Friday, October 23, 2009

Loving Lard

Greetings. We just returned from a few days in Venice and Padova. So this blog entry was left in limbo for about a week. Much like the cured meats that this entry describes, it has been aging and curing.

I looked at the calendar today and realized that we’d missed the Mortadella Festival. Darn. I hate when I do that. If you thought I was exaggerating when I said that Bologna is very serious about food, maybe the fact that there is a festival devoted to a cold cut will cause you to think otherwise. So you see that it is no coincidence that one of our lunch meats is called bologna instead of, say, venezia.

Despite missing the festival I was not lacking in my own cured meat experience this week. I had an epiphany, or as I like to call it, a lardiphany. Yes, I had sliced lard and I enjoyed it ! It was as though all those years I spent asking for “lean corned beef”, cooking bacon to be extra crispy, looking for the low fat content on ground beef all melted away—much like lard does when served on warm bread . It really tasted like nothing else I have eaten. It was thinly sliced with subtle spices and was a good deal less salty than the prosciutto and other cured pork offerings that are ubiquitous here. Another thing that sets it apart is the color. It’s white. There’s simply no mistaking it for anything other than pure fat.

So here I am, just where I want to be, on the leading edge of a trend because, in case you weren’t aware of it, fat is back baby ! (I keep wanting to write fat is fatback baby.) Yes--after years of being shunned it has returned in a blaze of glory. No longer a food of necessity, it is now artisanal. Of course the lard I ate was extremely artisanal. None of that mass-produced lard you get out of vending machines. Only the finest for me !

The site of my awakening to lard was Tamburini, a food emporium/wine bar. We had been passing by its tables, actually large wine barrels, for a couple weeks How I envied the contented customers dining on huge plates of cheeses and cold cuts along with large glasses of wine. So, one afternoon we happened to be passing by and saw an empty table. What to do ? What to do ? Boris had his heart set on gelato and here we were at the threshold of Cured Meat Paradise. You’re crying your eyes out for us aren’t you ? Not to worry. We solved the problem by sending Boris down the street to the gelateria that sells six types of chocolate gelato, and probably some other flavors too (although why bother with those ?) He brought his dessert back to the table and joined us, so everyone was happy. Especially me. Although I have certainly purchased little samples of meats and cheeses at various salumerie in Bologna, I always did so in a haphazard way. Eating at Tamburini is like having a native Bolognese do the shopping for you, matching condiments, cheeses and meats so that they all complement each other. The fact that every table was occupied by tourists didn’t bother me too much. This place is like a food museum so it made sense that visitors from all over would want to go there. I mean, you'd expect a few tourists at the Sistine Chapel wouldn't you ?

This palace of food is on Via Caprarie which is becoming my favorite street. It’s like a Rodeo Drive of food. Besides Tamburini there are various smaller salumerie, several caffes, the aforementioned gelateria and the Bottega di Caffe, a serious coffee store balanced by a room devoted to candy. In addition there is a store called Libreria Ambasciatori. It is a bit like Barnes & Noble in the sense that it sells books and has readings by authors. It has a caffe too, but then it goes a few steps further with an enocoteca that sells wine by the glass or bottle and several kinds of pasta and meat platters. It also has a large retail wine and food shop attached, and the staff is very knowledgeable about the foods they are selling. So really, it’s more like a combination of Barnes & Noble and William Sonoma. When we were kids we always used to joke about getting locked in the downtown Chicago Marshall Fields at night. Now that Fields has turned into Macy’s my new fantasy is to spend the night at Ambasciatori.

The funny thing is that five minutes' walk from these shops are four of Bologna’s museums. They’re interesting and they’re free and I know I should be spending a lot of time in them. But something strange happens whenever I walk down Via dell’Archiginnasio. Like a shopping cart with a faulty wheel, I find myself veering right toward the food instead of left toward the art. I guess I'm just exploring new avenues.


Eric Riback said...

Sounds wonderful! I was introduced to lardo at Babbo restaurant in new York when [warning: name drop] chef Mario Battali personally brought a selection of his own salume to our table. He had to convince us the lardo would be a good thing to eat, and he was of course right. His father, Armande, makes fantastic salume in Seattle that you can mail order, but no lardo.

When you return, do not ask for the "first cut" corned beef at the deli any more. It's dry.

Stefania Impasta said...

I would LOVE to eat at one of his restaurants. I know The French Laundry is considered the Shangri-la of food but Babbo sounds like a lot more fun.