In May we visited Italy and the theme of this trip was “chilometrezero” or “Km 0” for short. This is a trend in Italy that promotes the use of entirely locally produced products, not to be confused with the movie “Km 0” or the mile markers throughout the world. See the Wikipedia entry Chilometro Zero for more on this trend.

KM02a

Tortellini Three Ways at Km0

Meat & Potatoes - Emilia Romagna Style

Meat & potatoes Italian style.

KM01a

Appetizers – Km0

In the US, we might call this farm-to-table or extreme locavore, but Km 0 seems different.

First Stop: Osteria Chilometre Zero by Tom e Ciccio

This trip, we ate at the restaurant northeast of Reggio Emilia near the Autostrada called “Osteria Chilometre Zero by Tom e Ciccio”.  See reviews and location here.

The directions using our iPhone map app took us within 1 Km, but not 0 Km.  We ended up on a farm road that went nowhere (thanks, Siri.)  Using our pre-iPhone skill of reading the actual signs on the road, we backtracked and followed the little white sign (clearly pointing the way in the opposite direction of what Siri said we should do) and found the place easily, except they apparently have recently renamed the restaurant, so the neon sign didn’t exactly match (it was actually a caricature of a Mexican guy advertising coffee – ??)

When we opened the car door after parking in the rear, we had a clue as to the extreme localness of the products based on the smell that made us think we had landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, if you get my scent.  Yes, fresh, locally produced pork products are the theme here.  But there was much more to the menu on this day.

We had no reservation, and arrived about 8pm.  We had no problem getting a table way in the back, but the other two open tables quickly filled up.  The place might qualify as a “dive” in the US, but it was pleasant, friendly, and packed with locals.  The staff spoke no English, and there is no printed menu.  Instead, a chalk board gets parked next to your table, and you see the full menu of the day.  Also on the board on the wall is the list of where exactly each item on the menu came from.  We had no trouble interpreting the items with ample help from our cheerful waitress and our command of “restaurant Italian.”

The antipasti were an outstanding selection of salumi, lardo, and puffy fried bread.  In this area of Emilia, the word for the puffy fried bread is cresciontini, but we had previously found them in the Romagna area to the east just called gnocco fritto.  In any case, they were great with the meats. For the wine, we chose the local Lambrusco, which goes perfectly well with the somewhat fatty food.

The primi course consisted of three different ravioli dishes recommended by the waitress.  One vegetable stuffing, one beef stuffing, and one cheese stuffing.  All were better than what we’d had in a fancier restaurant in Bologna the previous day.

For secondi, we were a bit filled up, but dove in to maiale and manzo dishes.  The freshness of the meat and the preparation of each were simple, but really good.  We skipped dessert.

Cheesemaking at Fattoria Montelupa

Cheesemaking at Fattoria Montelupa

 

Next stop:  Fattoria Montelupa near Città di Castello east of Arezzo, north of Perugia for some fresh cheese. Yum.

The owners moved 40 water buffalo to this part of Tuscany some years ago from near Naples, where Tuscany juts its finger way northeast up into Emilia Romagna.  The buffalo seem to like it here just fine, versus the hotter climate in Campania.  The farm has accommodated the buffalo with a low spot to wallow in the cool mud.

Our host explained that the buffalo don’t like stress, and produce the best milk when free from stress.  Based on the taste and consistency of the resulting mozzarella product, we think these are pretty happy animals.  The farm is outside of town, but there is a retail store in town.  Whether it is because the cheese we tasted was made today from milk collected yesterday from a bunch of happy water buffalo, or because it is made with a different technique, the end result is a product that can’t get any better.  We were fortunate enough to also have fresh ricotta made from the whey byproduct of the mozzarella process.  The ricotta, too, was as good as it gets.  Total distance from buffalo to table – about 300 meters.

Tempting Salumi

Tempting Salumi

Al Fresco at Ghiandaio

Al Fresco at Ghiandaio

 

Next stop:  Il Ghiandaio

North of Città di Castello, a bit further east of Arezzo, but still in that little tip of Tuscany that juts up into Emilia-Romagna and Umbria, there is a tiny little store-slash-restaurant on the side of the highway. (Click here for a location map and reviews).

The proprietor of Il Ghiandaio  is a man who takes his craft very seriously and produces his own cured meats to sell in his tiny store.  The restaurant consists of a couple of tables in the yard next to the store.  The store sits behind his house, just off the Autostrada, exit Pieve Santo Stefano (Nord).

We feasted on six types of cured meats (actually, I lost count) including the one he called the “eel” because of its shape and size.  Also on the menu was the typical Tuscan crostini selection of green pesto made with celery leaves instead of basil, chopped liver, and a new one – fresh sausage, uncured, made on Monday (we were there Thursday).  It tasted like tuna tartare – really different.

