The Italian experience

The students tasting traditional balsamic vinegar at Acetaia Pedroni in Modena.

HER trip to northern Italy has made Siti Hidayah Zulkifli even more passionate about cooking and creating food.

The Taylor’s University Culinary Arts student recently joined 25 classmates and two lecturers on an 11-day and 10-night study trip to Italy.

“This culinary trip experience is beyond my expectations.

“It has given me first-hand understanding on the ingredients used every day,” she added.

The trip is part of the students’ end of the semester and graduating Diploma in Culinary Arts programme.

It covered the northern regions of Italy from the Lombardy Region (Milan), Piedmont Region (Alba, Mombaruzzo, Marrone, Barolo, Canelli and Barbaresco), and the Emilia Romagna Region (Maranello, Modena, Parma and Bologna).

“Our first stop was a guided tour of EATALY Milano Smeraldo, the largest indoor Italian food market featuring many restaurants, huge arrays of food and beverage counters, artisanal bakeries, retail items, as well as a cooking school,” said Siti Hidayah.

She explained that EATALY consolidated Italy’s regional artisanal products into one huge gourmet food hall or supermarket hence reflecting their tagline “Eataly is Italy”.

“We got to eat, shop and had a great introduction to Italy’s various food offerings as well as the opportunity to see and understand Italian ingredients,” she added.

The group also visited the famous grappa distilleries “Distillerie Berta” in Mombaruzzo town in the Piedmont Region where they got to tour the world famous “light and music show cellars”, a modern cellar concept that originated in Japan where aging barrels of grappa (spirits made from the skin of grapes) have light and music vibrations.

“It apparently enhances the end product during the aging process,” said Siti Hidayah, 20.

They also enrolled in a regional cooking class held at the beautiful and scenic winery of “Agricola Gianpiero Vitticolore, Marrone”. The cooking classes were taught by the region’s best cooks, the “nonna’s” which means grandmothers in Italian, where they got to prepare various regional cuisines such as focaccia, vegetable flan, freshly made “tajarin” pasta and classic meat ragu sauce.

Siti Hidayah said the highlight of the trip was when they visited Azienda Agricola Reggiani, one of the 280 protected producers of “The undisputed King of Cheeses”, Parmigiano Regiano.

They got to see the step by step process of making this cheese, from curd separation to salting to even cellar aging. They also had the opportunity to taste some of the cheeses.

“We got to see the breed of cows used, the feed they consumed, as well as the milking process,” said Siti Hidayah.

They also had the opportunity to visit a Prosciutto di Parma or more commonly known as Parma Ham factory.

She said they learnt the process of producing one of the best-cured meat products in the world.

From salting to the various stages of curing to the drying process, they were given unlimited access to the whole process. They were then treated to a traditional Modena lunch overlooking the mountains and valleys after the tour.

After lunch, they visited Acetaia Pedroni, the oldest producer of Balsamic vinegar in Modena.

Siti Hidayah said the group got to see the overall process of making traditional balsamic vinegar, which are aged for at least 12 years but which can be up to 25 years or more.

“We were given detailed information on how balsamic vinegar is made traditionally, the reason why they use specific types of wood and how this affects the taste of the final product,” she said.

She said the last visit was to the Appennino truffle factory.

The factory located in the Italian heartlands of Savigno, Bologna, is considered by many as one of the best places for truffle hunting in the world.

After a brief description of truffles, the group was given a tour of the factory where they were shown the various by-products produced and the equipment used to retain the quality of the truffles. The group also went truffle hunting!

They were treated to a delicious five-course truffle lunch menu in Amerigo dal 1934, which is a one-star Michelin restaurant after the truffle hunt.

“It was a perfect ending to a wonderful journey, learning the taste of Italy,” said Siti Hidayah.

She thanked Taylor’s University and chef lecturer Khairul Anuar Muhamad, for organising the learning experience.

Source: The Star online