I think it is finally starting to sink in that I live in one of the most amazing cities in the entire world. I live here! I mean, who am I and what have I done to deserve this? Every day I make a new discovery and every day I am more and more astonished at how wonderfully intricate Florence really is. There are two sides to this grand city. One is flamboyant yet fashionably mysterious, totally overwhelming in its splendor and grace. The other is a quiet beauty, found in a church off the beaten path, a park where kids play, an evening at a cozy bar with sparking wine and appetizers, or seated in a humming restaurant waiting to see what grandma will produce in the kitchen. I suppose there is also a third side, an undercurrent of youth and vitality which is modern and creative, yet follows in the footsteps of the ancient and wise. It can be raucous or refined, banal or bizarre, impatient or eternal. It is unlike any other place I have ever experienced.
Today after class Andre asked some of us if we wanted to go to a food fair. Of course I am always up for anything and all but jumped for joy at the prospect of a spontaneous adventure. So off we went, three of us altogether, to an old abandoned train station where the fair was being held. It was a 10 Euro entrance fee, and it was absolutely the best 10 Euro I have ever spent. There must have been hundreds of vendors of seriously gourmet foodstuffs: ancient balsamic vinegars (some aged for 100 years), fresh young olive oils, hams and salami and smoked fish and cheeses galore, more chocolate than you could ever imagine, cakes and cookies and marmalades and pates and chutneys and wines and beers… hundreds of vendors each with samples of their own special products that represent the best that Italy has to offer. I cannot believe I made it out alive! I don’t think I have ever said “Mamma mia!” so much in my life!
I bought several things at the store after we made our grand tour– altogether I bet we were there for three hours! Words absolutely fail me in describing this, but some of the more memorable things I tasted were:
- A marmalade of pear and mint
- Real balsamic vinegar, the first time I had ever tasted it. What an explosion of flavor!
- Fresher-than-fresh ricotta cheese, barely sweetened and stuffed into a crunchy pastry shell with a cherry on top
- Real prociutto di Parma, the smoky smell of which is forever embedded in my memory. Mamma mia!
- A ridiculously fresh yogurt with peaches that was unlike any other yogurt in the world- creamy, naturally sweet, and not a bit acidic or tangy.
- A chocolate torte that is singular in the world– only one producer is allowed to make this particular torte. O Mio Dio!!
- A spicy chutney of apple that was made with mustard.
- A not-too-sweet dessert wine that was interesting, complex, and definitely worth the 13 Euro I paid for it!
- An outrageous olive pate. Sweet, smooth, not the least bit bitter or biting.
- An artisan Colomba, a famous cake-like loaf with candied orange peel that is a popular Easter treat… I bought one of those, too!
- A soft cheese covered in lovely little flowers from Alto Adige, the German-speaking part of Italy tucked away up in the Alps next to Switzerland.
And the list goes on. And on and on andonandonandon. I know that everyday I say that I have had the best food I have ever had, but this time I really mean it! I just had the best food that I have EVER had! What a thought, knowing that you are eating the very best Italian food that the world has to offer!