In the heart of my studio, there’s a piece of Emilia Romagna, the rich and generous region which has given us some of the most iconic and characteristic products from the Bel Paese and a culture of good eating worldwide. We built the Juls’ Kitchen Studio around a Bertazzoni free standing, wine coloured, six-flamed, 90cm range. It immediately captures your attention, and as your gaze is drawn towards it, it becomes the centre of gravity of the studio. Everything begins and ends there, from a soffritto to bread baked in the oven.
Some time ago, we went on the search for two other characteristic products from Emilia Romagna and the areas surrounding the cities of Parma and Reggio Emilia. These are products which are now part of my kitchen and my everyday life: Parmigiano Reggiano and aceto balsamico tradizionale from Reggio Emilia.
So sit back, buckle up and retrace our steps from our #BertazzoniExperience.
Parmigiano Reggiano, a story of milk and craftsmanship
“[There is] a district called Bengodi where vines are fastened to the stakes with sausages, and a goose can be had for a penny, with a duckling thrown in for good measure. A wonderful mountain was also to be found in that country, he told him, all made of Parmesan cheese, and inhabited by folk who spent all their time making macaroni and ravioli, which they boiled in capon broth and then spilled out pell-mell, so that whoever was the nimblest obtained the largest share.”
Boccaccio, the Medieval writer and author of the Decameron, is, alongside Dante and Petrarca, considered to be one of the keystones of Italian literature, thus described the country of Bengodi in his novella, “Calandrino e l’elitropia”.
Mountains of grated parmesan on which they made macaroni and ravioli. The Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is therefore linked to the regions where it was produced in antique times, and, since then, represents artisan skill and excellence. It is a cheese made from raw milk, an iconic product of the Italian culinary tradition.
With the #Bertazzoni Experience, we went to visit the Latteria Sociale La Rinascente.
The dairy produces around 13,000 cheese forms a year, 36 forms a day, including both an organic Parmigiano and the prized Parmesan from the famous Vacche rosse (red cows). Upon entering, you might expect, from these statistics, automated machinery, chaos and confusion. However, what you feel when you step foot inside is the feeling of stepping back in time, a feeling of a place maintained by customs, tradition and a certain know-how.
The Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese made by hand, because every step must be carefully evaluated by those whose hands and eyes are now fine-tuned by experience. There are many variables which can affect the working process of Parmigiano Reggiano, from the type of milk used to the outside temperature.
The milk is collected in tanks, those typical copper boilers shaped like inverted bells, lined up one after another, each displaying the name of the livestock is has come from. Skimmed milk from the evening milking is added to the whole milk from the morning milking. This milk is enriched with whey and rennet, producing coagulation. The curd mass is whipped by hand and cooked until it reaches 55°C, then collected on large sheets and cut into two forms.
From the 11 quintals of milk, two wheels can be made, which, after ageing, will weigh 40 to 45 kg.
After two days in a storage chamber, the Parmigiano Reggiano wheels are immersed into brine (35% salt in water), for 18 days. This is the only natural preservative allowed to come into contact with the Parmigiano Reggiano. During this time, the salt permeates one centimetre into the Parmesan cheese. You’d need six to seven months before the salt could reach the heart of the Parmigiano. The absence of preservatives and the slow and controlled maturing process requires starting with impeccable quality milk.
That’s why Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese mainly made in the barn. Every barn is controlled by the consortium for what concerns the animal feeding, which has a major impact on the final quality of the milk and, consequently, of the cheese.
After the brine, the slow phase begins, known as the King’s rest. The Parmigiano Reggiano wheels are placed in rows and left to rest on wooden tables. They are left here to mature for 12, 24 or 30 months, sometimes even for longer, in the controlled silence of the cosy space. Experts from the Consortium examine every Parmigiano Reggiano wheel and only after their approval, is the stamp applied, specifying that they are eligible for the DOP marking.
It is therefore time, during the maturing process, which gives the Parmigiano Reggiano its characteristic granular structure.
Aceto balsamico tradizionale from Reggio Emilia, a story of time and patience
The Tenuta Venturini Baldini, 150 hectares, 32 of which are vineyards, has chosen to be organic since 1991. The main hub of the company is in the original villa, where, in the attic, as per tradition, the family stores 400 barrels for the production of the traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia.
Less well known that that of Modena, Reggio Emilia’s aceto balsamico tradizionale differs from the other not solely in terms of the shape of the bottle it comes in, but also by the number of manufacturers. In Reggio Emilia there are only around 500, while in Modena there are 1,100.
In order to trace back the history of the aceto balsamico tradizionale from Reggio Emilia, you need to take a step back in time, until 1047, when Matilda, the cousin of the Pope, defended her territories from the Castle of Canossa.
The monk Donizone narrates about this balsamic vinegar being produced in Matilda di Canossa’s castle, which was so popular on a European level that the German Emperor Henry III, whilst traveling to Rome for his coronation, made a stop in Piacenza to obtain some.
The balsamic vinegar was first used along the Via Francigena route, an affective balm as a cure for the illnesses that pilgrims may develop whilst crossing over the most unhealthy of areas.
Later on, the balsamic vinegar became part of the dowries for Reggio noblewomen: casks of fine balsamic vinegar and barrels were gifted to the women at the time of marriage.
Traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia is matured in seven barrels, as is the norm and tradition, with five different types of wood – mulberry, false acacia, chestnut, juniper and cherry -, each one responsible for adding a nuanced scent and a different strand of flavour in the vinegar.
After the grapes have been harvested and pressed, the must is cooked for two days and then added to the barrels, which each have an opening. This opening is not only useful for the person making the balsamic vinegar, to check the state of it, maturing year after year, but also to allow the must, which slowly becomes vinegar, to breathe and evaporate, exposed to the micro-organisms in the atmosphere, which contribute to its development.
The orange label marks a traditional balsamic vinegar of 12 years, a silver stamp for that of 20 years and a gold mark of excellence for that of 25 years.
And if you are lucky enough to have some traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia, how should you use it? A few drops with figs and parmesan, with pumpkin risotto, with a pear and gorgonzola risotto, with strawberries or vanilla ice cream, can really make the difference.
Bertazzoni, a history of excellence and passion
It was at the end of the nineteenth century, when Francesco Bertazzoni founded his company, after having seen, in Guastalla, some fire-burning ranges coming from Germany by rail. A few years on and the Bertazzoni mark had taken over Italy.
Napoleone Bertazzoni, during the First World War he came into contact with mass production and realised that the same method could also be used for his cooking stoves. So this is what he decided to do, thereby creating constant growth in the company, in terms of quality and efficiency.
In 2000, Paolo Bertazzoni moved onto the Toyota system, which guarantees the production to meet market demands, without the need for a warehouse.
There is maximum flexibility, given that the minimum number to create an order is one. There are manual and automated lines: the first long line produces 175 pieces a day, the short line, 85 pieces.
Everything is created inside the factory. You can walk alone the production lines and you will be spellbound by the efficiency and precision with which all duties are carried out. It is as if everything were being held together and directed by a hidden orchestra conductor.
The basic elements of the Toyota system are flexibility, being geared towards optimisation and enhancing the human aspect. The Toyota system also includes many internal training activities, to ensure that the staff can grow within the company, in terms of skills, responsibility and involvement.
Orders, fluid workflows, controlled and regulated, on-the-spot checks of components and tests of finished products, 100% recyclable pieces, modern and Italian design, rich and vivid colours, reliability and durability: all of this makes me proud to have a Bertazzoni in the Juls’ Kitchen Studio.