We returned to Parma for our final night in Italy. Although we had booked a B&B in the outskirts of Parma, I wanted to return to the city for a few hours, to soak up some more wonderful atmosphere, and see a few more sights.
What I really enjoyed about returning to Parma was that we already had some familiarity with the city. I could slow down to see more details, which as in most places in Italy, are rather abundant.
We headed back to the Duomo, because I wanted to see the interior. One of the interesting things in Europe is that famous art does not exist only in museums, many famous pieces exists in churches. The Duomo in Parma is most famous for the Assumption of the Virgin, painted by Correggio. Correggio is probably the most famous Italian Renaissance painter from Parma.
Besides this famous fresco in the cupola, there are many other beautiful frescoes in the church.
We left the city around 4 pm and drove out towards out B&B, which was located about 15 minutes outside Parma. The outskirts of Parma are characterized by beautiful rolling hills and vineyards.
I found the B&B, Cancabaia, on TripAdvisor. It had received very high reviews, and I thought a night in a farmhouse would be an excellent way to end our trip. Little did I know just how special our last night would be. We found the B&B tucked away in the hills. The owners, Bruno and Simona welcomed us immediately. They were so friendly. Bruno, a farmer, took time away from his busy schedule to get us settled into our wonderful room. He also introduced us to one of their two dogs, Max.
Bruno and Simona gave us some recommendations of things to do in the area. Unfortunately, it was pretty late by the time we were ready to head out. I can imagine the area would be incredible just to walk or drive around, but during the day. With no streetlights, a nightime walk wouldn't get you too far. They suggested that we drive by the Torrechiara Castle, which is closeby the B&B.
After we took in the beautiful views of the castle, which has been closed for a few months following an earthquake, we headed into the hills. Bruno recommended a winery, and said that we could stop there to buy some wine. We found the beautiful winery,La Bandina, with no problem, and even though it was already 8 pm, the owners welcomed us, and offered us samples of all their wines. Parma is one of the areas where Lambrusco grapes are grown. The winery produces their own Lambrusco. But they also produce sparkling wines unique to the area, Colli di Parma Rosso and Malvasia, a lovely, dry white. They also produce Moscato, a sweet must, or young wine. We were given a tour of the production area. This winery produces 75,000 bottes per year. We arrived the day before bottling started for the year, so all the bottles were out and ready for filling. We had such a great experience, we came home with 13 bottles of wine. It was definately a good thing we drove!
We needed some food to soak up all that alcohol, so we headed to Il Mulino, a local restaurant recommended by Bruno and Simona. Oh my gosh! The restaurant was definately not geared towards tourists, it was more like a bar with some tables, but oh, the food! We started with some Parma Prosciutto and Parmagiano Reggiano cheese. Joern had tortelli with ricotta and herbs and I had tortelli with pumpkin. It was by far the most delicious of many delicious meals we had on the trip!
On Friday morning, we found an incredible spread in the beautiful breakfast room. Our breakfast was amazing, with fresh breads and cakes, homemade jams, Parmagiano Reggiano cheese served with honey, more Parma Prosciutto, homemade fritatta, and coffee with fresh milk.
After breakfast, Bruno took us across the street to a caseficio, a Parmagiano Reggiano cheese producer. Bruno, a dairy farmer, works with the cheese makers across the street. We were lucky not only to have a tour, but to be there the same day that Rai 3, an Italian TV station, was filming the caseficio for a show. Bruno first showed us the first phase of production, where starter is added to skimmed milk.
While the starter was working, Bruno then took us into the storage area, where the wheels sit in salt baths for 28 days.
Bruno taught us so much about the cheese. For those of you who may be slightly turned off by cheese sitting unrefrigerated for 28 days, he said that this is the best way to tell is something is wrong with the bacteria in the cheese. You can easily see by 28 days if the cheese is bad, whereas in large factories, there is little human control over the cheese.
He then took us back to the production area, where the cheese curds were being cut into small pieces.
The solids were then heated, and collected in cheesecloths, where they sit above the copper vats for some time to let the water drip out.
From there we went to the cheese storage building, housing about 4,000 wheels of cheese. The wheels come here after the 28 days in the salt baths. The cheese ages for 12 months. There is also a machine that runs 24 hours a day. The machine takes each wheel from the shelf, cleans it, and turns it over. It is really an interesting process!
Because we were lucky enough to be visiting with a TV team, we were treated to a special opening of a wheel. This is usually not done for the public. It was so amazing to watch the cheese maker painstakingly cut lines and insert knives in order to properly cut the wheel in half. Of course, the best part here was the taste-test when the wheel was opened!
Of course, we bought some cheese before we left.
Before we left to go home, Bruno called his uncle, who produces Parma Prosciutto, to see if we could stop by his shop. He had to call because it was lunch time by then, and most things close for 2 hours. We drove to Langhirano, a town outside of Parma, the actual site of Parma Prosciutto factories. Bruno's cousin let us in, and first, we bought some Parma Prosciutto and Cultatello, which is only found in the region, and is similar to Parmo Prosciutto. Then, Bruno's cousin brought us to the storage cellar where the hams and salamis were aging. Bruno's uncle also came to greet us.
Again, a very special experience!
It started raining as we left, which signaled our time to leave our wonderful week in Emilia Romagna. Of course, the surprise came when the rain turned to heavy snow in Switzerland.