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Besides soccer, something that would be good for you to know about Italian foods and what is considered a traditional Italian meal.


After 9 years of living in San Francisco, I’m still amazed by the level of ’ignorance’, (and by ‘ignorance’ I’m literally referring to the word that defines the concept of ‘ignoring’, not knowing something), about Italian foods and the sequence of dishes in a traditional Italian meal!

For example, there isn’t something that by definition is ‘Parmesan Cheese’ as a category. Parmesan is the English translation, I don’t know why, of the Italian name, Parmigiano, that is an Italian cheese, made in and around the city of Parma. So, that’s why it’s name is Parmigiano (like San Franciscan, because of being made in San Francisco). There is ONLY ONE brand that produces Parmigiano, and that is an association of companies that all together produce Parmigiano Reggiano. North of Parma, a similar cheese is produced by another association of companies and the cheese is named Grana, so it’s called Grana Padano. It’s 99% identical to Parmigiano but, being produced not close to Parma, it is forbidden for it to be call Parmigiano. So, can you imagine a cheese that is produce IN THE USA, being called Parmesan? It’s simply ridiculous and for sure, even against the law to use the name!

To allow you to better understand this concept, in the little region of Champagne, in France, is produced the delicious dry wine that everybody knows as Champagne. Italy and France, are world leaders in making wines and, in Italy we are able to produce ‘champagne’, at least as good as the French champagne. The problem is only in the name. We tried everything, without succeeding, to call it ‘champagne’, the wine produced with the same method.

Besides champagne, we tried the name ‘Metodo Champenoise’, that is the name of the method used to produce the classic champagne. It was forbidden. We tried ‘Metodo Tradizionale’ (Traditional Method), to avoid problems. Nothing! So we were only permitted to name that kind of wine, Brut, or Prosecco, or Vino Secco, or Spumante or other substitutes but not Champagne. Champagne is something produced in the region of Champagne, like Parmigiano is something produced around Parma.

So, to see California Champagne written around on labels, is not only abominable, but I suppose should be against the law!

So, just with the intention of being useful, when you buy an Italian wine, be careful because the correct origin, is strictly connected WITH THE PRICE!!!!

Every variety of grape, besides the fact that it can be cultivated anywhere, has a specific place of origin. So, when you see the symbol DOC on the labels, that means in Italian, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Origin Controlled), it’s a brand given by an Italian Institute that attests that the wine comes EXACTLY and ONLY from the locality in which that grape was originated, centuries ago! Force yourselves to understand that the climate conditions of a certain locality, can’t be reproduced in another latitude so, the name of the grape is the same, but the taste and the quality, COULDN’T BE THE SAME!!!! I believe that even a kid understands this elementary concept! So you may buy something that has the same name, but that is the only thing it has in common with the RIGHT WINE.

Prosciutto.

There are ONLY 2 Italian associations of Producers. Prosciutto di Parma, and Prosciutto di San Daniele. Prosciutto di Parma, like the Parmigiano, is obviously produced around the city of Parma. San Daniele is produced in the Northern Italian region of Friuli, in and around the city of San Daniele. Both have the brand ‘branded’ on the skin. The first is very salty and the second is sweet. Both delicious but clearly opposites. So, if you’d like Prosciutto and melone (cantaloupe) you need contrast between the sweetness of the melon and the saltiness of the prosciutto. So, contrast and don’t add sweet to sweet, since it’s not a cake, but an Appetizer! (I’ll explain after the correct sequence of dishes).

Another mystery is oil.

This product comes from the ‘pressing’ of olives. The first oil that comes out from the process, is call EXTRA VIRGIN, the second VIRGIN and all the rest is just OLIVE OIL. These 3 gradations, besides the quality, have a clearly different price! The quality is determined by an Institute like the DOC for wine. So the brand EXTRA VIRGIN, the Italian EXTRA VERGINE, is not just a name that can be used like Parmesan to sell something, but is strictly given to something that corresponds to a fixed standard of quality and it’s a BRAND and not a NAME that defines a genre!

