Sustainable Gastronomy

It was another grueling day of class work. Professor  Haughton put us through the paces by having us divide up in teams and to develop programs to connect people to healthy food in scenarios that ranged from single mothers on food stamps, to medical students, to prisoners. Some of the teams reported yesterday and we finished up those reports today. I began to gain an appreciation of how powerful it can be having a diverse group of people from many countries and cultures, but with a common interest in food, work together to come up with ideas that could change people’s relationship with food. These were very short group sessions and yet many of the ideas were quite good.

After that we were shown a demonstration on how quickly and easily one could take some seasonal local ingredients and make a beautiful, delicious salad. Our instructor feels that cooking with others is an important part of connecting with good food and used this salad as an example.


(Photo by Jenny Isenborg)

After this “lecture” class continued in some rooms that are part of the church on campus that the students can use as a lunch room. It has a kitchen that we could use to prepare or warm up food we brought as our home work. A bit of chaos ensued while we all worked around each other in the tiny kitchen doing our preparation but in the end it was amazing!


The food was all arranged on a table inside and we each described what we had prepared and why it had meaning or was special for us.

We then moved the food outside where tables had been set up (with some wine) and we sampled and enjoyed the food from the various countries and the connections associated with them.  It was a difficult assignment…not eating too much, that is. The food was delicious. I think that the stories behind the food and the sharing it together over the table enhanced the tastes even more.

After finishing our eating assignment we returned to class. We had been asked to write a short essay about some kind of relationship we had with food. During this part of class we told about what we had written. Many of the stories were quite moving and all were interesting. There is just something about stories told over the table.




Tonight I made peroghi. No, it’s not Italian. It was homework. This isn’t a cooking school as so many have assumed when I talked about coming here. But our homework was to prepare a dish that has some significance for us. It can be a traditional food from our country or a favorite family dish or something else that is our association with food. I felt a need to make peroghi as it is a dish with a long history in our family. I first tasted peroghi when we visited my grandmother in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My father’s mother came to the United States from Slovakia. She spoke essentially no English. Every time we visited her she made us peroghi. Making it for us was obviously something very important for her. I loved it from the start. I know now that there are many variations of peroghi. The kind she made was filled with potato and cheddar cheese filling. It was cooked and then mixed with tons of onions cooked in butter.

Our family has continued the tradition of making peroghi for special occasions. I started making it but it was picked up by my sons. My sisters also get involved at holiday time for when we gather for Thanksgiving there will be peroghi along with the traditional turkey dinner. At Christmas there will be peroghi with whatever special dinner has been planned for that family gathering. There have arisen variations on the potato and cheese filled peroghi I grew to love. There have been sausage with sauerkraut stuffed ones, mushroom stuffed ones, and others. My favorite, though perhaps the least flavorful, is the potato cheese ones, probably because of the primal connection with my grandmother Hiza.

Anyway, I decided that I had to make peroghi. There were a couple of complicating factors that I was sure I could overcome. First, we don’t have a completely equipped kitchen. (See earlier postings). Second, I don’t understand the Italian flour classifications. Third cheddar cheese is not to be had in Italy, or at least in our part of Italy. But I’m guessing that my grandmother didn’t use cheddar in Slovakia. She probably used that because it was close to what she had used. So I bought a fontina cheese by asking, I think, for something that wasn’t sweet and that would melt. Potatoes and onions were not a problem. About the dough. Normally I would mix my own dough and roll it out thin and then cut it with a round cutter, fill, seal and boil. I decided that with my limited time and limited knowledge of Italian flour that I would go across the street (actually June went) and buy a sheet of frest pasta. No need to run to the hardware store for a rolling pin as they rolled it to June’s specifications. We did go to the hardware store for a ricer to mash the potatoes. Now I was ready to go. Open the dough package and cut rounds with…hummm…a plastic Nutella lid. It was a bit small but this is a symbolic lunch and we are not expected to feed thousands.


I noticed that the fresh pasta is a bit stiffer than the soft dough I’m used to working with when making peroghi but it will all be in the cooking, right? The potatoes were boiled and the cheese was grated…well, we don’t have a box grater. We bought a grater for parmigiano but this was a softer cheese and gummed up that grater. Instead I cut it into brunoise (look it up) and mixed that in with the riced potatoes. I filled the rounds with about a teaspoon of the potato cheese filling, wet the edges and tried to seal them. Usually that only takes finger pressure. This time we needed a fork.


Then they were boiled, longer than usual, and mixed with the waiting diced onion cooked in butter. The taste test showed them to be not the same as grandmother’s but rather a fusion in flavor and texture. The bite was a bit firmer and the cheese, though delicious, was NOT cheddar. I don’t have a picture of the finished product. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll take a photo in class.



