Monthly Archives: May 2015

Plated–the making of proscuitto

By: Faith Vickery

PARMA, Italy— Driving through the rolling Tuscan hills, our bus stopped at a wonderful family run meat company, Salumificio La Perla, run by Carlo Lafnranchi and his brother Fabrizio. If you’re ever looking for a meal that comes with an experience, this is the place.

First, lunch: thin slices of prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and, shockingly, cantaloupe. The sweet cantaloupe cut the salty ham in the best way, and the balsamic on the Parmigiano was an impressive pairing. After our delicious meal we went below the restaurant to learn about the production of the prosciutto we’d just eaten.

On the production floor we inhaled the obvious scent of meat, yet there was none in sight. We found that the prosciutto, a cured ham made from the hind leg of a pig, was in the surrounding freezers. When La Perla receives the legs, they are stored at approximately 32°F for five days. Then the legs are massaged and moved to another freezer two degrees cooler. Here, due to the cooling, the visible meat becomes darker in color. After fifteen days the ham is massaged again and moved to the drying room.

The meat takes two years to cure and is checked by an inspector to ensure that the ham meets the Italian DOP (protected designation of origin) regulation. The inspector takes a long hollow horse bone and sticks it in five different points around the center bone of the leg to extract the interior of the ham. As if it wasn’t weird enough to use a horse bone to stick in a pig leg, after each poke the inspector as well as the owner actually smells the bone to determine the quality of the meat. Upon passing this peculiar inspection the ham receives an oval crown with the word PARMA stamped on it. This marking is a guarantee that the ham is from the region of Parma and nowhere else.

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Filed under heritage meats, MU Journalism Abroad, Parma ham, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

Gelato showdown

BY: Molly Curry

Hello beautiful (cookies flavor)

Hello beautiful (cookies flavor)

FLORENCE, Italy – We, as a collective group of food writers, are generally ambitious people, and thus set a goal at the beginning of our trip to eat gelato at least once a day, every day that we are here. I am pleased to inform you that so far, we have stayed focused on our task, never straying from our righteous path.

This job has been made significantly easier by the fact that in the 15-20 minute walk to school we pass by over 10 gelato shops. And let me just say, I’m not mad about it.

But all this gelato consumption (admiration) made me ponder a hard-hitting question: how is gelato different from ice cream?

Let’s start with the basics. Gelato has a smaller fat base and a lot less air churned into it, giving it that thick, yet not too melty consistency that is perfect on a hot summer day. American ice creams are usually heavy on the cream (get it?), while gelato usually focuses on the milk, which is why it has less of a fat base. When ice cream is being churned, it is usually hard and fast, trying to pump as much air into the ice cream as possible. This makes it easier to scoop. Gelato churning is much slower. With less air in it, you might think the gelato would be a veritable ice-cold brick of deliciousness. It would be, but gelato is usually served at warmer temperatures than ice cream, so it stays soft.

While I do not believe in discrimination based on dairy product usage or otherwise, I must admit that to me, gelato is the superior frozen cream delight. From pistachio to banana. From pomegranate to Nutella. From mango to my personal favorite, dark chocolate. No matter the flavor, I’m very excited to continue towards our goal for a gelato filled trip!

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Pasta machine comes full circle

By Elizabeth Johnson

STRADA IN CHIANTI, Italy–Sitting on the table in Pastificio Fabbri, in the town of Strada in Chianti, is an antique pasta machine patented in the US in 1906 by Angelo Vitantonio. Giovanni Fabbri cranks its wooden handle, trying to create the perfect noodle. His family has used the same machine to press their dough for four generations of pasta making.

The earliest evidence of a machine to make pasta appears in Thomas Jefferson’s notes dating back to 1787. After taking a tour of northern Italy, Jefferson acquired the plans for a macaroni machine and built his own for home use. However, it was not until 1906, that Angelo Vitantonio patented the first “official” pasta machine in Cleveland, Ohio. Vitantonio resided with many other Italian immigrants in Cleveland’s Murray Hill neighborhood, now known as Little Italy, and presumably a quicker way to make pasta was in demand.

After receiving his patent, Vitantonio started selling the machines through his company, VillaWare. The little invention took off faster than anyone could have expected. Some say the pasta machine spread faster than the radio in Vitantonio’s Italian/American community.

Now, over one hundred years later, Vitantonio’s gadget has spread far beyond Little Italy, appearing in kitchens all over the world. The little machine has even managed to find its way all the way back to Italy.

From Italy, to Ohio and back again, the pasta machine has come full circle.

