Category Archives: journalism

Sticking to croissants

Kaitlynn Martin

FLORENCE, Italy- The lightly glazed flakes of the croissant gathered on my lap, impossible to sweep up because with every touch they broke into smaller pieces of sweetness. My fingers were impaired by the smears of gooey chocolate that clung to them. Even after I wiped the rich layer from my hands, a sticky consistency remained.

Just getting the chocolate croissant to my mouth was a hassle, but once I took a bite, the pastry became harmonious flavors and textures on my tongue. The flakiness of the crumbling croissant combined with the smoothness of the melted chocolate, it swirled with richness and left my lips sticky with a chap stick of sugar and so worth the mess.

According to legend, the croissant originated after a failed invasion into Vienna by the Turks in 1683. The Turks attempted to dig a tunnel into the Austrian city but underestimated those who could hear their stealthily work. Viennese bakers awake and prepping their kitchens for the busy day ahead, heard the commotion and alerted the authorities. As a way to celebrate the prevention of the invasion, the Viennese bakers created a pastry shaped like a crescent, similar to the shape on the Turkish flag. This way, the Viennese could actually eat the Turkish symbol as a display of victory and dominance.

There are a few more legends of how the folded layers of buttery pastry came to be, but nothing can be confirmed. Whatever the case, the pastry croissant has become well known as a part of French breakfast cuisine, and even took on a French name. But much as the French want to claim the best croissants, croissants in Italy should not be overlooked.

I really don’t mind how croissant came to be as long as I find it on my plate. The Turks tried to invade, the Viennese supposedly created the croissant, and the French perfected it. But the Italians provide me with one warm, chocolate delicacy every morning, and nothing can top that.

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Filed under croissants, Florence, history of crossiants, journalism, regional food

Granita: not the typical summer slushie

Granita, a Sicilian treat, at ará in Florence.

Granita, a Scilian treat, at ara in Florence.

Jennifer Janssen

FLORENCE, Italy- A Sicilian icy treat, granita, has a texture that is a balance of sorbet and slushie melted into one. It has the smooth texture of sorbet, but is syrupy and almost drinkable in form. At ará in Florence near the Acedemia that houses Michelangelo’s David, it comes in most unusual flavors. “Granita di caffè”, coffee granita, is wonderful paired with a brioche or a small sweet roll at breakfast, lunch or dinner. But try the brioche roll with limone, lemon, mandorla, almond, fragola, or strawberry as well for a fresh approach.

Servings come in small cups primarily in the summer months when it is hottest.

The process starts with the creation of simple syrup by heating a combination of water and sugar. The sweet syrup is then added to the fruit juice that will blend with the ice. It is then kept chilled until served.

The origins of the granita come from Arab influence. They made it from snowy ice in the mountains of Sicily and blended it with rose water. For nobles, it became a refreshing drink in the hot Sicilian summer months. Today, its popularity has spread throughout Italy and can be found in scattered gelateria as well, including ará, located in the center of Florence, Italy.

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Salted to perfection: Parma Hams worth the wait

Jessica Vaughn

PARMA, Italy—The region of Parma is known for producing Italy’s most delicious pork product, Parma Ham. There are 160 different production operations in the area, each with it’s own flavorful history. La Perla, one of the 160, is a family-owned and run operation that has been in business for 23 years. Carlo Lanfranchi and his brother took over for their father, and now produce over 50,000 hams a year.

That’s a lot of piggies headed to market.

However, the delicious, tender, and perfectly-salted prosciutto doesn’t magically appear overnight. It takes days of salting and months of drying to bring those piggies home.

Hundreds of hams rest, salted, in the first processing room at La Perla.

Hundreds of hams rest, salted, in the first processing room at La Perla.


The ham arrives at the factory already butchered and ready to start the salting process. First, the hams are completely coated in sea salt and stored on shelves in a freezer kept at 3 degrees Celsius for five days.
On the sixth day, hams are washed, then massaged, re-salted, and transferred to a second freezer. Here, the room is kept at 2 degrees Celsius, and the hams are stored for 15 days. The color of the meat begins to change from a bright pink to a darker, more subdued color, a signal of the transformation into prosciutto.

Next, the hams are once again washed, massaged, and re-salted; but instead of being placed on a shelf, they are now hung in rows to begin the drying process. The meat stays in a forced air ventilated room for four months, before being washed one final time, and hung unsalted in the storage room. Here, the meat stays hanging for six months until it is ready to be checked by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, the consortium with the last word on quality for the region.

The official stamp of the Consorzio, along with the stamp of La Perla, E 25.

The official stamp of the Consorzio, along with the stamp of La Perla, E 25.

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This part of the process is extremely important—if the ham isn’t dried perfectly, it won’t receive the stamp of approval. The Consorzio mission is to defend “original” food production in Italy. The Consorzio’s review and stamp is needed before a product can officially become a Parma Ham.

Once the quality is confirmed, the ham is ready to be devoured. In Italy, the combination of ham and cantaloupe is a common and delightfully refreshing appetizer. The sweetness of the melon contrasted with the saltiness of the ham is wonderfully pleasing, and without a doubt worth six months of waiting. Of course, it’s tasty on a fresh slice of bread, too, as seen below.

The final product.

The final product.

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An espresso driven culture

DSCN0535DSCN0537Rachel Trujillo

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.

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Cheese Unity

Rachel Trujillo

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.

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An Introduction: Gelato

Jenny Janssen

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?

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.

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Food Firenze

IMG_1440[1]–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

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