Ravenna and Modena: Part 1

While we stayed in Dozza, we visited the nearby towns of Ravenna and Modena.

Ravenna is the home of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, thanks to its various glittering Byzantine mosaic murals.  Because of glass’s ability to retain color, these mosaics are nearly as vivid today as they were fifteen hundred years ago.  This was hardly an opportunity Matt and I could pass up, so we took the short drive to Ravenna and spent the morning gawking at broken bits of glass in several churches and buildings.  The most impressive mosaics were in the Basilica San Vitale, a church built in 526.  That’s THREE digits, not four.  Which means it’s REALLY REALLY OLD.  The mosaics were stunning.  Pictures and words can’t begin to describe them.  The skill and technique required to create these intricate masterpieces is mind-blowing.  We visited several other mosaic sites in Ravenna as well, and while all were glorious, none could match the jaw-dropping San Vitale.

Other than the mosaics, the town of Ravenna was pretty typical for the region. Cobblestone streets charming their way into your heart, buildings in warm yellows and oranges, gelato shops galore.  (Oh what I would give for that to be considered typical here in America!)

Modena was another typical small town that we visited for several reasons: 1) to tour a Parmigiano Reggiano factory. 2) to visit an artisinal balsamic maker and 3) to eat lunch at Hosteria Giusti.

Okay, the Parmigiano Reggiano factory–I thought I was going to vomit.  The smell was so strong.  It took 95% of the strength I had not to hurl all over the whey-covered floor.  The other 5% was devoted to contorting my face into an expression that I sincerely hope resembled pleasant interest and curiosity.  I love parmesan–a lot.  It’s one of my favorite compliments to a meal.  But this tour involved being in a storeroom with thousands (not an exaggeration) of aging cheese wheels the size of small tires stacked twenty high.   The air was so thick I felt like I was inhaling a syrup.  A syrup made of feet.  Matt and the other two people on the tour didn’t have a problem with the smell.  (Robots!!!)  I wonder why.  My mother didn’t breastfeed me, could that be it?  Perhaps starting the first several months of your life drinking and puking sour milk equips you with a lifelong ability to withstand a giant room of cheese?  There you have it, moms-to-be, a good reason to breastfeed: your babies will be able to visit cheese factories when they get older!

But anyway. I didn’t lose my breakfast, somehow.  Go me!

The smell aside, the Parmigiano Reggiano tour was super fascinating.  It was free, too, which is always a plus.  A tour can be arranged at one of several factories through the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, who take pride in promoting authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Only five cities in the Emilia-Romagna region are legally allowed to produce Parmigiano Reggiano cheese: Bologna, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Mantova, and, of course, Parma.  It’s like how Champagne can only be called Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region in France.  Anywhere else and it’s just … sparkling wine.  That grainy stuff from a green can that’s been sitting in your fridge for years that you shake onto your Prego-laden spaghetti noodles from a box is not Parmigiano Reggiano.  It’s just … parmesan.

Click here to read a good summary of how Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made.

To be continued…


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