We start the day with a quick (very quick) drive to of a cheese-producing family, rushes me off to visit
My journey begins in northern Italy’s ancient
Emilia-Romagna region. Dubbed “Italy’s food basket,” this scenic area is home to many of the country’s most renowned gourmet treasures, including
thick, intensely sweet-flavored balsamic vinegar.
My gregarious host, Cesare Mazzetti, reports his
family has been perfecting the art of making aceto
balsamico (balsamic vinegar) for several generations. Today their company, Acetum, is the largest
manufacturer of aceto balsamico di Modena (
balsamic vinegar of Modena) in the world, and the
maker of Costco’s luscious Kirkland Signature™
Italian workers prepare a
day’s batch of Parmigiano
Reggiano, one of the country’s most prized cheeses.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
Acetum’s acetaia (balsamic vinegar factory). I’m ren- a caseificio (cheese house). The day’s batch of cheese
dered speechless by the Cadillac-size wooden barrels is about to be made.
filled with aging balsamico. Cesare points out Costco’s Artisans under the tutelage of the maestro
section. I can’t help but press my hand on each. casaro (master cheese maker) are busily hand-stir-
Costco’s Kirkland Signature Balsamic Vinegar ring copper-lined vats of hot milk. Once cooked, the
of Modena is made the deliberate, Old precious curd is captured in cloth and placed in
World way. At harvest, local shaping molds. At night a plastic band is
grapes, mostly sweet added that imprints on the rind the
Trebbiano, are gently famous “PARMIGIANO REGGIANO” and
pressed to yield their “D.O.P.” (Denominazione d’Origine
juice. This unfer- Protetta, or Denomination of
mented liquid, called Protected Origin) letters
must, is then cooked of authenticity.
into syrup, poured Attilio’s forte centers
into wooden casks to on the two-year aging
age and annually process. We visit one of his
blended with older (up to 18 years) company’s many cheese
balsamicos and pure Italian red wine warehouses. It is filled to
vinegar. When the correct depth and the rafters with 150,000 gor-complexity of flavoring is reached, the geous rounds of naturally
liquid gold is bottled as Costco’s own. aging Parmigiano Reggiano—
We dine in Modena with members of many of which, when ripe,
the local balsamic vinegar consortium, savor- are Costco bound.
ing prosciutto and wedges of pears dotted Stored wheels are
with balsamico and mustard jam, tartufo (truffle) turned and scruti-pasta, local wines, wild greens drizzled with balsam- nized periodically and
ico and roasted chestnuts. The consortio members inspected by inde-are fierce defenders of tradition and warn that the pendent testers from
best proof of authenticity is to look for a code that the Consortium of
includes the producer letters API and a licensing Parmigiano Reggiano. I
number followed by MO for Modena on the label. watch as this master pulls
Costco’s labels are marked “API 28/MO.” Basalmicos out rounds and taps them with a
without such a designation are mere imitations. mallet to ascertain uniformity and matura-I say my goodbyes knowing we are all the richer tion. His graceful movements remind me of an
for this culinary treasure. accomplished musical conductor.
The samples I’m offered melt in my mouth.
On to Parma—land of Parmigiano Reggiano, October 17-18
prosciutto di Parma, culatello (my favorite cured My next days are spent in the Tuscan country-pork) and the glorious music of Giuseppe Verdi. side—a place of medieval castles, walled cities, culti-
■ Balsamic Vinegar of
Modena: 1 liter, under $10
Extra Virgin Olive Oil from
Tuscany, 2005 Harvest:
1 liter, under $11
■ Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
2-liter pack, under $23
■ Parmigiano Reggiano:
under $10 per pound
Also look for Grana Padano
(aged 18 months) cheese.
■ Garofalo Pasta (select
☛ Penne Ziti Rigate,
6-pack of 500 gram bags,
net weight 6. 6 pounds,
☛ Variety Pack, 6-pack of
500 gram bags ( 2 fusilli,
2 radiatori, 2 farfalle),
net weight 6. 6 pounds,
☛ Spaghetti, 8-pack of 500
gram bags, net weight 8. 8
pounds, under $7
Dairy cows don’t take Sunday off, which is why vated vineyards and armies of olive trees.
I find myself up with the roosters visiting It’s the start of the 2005 Tuscan olive harvest, and
Pongennaro, one of the dairies for Costco’s I’m participating in the ancient ritual of brucatura,
Parmigiano Reggiano. I’m stunned to discover that hand-combing the ancient olive trees of their fruit.
one 80- to 85-pound wheel of Parmigiano I’m told these small Tuscan olives pack an extra
Reggiano, with its distinctive honey yellow coloring wallop of flavor and aroma. This is why the olio
and nutty bite, requires the milk of 24 cows. verde (green-colored, fruity olive oil) pressed from
Attilio Zanetti, the eldest of the fourth generation them is so highly prized. Within minutes, my hands
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