First Field Trip

Today was our first field trip. We had an orientation to study trips, a long break and then boarded a bus for our first field trip. There are two important events that I need to mention before getting into the field trip. The first, for all of you Minnesotans out there, is that it is Spring here. It was about 16 degrees C today (in the 60s) and sunny. The vegetation is beginning to look like this.


The other thing is that although I packed a nice lunch for myself today, I never took it out of my backpack. Luca, the only Italian in our class, returned from his weekend home and brought 5 different kinds of cheese with him to share with our class. His family has a small farm and produce cheese. And what wonderful cheese it is! Some of the class had gone to the bakery and bought bread and we all enjoyed the fresh, raw cow’s milk cheeses Luca provided. I still can taste them. Here are a couple of photos (with my iPhone…when will I start remembering to bring my good camera?).

After the cheese I had time to enjoy an espresso and then we boarded a bus to go to Maina ( Maina is a family owned company that was started in 1964 in Turin.

They are Italy and the world’s primary producer of panetonne. Panetonne is a cake that is most popular during the Christmas holidays but served for other special events as well. It is a protected by law and must contain 100% natural yeast, 100% pure butter, fresh eggs and egg yolks and have the traditional shape. They also make pandoro (also protected by law) and a couple other products. The sell all over the world. Their U.S. customers include Trader Joe’s, Target and Costco. Their sales last year were €375 million or 100 million pieces. They have an interesting sales cycle in that 65% of their year’s production is sold in the 3 weeks around Christmas. Other pressure they face is the increasing cost of materials. The price of butter from 2009 to 2010 increased 100%, fruits increased 50%, sugar increased 50%, flour increased 30% and eggs increased 30%. They buy most of their flour from Canada as they require the hard wheat flour that is grown there. Their production process is interesting. Their natural mother yeast takes 48 hours of skilled processing to develop to make a unique taste, texture and aroma that is consistent. After baking the cakes have 10 hours of natural cooling, much of that time spent upside down so that the cake crumb doesn’t collapse. It then takes 8 hours to make the handmade hazelnut frosting. To prevent spoilage and to extend shelf life, when the cakes are placed in their plastic bags a small amount of ethyl alcohol is sprayed in to sterilize the bag and preserve the cake. (I’m wondering if before opening one should push a straw through the plastic bag and inhale…no, that probably wouldn’t work.) The tour was great and the aroma in the plant was amazing. Afterward we tasted two of their cakes and had the opportunity to shop in their “seconds” shop with an additonal discount because we were students at UNISG. They are a strategic partner with our school. I took home a cake and shared with June. It is very good. Not too sweet, with a great light texture and flavor. They said that in some places it is used to make French toast so June and I are going to try that tomorrow.

And with visions of cheese and cake dancing through my head, I’ll say…


School Daze


Officially we started school last week, but with the new holiday and administrative time and orientation, we really didn’t start until this week. The week started in a way that it really did feel like I was back in school. We had 12 hours of class time in Nutrition Science this week with several outside papers to read. Plus we had an introduction to Slow Food by Carlo Petrini, a meeting with the didactic coordinators of our program and 6 hours of class time on the Molecular Basis of Taste. It made for a full week of just class time but, as I mentioned before, we also had a paper and exam to fill in the spaces. The paper was a group project. We divided ourselves into 5 groups and chose from on Nutrition and either Communication, Culture, Economics, Policy, or Sustainability. We had two days to finish that assignment. It was a challenge forming a group with people we barely knew to write a paper. Add to this that we didn’t really have a good feel for how the library worked and not everyone’s internet was hooked up and working properly and it made things particularly stressful. Retrospectively it was probably good to begin that that way as we were thrown into our new academic world and had to “get going.” I had a great team to work with and we accomplished our task, I think, in an admirable fashion. It is just that there was quite of bit of pressure involved. Getting the paper done and presented was added on to finishing the uncovered topics in Nutrition and the exam that day so it was busy.

I have enjoyed the classes so far. The nutrition course contained some review for me, but considering that it has been about 30+ years since I originally learned it, review was definitely in order. Our instructor, from Mexico City, was a very bright and did an amazing job of cramming all of basic nutrition into just 4 days. The class on Molecular Basis of Taste started this week and will continue on into next week. It has been a very interesting class with a lot of “pearls.” One thing I found interesting is that those people that are expert wine tasters and who are good at describing and identifying wines do not have any better taste buds nor more taste buds, they just have better memory of the olfactory and taste sensations and can draw on those memories to identify and classify tastes.

After the test and presentations on Thursday I experienced great relief. Friday was a very light day. We had presentations in the morning from the two student organizations and we had the afternoon off. Friday morning I was on my way to the bus stop when I ran into classmates who were walking from Bra to Pollenzo to school (about 5 kilometers) and asked if I wanted to join them. I did, as we had plenty of time to make that walk. We first went to a market that exists on Wednesdays and Fridays across from the bus stop. Specifically, we went to a place that sold kebabs. This had been discovered by my classmates earlier in the week. They applied a small, but sufficient amount of peer pressure for me to order one for myself and so I began the day with a delicious breakfast of pork kebab and its attendant pork fat. Delicious! The best part was that the guilt was mediated by the 5 kilometer walk.

