Italy molds culinary minds

Student Dan Bryant shows off appetizers at a Parma Ham factory outside the city of Parma in northern Italy.

Imagine walking through one of Italy’s vineyards and tasting its finest wines.

This is one of the many memories Kim Cousino had when she went on a 10-day "Taste of Italy" tour this past May.

It was the trip of a lifetime for Cousino when she and her husband joined with 17 culinary arts students from Monroe County Community College. Journalism professor Dan Shaw and Culinary Arts professor Chef Kevin Thomas led the trip.

"I would like to live there," Cousino said.

Students learned about the country’s cuisine and culture.

Throughout the world, Italy is known for its many wines. It is the choice of drink at the dinner table and often used in Italian cooking.

Students learned about how wine is made and stored when they toured the Vino de Banca — the wine bank in Bra, Italy.

Professor Dan Shaw said the vault features wines from every region in the country.

After the touring the site, the group sampled some of its finest selections. Italy’s legal drinking age is 18.

While visiting the Salcheto winery at Montepulciano, Theresa Howell tried a rare wine called snow wine. Hence the name, the grapes are plucked frozen in the wintertime.

"It has a nice, mellow taste. The after effects were almost like butter," the culinary arts graduate said.

Students not only tried different kinds of wines, but they also received a tour and a taste of how pasta is made.

In a restaurant in Bologna, a 77- year old cook named "Louisa," folded ravioli and cut linguini— thin spaghetti. Watching "Louisa" rolling out the dough to make the linguini impressed Cousino.

"She picks it up, drops it, and it becomes her nest," Cousino said.

Pasta is a staple in the Italian "pranzo." Served in midday, it is presented in several courses.

However, according to Professor Dan Shaw, the best part comes before the meal.

"Italians are really good at hors de oeuvres," he said.

Among his favorite appetizers is a piece of bread topped with prosciutto—a dry-cured ham served in paper-thin slices.

Chef Kevin Thomas said most of the food they ate was fresh and locally prepared.

In Italy, food comes with a philosophy. Italian Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food Movement. He believed that food should be grown on small-scale farms, not processed in factories. When you eat these foods, they should be enjoyed in every bite, he said.

"Our country needs to get back to that," Thomas said.

Students toured a slow food farm in the hilly and green Piedmont region.

While there, Howell said she learned about raising cattle and making cheese.

The farm tour ended with a luncheon in one of their restaurants. They dined on veal with red wine sauce and had malted chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate center for dessert.

"That afternoon was just so surreal," the Flat-Rock resident said.

The time for tasting fresh wines and foods are over. Now, Chef Thomas wants to see the Slow Food Movement come to Monroe by promoting local farms and incorporating their produce into the culinary arts classes.

Returning home, Cousino tries to find a balance in her work and home life.

After observing the Italians’ easygoing lifestyle, she wants to take one day and one bite at a time.

Shaw said Italy’s relaxed pace of life has had an influence on him, too, as he is learning how to slow down and appreciate his food.

"I have learned how to be a happier person," he said.