Does it Taste Good Because it Looks Good ?

 

 

Disclaimer: Ok, per my last post, I visited the Emilia Romagna region in Italy (among other cities), just to eat. So you’re going to hear a lot about it, until you can’t stand it anymore, and you’ll have to go for yourself. And it will totally be worth it, especially if you value food as much as I do.

During my time there, I was happy to find some unexpected, yet delicious desserts, particularly when it came to the presentation. Of course, the flavors of the desserts were familiar, but I was often surprised by the presentation. It’s the little things that get me going. Let’s talk about fun plated desserts in Italy, and whether it’s all in the perception (presentation) or reality (taste).

On our first evening, we ordered tiramisu, a very traditional dessert, at Savini in Milan. What wasn’t traditional however, was the the flower bouquet we received.

For starters, the contrast of a brown dessert on a matte black plate was not only atypical but also so exciting. I was expecting the generic hotel white plate. But the plating made the dessert feel exotic, before even tasting it. Next, the cream was applied via pipping, rather than layered, or should I say splattered, as I am accustomed to. The style really highlighted each ingredient so that I could visually appreciate each one, but once I stuck a spoon in it, all of the ingredients married well to the taste.

I particularly liked the thin chocolate topping, shaped like cheese with perfectly round holes punched in. But the cherry on top were the gold flakes at the center, for a true contrast on the dark dessert, and the even darker background. Very chic and appropriate for Milan.

The dessert in of itself would be a 6/10 believe it or not, nothing to write home about (though I am writing), but the visual effects gave it an 8. I think there was too much cocoa powder, which made me feel like I was choking, and I kept reaching for the water. Also, the cream was carefully applied, but it wasn’t so flavorful. Sorry.

But overall, it tasted good because it looked good. Perception is reality.

 

Speaking of flowers, how about gelato flowers? Not only in Milan, but also in Florence and Bologna, I was happy to get gelato, more so for how cute it looked than how good it was.

My most memorable scoop was also, just ok, but the fact that each flavor resembled a petal, made me want to save the ice cream, rather than eat it. Well, only for a quick second. Of course, this was Italy, so it was still delicious, but again, the presentation curved the taste grade from a 5 to a 7.

A good presentation can sometimes sway  my judgement; however,  an overly simple presentation can make me underestimate a good dish. One of my favorite desserts of the trip was in the heart of Emilia Romagna, Bologna to be exact. It was at Osteria Bottega, which was off the beaten path, but the place was packed!

We opted for a wine and cream flavored pear. Sounded totally weird, but that’s exactly what it was: a whole pear, cooked in a wine reduction, with spices, then plated over a generous bed of Italian pastry cream. Overly simple. The cream of the area is full of sugar and egg yolk, so it was of strong yellow tone, to bring out the red of the whole pear, chilling on top. The dish looked rather rustic, yet bold, but it smelled so good, that it was also inviting.

Very simple, but maybe one of the best things I ate on this trip. It was rich, sweet, and spicy, while also playing with a mix of temperatures, as the pear was warm. This time, the fun plating was maybe a 7, but the dessert was a whopping 9. Yet, it was the simplicity of the presentation which also blew me away. So unexpectedly good. I was pleasantly surprised.

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Credit: The Guardian- Tanya Gold

I saved the best for last, with one of our desserts at Osteria Francescana in Modena. It was Bottura’s famous “Oops, I dropped the lemon tart”. That dish is famous because allegedly, the Chef had dropped a tart, and found a creative way to plate a broken dessert.

The plating in this case absolutely blew me away because the plate in of itself looked broken, yet it wasn’t. the bumps were visible and clear to the touch, yet were matte and safe of course. It was so much more than a gastronomic experience.

The lemon in the tart was more yellow in color than I was accustomed to, but it made it fun, especially as the sauce was splattered across the plate. The crust was broken and reassembled carefully, with crumbs sprinkled around the plate.

When I finally built the courage to taste it, I realized that the portion was way too small. It was the right balance of sweet, sour, and crunch. I was scrapping the plate, and had to quickly compose myself due the loud noise my spoon created, against the bumpy plate. But again, the plating was the star at a 10, and the dessert at an 8, for a average score of a 9.

So a fun plated dessert definitely sets the stage in a positive way, but appearances can be deceiving, like in the case of the tiramisu. Perception can also be deceiving when the plating isn’t so special, but don’t be fooled by the flavors hiding behind them. Bottom line, it can taste better because it looks better, but take it with a grain of salt.

 

My Love Affair with Cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano

You already know that I love cheese, but as of April, it got a little bit more serious.

My cousin and I took a trip to the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, which is the land of Lambrusco wine, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, mortadella, bolognese sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to name a few.

As the geek that I am, I made sure to include a tour of a Parmigiano cheese factory. And no, they did not pay me to share the link, but that’s how good it was. It was so cool! So much so, that I’m still nibbling on the cheese I brought home with me, as I type this up. Don’t worry I stocked up.

