Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Italian Lessons in Boston's North End

Salumeria Italiana on Richmond Street Open in Boston's North End for 40 Years

Walk the streets of Boston's North End and you'll find yourself thinking you're in Italy as you pop into the tiny shops specializing in cured meats, pastas, olive oils, breads,cheeses and all of the ingredients needed to cook authentic Italian meals including the Italian wines to go with them.

On a recent trip to Boston I joined a group of fellow foodies for an afternoon adventure led by Jim Becker of Food Tours of Boston. Jim knows the North End! At each stop he greeted the shop owners by name and told us the stories of how the family owned businesses began. It was a crash course in getting to know the neighborhood and nuances of Italian culinary habits with samples along the way. First stop was V.Cirace & Son on North Street ( now run by son and daughter Jeffrey and Lisa Cirace), a treasure trove of Italian wines from aperitivo to digestivo!

Jim's lesson in Italian libations included a primer on digestive health, "Italians don't like to complain of "agita" after a big meal. So they have a long tradition of sipping 'digestivo' after-dinner drinks that settle the stomach." They are often anise based or include bitter herbal concoctions. From grappa to aperola to lemoncello to averna ...seems there are almost as many types of digestivi as there are shapes of pasta! We samples a lovely lemoncello from the Amalfi coast of Italy called Sogna de Sorrento. It was not too sweet and very lemony.

Do You Know Balsamic Basics??

Jim Becker, guide with Food Tours of Boston, poses carefully with a pricey bottle of aged balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. The red cap indicates it's been aged more than 12 years, the minimum number of years to be designated "aceto balsamico."

The Older the Better

There are lots of "balsamic" vinegars on the market. If they are inexensive chances are they are a mix of some balsamic and mostly red wine vinegar. OK..but not the real deal. The Reggio Emilia region of Italy designates the different ages of their balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia) by label color. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label that the vinegar has aged for at least 18 years and a gold label that designates the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.
The Modena region uses a different system to indicate the age of their balsamic vinegars (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena). A cream cap means the vinegar has aged for at least 12 years and a golden cap bearing the designation extravecchio shows the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more. Some of those bottles can be priced over one thousand dollars! A little drop will be enough to add power to a drizzle of olive oil on your salad.

One if By Land, Two if By Sea

You can take the Water Taxi to tour Boston Harbor. This stop next to the Fairmont Hotel, Battery Wharf is steps away from Boston's North End and right next to the Coast Guard station. And even if you forget to pack your walking/running shoes not to worry if you're a Fairmont guest. ( Or maybe you just didn't want to check an extra bag for your fitness gear!)

The Fairmont Fit program lends guests activewear and shoes to use in the hotel's spacious fitness center. Or you can hit the Harbor Walk and do your cardio along the waterfront or up and down the streets of the quaint North End. The aromas of bread baking, rosemary, basil and garlic wafting from restaurants along the way will inspire you to walk a bit faster so you can return in time for lunch!

Compare your Adidas borrowed from Fairmont Hotel's Fairmont Fit program with the Boston Celtic's Legend Larry Bird's Basketball Shoes. Look for this bronze plaque honoring the Bird in Quincy Market.

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