When traveling through several cultures, the ability to connect with others transcends language and is often only accomplished through feelings and sensations, lending a little truth to the phrase “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The amount of heart that’s put into preparing a good meal can create an overwhelming feeling after taking the first bite.
Winding roads, lined with forests filled with stories of ancient pasts, brought us to Nans-les-Pins, a small town in the Provence region of France. The main square, deserted for a town wedding, housed a few boutiques and a couple of restaurants, one of which was glowing with an unassuming neon-light nameplate. The meal that followed was one of the best I’ve ever had.
A thoughtful, well-crafted presentation consisted of an amuse-bouche of fruits de mer, a decadent plate of escalloped foie gras served with a side of truffle foam, and finished with a fresh fruit tart. Each dish was constructed by the chef that eventually greeted us at the meal’s end. Each delicious portion delved into the culture of the region by taking note of seasonality, location relative to the sea, and thoughtfulness in using all parts of an animal.
I’m unable to speak due to pure happiness… but mostly from the fact that I can’t speak the language in the first place. The joy on my face speaks to homely waitress who sends us on our way.
Plates are a sum of many parts. Without knowing the sacrifice that goes into one portion, it is impossible to fully appreciate a meal. If we were living a true “farm-to-table” lifestyle, everyone would genuinely understand the hardship that farmers and factories endure.
I traveled to Parma, Italy to tour a factory that creates DOP (Denominazione di Orgine Protetta) certified Parmigiano Reggiano. Each wheel is produced with ingredients solely from the region, Reggio-Emilia. After aging for at least 24 months, the Consortium (Consorzio) inspects and brands each wheel, confirming that its quality and aesthetics are up to standards.
There are around six masters that work every day with no days off and no holidays. The head cheese monger has been working in the factory from the age of fourteen. Enthusiasm radiates from him when he states , “Cows keep producing milk so we have to be here to make the cheese!”
As I taste authentic Parmigiano Reggiano (not Parmesan) on the patio overlooking the wide pastures surrounded by the men who work tirelessly day-in and day-out, I am astounded by the notion that these men supply the entire world with a product considered commonplace by many—that those consuming it barely take a second to notice its origin, its culture.
Often we get so wrapped up checking-in to make sure the world sees we’ve been to a certain location, so wrapped up in proving that we “experience cultures” that we forget to appreciate others; the people, the ingredients, the feelings that we attain by slowing down and taking a bite. Take time to notice the heart that permeates in all the diverse flavor notes blooming in your mouth.