The pigs are raised nearby.  Giuseppe Ferroni is the proprietor, but the pigs are raised by another farmer.  Signore Ferroni is a master at making sausage, salami, prosciutto, and anything that can be done with pork.  We highly recommend this man and his work.  Distance from curing room to table – about 50 meters.

If you take a trip through Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria, let us know if you visit these establishments!

–Jeff

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Notice the labels.

You get what you pay for…. that sounds so sassy, but really, it’s true. With us. We’ve carefully selected our balsamic vinegars for the store, and feel confident that the relationship between quality and price is appropriate, relative, and proportional. The real shock for some is that as the price goes up, the size of the bottle goes down.  The ultimate traditional balsamic vinegars are silky smooth, syrupy, sweet and incredibly complex.

We select products that adhere to the Italian (and European Union) standards for balsamic vinegar. All true balsamic vinegar comes from the region, Emilia Romagna. The region is further divided and controlled by two consortia, Modena and Reggio-Emilia. (Still with us)?

Each of the consortia bottles their top vinegar (tradizionale) in distinctive, exclusive, bottles. Selections from Modena are in a bottle that looks like a globe on a base, while the selections from Reggio Emilia evoke an upside down tulip or wine glass. With one of those distinctive bottles in your warm hands, and you have 100 ml of the finest aceto di balsamic tradizionale to be found anywhere. The “real thing” will always be in one of these two bottle types.

Certified after a minimum of 12 years, the aceto balsamico is called tradizionale. After the 25 year mark, it may be approved as extravecchio. There’s no further designation although some producers have products they deem to be 50 or 75 years old.

. Modena Reggio Emilia
Bottle Shape Tulip/inverted wine glass Globe on base
Size 100 ml 100 ml
12+ Years May be evaluated for Tradizionale designation May be evaluated for Tradizionale designation
Cap/Label Magenta Cap/White Label (12) Red Label (12)
. . Silver Label (18)
25+ years Gold Cap, gold seal Gold Label
Grapes Trebbiano and Lambrusco must Predominantly Trebbiano must
Wood cask battery Chestnut, cherry, mulberry, juniper, oak Chestnut, cherry, mulberry, juniper, oak

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What’s the difference?

Regional pride. Both consortia produce fine and exclusive comparable products.  Both groups adhere to strict rules, from the production of the grapes to the certification and bottling processes.

Until the last couple of years, the Reggio Emilia selections had been packaged in a box that looks somewhat like a book. More recently some producers have selected packaging in a stronger oval tube.  The Modena boxes are more cube-shaped. Both packages are well designed to protect the precious balsamic vinegar.

Look for the words tradizionale and be prepared to pay dearly. With extravecchio on the label, be prepared to pay even more.

The Other Balsamic Vinegars

Within the past year or so, new regulations have been enacted in Italy (or perhaps the EU). Changes have been made to label standards. When sold in the EU the vinegars may not have the numerals we have been familiar with. In fairness, those numbers have always indicated the vat progression (in the acetaia battery) while some have interpreted those numbers to connote “age”. In order to define them for marketing purposes we are continuing to use the numbers to delineate the age progression. For Aceto Balsamico di Modena, DOC indicates the geographical origin of the ingredients, and also the artisanal methods of production. The IGP label is less restrictive, so when there is a choice, the DOP signifies the more desirable and authentic product.

Some very good vinegars are bottled without full consortium approval. They may be made by producers of tradizionale, but aged less than the minimum of 12 years. These are also known as Condimento grade.

For a number of years we have referred to the products with their richly redundant names, Manicardi Botticella Oro (Gold) 25. Whether or not the 25 is on the label it is still the same excellent vinegar. The same holds true for Argento “22”.  Manicardi 22 and 25, along with the Villa Manodori selections are produced with the same care as traditional balsamics but are not held for the same amount of time. These are a real treat, but not the magical elixir costing $50-$200 more.

Further down the line, we have Manicardi 12. Without the “12” the product long known as Manicardi 12 carries the rather generic name Aceto Balsamico di Modena DOC….We have continued to use the number 12 for continuity, and have received this product with a variety of labeling in the past year. We regularly consume this at home, and the bottle shape, box and label color scheme, and most importantly, quality characteristics have not changed. This product is in line with a young balsamic. It meets DOC standards, but is not in the same production line as those what will become the finest tradizionale vinegars. It’s nice and perfect for salads.

 How to Use Balsamic Vinegar

The top tradizionale and extravecchio are for grand occasions. Special birthdays and anniversaries, an incredible wedding gift. A superb business thank you. Used by the drop. A complex treat on fresh strawberries or raspberries.

The mid products – Manicardi Oro (25) and Argento (22), Villa Manodori Artigianale and Dark Cherry—are also very special albeit with the certification of excellence. Some may use these by the tablespoon with fruit, or cheese, or desserts, or roasted meats. They add a special flare to salads.

Manicardi 12 elevates every day salads. It is richer and smoother than other selections in the price range. We think this is spectacular with a good combination of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, and freshly ground pepper, on lovely greens.