When I got home, June wanted to walk so we set out to walk to Pollenzo. I forgot where we turned off to take the back road there, so we decided to walk to Chersco instead which is about 5 kilometers from Bra. We learned fairly quickly that the roads around here, for the most part, are not walker friendly. They have very little shoulder and a lot of traffic that includes big trucks. We braved about 4 kilometers to get to the town but as we approached the town there was a narrow bridge with virtually no place to walk. We discovered this because I tried to walk across, got a few yards along the way and a huge truck had to stop until I could back track and get out of its way. We changed course and walked instead 4 kilometers to Pollenzo along busy highway but with a modicum of a shoulder. We reached Pollenzo after the 4:00 bus left and were waiting for the 5:45 bus in the cafe/bar with a beer and some chips when we met one of my classmates who was walking back to Bra. Since she knew the way we joined her in walking back to Bra. It was a day full of exercise.

That evening we decided to treat ourselves and dine out. We decided to go to Osteria La Bocca Buona just down the block from our apartment. We waited until later to go there as we knew they ate later in Italy, but when we arrived at 7:30 we were not only the first ones there, they were still setting up tables. They welcomed us warmly and we had a delightful meal and a great wine. We were able to watch the “stragglers” as they arrived for dinner, which included a group of my classmates. One of them, Molly, is from Hibbing and she took the picture of our school at the top of this posting and this one of us with our after dessert coffee.


Saturday we went back to Torino to explore that city more. We found the flea market that we missed last time. It is about 4 blocks of stuff. There is just about everything you can imagine.


We spent far too much time browsing that overstimulating environment and ending up not having enough time to go to the Chocolate Festival, much to June’s chagrin. (Actually, I don’t mind a little chocolate now and again <grin>.) It lasts a while longer so we are going to see if we can still make it. I took a better camera to Torino and will provide this link ( ) for those who want to see some more photos. The vegetable shots will be familiar but were taken with a better camera and by Jenny, a classmate from Sweden who was with us. The other woman in some of the photos is Saskia from Amsterdam.

Next week looks lighter. We will see.





A little more food and some statistics

Food has been a part of our past couple of days here. We decided to begin our exploration of pastry shops more in earnest and we went to the Saturday market in Torino. I’ll be brief and cut to the photos. Our latest pastry shop visited is just down the street from our apartment. It is Lusso Pasticceria and is at Via Audisio,13. It seems like more of an “upscale shop” in that its offerings are smaller, often just a bite or two, and more decorative. They don’t, for instance, sell bread or hard rolls there. They do have a couple of larger pieces that could be cut and shared, like a strudel, but mostly they are small and fancy. We bought several different pieces to try. The owner put our selections on a bright gold colored paper tray (suitable to serving these treats to guest on) and then slide into a bag that was stapled shut. Very proper. They were delicious. Here is a picture of some of the treats in the case.


Yesterday we went to Torino to the Saturday market. The market was huge with clothes, leather goods, household good, and many other items. I’m going to share some of the food that we saw there. There about a block of vegetables and fruits. A building with fish and sea food. Another building with meat and cheese. It was great fun walking around and taking it all in. We felt like it was just an orientation and that we need to go back. Some of my classmates are planning a trip there next Saturday and we will probably return there with them. Here are some example of what we saw.

We received a class listing so I can update my statistics about my class. There will be 26 of us. We represent 13 countries as follows:


Brazil – 2

Belgium – 1

Canada – 1

Colombia – 1

Croatia – 2

England – 1

Germany – 2

India – 1

Italy – 1

Netherlands – 1

Peru – 1

Sweden – 1

USA – 11


I believe that it is a very interesting, diverse group. It has been fun to be walking around town and to run into people I know. It will be a great experience this year being with them as we study, work, play and eat together and, of course, talk and tell stories over the table.


A new national holiday

While many of you were celebrating St. Patrick’s day, we here in Italy were celebrating a holiday that the government just announced a few weeks ago. March 17 marked 150 years that Italy has been independent and unified into one country. The first capital of that new country was Torino, just 30 miles from here. We didn’t make it to Torino for the festivities. We had, in fact, a pretty low key day. We relaxed around our apartment and took a couple of walks. Most of the businesses were closed for the holiday but we did find a few open. On our friends’ recommendation we went to the other Coop in town which is much larger than the one closest to us. It was open and we added a few more household items to our collection. There were a few bar/coffee shops open and we visited one we hadn’t been to before for a cappuccino and some gelato. It was a clear sunny day with the temperature around 11 degrees (Centigrade or 55 F). As we walked toward the Coop this was the view down the street.


