Sunday, October 14, 2007

Falling for Autumn (and new cheeses!)

Autumn is not my favorite season in Italy. I prefer summer, sometimes spring, but autumn, no. It's kind of sad, really, since it is my favorite season in the states. In fact, it's a season I just love in Indiana, with the beauty of the changing colors of the leaves all around--in the middle of the city and in the hills further south. I love apple orchards that open their doors with fresh apple cider and caramel apples. I love the start of the football season. I love bonfires and hayrides, even if it's been years since I've done either of those things. I love the holidays, my favorite being Thanksgiving. The feeling of being around family, sitting down together to enjoy the flavors of the season. And I love the memories I have from autumns past. It's a wonderful season.

My autumns in Italy have always been a bit of a disappointment. Besides the obvious lack of American football, hayrides and bonfires, and holidays like Thanksgiving, autumn in Italy tends to be a rainy, foggy season, and the changing colors of the leaves tend to be mostly an ugly dark brown, no beautiful yellows or oranges or reds. Part of it must be the area we live in--I've seen beautiful autumn leaves in areas of Lombardia, and we've even driven around to find some of the mountains near us whose trees put on a little show--but I miss it just the same.

And so, walking the other day through the city centre after finishing work in late afternoon, I found myself all of the sudden enjoying the crisp air, the way the sky was just slightly tinted pink, ready for sunset, and the way the people were bustling through town, still daytime, but getting ready to change over to night. This was a time of day that I had always enjoyed--the hour before an early sunset--and it seemed to be so much better due to the way the air wasn't overly hot and stale, like summertime might be, but was just the right balance of cool. Rummaging through my bag of freshly bought chocolates from my favorite little Macerata chocolate maker, Marangoni, I was happy to be in October, in Macerata. I needed to stop comparing beautiful autumn in the states and this autumn in Italy. Sometimes good comes in various shapes and sizes.

And, as I munched away in my new good mood about autumn, I decided to head over to the newly reopened fancy grocery store Il Contadino, that just happened to be on this side of town. What a good idea that was.

The old grocer's had been one of those finds, you know? It was one of those places that you might not recognize as special, but once you got inside, it was clear that they had a great selection of foods and many hard to find items as well. Walking in this time, however, it was like discovering where the party was. This place was beautiful inside--completely rearranged (I couldn't find out how to enter, because they had changed around the door and put a fancy new one in!) and repainted, with a newly designed interior, all burgundies and brick. While the selection of vegetables seemed about the same as normal, and the local dishes were all there, just like before, the real surprise was the new cheese counter.

It was a cheese-lover's mecca. It spanned a whole wall, and there were cheeses piled up that I had never heard of before, much less seen. There were cheeses bundled in hay, cheeses made with wine, French cheeses that you wanted to buy just so you could hear how in the world the name was pronounced. I quickly took a number and found myself behind a man who was ordering loudly and pointing out cheeses here and there, sampling every once in a while. A geniune "cheese whiz" (sorry, I had to use that pun!). As he ordered hunks of cheese that I had never heard of, I payed attention, and at one point even asked him about some of the cheeses he was buying. When he finally finished his long order, it was my turn. I picked out a gorgonzola piccante that looked yummy (I prefer the firm gorgonzola to the soft stuff), a couple other things and, remembering one of the cheeses the man before me had chosen, I pointed at the big round of Castelmagno from the Piedmont region. I must've looked skeptical, since the woman taking my order assured me it was a good bet as she cut me a hunk.



It turns out, she was absolutely right. The cheese was delicious, the most unusual blend of crumbly and soft, and a bit of a chameleon of a cheese, seeing as it can sometimes be considered a blue. While it's definitely a strong cheese, I think even people who dislike "smelly" cheeses could really enjoy this one--it's got such a unique flavor to it. It reminded Antonello and me of the California cheese "Humbolt Fog."

Anyway, I'm so excited about new cheeses to try that I'm sure I'll be back there soon. I still have a bit more Castelmagno to enjoy, though, so I'm going to savor it while I can.

Happy Autumn!

-Jackie

7 Comments:

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Cynthia Rae said...

I LOVE the fall! You should try to make it up this way. It feels like fall here, even if it isn't just like back home, it is close.

What I love about the fall in Italy:

-Chestnut vendors roasting nuts on the street.

- The smell of burning logs in a distant fire place.

 
At 5:34 PM, Blogger Paul said...

that looks yummy!

 
At 9:13 PM, Blogger rowena said...

{giggle} - Being that I come from a summer-all-year-long tropical island, I just can't get over any of the other 3 seasons within the year. I always trip out over the change in temp and colors, but what really gets me are...haha, you ready?...are the celebrations that come with it! Italy RULES for celebrating seasons, it's like one big party broken up in 4 parts. Now if they had that in Hawaii I would never have left!

 
At 2:47 AM, Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

Looks and sounds delicious, Bella! I can't wait to check out the new shop. Yum!

 
At 2:51 AM, Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

Oh, I forgot! While there may be a general lack of American football in Italia, the "Parma Panthers" are going gang busters with John Grisham's new book featuring the team: http://www.panthers.it/ Forza Parma!

 
At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish you were here raking leaves with me in the back yard. Since I am off work I have been raking the norway maple leaves daily. Still only half the leaves are gone. They keep dropping (beautiful they are).

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

cyndi and rowena: okay you are both right--there ARE wonderful things about fall in Italy! I guess I'm so used to doing our annual caving course during this time that I skip all of the sagre that I should be attending! :) I'll try to appreciate fall more! :)

cyndi: might take you up on that invite to visit romagna! we were there last year around this time, and i remember that it WAS beautiful--almost like Indiana.

rowena, how did i guess that you loved the festivals? why, that's not like you at ALL ;) !

corrie: the panthers book sounds neat. grisham is becoming a real Italy lover!

dad: i wish i could be there too to see the leaves and have autumn back home. I miss you guys!

 

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