As Alexandro explained, we would tour a factory to watch them make parmigiano reggiano cheese, then see where balsamic vinegar is made, a prosciutto factory and then a "light" lunch.
The parmigiano reggiano factory was impressive, and a much smaller set up than I expected. We saw them take straight milk and cream and make soft cheese of it in under an hour with nothing more than whey, beaters and some wooden paddles, and we then went into their warehouse where there was over $2 million in cheese stored.
We then tasted both old (aged) and new parmigiano reggiano, and were given the opportunity to buy some. I didn't, but Ginny now has the challenge of keeping a (HUGE!) chunk of cheese refrigerated for the rest of our trip. She got it for Katie, but I think she's now decided that Katie only gets half.
After that, we went to see where Balsamic Vinegar is made. There, we learned that the balsamic vinegar that we know at home is nothing like what they use here. There are different varieties and qualities here, but the best is made by only a few families. And oddly enough, it's something that takes so long to make and costs so much, it's almost impossible to make a profit with it. Instead, they do it as a hobby. They have only a few sets of barrels of it (it takes 5-7 barrels - called batteries - for each batch) and have to let it sit for 25+ years. Even then, they are only allowed to "harvest" a litre a year, and then only if the consortium agrees. If the consortium does agree, it keeps 1/10 of it. No wonder 100ml of the stuff costs 40 Euros.
After visiting the batteries, we then got to sample different grades of balsamic - grocery store, 25 year old, and 40 years old. Then, we had some 19 year old balsamic (that hasn't been approved by the consortium) drizzled on ricotta that had been made at the previous location and finally some balsamic jelly on top of vanilla gelato. Yum.
I'm sure you can imagine that I wasn't very excited about the next stop, a factory where they make prosciutto. They store 22 000 pig legs there, so it wasn't my favourite part of the trip, but it could have been a lot worse. I mostly stood to the back and waited for it to be over.
They had samples of prosciutto that had aged for various numbers of years after that, but I didn't have the stomach for it. Ginny said it was melt in your mouth good.
After that, the group of 12 of us drove out to a little bar and went in for what they'd been calling a light lunch.
That was the understatement of the decade. We started with deep fried bread, focaccia, white Italian bread and mortadella... I hadn't caught on yet, so I didn't take a picture of that.
This was all that was left before I thought to pull out my camera.
The next round was tortellini in meat sauce. It was very good, but don't be deceived by the portion size. Anybody who finished their's right away got a second helping. Anybody not guarding their plate got a second helping. At one point, I looked away and before I realized it, I had a full plate again.
Pasatelli ("pasta" made with bread dough) with prosciutto... a little salty, but Alexandro still managed to sneak more onto my plate.
Fettuccine with porcini mushrooms... my favourite of them all. Although, but that point, I was a few shades beyond stuffed.
Notice that the serving sizes were getting bigger??? He wasn't even pretending to keep things in moderation anymore.
Oh my God, those were just the starters. The main meal of roasted pork, potatoes and salad was served next. And then - dammit - he slapped another piece of pork on my plate before I could stab him with my fork.
I couldn't finish it.
Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel... dessert. The picture below was the shared tray. We all got a minimum of two pieces, which were a couple of bites each. It was a cakey-cookie, with layers of blackberry or nutella on top.
At last - Hallalujh - it was over. Cappuccino was served, we all let fly with a collective belch (or at least we felt like it) and then we were off.
My faith in the Italian food industry was restored. And exceeded.
(Needless to say, we skipped dinner.)