17 July 2016

2015 ITALY Modena 23 - Wine & Dine

We head northeast-ish and pass the Riunite wine processing site, a huge operation. A little over an hour down the road, however, we reach our destination at the much smaller but more impressive Cleto Chiarli Winery (www.chiarli.it). We are still in the Emilia-Romagna Region of North Central Italy near Modena. Their specialties are Pignoletto sparkling wine and Lambrusco produced from grapes of the area. Here is Cleto.

Before entering the winery hospitality area, we walked among the near ripe grape vines along the parking area. Not sure if we were supposed to sample, but we picked a few grapes to taste. Ummm! 

An aside: I remember when Mike and I were a bit younger, just getting into the wine scene. We lived in Dearborn, Michigan (suburb of Detroit), so at that point there were not many sophisticated wines like in Italy, France, or California.

Mogen David was a biggie, a Jewish owned winery in New York and the wine our parents drank on special occasions and holidays. It was very grape juice-y and too sweet. Then there was rot gut Mad Dog, Thunderbird, Ripple and Wild Irish Rosé. We thought the best of those was Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill and Apple Jack.

What we considered the "nicer" wines were German Blue Nun Riesling, Italian Riunite Lambrusco, and Lancers (came in a ceramic bottle, so really "high class") and Mateus (both sparkling rosés from Portugal).

Wine coolers were kind of a wine spritzer (California Cooler, Seagram's, and Bartles & James) and were just appearing then. If you were not a beer drinker like me, this "malternative" was a good substitute when everyone else was drinking beer. Some were more beer-malty and they usually came in fruit flavors.

So our Lambrusco expectations were not particularly high. I was pleasantly and very happily surprised. The ones we tasted today were absolutely wonderful.  

Inside was a display of all their wines and a long table where we tasted almost every style they produce. I love sparking wines (dry or sweet), so this was a special treat. Our server (William or Guillermo in Italian ) was educational, entertaining, and quite dapper. 

Thomas Grootveldt was our host and tour guide. He advised that Cleto Chiarli was the first wine producing company in the Emilia-Romagna region dating back to 1860. It is family owned for five generations. And it is a world leader in the production of quality Lambrusco wine. They export to 50 countries and Russia is their best market.
This winery probably had the most automated and up-to-date equipment of all that we visited. They really showcased the process from bottle washing, sterilizing, filling, corking, and labeling. It was fascinating to watch the machines do their work.

At one point the assembly line passed by a picture window with the grape vines just outside. We were seeing the vineyards and the finished product next to each other. Very cool!
From there we were to continue to our next stop, but Thomas surprised us with a formal lunch which not even Chef John expected. A newly wed couple (on right) joined us. Graham and Shannon were from Vancouver and were VERY cute!!

Lunch was the usual and beloved cold cuts of the region, ricotta ravioli with butter and sage, pork cutlets and carrots with balsamic sauce, and a lovely fruit tart. There were some other things too, but these were the highlights. Each course had a wonderful Cleto Chiarli wine to match.

I think it was here that we heard "Italians never get drunk. They just don't eat enough!" We were not drunk, as we had definitely eaten enough at this little surprise "snack."

16 July 2016

7/15/2016 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo - Going Goodwill

I belong to the Ladies' Library Association of Kalamazoo (www.KalamazooLadiesLibrary.org). It is an all female club dedicated to literacy and women's issues. We meet monthly at an historic building that we own and occasionally take educational side trips.

Yesterday we visited the headquarters of Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan. Wow, I was soooo impressed. I had no idea of their huge and worthy operation.

We were met by Denise King, Director of Marketing and Communications. She might be the most bubbly, happy, enthusiastic, smiliest person I have every met. A perfect person for the job. 

We started in their board room to learn a little history of this non-profit organization. This is their 60th year in operation. In 2006, they had consolidated from several cramped quarters into this 80,000+ square foot facility. The building, along with most furnishings, was donated to them by the Stryker Corporation (an international medical supply company based in Kalamazoo). At that time there was a successful $3 million capital campaign to complete the turnover. This added an elevator and other features to assist disabled participants.

After the introduction we proceeded to tour the huge warehouse area. Goodwill may best be known for its donated used clothing and home goods sales. Much of the warehouse was dedicated to ensuring clean and good condition stock, which then is disbursed to 11 retail store locations in SW Michigan. The employee below is doing initial sorting and inspecting of clothing for the next step of the process.
This is the sorting area. Belts go into one box, shoes in another, etc. "Things" are also sorted by glass, kitchen, decor, etc. They check each electrical / mechanical type item to make sure it works before it is put out for sale.

Goodwill also purchases new overstock and off-season items at low prices. Then they re-sell them at a little higher price to gain a profit margin. Here are some fellows arranging new fans of various types. 

