Monday, August 24, 2009

Smells Abound and Love was All Around

Sniff Sniff... I'd venture to say that smell is often the most overlooked sense. Those of you who don't use your shnoz piece to its fullest are missing out like a sail with no wind. A deep inhale through the sometimes booger plagued cavities of our nostrils can often make the grass seem greener, food look and taste more succulent and delicious, the ocean seem more tranquil and appealing, and even love seem more passionate and earth-shattering (trust me, I've experienced these). So go ahead...take that deep're likely to find some new and brilliant treasures!
When I stepped out of the car in a small parking lot outside 'Prosciuttificio "Valle Oblita"' This factory is set just outside Norcia, which is a very famous town for Prosciutto, and is set atop a huge hill which overlooks a beautiful valley. I immediately knew I was about to enter into a world my nose had never experienced. Waiting to greet me were two guys, Tony and Paolo, who looked as excited about Prosciutto as I would've been when I was five and my Mom turned her back with the cookies sitting on the get the point. After a warm greeting and a small conversation, through the translator and friends who was traveling with me, we cruised into a building that was exuding smells that had never entered my nose before.I knew I was in for a treat. I'd always wondered what the real deal with Prosciutto was. Today was the day for me to get the skinny on the fatty/salt cured pig legs (eat this in small amounts...definitely not good for high blood pressure). First we entered into a cold room that was filled with recently cut pig legs which were salted and laying on large racks. Tadaaaaaaa the white jacket was I felt like I was really getting down to business (all official and everything)! The first step of the process is to run the legs through a machine which both sprays salt on it as well as presses it to squeeze most of the blood out from between the flesh and skin...sounds tasty right? Next these legs get hung on racks which will be moved into an enormous refrigerated room. I am not kidding when I say there are thousands upon thousands of Prosciutto's hanging everywhere.There are three steps in the curing process which go from cold, to cool, to fresh air (in it's entirety it takes about 14 months). Have you ever walked down a hallway and continually taken a deep breath in until you walk into a room which has a different aroma? Maybe the temperature changed or the humidity level was different too. Now you can somewhat picture my experience walking from one room to another. The smells in here are strong. However, I think the beauty in scent comes from the subtleties. You know what I'm talking when you cook bacon and you can tell when it's done cooking by the sharper scent it exudes...or when a slight rain or storm is approaching and you can smell a hint of dust or dirt in the cool summer air which has been kicked up by a slight breeze. As I perused through each room the scent subtly changed. As the temperature rose and the meats were older, the scent became more soft and almost sweet. What a sniffing wonderland.

(here I'm covering the flesh with a pork fat mixture which will help preserve the meat)
Everywhere I turned there was more and more and even more Prosciutto. It was absolutely absurd. In total this plant cures and sells 800,000 kilos of Prosciutto per year. (This small pick is inserted into the Prosciutto...then smelled in order to tell it's ripeness)
Directly following my trip to "Valle Oblita" I went with my lovely hosts (if you're reading this...thank you so much for an incredible day!) to their mother's house. Rita was her name...and lovin' was her game. Rita was without question the most charming and delightful woman I have spent time with in Italy. She didn't speak a word of English but her demeanor and body language said it could tell her intentions:) When I entered her house she gave me the biggest kisses on my cheeks and neck...we're talking legit kisses here was nutz haha. The lunch she prepared was absolutely to die for. Her homemade tomato sauce was without question the best I've had in Italy and maybe the most delicious I've ever had. Paired with this was unbelievably succulent and flavorful beef. There was also Prosciutto, salad, bread, watermelon, cantalope and gelato...mmmmmm.The second time I walked in her kitchen I noticed, to my utter surprise, that she had a leg of Prosciutto just sitting there on a stand waiting to be cut. I pointed to it with a suprised and excited expression and without hesitation she cut me off a few perfectly thin can tell she's done this before. Wow. Long story short...she ended up giving me the whole Prosciutto leg when I left. I told her (through my translator), "I have nowhere to keep it and I can't possibly eat it all myself..." She wouldn't take no for an answer, saying, "you keep it with you until you leave and enjoy it whenever you want...It's my gift to you." So I walked out with a 20 pound Prosciutto wrapped in celaphane...ridiculous. (Rita showing me some love after giving me the cute)
Just another day in Paradise:) Seriously.


J said...

Sweetest picture....ahhh! That sounds of my favorite memories is sitting around watching a movie with friends...eating proscuitto, cheese, and was little feast! Their is something to the Dolce Vita!

connie said...

I'm loving reading about your adventures in Italy - it reminds me of the book, "Heat," by Bill Buford.

Anonymous said...

Garrett, not sure of your itinerary, but Norcia is not that far from Pienza, a tiny, wonderful little town that is also known for its various kinds of pecorino cheese. There are several shops offering free tastes of pecorino fresco (fresh), normal pecorino that we are more familiar with, and pecorino vecchio-- aged and blackened on the exterior.

One of the many aromatic memories I have of Bella Italia is a stroll down the main thoroughfare (about 100 meters long) with the delicious blend of those cheeses wafting from the beckoning shops.

Mangia Bene.

Coco Pazzo

Garrett said...

haha thanks

Thanks for reading my blog...I have read Heat...a wonderful read.

I would love to check out Pienza but I don't think I'll have time:( Trust me though...I'll be back!

Ellen said...

Your 1/4 Italian baby godson can't wait for you to cook for him! We've been following your adventures here and on Twitter. Chow!

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