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Florence: Day 82

Today I took my ninth cooking class. A beautiful cooking facility opened in the new upstairs portion of the Mercato Centrale since we have been here. It is an extension of La Scuola di Cucina Lorenzo de’ Medici, which is a culinary school in Florence. I am so excited I got to take a class here. The facility was absolutely gorgeous! In addition to the beautiful, high-tech facility, the two other people that were signed up to take the class didn’t show up, so I ended up getting a private lesson from a chef/sommelier and a sous chef!

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The class was l`arte di abbinare il vino al cibo, or the art of pairing wine with food. Wine pairing is something I have never learned much about. I know generally how to pair wine with food, but can’t claim to have created masterful pairings in the past or understand why wines sometimes pair well and other times do not. To start, we simply tasted a prosciutto toscano paired with prosecco. So right away on the first thing we tried I learned something because I would have never thought prosecco would be a great pairing with prosciutto. Chef Gennaro Napolitano who taught the course is also a sommelier, so it was so fun talking to him about the process of tasting the food and the wine. This pairing of food worked for a couple reasons. First, the strength of smell of the prosciutto matched the strength of smell of the prosecco. If you have a very strong smelling dish of food, you want a strong smelling wine to match, otherwise the flavor of the wine will get lost (since smelling plays a large part in tasting). Second, the acidity of the prosecco balanced the richness of the meat. We first just tasted the prosciutto. Not only did I taste salt and a bit of spice, my mouth was coated with the richness from the fat and it dried my mouth a bit (I’ve never put that much thought into eating prosciutto before). The prosecco’s acidity helped create saliva, offsetting that richness. To prove the point, he had me take a bite of prosciutto and while still chewing, add a sip of the prosecco. It was incredible how the two neutralized each other while still producing a pleasant flavor. This was the perfect start to understand the basics of wine-pairing.

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Next, we started cooking. We made spaghetti with clams and zucchini in a white wine sauce. I am so excited to have learned this recipe because I plan to modify it slightly to recreate the delicious mixed seafood pastas I have tried while in Italy! Although the dish was also delicious as is. Once we completed cooking the dish, we sat down and tried the dish with the prosecco. Again, we sat and talked about what we were tasting, how it paired, etc. I definitely spent more time just sitting and talking in this class than any other, but the conversation was so valuable (and I was taking notes!). Although the pasta and the prosecco paired pretty well, it didn’t pair quite as well as the prosciutto. Again, I would have never guessed that outcome before taking this class.

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Next, we cooked a dish of beef medallions with an herb crust served over a bed of beet greens cooked with raisins and pine nuts. I’ve stated before that raisins and pine nuts are two ingredients I don’t really care for. Raisins specifically, I have never liked, even as a kid. MOM – I liked these raisins!! I didn’t just tolerate them in this dish, I LIKED them! I still didn’t care for the pine nuts, but I actually sought out the raisins as I ate the greens. They were very mild flavored, had been plumped in water before adding to the dish, and actually browned in the pan while we were cooking the greens. So this all transformed the taste of the raisins and they added a fantastic sweetness to the greens. The beef was incredible as well and the dish was dressed with a red wine reduction. We paired this dish with a Chianti Classico 2009 Reserve. Again, the strength of the aromas of the food and wine matched well. And the dryness of the wine balanced the richness of the beef and the greens. During the time I’ve been here, I thought I didn’t care much for Chianti because it is so dry. I now know it just needs to be paired with the right dish!

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To end the class, we tried a couple pairings with a dessert wine. The first was an Italian bleu cheese called maleghino. This pairing was INCREDIBLE. In fact, we had a bottle of dessert wine from Orvieto at home to drink before we left, so the day after taking this class I went to the market and bought maleghino to have at home. I’m not a big fan of bleu cheese. I don’t hate it; I can eat it. But I just don’t prefer it and will often avoid dishes containing any kind of bleu cheese or gorgonzola. I don’t know if that preference of mine will change overall, but I will likely crave this particular pairing. When pairing dessert wine, the rules change. Instead of offsetting richness with acidity, etc, you want to match sweet with sweet. The mold of the cheese was almost spicy, but the body of the cheese was sweet. When tasting the two together, they came together and created a new flavor that was greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s when you know you have found a fabulous pairing!

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Lastly, we had some cantucci with the dessert wine. This is a classic pairing that we have had before in Italy. This was just as enjoyable, though not very notable after the incredible cheese pairing.

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So I never forget the exact pairings, these are the three wines we tasted during this class. Overall, this class was fantastic and I really lucked out getting the individual attention of my own private lesson. It was an unforgettable experience!

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