Note the background. It’s not something we are used to seeing in Northfield. The mountains are stunning!

We didn’t purposefully seek out festivities in Bra but on the way to the Coffee shop we encountered a crowd of people gathered around some people in costumes. Looking closer we realized that the costumed people were on a large checkerboard pattern. In fact, it was a game of human chess. We would hear two different voices declaring moves and then the correspondingly dressed person would move to the location indicated. Here are a couple shots via iPhone.


We don’t often see this sort of wild celebrating in the States. I don’t know how well thinking about chess moves and then publicly exposing how well you can execute your strategy while drinking beer and grilling burgers would work. But based on the size of the crowd, this type of celebrating works well here.

Happy 150th to Italy!


First Day

My first day of school began as most first days of school begin everywhere. I woke up early due to back-to-school anxiety. I had my coffee and checked my e-mail and Facebook (It’s what modern school kids do I’m told.) I got dressed in my new school clothes and had my first day of school pictures taken and was sent off with good wishes. Some asked to see my first day of school pictures so here you go.


I left the apartment and on the way to the street I saw a sight that reminded me of where we live and why I am here.


Our apartment is above a seafood shop (pescheria) and restaurant. We ate at the restaurant the first night we stayed in our apartment and it was quite good. Seeing the box of fresh octopus and the bags of fresh mussels and feeling interested and excited by them reminded me of why I am here…food.

I proceeded to what I thought was the correct bus stop (I hadn’t had a dry run, you remember.) and was reassured to see other young people with back packs and courier bags introducing themselves to each other. I joined in that nervous-meeting-new-people activity which was better for me in that I knew Cathrine and Molly from previous encounters with them in Bra. We all climbed aboard the bus and soon arrived in Pollenzo and to our school. I took several pictures of the activities of the first day though the quality isn’t that good as I took them with my iPhone camera. That is not going to stop me from posting some, however.

This picture is of several of my classmates signing up for a bus pass (€50 for a year).


The following are tour pictures. First the library…


…then the entrance to the Wine Bank…


…a couple shots of the campus as we went between buildings…


…a couple scenes at the cafeteria where we can buy lunch service if we want…


In the afternoon we had a talk from the President of Slow Food Italy who told us the history of Slow Food and the development of their themes that food must be Good, Clean, and Fair. It was a very good overview. Then we were invited to hear a corporate executive from Ferrero Italia a very large multi-national food company ( ) talk. Apparently they frequently have speakers representing various types of food producers and industries come to campus to talk. He only spoke Italian but they provided headphones though which somebody translated what he was saying. The conference room is lovely. Here is a photo of it.


After the talk we were invited to go back to the classrooms to have an “aperitivo” with the students who are in the Italian Gastronomy and Tourism class and a couple of the students who took the program we are in and that are still around. The students prepared and brought the food and wine and with the mix of nationalities represented it was delicious. Apparently that type of potluck meal is very common among the students. It was a good way to get to know some of my new classmates and hear stories from students who have been around a while. Here’s a not very good picture because most of the food and all of the wine is gone. I kind of forgot about taking a photo until just before leaving.


We caught the last bus back to Bra at 7:15 PM.

One of the first things we did during orientation was to go around the class and introduce ourselves, tell where we were from, what our background was, and why we were here. The class is pretty diverse. I had difficulty hearing all of them speak but a general over view would be that there were people there from Brazil, Peru, Sweden, Italy, Canada, England, Germany, Netherlands, Colombia, Croatia and, of course, from the USA (Chicago, San Francisco x3, NYC, Boston, MN x2, New Jersey, and someone from the USA who’s been living in Romania. Our class has 25 students in it. I thought they said there was a 26th who would be coming on Monday, but when I did the count of people from my notes I counted 24. So maybe the 25th is coming Monday. Of those 25 there are four men and, let’s see, that would be 21 women. The backgrounds included marketing, law, philosophy, chefs (a few), anthropology, dietitian, communications, theater, management, international business, journalism, and others that I didn’t catch. I’ll try to paint a more complete picture as events unfold.

I returned pleased with how things started. I set up my computer so I could access my e-mail at school only to find I had mail. The instructor for our classes next week sent a syllabus with reading assignments and the outline of the course. It will last about a week at the end of which we have an exam, turn in a 4 to 5 page paper, and present our paper in class (about 15 minutes). A class will run from 9 to noon and then from 1 to 4. Hummm…this could be some work! We were told more about our week-long field trips. There will be four in Italy and I didn’t catch where except the first is Piemonte (the region we are in now). The other countries we will visit will be Spain and England. Most of my classmates don’t seem thrilled about England as it isn’t what pops into mind when you think “food.” But I’m sure it will be interesting.

Here’s my end of day photo and with that I’ll say, “Ciao!”