Written by Trevor Foster, a student from California State University, Chico, who studied in Reggio Emilia Spring 2015
There are three major themes that come to my mind when thinking about Italy: the distinctive cuisine types, the picturesque landscapes and the lush cultural history. During my time in Italy I have grown accustomed to these three spectacles being subtly integrated into an everyday routine. Yet every adventure I embark on brings me to another place that shows me just how aesthetically rich this land is and how each small town is famous and unique in its own way.
The USAC Reggio Emilia program recently embarked on our final class field trip of the spring semester. We were shown insight to another part of the Italian countryside, prime examples of how antique and culturally embedded the people and traditions of the Emilia Romagna region truly are. We were exposed to the displays of fierce passion from a painter, the elegance of a timeless balsamic recipe, and the wonderful savors of food and drink, all in the activities of a single day.
To begin, we piled into a private bus riding through the rolling green hills, taking us into the heart of the Emilia Romagna countryside. Our first stop was the home of an old man by the name of Orlando Bonacini, a renowned Italian painter. His home was quite pleasant, sporting a number of customary appliances and styles that stayed true to the older ways of that particular region. His downstairs studio held hundreds of paintings featuring portraits, landscapes, abstract and religious memorabilia, and even things that he saw outside his window. When I asked Mr. Bonacini how long he had been painting for, he said some of his paintings were as old as 1947. Orlando himself was a fascinating soul, a nice man, enthusiastic to strike up a conversation. He was always willing to talk about the many paintings, sculptures and traditional folklore he had amidst his home.
Next we all went to the nearby trattoria to try some traditional food from the region. The moment we sat down, we were addressed by a well-dressed politician who warmly welcomed our group. Our first course was pasta with fresh ground sausage and parmigiano-reggiano. We then had plates of meats and cheeses, gnocco fritto, mixed vegetables and an assortment of sweet breads and cakes for dessert. Everything was a true example of the type of food Italy is known for. All the flavors complimented each other extremely well, and all the ingredients used to cook the food were so fresh they must have come from the neighbors’ yard. Exquisite!
Last but not least, we were finally back on the bus and heading toward the moment we had all been enquiring about, the tour of the historical Cavazzone farmhouse located in Viano. This farmhouse is what is known as a “balsamery,” the term for where they produce some of the finest balsamic vinegar in the world. The Cavazzone balsamery, run by a devoted family, has passed their knowledge and traditions down through generations spanning over a hundred years. Our tour took us around the factory to take a closer look at some of the processes and steps it takes to make the best of the best. We learned about how the balsamic is preserved in special wooden barrels, how the top must be open to breathe and how each several years the barrels downsize from the reduction process, becoming more refined and potent. The smallest and therefore oldest barrel contained balsamic over 125 years old… Our final treat after our grand tour was to taste a small sample of the incredible balsamic. We were given first a taste of industrial balsamic, then balsamic aged 2-3 years, another 5-6 and finally some that was over 10 years old. Each sample seemed to be darker, richer and ultimately some of the best savory flavors I have yet to sample. The last one even seemed to hint at the refined taste of age itself.
Overall, our experience on this field trip was top notch. To be exposed to so many great smells, sights and cultural amenities was simultaneously educational and pleasing. Being able to see art from Orlando Bonacini, eat traditional foods from the region and taste authentic Italian balsamic, all combine to form a prosperous understanding of the life that can be lived in the Emilia Romagna countryside.