I have made a point of not making this, a travel blog, and I intend to keep it that way. However, in this migratory experience that I began almost a year ago by moving to Zürich, a new development took place in our recent trip to Italy.
Switzerland shares a border with Italy in the Alps. The train ride is quite impressive as you go through the third largest tunnel in the world, The St. Gotthard Tunnel. It provides a link between southern Switzerland and Milan. It was in Milan, the industrial capital of northern Italy, where in late April, we began a two-week holiday of slow food discovery.
They might not be able to create a government, but the Italians can surely cook exquisite meals. They elect politicians like Silvio Berlusconi, but they vindicate themselves by their marketing success of slow food and agrotourism.
Slow food is a fairly recent trend in re-discovering and salvaging traditional recipes using locally grown ingredients. It is what cooking used to be, before the onslaught of agribusiness and their goal of making food an industrial product. Slow food is not necessarily organic but it can be so. Slow food is not necessarily slow-cooked food but it can be so. Slow food is not vegetarian although it can be so. Slow food is usually fresh and delicious. Because it relies on locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and animals it is very fresh, minimally processed and minimally preserved. This translates for instance into raviolis made with flour from locally harvested grains, filled with locally grown and harvested pumpkins. The salami is usually made using home-made traditional methods, and from animals raised by the same folks who prepare it.
Slow food enjoins slow eating. Slow food is meant to be eaten in a mindful way; enjoying every bite and not rushing its consumption.
There is a network of restaurants in Italy that abide by the slow food guidelines. There is a slow food guide which recognizes the restaurants and eateries that engage in the practice. To my knowledge there is no star-rating system but the restaurants are qualified by detailed descriptions of their menus and their wines. Almost forgot! There is a slow wine guide as well. Slow wine also follows the same basic principles of using locally grown products and traditional practices.
My slow food and slow wine guide was Petra who had once before done a slow food journey. She knows good food and good wine well, which made my experience even more spectacular.
Parallel to the slow food restaurants is a network of agrotouristic hotels or aziendas. They are mostly located in rural or farming areas. They are small farms that offer accommodations and food. Their food is usually produced in the farm, although not always. Just to be clear, a slow food restaurant does not have to be in an agrotouristic hotel or azienda.
We had the good fortune of staying in one azienda agroturistica which also prepared slow food: Antica Torre in Salsomaggiore Terme in Emilia Romagna. The combination was a celebration of flavors and wonderful meals. Their specialties are “Culatello”, Parma Ham, Parmesan Cheese and salami made from lamb (so exquisite we brought two home).
This humble boricua en suiza who loves arroz y habichuelas y tostones con ajo had an ecstatic, magical culinary epiphany with slow food in northern Italy that forever changed his relation to food and eating. Really, it was a transforming experience!
Here are some pictures from our visit to this azienda and the nearby town of Cremona.
Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon.