type sneaker like what I usually wear. After a couple days of searching, I finally found a pair that will work in Euro Torre, a shopping mall near our house. Also in the mall is a store called the Brico Center. Every time we walk by it, I make a joke, calling it Home Depot. Couldn’t be closer to the truth. It is literally a home depot type store. It includes home décor, posters, tools, lumber, paint, concrete, outdoor equipment, and lawn mowers. If I ever need to fix something in the apartment, I know where I need to go to get the job done.
I apologize for the long post. Like I said, a lot of interesting things have happened over the past week. For those of you that read it all the way, congrats!
Friday we are headed to a milk testing lab in Brescia with our Food Safety class. That makes 3 field trips this week. I love all the field trips and exposure to Italian agriculture that we are getting. As far as the weekend, no plans are set yet.
Tags : biogas, field trip, Parmigiano-Reggiano
Categories : In Parma