What an extraordinary day we had at Cibus, Italy’s huge agrifood fair that is held in Parma every two years. The hubbub of happy humans conversing, tasting and sampling was wonderful to hear and the combination of aromas and sights was at times overwhelming. We returned with our pockets full of business cards and a wealth of contacts and ideas for our table and for our business.
Italy’s food and wine sector is incredibly regional and varied, more so than any other country in the world. All sorts of geographical, historical, demographic and cultural factors have meant that each region, or even city, has its own tastes and traditions, recipes and flavors. Just consider there are over 2.000 native grapes and 350 varieties of pasta in Italy.
At Cibus, as well as having areas organized by food groups, there are also regional divisions. What a treat to be physically in Emilia Romagna, take just a few steps and be transported into Sicily. We waltzed our way through a gamut of arancini, a multitude of different varieties of tomato and then a cannoli tasting, with multiple fillings and shell compositions, including vegan and gluten free - and then stepped right back to mainland Italy.
Of course we spent some time in the cheese sector, deciding to concentrate on different kinds of Pecorino. This is a cheese with origins in Ancient Rome since its nutritional value and long conservation made it a perfect component of food rations for the Roman Legions during their long voyages. It is a sheep's milk cheese, and can either be fresh or aged. Aging methods include underground caves, under straw and in a myriad of other ways with spices, peppercorns and so on. It was extremely educational seeing the effects of the different methods on the final product.
Parma is practically synonymous with prosciutto and there are a huge number of ham producers at Cibus, ready to explain the particularities of their production and serve you a slither or a wedge of their range. We tried different preparations, aging times and coatings and left enlightened and with a new appreciation for this product. As with many things, although the basic ingredients are few and standardized, the process can change the outcome entirely.
The pasta and flour section was very busy but this might have been partly due to the fact that many companies were cooking their different pastas and pizzas and serving portions on the spot, in order to illustrate the different qualities of their flour and dough. Amazingly all the pasta was served al dente, quite a feat in such an environment.
After a quick stop trying to find our favorite bottarga, we moved onto the craft beer, IPA and cider sector. The opportunity to talk to impassioned producers, understand their methods, and be able to visit their facilities in future or buy direct was very stimulating.
Our reason for going was twofold. As an agricultural company ourselves we are always interested to see the latest developments and innovations in packaging or technological efficiency. We are interested in reducing energy consumption and improving our carbon footprint. Of course as conscious consumers, the chance to talk to producers about their methods, how they raise their livestock or other choices and philosophies that inform their production, was a great opportunity to select future suppliers of many different foods and dishes. We came away enriched, excited… and definitely sated after all the sampling and tasting of the day.