There is also a "contract" area. Here various companies contract Goodwill for product assembly and light manufacturing. Not sure what they were making here, but gluing these card board structures together. They contract with individual inventors to assemble their products, automotive companies, and even QVC and Home Shopping channels. You name it, they will build it. Goodwill also offers janitorial services.

Goodwill is VERY careful to be as green as possible. They find various scrapping companies to sell those items that are not salable. Here is a container truck loading unusable clothes for a scrapping company.
Goodwill also has a deal with Dell Computers to take all the donated computer components that don't work or are not purchased in a timely fashion. They are still looking for a place to recycle TVs though. If you know of some place, send a comment with the info. I'll pass it along.
Another area is set up to send new books to local children over the summer, so they have things to read. Books are mailed right to their home at no cost to the child. That is pretty amazing!!!
Then we got to the Treasure Chest area. This is where possible "treasures" of jewelry, paintings, and collectibles are evaluated. They are distributed to the various stores or put online for sale on their own e-Bay type site. Check: http://www.shopgoodwill.com
Goodwill is dedicated to providing family support through training, paid employment, and career support. This includes people with special needs. It is a long-term commitment (as long as 20 years for a person!). They offer initial evaluation in rooms like this, with various written and practical tests. They have an on-going GED program for high school graduation level. There is finance coaching, community resource navigation, etc. There are many other services to ultimately bring folks to full self-sufficiency.
They do not offer a permanent nursery program, but have a room available at certain times when it is needed (like when parents are taking the GED test). There are colorful walls painted by talented Kalamazoo artist Conrad Kaufman and lots of toys, tables and puzzles for the kids. 

Just had to share this pix. In the playroom is the smallest little commode I have ever seen. The pix does not really convey actual size, but it was only about 1-½ feet tall from bottom to top. Look how short it is next to the diaper changing table. There was a little sink to match. Very cute and practical.

Along with all the Goodwill training and services, there is cooperation with other service agencies to round out support for those in need. Extra space in the building is rented to other non-profits that can help folks get back on their feet. There is Housing Resources, Inc., Literacy Council, etc. Here is a photo of the Loaves & Fishes pantry on site.

After the tour a few of us went into the mini retail outlet they have on site. It is their smallest store, but has some big advantages. Here is the last ditch effort to sell items that have been at the bigger stores, but everything is half off sticker price. Some nice bargains to be found. I also discovered that the last Saturday of every month has everything in the big stores on sale at half off. Whoa! Here I come Goodwill!
I read this statement in Goodwill's annual report: "We can change the world one life any a time." After seeing their operation, a believe it!  Read more at: www.goodwillswmi.org

PS - If you live in Kalamazoo, attend the fundraiser PalletPalooza. This is an art event with entries made from wood pallets accumulated by Goodwill. It is Saturday, August 13, 2016 from 2-6pm at the Western Michigan Recreation building. There are a couple of categories--function, furniture, and art.

10 July 2016

2015 ITALY Parma 22 - Let's Make Prosciutto

We started this ambitious day at Greci & Folzani, a prosciutto processing facility. On the way there we spied a giant grape cluster sculpture in the middle of a round-about. I mean it was HUGE!

An old dog greeted us with a few friendly barks at G&F. Then owners Margherita and Paolo (sister and brother) welcomed us into the facility. While culatello and prosciutto both come from a hog's rear haunches, culatello is just the large upper muscle meat and prosciutto is the whole rear leg cured on the the bone. The curing process is 
 different for each.

Paolo led the tour. Within two days of slaughter, the leg bones arrive fresh from Parma. Each weighs about 30 pounds and will reduce over 30% in weight. About 20% is lost in the de-boning process and the rest during curing. At market time, each ham weighs only about 16 pounds.

The process goes something like this:
The legs come in from the farm, are inspected for the highest quality, and are trimmed to the perfect shape.
They are date and "place" stamped with a brand. Notice the distinctive crown on the brand. That means it is genuinely from Parma. Several more inspection brands are added throughout the process.

Hams go through a sea salting and re-salting process over 15-18 days. This keeps the meat sweet-tasting and supple. Salt is the only preservative. No nitrates, nitrites, or other chemicals are used. Here's Paolo at the salting machine.

Next the hams hang or rest for 70 days in refrigerated, humidity-controlled rooms. The meat darkens, but returns to its original rosy colour in the final days of curing.
The next step is washing the hams in warm (60c degree) water and brushing off excess salt. This also washes away bacteria and other possible impurities.

Then a 3-month initial curing process starts. Hams hang in a well-ventilated room for gradual drying and hardening of the skin.

Just before the final curing, exposed surfaces of the hams are covered with a gray paste (sugna pronounced SOON-yah) made of rice, flour, pepper, salt, lard, and is gluten-free. This is called greasing. It prevents external layers from drying too rapidly. John is the only person at this facility who performs this task.

The last step in the process is the final curing. In the seventh month the hams are transferred into a room with less light and air to hang until curing is complete.  