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Filed under MU Journalism Abroad, pasta, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

Siena’s sweet tooth

By Christine Jackson

SIENA, Italy–I have seen the Italian Willy Wonka and his factory is in Siena.Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 3.22.38 PM

We visited Siena on Sunday and made a few stops outside the city on the way. One of these stops was La Fabbrica del Panforte Siena, where panforte “masters” produce several types of sweets in addition to the traditional panforte. It’s said that the Sienese have the sweetest teeth in Tuscany. I believe it. I was only around the city for the day and I think I ingested more sugar than I have over my entire life.

The longest lasting tradition among the sugar­buzzed Sienese is panforte. Panforte has been produced in and around Tuscany since the 13th century. The fruit cake-­like confection was born of necessity, meant to give people energy with its mix of sugar, honey, flour, nuts and dried fruits. A later variation, panpepato, added spices to the mix.

The mixture is baked in a shallow, circular pan with an edible wafer on the bottom to keep it from sticking. Once finished, each panforte at the factory is hand­wrapped by a master and sealed for sale. The ingredients are listed on the package, except for the spice mix, which is a closely ­guarded secret. Each panforte bakery has its own mix that makes its product unique.

Both variations of the sweet, labeled as Margherita (panforte) and Nero (panpepato), are available for sale at La Fabbrica del Panforte Siena, along with other cakes and cookies. After touring the factory to learn the baking process, we got a chance to try some of the products.

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The Margherita tasted like a sweet, dense fruit cake. The consistency is soft and packed with dried fruits and almonds for texture. The Nero is similar, but with a flavor closer to the spicy German lebkuchen found around Christmas and Oktoberfest. The fruit and nuts cut the spice-­heavy gingerbread flavor to create something a little less aggressive than its German cousin, but just as delicious.

Also available were flat, yellow­ish cookies that tasted of almonds and aniseed. It’s been over 24 hours and I still don’t know how I felt about them other than that I know they were strange. The other cookies were soft, crumbly mounds with something the color of dust sprinkled on top. They were delicious. They’re nearly scone sized and taste like walnuts, sugar and just the right amount of anise. Not too strong like the first cookies, but just right.

I walked away with a bag of the second cookies “to share” (they’re mostly for me) and a Panforte Nero to give to my grandmother along with a thank you note when I get home. Hopefully the German roots reach all the way to the taste buds.

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Filed under MU Journalism Abroad, Science ad Agricultual Journalism, Siena, Study abroad

Pizza: a gift to Earth

By: Molly Curry
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FLORENCE, Italy – Let’s start with a little math. The first time the word pizza, otherwise known as God’s gift to Earth, was documented was in 997 AD in Gaeta, Italy. That means that pizza has been around for exactly 1,018 years according to record. And out of those 1,018 years, I have had only a precious 21 years savoring this heavenly dish. And out of my 21 years, I have consumed many pieces of pizza, but only one piece of pizza that changed my life. And that pizza was handcrafted and delivered promptly into my mouth exactly two hours ago.

When I say life-changing, I MEAN life-changing. In America, I have had many pizzas that I’m sure I probably said were life-changing. But pizza didn’t even arrive in America until the late 19th century. The Italians have taken their extra 900 years with pizza and done something that I had previously thought impossible: they perfected something that was already perfect.

We went to Gusta Pizza for dinner at the recommendation of several friends and the Internet. Gusta is located across the Arno River from the historic center of Florence, about a 20-minute walk from our apartment. At first, I grumbled about such a large distance to walk just for a slice of pizza. I wish I could go back in time and slap myself.

At the restaurant, I ordered a Gustapizza from Gusta Pizza because I’m basic and waited with high impatience. The aroma of mozzarella immediately announced the arrival of this little miracle, and the smell was just the appetizer. During the fleeting moments of my first bite of 100 percent real, authentic Italian pizza, everything was right in the world. The sauce was so fresh, it was like I was eating a tomato straight off the vine. And the cheese. Oh, the cheese. Lumps of mozzarella scattered across the surface mixed in perfect harmony with the sauce. Basically I saw through space and time. Now changed, I will never be able to eat regular pizza again.

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Filed under MU Journalism Abroad, pizza, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

Who wants eggs for breakfast?

By Breckyn Crocker
FLORENCE, Italy–So, why do Italian and US cultures differ so greatly on the subject of eggs for breakfast? Since Italians don’t view eggs as breakfast food at all, mostly preferring a hot cappuccino and baked pastry, the omelet I tried at a restaurant turned out to be not-so-good: an orange, burnt-egg pancake. One theory on the difference is that the Catholic Church used to consider eggs meat and they were forbidden during Lent and holy days. So in the predominantly Catholic culture of Italy, eggs were only used for part of the year. Whereas, the chicken industry in the United States developed into a successful agriculture sector due to year-round eating of eggs, according to the National Chicken Council in the US.

The physical appearance of the omelets and fried eggs were different than I was used to as well. The eggs served had a vibrant orange yolk, due to the hen’s natural diet here. I was used to a less vibrant yellow yolk.

