sweet.sour.bitter.salty.umami.

Yesterday we had our final class on the Molecular Basis of Taste, exploring everything from what influences our food preferences to the chemesthetics of smell and taste. Professor Morini made a big impression with her stance on the importance of taste education. She stressed the value of exploring a variety of flavors, noting that you can alter your preferences and become accustomed to flavors, which is demonstrated by the environmental factors that affect our taste profiles.  Humans are the only animals that cook food and choose what to eat, and it is evident that in different areas of the world, humans are trained to enjoy certain flavors. Ultimately, I agree that to fight issues like diabetes and obesity, humans that are willing, can be trained to ‘like’ healthier foods and flavors, it might just take a little instruction!

We also discussed the basic physiology of the five tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Humans are limited to these five basic tastes, with separate taste receptor cells for each one. My colleague Genn introduced me a few months ago to umami, which is a very relevant concept when working with almonds, as nuts are considered and umami food. Umami is essentially the savory/meaty/rich flavor that cannot be classified as sweet, salty, bitter or sour and it is responsible for the added dimension of protein-rich flavor in many dishes, like tofu. The idea of umami is fascinating to me, as the concept was recognized for centuries in Japanese culture, and finally coined by Dr. Ikeda in 1908, at which point the concept of MSG exploded all over the world. Despite what I originally thought, MSG is not proven to have any negative side effects or give headaches – so we might just have to blame those Chinese-food-headaches on crummy ingredients!

CSA Italia style

Community-supported Agriculture (CSA) is a locally-based alternative to supermarket food distribution, a phenomenon that has taken off tremendously throughout the United States. Here in Bra, GAS La Credenza is a collaboration between the student Slow Food chapter at UNISG and the Piedi per Terra Association, providing students from the university, as well as residents of the area with an opportunity to purchase food and other goods directly from producers.

By making local and sustainable products available right here in Bra, less transport is necessary (for example lettuce come from a local organic farm rather than being imported from Spain or elsewhere in Europe) and consumers like us can take pride in what we are supporting, and consuming. Not to mention a “small” box like this (not including the honey) costs only 9€ — truly amazing when I consider how much we usually spend at the supermarket.

Weekly, GAS offers a wonderful assortment of organic and/or local produce, pastas, olive oils, honey, meat, eggs, etc.  I was tremendously impressed by the cabbage, carrots and especially the honey – below is the recipe I used to prepare a kraut from our fresh cabbage and apples this week.

Honey-Braised Cabbage

Adapted from the recipe box late winter by Sarah Gilbert

Ingredients

1   strip bacon or prosciutto

1   small yellow onion, sliced thin

1   large apple, peeled, cored and sliced

1   large cabbage, quartered and chopped roughly

½  cup white wine vinegar (apple cider would be best)

3   Tbsp. honey

~  salt to taste

Steps

1. Heat oil in a large ovenproof pan, sauté bacon or prosciutto.

2. Add onion and apple and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the cabbage and stir well or cover until the cabbage has been covered and shrinks a bit.

Sunday wine tasting at Vajra Barolo

Some learnings from our visit to the beautiful 40 hectare vineyard of Vajra:

- Nebbiolo is the name of the red Italian wine grape variety predominant in the Piemonte region (where we live!) — Barbaresco, Nebbiolo and the most wonderful Barolo are all produced from the varietal of grape, each one grown in different areas of Piemonte.

- Nebbiolo wines are lightly colored and highly tannic — very earthy and dry

- Dolcetto and Barbera are best to drink young (within two years or so)

- Our favorite discovery at Vajra was the unique digestif “Barolo Chinato” — hints of cinnamon, coriander and vanilla — which I cannot wait to try with chocolate!

- The Piemonte reds are extremely rich in polyphenols, which accelerate antioxidant activity – All the more reason to “Drink thy wine with a merry heart”

A Barolo-Birthday-Thanksgiving

Food and love are undeniably connected…as Carlo Petrini has said many times and in many different ways, “Traditionally making food is an act of love…”

So here we are less than one week in, and that passion is already bringing us together, outside of the classroom as well as in it. As Deb said, we are here to be immersed with people who love what we love, and when people with open hearts and minds come together, there is so much to be shared!