 A final test for quality is the nose test. A special porous horse bone is pressed into a ham and "grabs" a little essence to sniff. From this you can tell if the meat is good or bad and ready to go to market. Paolo demonstrated and let a few of us try.
Paolo also gave John a gift of several "testers" to take back to his new culinary school in Kalamazoo. John said this was quite an honor.

Finally the ham is de-greased, de-boned, pressed flat (presser machine at right), and vacuum packed. Now it is labeled and ready for market. The entire process can take 16-24 months depending on how long the final cure takes.

After our tour we went to the office where Paolo, Margherita, and their Papa served a lovely charcuterie and cheese plate which included some of their prosciutto, of course.

I had not eaten any meat besides fish on the trip so far, but I decided to taste this spread. Oh, my goodness. The prosciutto was wonderful. I also got a round of applause from the room for "eating meat." Who knew!! 

Some more fun facts about the operation. They start the above process with approximately 2,500 hams per week and over 100,000 per year. Ten employees share all the jobs. There is an intricate "highway" system of machinery that takes the hams from step-to-step.

Greci & Folzani pay $300,000 in electricity per year in machinery and refrigeration usage. Half their prosciutto hams are exported to the U.S. and import fees reach one million dollars. 

There are about 150 prosciutto producers in Italy and about 20 in all of the U.S. In the U.S., the FDA might visit each factory twice a year, while in Italy there are constant visits to each factory during every step of the process to maintain the highest standard. The quality Italian product is definitely worth the higher price we pay in the U.S.

06 July 2016

2015 ITALY Parma 21 - Hog Heaven

When we arrived back at this 1-star Michelin restaurant Chef Massimo was in the garden picking vegetables for our lunch. But before lunch we had to finish our tour. There was a small museum room and some food and kitchen items for sale.

Next we proceeded down into the cave-like basement, passing from room to room. Here was the last stop in the aging process. Thousands of culatello hung from the ceiling and walls on chains. Some had tags showing they were specially chosen and reserved for a particular party. We saw one marked Cocchi Trattoria. That was the restaurant where we had eaten in Parma the night before. We also saw tags for Anthony Bourdain, La Bernadin Restaurant in NYC, and Buckingham Palace.

Next we headed upstairs for a tour of the kitchen before our meal. One man was arranging fresh flowers from the garden for table decoration. Others were making soup in a big copper kettle or preparing a variety of sweet desserts. 

The waiter (in black suit below) seemed perturbed. Our group was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time--his path between the kitchen and the dining room. He finally shushed us to our table.
Sunshine streaked through the windows of this Michelin star restaurant. In the middle of the dining room old stoves and tables were lovingly stacked with cookbooks, candelabras, and bottles of various colorful liquids--oils and vinegars, liquors and syrups. It looked a mess, but it worked!!
There were murals of fun kitchen scenes on several walls. A nice touch was a little stool-like table was set next to our feet to lay the ladies' purses on. In stead of handing you a napkin, they were "served to you" with two forks.

The waiter was impeccable in his service, but still icy in personality. After a bit he came around though with a big smile, when I said he looked just like my most handsome nephew (which was true). After that he was an angel of a waiter. The meal started with bread sticks, light-as-a-cloud crackers, and plate of charcuterie.
Instead, I got a mixed green salad (which I had been craving) but without dressing. It was just one of two places on our trip that served a green salad. Not what I expected. Our Italian descendant friend Cheryl said they always served a salad at the end of her Italian family's food feasts. Not so, at least in this region of Italy.
Next we had a bean,  barley, and shrimp stewy-soup.
Here are some veggies and pork ribs. Then the others got frogs legs while I got ricotta spinach paramasean ravioli. All the foods were masterfully arranged. Each plate a work of art. 
There were several desserts to choose from and we all swapped bites. My favorite was what I think was freeze-dried sweet parmesan "tiles" over ice cream. But every single option was delicious and beautifully arranged.

After that we walked a little in the gardens to work off some of our calories. The fields surrounding were beautiful. Across the road was a herd of white cows and brown horses grazing away their day.

Just as we were ready to hop in the van for our ride home, the assistant chef hopped on his bicycle for his ride home. We waved him down to tell him what a wonderful meal it had been. He said that he was not really a chef but a stag (not like the animal, but a soft "g" and rhymes with homage). This meant he worked for no wage, but got room and board to learn the trade of a chef. This was a new term for us. John (our tour guide) said he worked as a stag in Italy during his student years.
Back in Parma, Mike decided to nap while I browsed store windows along the street.  There were many interesting food and clothing shops. Lots of wonderful high style shoes made of velvet soft leather. Heels too high for my precarious balancing act these days. Several stores display car racing memorabilia. 

As night closed in, I returned to our comfy room overlooking the square. Accordion music playing Italian tunes wafted outside our window. That and the busy day put me to sleep in moments.