On the way back home to Nice (France) after spending the week in Italy, my travel companion turned to me and asked “Do we need to pick up groceries? Parma’s the next exit.” And so began the best one-stop “foodie spree” of my life. Of course, the three famous foods associated with Parma are Parmesan cheese, prosciutto (flavorful cured ham), and handmade pasta (specifically tortellini, cappelletti and anolini). However, Parma is also home to fantastic espresso, tantalizing pastries, and first-rate eateries.
With so many delights to choose from, we had to figure out where to begin. First things first; it’s all about the cheese. While speaking with the owner of a local cheese shop (in a combination of broken English, French and Italian), I learned that Parmesan cheese can take on different flavors depending on whether it was produced in the winter, spring or summer. Winter cheeses tend to have a deeper and earthier flavor than their vernal cousins, which are typically lighter. Parmigiano reggiano (the official cheese of Parma) is typically aged between 24-36 months to acquire the distinctive flavor savored by foodies around the world.
I also learned that the cheese and pork industries in Parma are directly linked; the pigs of Parma drink the good whey that is drained from the curds during cheese production. No wonder that ham tastes so good! When it comes to ham in Parma, there are many choices. Culatello is cured, boneless ham produced from the tastiest muscles, the rounds (the top and bottom round of the pig’s hind leg). The piece of meat next to the round is used to make fiocchetto. Authentic Parmesan pancetta (made from pork belly) is made with red wine and garlic, a divine flavor combination.
But wait! There’s more goodness to be had. Parma is home to some of the best tasting pastries in Italy. You must try cornetti, the regional specialty that is often eaten at breakfast. Cornetti are small pastries filled with fruit preserves. The most common flavor is apricot, but Pasticceria Torino 61 Strada Garibaldi Giuseppe, serves up a host of tempting flavors such as peach, strawberry, black cherry and blood orange. Pair them with a cup of authentic regional espresso and you’re set for the morning.
If you’re looking for a nice dinner out in Parma, La Greppia 39/A Strada Garibaldi will not disappoint. The gorgeous interior and impeccable details (starched linen tablecloths, sparkling wine glasses) are rivaled only by La Greppia’s transcendent cuisine. The restaurant also appeals to my feminist streak; I learned (after eating here) that Chef Paola Cavazzini only hires women to work in her kitchen. In terms of quality, service and value, it doesn’t get much better than this Parmesan gem.