Parma & Truffle Hunting - Days 12, 13, 14

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September 28th 2015
Published: June 19th 2017
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DAY 12 - Monday
Monday morning, John went to school with the students. Desserts. Not really a lot of new ground being broken, but interesting none the less. John left about halfway through, mostly because he couldn't deal with watching his students being such disrespectful, childish jerks. All of the shenanigans, all of the acting out. Too much, so back to the hotel to spend the day relaxing. Marleah was still not doing well, cramps and just feeling bad, so we didn't do much of anything until it was time to get dinner. One of the chefs at Barilla works at a Sardinian restaurant and invited the students to check it out so a group of us went. A couple from Denver who've taken lots of classes at Cook Street and 4 others joined us. The food wasn't remarkable but at least it was seasoned with salt! There was a strong, purple liquor that the chef brought out as a nightcap, Mirto. It tasted like Robitussin, thistles and peppercorns. Not an everyday kind of thing, but really weird and strong! It was used in a lot of the sauces on the plates too, a very odd counterpoint flavor. We had some difficulty in both languages getting our group order together, so we ended up with WAY too much food. Good wine, good conversation, weird booze, a fun night.

DAY 13 - Tuesday
Our group tour today is in the Piedmont region, northwest of Parma near the Alps.
The first adventure is truffle hunting in Alba. We met up with our guide for the day (who was a horrible guide and you could never hear her when she was talking) after driving for two and a half hours. The region is foggy, wet and sort of looks and feels like the Pacific NW. John studied here years ago and describes it as Italy's Transylvania. We arrive at the truffle factory, then hike down the road into a clearing at the edge of the woods to meet our trifulau (truffle hunter). He seems nice enough, no English but very chatty once he gets started. He has two dogs with him and proceeds to wander up a path while the dogs sniff out truffles from tree roots. It seems a little too easy. Half an hour of this and it's obvious that he's palming truffles from his jacket to give to the dogs and has already buried some in areas he keeps steering the dogs towards. Only a few of us seem to realize this as most of the students are cooing over the dogs as if that's the reason we were there. One student is digging in the dirt thinking she can locate truffles as easily as the staged circus in front of us. All of this left a bit of of a bad taste in our mouths, further exacerbated by the fact that the truffle hunter is inexplicably wearing an Oakland Raiders t-shirt. John thought that without his accent, he'd be just another redneck in a Raiders shirt. After the charade, we were treated to a tour of the truffle factory and a little lunch featuring the truffle items they have for sale in their shop. Unsurprisingly, that was the next thing we did, almost forced to shop the truffle store. The whole thing was really just a ploy to buy buy buy, but at least it's a desirable product. Lots of great stuff that's hard to get in the states, everyone spent a good chunk of money. Marleah realized that she doesn't really like truffles very much... On to a Torrone factory outside of Alba. The guide was gruff, the translator uninterested and the factory just, well, a factory. Tasty samples in abundance. Torrone is nougat, sold in soft or hard varieties. It's the little bits in Toblerone chocolate bars. Back on the bus, on to Alba. Alba is one of the main wine producing areas of Italy and the town center is still very much set up like a market town. The guide talked a bit about the town's history but really seemed interested in showing us two churches without any additional food or wine discussion. Marleah took some photos, John smoked cigarettes and we all just sort of waited the whole thing out. Long drive back to Parma, great scenery out the window. The villages along the route are all built onto protective hilltops, it all looks like a postcard. This was the tour that everyone was most excited about, but we felt it was the most lackluster. The 13 hour day was really just a very long shopping trip. A wine component would have been better, maybe. Or a nap.
After getting back to Parma, all we really want to do is go back to our room, get cozy and go to bed but we know that if we even sat down for a short time we'd regret it. We still need to eat dinner. We've been craving anything other than Italian, so we decided on a Middle Eastern restaurant just down the street. It was not as good as lots of places back home or in Germany (the land of AMAZING Middle Eastern food), but it was fantastic to get some real vegetables and flavors other than cured pork and cheese. Back to the hotel for chocolate and weird TV.
So tired, can't keep our eyes open.

DAY 14 - Wednesday
We are big time sleepyheads today!
John went to school for rice and grains day. It's been a little hard for John to be in someone else's kitchen with his students, watching them in most cases re-learn something he spends so much time teaching them. On the other hand, he's trying to remain objective and not focus on the lessons, just the whole environment. A good exercise in humility and patience.
Marleah slept in until 11 and didn't want to get out of bed. Yesterday was so long and over taxing, it would be ideal to rest all day but there's shopping to do. Most stores in Italy close at lunch for a siesta and then open back up in the late afternoon/evening. Although, we noticed that some of the stores close for siesta and then don't open back up again. Since our trip is almost over we need to get some shopping done and that means get out of bed and go to the stores before lunch. Marleah went to a store that sells only violet products and bought perfume, candies, soap and violet liqueur. Can't go home without buying some famous Parma violet scented goodies, especially because Marleah loves it so much.
John stopped by the gourmet store on his way back to the room after class today. He bought balsamic vinegar, mostarda (spicy pickled fruit), honey and some other small goodies for work.
After meeting back at the hotel we walked to Garibaldi Square for lunch. Not wanting to think too hard about food, we ate at the restaurant we went to when we first arrived in Parma. John had a gorgeous pizza with a beer and Marleah ate a big bowl of soup with tons of parmigiano cheese. The clouds rolled in while we were sitting there and it got very windy and cold. Should we walk all the way back to the room for warmer jackets or continue with our day? How about we continue, who wants to do more walking and back track???? Not us! Down "the fancy street" we stumbled across some antique stores which was exciting. We ended up in one that was filled floor to ceiling with wonderful things, we spent quite a bit of time in there and bought some gifts, vintage postcards and a couple little things for our house.
Christa texted us when we got back to the hotel to invite us to the German bar for drinks. We met up with her, Ashley and Fred for beer and pretzels with mustard. YUM!
Back to the hotel for recuperation and television.
We went out for sweet crepes for dinner. Again. It's really just a gelato place that has a crepe cart and we sit on a bench out front while we eat them.
It's not nutritious but it is delicious!

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