There is no concrete verification for why Americans and Italians use eggs differently, but at the end of my sad omelet meal I realized it was about culture. So while in Italy, I plan to stick to the routine of a light breakfast and save my appetite for a hearty lunch or dinner—maybe even a frittata.

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For the love of cheese

By Claire Lardizabal

FLORENCE, Italy – Marco Cavani began the San Michele Parmigiano Reggiano factory eight years ago with his wife, Samuela. Samuela grew up making cheese and brought her knowledge to the table when they began their business.

The Cavani’s Parmigiano Reggiano products are labeled DOP (protected designation of origin). The label represents authenticity and distinguishes it from imitators. In Parma, an inspector comes to businesses like the Cavani’s, and inspects every wheel to ensure quality product true to the region.

When we entered the facility, we were asked to cover our feet with electric blue shower caps to prevent dragging in contaminants. Steam was already rising from 1,000 liters of milk in each of three deep, copper vats. After reaching 17°C, rennet, an enzyme that causes milk to become cheese, was added and contined to heat the milk until it reached 27°C. Even though the Cavani’s used modern day thermometers to test the liquid, Marco or Samuela almost reflexively dipped their fingers into the milk to gauge temperature and consistency. Then, Marco used a huge whisk called a spino to break the milk texture as it coagulated.

As the cheese curds dropped to the bottom and whey bubbled at the top, Marco explained that nothing goes to waste in the cheese factory. Remaining whey:
• is used to activate the coagulation process for tomorrow’s batch,
• is used as a starter to make ricotta,
• and is added to organic feed for pigs in the area.

An elderly man who silently waited in the background also received a gallon of whey. Marco explained that whey has remedial properties as well. Arthritis can be relieved, he said, with a hand or body whey bath to help with blood circulation, plus, one cup of whey for ten days can be consumed to reduce body pains.

Cooled, fresh Parmigiano Reggiano is stamped with the DOP label and left in a salt-water bath for 22 days. Then, at San Michele, the wheel will sit in a pungent room with 5,000 other wheels. After a year, an inspector will check the cheese. Defects such as an air bubble can result in the DOP label being removed.

Marco says that out of every 100 wheels, only two will have rinds marked to indicate a defect, and one will have the rind completely removed and sold at a lesser price.


Filed under MU Journalism Abroad, Parmesan, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

A gelateria on every corner

By Christine Jackson

FLORENCE, Italy –In Chicago they say there’s a Walgreens on every corner. Here the same could be said for gelaterias. They dot corners, side streets and piazzas, each one offering to fill the craving that comes at any and every hour. No matter what street you’re on or what time it is, someone in this city always seems to be holding gelato.

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In the US somebody is probably going to judge you if you’re carrying an ice cream cone around at 10:30 in the morning on a rainy day. Not so here in Florence, where the creamy dessert is constantly present in the streets and on cozy tables throughout the city.

Gelato is similar to ice cream, but the process of making it is slightly different. Gelato has more milk and less egg and a typical cream recipe. It is also churned more slowly, which adds less air and makes it more dense. The differences in processes are slight, but the difference in flavor is noticeable. Gelato has a smoother texture and is never icy like some ice creams are. The flavors are also far richer than any ice creams I’ve had, perhaps due to the density. The flavors in ice cream may also diluted by their greater proportion of cream, but that’s just speculation.

The peach gelato I tasted had an incredibly strong peach flavor, but not in an artificial or syrupy way. Even the homemade peach ice cream I’ve had at roadside stands in Georgia and Alabama can’t touch the flavor that was packed into my tiny spoonful at Enrico’s gelateria and bar.

The quality of this popular dessert (and snack … and sometimes lunch) is only outdone by the quantities available. Beyond the many, many gelaterias, bright cases beckon from restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and convenience stores. Whether in tourist-tempting mountains of color and toppings or whorled tightly and correctly into their containers, gelato is everywhere.

Not that we’re complaining

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Filed under Florecne, MU Journalism Abroad, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

5 tips for taking a train in Italy

By Claire Lardizabal

FLORENCE, Italy – Getting to the food stories I would write in Florence meant I had to make it there on the Rome-Firenza train after my international flight. Mostly, the only time trains are used in Missouri are to get to Chicago so venturing from Florence to Rome by train was a new concept for me. Now, equipped with the right information, it seems much easier.

Here are five tips for your first Italian train:

Travel Do’s and Don’ts
TrenItalia is Italy’s train system. The website ( displays in Italian but can be translated to English by clicking on the upper right-hand button that says Italiano, then clicking English. The website offers a plethora of services, such as booking train tickets in advance, how to access the train through the airport, and customer assistance for more information.