First and foremost, it’s not called parmesan, and only cheese produced from the makers within the region approved by the consortium, can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are all made under strict guidelines, inspected and stamped. It must be DOP approved, which means protected designation of origin.

Now enough with the lesson.

We got to see the milk boil, thicken, cut, shaped and packed into rolls. So geeky yet so fun to watch! Also, I now understand why there is writing on the rind. They use a rubber film, imprinted with the name and the DOP license number to show that it’s authentic.

My favorite was seeing the salting process. They literally put the rolls in a bath of salt water for dayssssssss. I had the chance to taste the water it was bathing in, and it was salty enough to give me high blood pressure on the spot. But that’s ok, that’s what makes it taste so good.

Next, we got to visit the room where the aging takes place, and there was more cheese in the room than people. And you know how I feel about being overwhelmed by food? I was smiling from ear to ear! Maybe that’s how shopaholics feel when they are overwhelmed by clothes at their favorite stores? I wouldn’t know.

The tour got more real when we had the chance to go to the stables, and meet the cows who produced the milk. It doesn’t get more farm to table than that. It also made me happy that the cows and their young were being treated well, fed natural grass, and allowed to go running in the field after.

At the end of the tour, I was able to purchase a few chunks to take home for family and friends. Although, I ran through my 48 month aged piece in 2 weeks, and currently snacking on the 24 month aged cheese I got my grandmother

And the highlight of the trip, was visiting Osteria Francescana by Massimo Bottura in Modena. His restaurant is rated #2 in the world, and I totally understand why. It’s based in a region with amazing ingredients, and they aren’t afraid to use them in a creative way.

My favorite memory was a dish strictly made of Parmigiano called “Five ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano in different textures and temperatures”, where all of my senses were engaged.

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Fives Ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano
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Bio Reggiani Dairy

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The plate began with a creamy sauce of Parmigiano, which I seriously wanted to lick off, as well as two soft textured cheeses similar to a ricotta, one very close to a souffle. It’s wrong of me to use the word ricotta, but I am trying to give you some imagery here, so bare with me. Next there was a foam like texture, and the final piece was a galette or crunchy cracker, as the cherry on top.

Side step- the galette would make for a great snack when I’m crashing at 3pm at work.

Each of these five stages was made of pure cheese, of different ages, and the dish was by far my favorite at Francesca. Totally worth the 4am wake up call, several months in advance, for the reservation alone. It also helped that we had passed Cheese 101 only a day  before, to give a shit about the complexity of the dish.

The entire experience at Francescana was too good to be true, and more to come on that later.

Now that I’m back home, I made cacio e pepe pasta with plain elbow macaroni, with a generous portion of the 48 month aged Parmigiano. It was so good, that I scraped the pan, and licked the leftover cheese on the spoon I cooked it with. We also made mac and cheese, and it was so much better than usual!

I have realized that Parmigiano-Reggiano is officially my magic potion. Though realistically it could also be nostalgia after eating it everyday for a week back in April. I have to check myself sometimes, sorry.

I promise however, that it was very very good.

But the moral of the story is that, we tend to  undervalue Parmigiano and have been seriously missing out. Next time you go to pick up cheese at the store, don’t be afraid to pick up Parmigiano-Reggiano and eat it alone, or with crackers. It doesn’t have to be something to top your pasta with, as long as it’s the real DOP deal.

But also, don’t buy cheese which is just called “parmesan” because that means it’s not as good and that you’re honestly selling yourself short. And we are not in the business of living a partly fulfilling life! Even worst, never buy boxed cheese from the counter, to top your pasta with because let’s face it, it’s not even cheese.

The experience opened up my eyes to the value of cheese, to the importance of proper sourcing, and to the endless possibilities in transforming cheese. It made me fall in love with cheese all over again.

 

I’m Back!

It’s been nearly three years since I have posted anything on here. Three years!

I could start by explaining, complaining, and apologizing, but they would all be fake excuses. Instead, let’s start by fixing it through new writing.

So, a lot has changed since I last wrote on here, and the purpose has slightly shifted. No worries, food will always be the center of it all. To be honest, food seems to be the center of my life. I mean, it IS the center of my life, but I had to say “seems” because I realize how crazy it sounds, and I also wouldn’t want my partner to feel that I’m even more strange than he thinks I am.

So back to the point, the change is that now, we will not be focusing on the Miami area, but rather expanding to a global reach. PS, I have relocated to Haiti, and will be sure to showcase my Caribbean voice, whether it be around here, or across the world

I’ll be talking about all the good food I ate, and all the bad experiences as well. I mean, even great restaurants have dishes that aren’t so good.

To respect the title of this blog, “Tasting it Like it Is”, I will be honest. And feel free to challenge me if I seem over zealous. I will say it’s good, when it is. And I will say it sucks when it needs work. No B.S.

I am not writing what people expect me to write or ask me to write. My writing may include food critiquing, or experiences from a food class, or a visit of a food factory, or just random thoughts like how much I love butter. You know, the usual.

Let’s go!