Discover the Origin at La Cucina Caldesi

Posted on Monday, 20th September 2010

Discover the Origin

A couple of weeks I went to a ‘Discover the Origin’ event at La Cucina Caldesi Italian Cookery School. Discover the Origin is a campaign representing Italy, France and Portugal in support of five key products from those countries which bear protected origin designations such as Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). Protected origin designations provides assurance to the consumer about the provenance, quality and the authenticity of the origin of the product. With a trend towards ethical sourcing and seasonal produce, etc, greater awareness in this area only seems fitting.

The five key products supported by Discover the Origin are Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)), Burgundy wine (AOC) and Port and Douro Valley wines (Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC)). As a case in point, Parmigiano-Reggiano is not to be confused with any ordinary parmesan cheese. Under Italian law, only versions of this hard granular cheese produced in the Italian areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna and Mantova may be called Parmigiano-Reggiano – hence the PDO designation. Similar cheeses produced elsewhere are instead to be called parmesan.

To celebrate these products, we were tantalised by a wine tasting hosted by blogger Katrina Alloway and a cookery demonstration by the charming Katie Caldesi herself – cookery instructor at La Cucina Caldesi, award winning cookery writer, chef, and one-half of the Caldesi partnership that owns the Caldesi chain of Italian restaurants. Delicious canapés including mini fresh pea and mint tarts, Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese greeted us on arrival.

Katie Caldesi

Katie Caldesi

Kicking off the wine tasting part of the evening was the Crémant de Bourgogne which gave off hints of strawberries. This was followed by another wine from Burgundy, a Chablis 1er Cru Vaucoupin by Alain Gautheron, which with its honey notes was soft and creamy. Next was a Fixin by Pierre Gelin, a boutique winery which covers only a 11.5ha plot of land. This wine had a lovely bouquet.

To Portugual, and we touched on a wintry Douro Valley Red by Churchill Graham, a wine that is pressed by foot in the old fashioned way. A spicy, Christmas-y Caves Vale do Rodo 10 Year Old Tawny Port rounded off our lovely wine tasting.

To the food, and what a treat this was! Ripe, sweet melon wrapped with Parma ham was followed by a creamy cannellini bean spread made with fennel, onion and rosemary. Served thick over toast drizzled with extra virgin olive oil (of course!) and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, this was scrumptious.

Parma ham & melon

Parma ham & melon

Cannellini bean spread

Cannellini bean spread

The night would have been incomplete without a pasta dish. And so it was that Katie cooked her way through a pasta al forno with Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sharing with us the secrets of a good tomato sauce along the way. Katie explained to us the need for plenty of olive oil for flavour. The oil also helps to prevent burning when you are sweating off onions. The pasta was rustic and homely – lasagna sheets were smothered with hearty beef and pork meatballs and a lovingly prepared tomato sauce. This dish was great, and it, along with Katie’s knowledge and obvious love of food was enough to convince me that a cookery class at La Cucina Caldesi was a must. To finish off the evening was some pan-fried duck served with homemade blackberry sauce.

Pasta al forno

Pasta al forno

The food was a delight. But then again, you never need to sell me on quality produce as quality will always taste better.