I feel it in the air. I see it all around me. I smell it everywhere. The wonderful scents of this season intermingling with the warmth of celebrations, traditions and happiness! How is it that Fall lends so beautifully to the most bountiful of legends and history? The smell of fire roasted chestnuts wafting through the tunes of wondrous laughter and good cheer around the fire, warmed by hot spiced wine or nibbling on delicious delights. This is the season for indulgence and sharing. Everything around me is pulsing with those feelings!
Fall has always been the favorite time of the year! The riot of colors, the slight nip in the air which gives many excuses for loving cuddles, the bounty of harvest that floods the market, oh .. everything in a Gatsby like theater. New York in particular in this season, shining like a star, shedding her toughness, indulgently smiling on her visitors and residents alike, opening her arms in a last hurrah for the year...Before she goes cold again. I maintain, this is the best season to catch her splendor and be awed by the fortuitous circumstances that brought you there.
WITH GREAT CHEESE AND SIMPLE PAIRINGS....
This year though, I am counting myself doubly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend this beautiful time of the year in two places - Italy and New York! In the last 2 months that I have lived in Reggio Emilia, I have fallen in love with Italy again and again. I have also learnt the frustrating bits of life here but everyday I wake up knowing that the day will be amazing in someway - whether a smile from the neighbor, a wonderfully crafted coffee, a new discovery, an unexpected chat with a stranger and if nothing, a guarantee for really good food!
These days are filled with good cheer and happy festivity here dotted by weekly markets and special markets. For the Saint Patrons Day, on November 24, the whole village was resplendent in the best that individual craftsmen and makers wanted to share and sell. So many little stands all over the town squares that made unique food, home and craft that were a joy to discover, try and chat with. It was a beautiful experience, not because there were extraordinary items, but because they were made with passion, genuine care and utmost respect for both the product as well as the process.
As my time here teaches me, the true value of the Italian culture is in the way they do not see tradition as a shackle but rather as a way of life; A point of differentiation that needs to be proudly maintained and taken joy of. From amazing cheeses to generations old balsamic vinegar to all the cured meats, the magical food history of this land is rich and bountiful. And, unlike the American mentality to hoard and pile richness on richness, the Italians elegantly approach each ingredient with the respect warranted for it all by itself. And, they indeed pair, it is not to be over-the-top but to be subtle complement of flavors that leave your floored with they deceptive simplicity!
Of course, when you have access to the best of the best food, made with utter reverence to both quality and tradition, you have to try really, really hard to not have a good time.
One thing I have learnt to really appreciate here is Parmagiano Reggiano cheese. First, it is simply discourteous to call it Parmesan cheese, that it surely is not! Second, I recently found that the wheels of the cheese imported to the US are well of not of the best quality. I love that the best is retained for the domestic market, which, knows to appreciate the quality and rigor of the product. Third, the price of the cheese is quarter that in New York. So, indulgence is cheap!
The second point above is particularly important because the taste and flavor of the cheese here and in US are worlds apart. A 36 month aged Parmagiano Reggiano cheese is creamy, rich and so aromatic. That is how it should be. The ones we get in the US are dry and well, nothing like the real deal, which, make them not so great as nibblers. But here, drizzle a bit of traditional balsamic vinegar on top of chunks of decadent parmagiano reggiano and you have the best beginning of an evening that you can ever have!