Italy: A Gastronomic Adventure

25 May 2016

Imagine: Open the terrace doors of your hotel balcony and the Mediterranean lights your room; a gentle breeze glides in, along with the smell and sounds of the sea. That’s exactly where I found myself at the end of a weeklong business trip in Italy. As Marketing Director for OU Kosher, I had the privilege of leading a kosher trade mission of buyers to Parma, Italy, to attend an Italian Specialty Food show, called Cibus.

Parma is an elegant city with its center of art, parks, and treasures from different ages. It is a very welcoming place, and is an ideal location for events, mainly due to its geographical location. Situated one hour from Milan in Northern Italy, Parma is the very center of the food valley. Parma is located in the region of Emilia Romagna, where you can also find other interesting towns such as Bologna, Ferrara, Rimini or Piacenza. The cathedral and the town’s theaters are very well known, but it is the gastronomy that has turned the world’s eyes to Parma.

Cibus, the International Food Exhibition, is the key event of the Italian agri-food sector and enables Italian food companies to meet the major distributors, importers and professionals of domestic and foreign markets. OU Kosher was invited by the Italian Chamber of Commerce to present the benefits and opportunities for export to major Italian food consortiums, as well as meet with Italian food manufacturers eager to learn about the kosher process.

The excellence of food and wine products of Italy is well known. Cibus, organized by Fiere de Parma in Italy, takes visitors directly to the source of where these amazing products come from. Our group of kosher buyers came in search of unique Italian products. With centuries of tradition behind them, Italy presented a unique opportunity for us. OU Kosher was on hand to assist with the kosher certification of these products. Our kosher mission was part of a group of over 70,000 visitors from 70 countries. Our group was joined by six additional kosher buyers from Italy, France and England, with whom we had the pleasure of sharing kosher meals each day, organized for us by a kosher importer from Milan.

The feature which best describes Italian food is, in my opinion, quality. Quality of the ingredients. Quality of the production process. Quality of the display (because food should also please the eye). The ingredients: vegetables, fruit, oil, cereals, wine and any other product are produced according to strict safety rules. A recent study on the percentage of pesticides contained in Italian foods stated that only 0.7% of them resulted in being produced using chemicals. Another unique feature of foods in Italy is simplicity. Italian cuisine is great with just a few ingredients: tomatoes, oil, bread and wine, to name a few. Bruschetta, a classic traditional Italian food, is just bread seasoned with garlic, oil, and tomatoes. The famous caprese salad, a typical starter from southern Italy, is made with mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and oregano.

The healthiness of traditional Italian food makes the cuisine so popular around the world. The Mediterranean diet is famous worldwide for its benefits in preventing heart-related diseases. Olive oil, for example, is used much more than butter and cream. Processed sauces are still regarded with a sort of shame among the majority of Italians. Any sauce should be rigorously handmade. Moreover, regional and local traditions make foods in Italy so special. Within a few kilometers radius you could find more than one way to prepare the same dish. Let’s take, for example, a traditional first course from Romagna, cappelletti. It is a stuffed fresh egg pasta whose filling can be either with or without meat. You travel 50 kilometers westwards and in Emilia you find tortellini, a very similar dish, just slightly smaller. The attachment to the customs and traditions of an Italian town can become true competition. The neighboring cities of Modena and Bologna will dispute forever the ownership of the original tortellini recipe. Even today the origins of most foods in Italy are strongly rooted in the lower socioeconomic classes. A typical example is polenta, a traditional dish from Lombardy and Veneto made with corn flour. For centuries polenta was the staple of poor people. It is still very popular in their diet, but today is also served in restaurants as a culinary specialty.

This was my second Cibus trade event, and I found it to be better than the last. With over 1,000 new products and innovations, there was a palatable excitement in the air. This year there was a unique focus on kosher products, with a special showcase featuring all the kosher products available at Cibus. We were proud to see many OU certified Italian manufacturers present at Cibus, and we were happy to facilitate introductions for them to our kosher buyers. What I can say about Cibus except that it was an incredible gastronomic experience!

After four days of walking and meeting with hundreds of Italian food manufacturers, I needed a few days of down time for some rest and relaxation. I was in search of an enchanted place to rest my weary head. My hotel in the Amalfi Coast was simply magical. Perched atop cliffs, and sculpted out of the rock face, I arrived to a stunning hotel and view of the Mediterranean. Costiera Amalfitana, as it’s known in Italy, has been an “it” destination since the days of Emperors Caligula and Augustus built vacation villas there 2,000 years ago. The magnificent scenery lures tourists from all over the world: coastal mountains plunge into the sea in stunning vertical drops off precipitous cliffs, picturesque towns and lush forests hug the edge of the island.

What a wonderful way to end my amazing trip to Italy.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.