The FC 9 students were kind enough to host a Thanksgiving, where I felt very at home amongst turkey, stuffing and creamed corn, but more so among the company of our group. What better way to kick off our year together than with a holiday based on great food and gratitude?

Most of all it was fun to communicate to my roommates and classmates about this and other American holidays, and the rituals surrounding them. I realized that Thanksgiving is truly my perfect holiday (perhaps not so coincidental given my date of birth…) because it is quite simply a time to be with friends and family; to enjoy company over various traditions. No church, no gifts, just a time to love and share.

I look forward very much to learning about the celebrations our group will observe, and we have already begun sharing recipes and traditions with one another. Last night, Tanya prepared her wonderful curry at our very first dinner party – and Matylda made quite the brunch spread, including my new favorite sausage – Polish Mysliwska.

“Back to school, back to school…”

Since arriving in Italy yesterday, things have been a wonderful whirlwind of moving in and getting settled. There is quite a bit of paperwork to do to merit a full year stay, and typical of a first day in any new environment, we were inundated with names, faces and loads of information. Exciting for us, all that information was about UNISG, Slow Food and the wonderful students and professors we will get to know!

Our concentration consists of nearly 30 students from all over the world (only five of us are American) and from backgrounds in everything from law/nutrition/photography/marketing/cooking school/health/journalism and on from there! It was wonderful to learn a little bit about everyone today and I could not be more excited to be immersed in my passion with other people who love what I love and have a completely different view and background. We also got to meet the Master’s students from the concentration that has already been in Pollenzo since June, and there are undergraduate students milling around the beautiful campus throughout the day as well!

I’ll post soon about our expansive apartment (a welcome surprise coming from NYC), my three wonderful roommates, and my experiences thus far communicating in what I will call Spanglitaliano —– Spanish + English + non-existent Italian…?

Side note: It’s officially Thanksgiving in this time zone…Happy Turkey Day, Americans! Eat lots of delicious-ness for me :)

Italy here I come!

So, it’s official. I’m moving to Italy today.

After living in New York for two years, on a path that seemed to be just finally perfect, I was accepted to a Master’s program that I had considered since my time at USD. Although going back to school had never really appealed to me, something abou the L’Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche (aka University of Gastronomic Sciences) in Italy, struck a chord with me.  Once they divided the program into three concentrations, one of them Media, Representation and High Quality Food, I knew I had to give it a go.

The application process was extreme, especially trying to complete it while working 10 hour days in the city, but after hours of proofing and time spend validating my undergraduate degree, I submitted the application early only to find out months later that I was waitlisted. I have never felt so disheartened in my life, and that was when I realized how badly I really wanted to do this. After a few weeks of nervous anticipation, I was finally up next on the wait list, and within moments of receiving the email I was ready to accept my position in the November program.  Thrilled, I drafted the note and called my parents, but something held me back from hitting send.  I finally loved my job at Porter Novelli. I loved the people I worked with. All of my friends were living within blocks of my wonderful apartment, and my parents were just a quick train ride away! What was I thinking, leaving all of this for some grad program in Europe?

After a few immediate reminders of how badly I wanted this, I was reassured that if not now, when? I didn’t own a home, I didn’t have a dog, or a husband or children of my own (yet…), and honestly I couldn’t even consider going through the stress of that application process again. Ultimately, it was a conversation with my manager, Ed, which gave me the confidence and strength to pursue this. He and my colleagues were so supportive of my decision; it finally made everything feel right. So I gave my two months notice, resigned (hopefully temporarily) from Porter Novelli, took some time off to spend with my family and visit some people/places before my departure, and now the day has finally come!

So here begins my adventure. I board a flight this afternoon with my entire life packed into two giant duffels, and my next entry will likely be written from my 4 bedroom flat in Bra.

Augurami buona fortuna (Wish me luck!!)