Florence, Italy– Located in the San Lorenzo Market on the upper level, the Mercato Centrale serves as a place for locals and tourists to shop for fresh produce as well as grab a quick bite to eat. Everything from the meat market, fish market, cheese station and bakery surround the small café with cafeteria-style tables and chairs.
A loud whooshing of a steam wand frothing while the espresso grinder churns the beans into a delicate powder indicates the process of a cappuccino being crafted. Things are more simple here than at Starbucks. Bottles of artificially flavored, sugary syrups are nowhere is sight. You do not choose your coffee size. Rather, espresso—always espresso-sized— is allowed to stand alone among a mere handful of traditional drinks.
The store clerk raises an eyebrow as we order a cappuccino, considered a breakfast drink, after 10 a.m. On his right, a barista turns around, “con zucchero?” she asks. Sugar, for some, can tame the bitterness of a freshly pulled shot.
This approach is not unique to the Central Market café however. On each corner and down every narrow street in Florence espresso is being offered in a uniform fashion. On the upper shelving of each coffee shop, large stacks of liqueur and alcohol bottles impersonate a bar. The Mercato Centrale store clerk explained these as extras to the standard pick-me-up of espresso. He painted the picture of an elderly man who comes in late at night looking to add Sambuca to his drink before heading home. It was rather casual and perhaps just another norm in their espresso driven culture.
FLORENCE, Italy – As we visit Parma to observe the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano, I am reminded, once again, of the incredible power of age and time. After walking us through the surprisingly small factory, one of several in the middle of the hilly, green countryside, the owners of the family-run business invited us to enjoy the cheese, bread, cake, cherries and olives that were spread out on a long table outside. The sweet, milky smell of new cheese blew through the wind with the edges of the crisp, white tablecloth that hung over the table. I was eager to taste the cheese after having learned about the careful process used to create some of the most coveted Parmesan in Italy. On one end of the table lay Parmesan aged 24 months. The same type of cheese, aged only 12 months, sat on the opposite end.
My knife slid through the younger, lighter colored cheese smoothly. I noticed a few crunchier crystals as I tasted and chewed the soft Parmesan that was salty with sweet undertones. The older cheese crumbed as I tried to cut it. It was drier and grainier than the younger cheese, but its flavor was more savory and rich. Its scent was reminiscent of warm butter. I noticed more of the delicious crunchy crystals in the older cheese. The cheese aged 24 months, in fact, had more calories, fat, protein, calcium, as well as other vitamins and minerals, than its 12-month-old relative. Something about the density, the evaporating water content, and the process as a whole, made it so.
The older Parmesan I tasted was considered to have reached perfection. Its savory flavor and the ease with which it grated and crumbled made it a tasty addition to many Italian dishes.
FLORENCE, Italy — I strolled down a narrow, stone-laid path, mustering balance on the cobblestone sidewalk. Miniature vehicles disobeyed all rules of the road as they zipped around me, dodging other traffic. A constant rumble of Vespa engines, muffled conversations and a peaceful violin collaborated to form the background music to this city. There were street vendors forcing light-up fans and knock-off bags in my face, too, but undeterred, I was looking for authentic Florence. I found it at Enoteca Lombardi.
Inside this charming shop, deep burgundy salami hung from the ceiling and crowded shelving held packaged meats and cheeses organized into white wicker baskets. A full wall of red and white wine immediately caught my eye as I heard a thick Italian accent emerge from a corner, “Ciao, where are you from?” She greeted us in our native language and proceeded to ask about our academic studies as well each of our hometowns. As we continued our conversation over samples of meats and cheeses, it became clear how culturally savy this woman was. As each new customer entered, they received the same greeting, “Ciao, where are you from?” Without missing a beat she dove into their languages–including Greek, French, and German–creating a unique unification of multiple countries in the small rustic store.
And, as we all gathered around the square, wooden counter where cubed cheese and meats lay, the others customers and I were all unified once more. Unified in a mutual agreement that each sample left our hungry pallets eager for more.
FLORENCE, Italy — I expected a line at Gelateria Vivoli. Simonetta Ferrini, our culture studies professor at the Florence University of the Arts, assured us of its gelato fame. To my surprise, even in the heat of the day, we entered with no wait and our class quickly filled every corner of the tiny rustic shop, with its pink cursive neon sign above the doorway, beckoning locals and tourists alike. The server busily paced along the counter while I selected cocco and limone,
Gelateria Vivoli in Florence, Italy. Can you pick just two flavors?
coconut and lemon, a perfect combination on a hot sunny day here in the city.
The lemon had a taste that was light and not sugary with a texture similar to sorbet but not icy. The tang of the lemon paired with the sweet creamy coconut gave the combination layers of flavor. From the very first spoonful of the coconut, there was a sweetness of coconut milk within the scoop as well as small bits of fresh coconut for subtle texture. Then, a hint of vanilla bean hits you. All of this was served in a small cup, not a cone that would compete with the flavors, a serving style unique to Gelateria Vivoli.
–FLORENCE, Italy (May 18, 2014)– Figs, balsamic, prosciutto, parmesan, pasta, wine and more comprise the tastes of the Florentine and Tuscan region of Italy and nothing will stop six students at the MU School of Journalism—Jordan Bromberg, Rachel Green, Jennifer Janssen, Kaitlynn Martin, Rachel Trujillo, Jessica Vaughn—from getting to the bottom of the Italian food story, or their plates for that matter. They will blog an ongoing record of stories on food production, taste, flavor, and the people who create these cultural touchstones for Italy at Vox Talk. We’ll explore how their stories are similar, or not-so-similar, to Missouri foods and farms.
We arrived in Florence May 18 and began the blog series, Penne for Your Thoughts, just after. Thanks for following our coverage.
Nina Furstenau, Instructor