Being a slow-foodie is a hard job. Apparently it is not just for the food lovers. It is for the environmentalists, the frugalists, the financialists, the philanthropists and even the crazies (more on that one later).
The technical term is gastronome, derived from the word gastronomy. No, it has nothing to do with stomach problems (although in some instances being a gastronome can lead to such) nor is it a scientific experiment (this too can be questioned depending on how philosophical you desire to be). From the 1800’s when the word was introduced and from culture to culture the meaning changes but the common bond is food, culture and socialization. The word literally translates to gastros-, meaning stomach and -nomos, meaning word or law.
These past few weeks have been a gastronomic whirlwind. The first week of class I met Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food. It was a honor to meet him. If I hadn’t known already why I had applied for and came to this University, he would have explained everything. But he definitely confirmed. As I listened to the translator in my headphones he explained his purposes for beginning and maintaining Slow Food, stressing that we must go beyond the “pots and pans, the tv shows and the cookbooks” and understand the political economy, health and biodiversity. He ended with a few pieces of memorable advice. “If you sew utopias, you will harvest reality,” jokingly noting that the Reggia di Colorno where I attend school was once a mental facility and it should stay that way.
WHEN IN ITALY, DO AS THE ITALIANS DO
Then began the tasting. When you taste in Italy, its an experience all in itself. When you taste as a gastronome in Italy you are in for an experience that might last a week or two, depending on your body’s endurance. But, because you are in Italy, you are prepared ahead of time as to how to properly taste. And every item has a proper way to be savored. Just like wine, you must taste everything with the smell of your nose, the aroma (the smell of your mouth) and the final taste of your tongue.
In these last two weeks, we have had tastings of chocolate, cheese, cured meat (“salumi” in Italiano) and a small amount of wine. It sounds luxurious and it is. But at the time, its exhausting. For example, the whole stomach problem thing kicks in. Tasting around 50 different kinds of cured meat at once after two full days of seeing the production of cured meat from beginning to end (and I mean the birth of the pig to the packaging of the product and the tasting of it all in between) can be really difficult to stomach. This is where the endurance comes to play. I’ve never wanted vegetables so much in my life. And I am actually only referring to the digestion here. I can’t imagine how the vegetarians in my class must have been feeling. In the meantime, if you ever have the chance to experience this, take it. There is nothing like having the knowledge of how the pigs are raised from an industrial standpoint or an artisanal one. Or how a prosciutto tastes when its aged 3 months or 24.
Up next is a week’s briefing in Food Geography followed by a trip to the south, Calabria. The agenda yet remains unknown but since basic knowledge lends that the cuisine of Italy can be “generally” split into the north, middle and south I’d imagine we are exploring seafood and most likely peppers. And how to taste them.