Friday 1 June 2018

Something not to be missed in Bologna is this statue of a famous magician of the 18thcentury. Deceptivo Conjuroli’s best known illusion was to produce a head balancing pigeon from his apparently empty top hat.

Not more food

Believe it or not, we saddled up for another food tour before we’d recovered from the last one. There was method in our madness, however. Because we were trying to get from Bologna to Modena not on the train (too many cases to manage), we found a food tour that would pick us up in Bologna, take us on a challenging gastronomic journey, whiz us out to the Ferrari factory and drop us within an economically agreeable cab ride to Modena.

We joined an affable group of 14 chompers on a swanky Mercedes bus. The chompee, on this occasion, had a clear voice and very pleasant manner. She’d planned experiences in boutique production of parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar. Now all these products are available from the supermarket at competitive prices, but the chompee positively declared them fake – like news about Donald Trump. The genuine articles take time, are strictly quality controlled and are mostly in the hands of small family businesses that are dedicated to traditions and methods refined over generations. Consequently, what they offer tastes entirely different to the commercial stuff – and are priced accordingly.

At the parmesan cheese factory, we were told that the production of the cheese must begin within two hours of the cow being milked – which happens twice a day and produces about 25 litres of milk per cow. Because the cows are not religious or members of trade unions, they don’t take weekends off. Therefore, cheese making is continuous. The cows don’t wander around in paddocks like they do in Australia either, but live a quiet barn life and feed on the best quality echo-friendly hay. The cheese has to be aged, tested and approved before it can be sold as branded first quality. My favourite was 24 months old but some connoisseurs like them much older, with an eyebrow raising bite in the finish.

A tradition in this part of the world is that when you give birth to a daughter you fill at least five wooden barrels with raw balsamic vinegar as a gift to her. By the time she gets married the vinegar will have matured (it takes a minimum of 12 years) and will provide her own future family with what is regarded as medicine. Boni, the producer we visited, was run by a fourth -generation son who had stock of balsamic vinegar going back 150 years. You could buy a 100 ml bottle of this for 500 Euros – putting it on the same footing as rare wine. And like wine, vinegar comes from grape juice – in balsamic’s case, boiled for 12 hours.  Young Mr Boni said that the processes were so different that he would rather top himself than produce wine. We did a tasting of some old vinegar that was simply superb. It led us to buy a 100 ml bottle of 30-year-old balsamic for 60 euros – cheap if it cures the lingering cough we picked up on the FAB. We plan to take a teaspoon full each night and await developments – including accelerated beard growth. I hope Michelle doesn’t grow a beard.

All vinegared up, we went to the Ferrari factory in Maranello, just out of Modena. They won’t let the curious in to see the production line but there are plenty of other compensations. The factory employs about 3400 people and delivers 840 new cars a year – all made to order after a waiting period of one to two years. There is a test track next to the now expanding factory buildings and you can buy yourself a test drive accompanied by a works driver  (who I assume has an engine-off switch hidden under the dashboard) in a new Ferrari for a substantial outlay. Since I hadn’t brought my international drivers’ licence with me (I don’t actually have one) I was not allowed to drive one of these gorgeous machines, but for 100 euros a works  driver would undertake to scare the daylights out of me for fifteen minutes. I declined their kind offer and went to look over the museum instead, where iconic Ferrari

models were lined up in an awesome exhibition. One room was devoted to Ferrari race cars that had competed in every Formula One series since its inception and had won more races than any other make. The company founder, Enzo Ferrari, only made and sold sports cars to fund his racing – and that still seems to drive the company. Enzo was a cranky old bugger, with a short fuse and given to a good shout-off. He exercised his celebrity by refusing to visit other celebrities; they had to come to him. And they did.

While we associate red with Ferrari, its symbolic colour is actually yellow (see the prancing horse badge). It was incorrectly allocated red by the organisers of the first F1race and has stuck with it ever since.One of the sad moments was seeing the race car in which Michael Schumacher won his last F1. He was one of the greats.

If you have the money and the inclination, you can buy a superseded Ferrari race car, store it at the factory, where it is kept in excellent condition, and pop out to take it for a spin around the test track when the spirit moves you. I’ve added that to my bucket list – near the bottom.

If you are a common Ferrari employee you’re not permitted to order a new sports car. They are for external customers only – who have to wait anyway, poor things.  FI race drivers are allowed to buy a new Ferrari, but have to pay full rack rate.

Below: one guy in our group of chompers paid to take this convertible for a test drive and peed himself.


Hotel toaster review

You will notice that there is no picture of the Modena Best Western Hotel toaster. That’s because it doesn’t have one. The tall, always-smiling waiter told me the story at breakfast:

“We did have a toaster, but the guests kept leaving bread in it which set off the fire alarm many times. Then one day as I am peddling my bicycle to work, I see a toaster flying through the air. The owner of the hotel had lost his temper, grabbed it, and threw it out through the window.”

As Derek Breadchamber remarked in his definitive 2016 book Duties of a Successful Toast Captaina toaster is no better than the toast captain in charge of it. Toast smoke is regrettable, but fire is unforgiveable, and a careless toast captain should be sacked or at least busted down to dish pig.