Tip 1. Follow signs. When arriving at Rome Fiucimino airport, follow the signs for train information. A kiosk with an attendant helped me with my purchase and timing of the trains I had to take.

The trip required two tickets because there is no direct train to Florence from Rome’s Fiucimino airport. The tickets in total cost 51 euros and took two-and-a-half hours. The first ticket cost 8 euros and took me to downtown Rome, where I could connect on another train straight to the Florence Santa Maria Novella station. The second train I took was the Frecciargento, one of TrenItalia’s three high-speed trains. The Frecce trains can reach speeds of over 200 kilometers an hour, cutting travel time in half. I chose a second-class Frecce ticket, which gave me an assigned seat, for 43 euros.

Tip 2. Get your ticket validated before entering the train. On board, a train attendant will come by checking for validations. If the train ticket is not validated upon checking in, you can be fined 50 euros on the spot. Validation ports can be found at the entrance of train platforms. To validate, slide the ticket in and to the left. It is validated once there is a little hole-punch on it.

Tip 3. Keep all identification and documents close to you. Pickpockets are rampant in train stations. Always carry purses zipper-side forward, with hand over the zipper. I knew that when I took the Frecce train, large suitcases are left at the front of the train carriage, so I purchased a lock for my belongings.

Fortunately, an Australian woman sat next to me on the first train and shared her own tips.
• if anyone asks to see your passport outside of passport control at an airport, flip open to the page with identification to show it to them without letting go of the passport
• Keep license, credit/debit cards and cash close to the body.
• Keep passport away from those items also inside your clothes.
• Take some cash and hide in various places.

Tip 4. Pay attention to the ticket. My first ticket did not have a designated seat or stop on it so I didn’t know where to get off. It only said “Rome Metropolitan Area.” My second ticket, however, said I would be leaving from Roma Tiburtina to Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence. Roma Tiburtina was my stop.

When I arrived at the Roma Tiburtina train station, I looked for my train number and the platform on an arrival/departure screen. Do not pay attention to the destination on the screen, look at the train number. For instance, the Frecciargento stops at Florence on the way to Venice. Venice was what was on the screen.

The Frecciargento ticket also has the assigned carriage and seat number on it, so when the train pulls up to the platform, look for the carriage. I went into Carriage 4 instead of Carriage 6 because I was afraid the train was going to shut its doors and leave me, so I figured walking to my seat would be better. I was wrong. Which leads me into my next tip.

Tip 5. TRAVEL LIGHTLY. I knew I was going to be gone for a month so I brought a decent sized suitcase. Walking to the next carriage was a nightmare. The aisles were so small, I could barely pass through them, let alone lugging a backpack and suitcase. Passengers are supposed to leave their suitcases in the designated suitcase area at the front of the carriage but some inconveniently left them in the aisles. If I had a smaller luggage, I could have probably made it to my carriage with ease.

Use space-savers and roll clothes up to create more space. Pinterest ( offers a great collection of clothes to take when studying abroad or heading to a new place. Bring layers, comfy shoes and make sure the item can go with two or more outfits.

Taking the train was truly an eye-opening experience. The best part about traveling is the relief of arriving and finally seeing the beautiful sights of Florence, making all those travel hassles worth the journey.

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Filed under Florence, MU Journalism Abroad, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

Fashion meets food

By Elizabeth Johnson

FLORENCE, Italy – Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria, the Gucci Museo is located in the heart of historical Florence. From its humble beginnings in 1921, to its globally recognized luxury status today, Gucci’s 90-year history unfolds across three floors of the Palazzo della Mercanzia.

But it may not the leather handbags, iconic Flora prints or glamorous evening gowns that make you want to return to the Gucci Museo again and again. It could well be the sleek Caffé tucked away on the first floor and its tiny, perfect details.
After a long morning of museum hopping, I was finally able to sit and unwind. It was just after 11 a.m. at the Caffé, so like a Florentine, I steered away from the cappuccino and ordered an espresso.

The waitress handed me the tiniest of cups resting on a saucer. I caught my reflection in black glazed ceramic. The espresso came with sugar, but not just any sugar since, after all, it was the Gucci Museo. Neatly wrapped in clear plastic were the crystalized initials of Guccio Gucci.

I dropped the interlocking G’s into the cup and stirred. To savor such a luxury drink or throw it back at once? I went with the latter. The espresso was rich and fleeting, leaving just enough sweetness on my tongue.

I looked down and couldn’t help but feel a little sad to see nothing but coffee residue and an empty plastic wrapper on the table. At the Gucci Museo, an espresso was much more than an afternoon pick-me-up. The museum’s brochure said it best for me, “Plating a pivotal role in the Gucci Museo’s visionary concept, the Caffé epitomizes a Florentine devotion to enjoying the finer things in life.”

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