From the department of “nice work if you can get it”…
“G-d made Lambrusco,” wrote the great nineteenth-century poet and essayist Giosuè Carducci (the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize), “to wash down the animal so dear to Anthony the Great,” the early Christian saint who was often depicted with a pig by his side in medieval iconography.
This morning finds me in the land of Lambrusco and pigs: Emilia, where a bounty of the world’s greatest food products — prosciutto, culatello, zampone, Parmigiano Reggiano, traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, and Lambrusco, just to name a few — makes the region a global capital of gastronomic wonder.
In many ways, Emilia is a fantastic illustration of terroir. No matter how hard they try, for example, cheesemakers who work beyond Emilia’s borders have never been able to reproduce the singular crumbliness of Parmigiano Reggiano. Just think of Grana Padano, which is made just on the other side of the Po River: it, too, is a prized food product but it can’t replicate Parmigiano Reggiano’s unique texture.
It can only be produced here in Emilia, with its unmistakable combination of humidity and the sweet smell of pig shit.
They say that in Emilia, one of Italy’s richest regions, there is the highest concentration of pigs per capita in the world. It’s not a stretch to believe it: the Emilians live and literally breath pork.
I’ve traveled to Emilia this week in search of Lambrusco. Over the next three days, chef Steve Samson, a friend from my college days and the owner of the restaurant Sotto in Los Angeles (where I am wine director) will be tasting scores of Lambrusco as we eat our way through Emilia.
This fall, chef Steve and his team will be opening a new restaurant: a Lambruscheria (Lambrusco garden) in downtown LA where we plan to offer an extensive list of Lambrusco and where Steve will prepare dishes inspired by his Emilian origins (his mother was born in Bologna and he spent summers there as a kid).
Steve ended up stuck at Milan’s Malpensa airport last night after a delayed flight. And so I dined alone in Correggio at the Albergo dei Medaglioni in the township center.
The modest and lovely four-star hotel’s restaurant is by no means a famous dining destination. But between expertly and lovingly sliced Prosciutto di Parma PDO, gnocco fritto (fried dough, below), superb cappelletti in brodo (above), and a glass of Lini Lambrusco di Sorbara (one of my all-time favs), I nursed my loneliness and assuaged my homesickness.
Today, we set out on our tasting and dining itinerary. Stay tuned…