Like PURA LANA VERGINE (PURE VIRGIN WOOL) is the brand of a superior quality of wool, or VERO CUOIO (REAL LEATHER) another brand that identifies a certain quality of leather. The brand is put, branded, on the soles of the shoes, and CAN’T be printed there without a specific authorization from the proper Authority, after having satisfied all the requirements.

The list could go on forever but I’m sure that you get the concept.

A few words about a traditional Italian meal.

This is based on a fix sequence of ‘Portate’ (Dishes) that CAN, FOR NO REASON IN THE WORLD BE SWITCHED, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO APPEAR TO BE A ‘BARBARIAN‘.

Antipasto. (Appetizer)

Usually a mix of different ‘prosciutti’ and ‘salami’, sometimes with melon, ’sottaceti’ (vegetable marinated in vinegar) and some anchovies. Often, instead of just eating bread like that, this is served with oil, salt, fresh chopped tomatoes and a leaf of basil, on top. This is called “Bruschetta” and please, please, please again, don’t pronounce this, “Brushetta“, because it just kills us! There is a “ch” that make the sound “K” like in ‘basket‘. Thanks very much.

Primo Piatto (First Course)

Indifferently, pasta or rice in all it’s possible variations, occasionally some soup or broth, especially at dinner.

Secondo Piatto (Second Course)

Meat or fish accompanied by salads or vegetables of any kind. This is very important. We call any vegetables with the Second Course, ‘contorno‘, and is strictly eaten WITH and ONLY with the meat or the fish! So, remember, salad is ONLY a ’contorno’ of the Second Course, and if you don’t want to commit a ‘sacrilege‘, don’t even think about eating the salad with pasta during the first course or like an appetizer!!!!

After the first and second courses, comes cheese time!

So, cheese. Parmigiano would be great or some soft cheese, like gorgonzola, crescenza or taleggio. This last, smells ’really bad’ so, if you are not a connoisseur, just forget about it.

After cheese, sweet time. Tiramisu’ is a great classic. Also try zuppa inglese and zabaione (or zabaglione). I really like some biscotti which are very hard, call ’cantucci’, dipped in a sweet wine called ‘Passito’ or ‘Vinsanto‘. These wines are very sweet because they’ve been made with ‘uva passa’ (raisins). This is the grape left on the plant after the time was good for harvesting it. So, the sun dries it and all that remains there, is basically sugar.

After, cheese and sweet things, it’s time for fruits or ‘Macedonia‘ (fruit salad).

Coffee and liquors. Coffee, means ‘espresso‘, not the gallon of brown water that in this country is called coffee. A small amount of coffee, really pressed in the container, that produces a kind of very dense crème. That, and only that, is a ‘caffe espresso’.

Liquors. Lets make this clear. Liquors after meals, are not to get drunk! They are for helping the digestion. So, a small glass of ’grappa’ or ’sanbuca’. If you like sweet liquors, try Limoncello or something similar call Galliano.

So, this is it. Just a little more general advise.

We don’t eat to survive. We eat for the pleasure of eating. A pleasure, like every pleasure, is connected with time and the goal is not to have it be as brief as possible. IT’S THE OPPOSITE! So, because everything is about quality and not quantity, the fundamental aspect is to eat slow and don’t talk. Chew slowly and taste the flavors!

No one will care about your last vacation, your last computer, your new car, your new job, your new girlfriend or whatever. The only reason we are here, sitting at this table, is represented by what is on the plate in front of us and consequently on yours! Someone in the kitchen, studied all his or her life and worked hours to prepare this masterpiece and we will savor every bite, religiously, without distractions, in particular ‘your voices’!

After, before and in between courses, we can talk, but now, just food can talk with our palate.

Do you get the message? Hope so!

Coach Gianni

P.S. If I see someone put a masterpiece, like what I described, in a box, like a piece of leftover pizza to bring it home, one more time, I believe that I’ll lose some American friends definitively, even if they understand something about soccer!

P.S.S. If you like to better understand what food means for us Italians, please see the movie: BIG NIGHT. It will explain more than a million words!

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Posted on 05 Sep 2007 by coachgianni
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