What I loved most about Umbra was my History and Culture of Food in Italy course. My professor, Simon (we called all of our professors by their first names; it was very informal), really taught me a lot and the whole course was really interesting. One day, I came into class early and he teased me because while I sat there, my alarm on my phone went off, reminding me to be in class. This happened on a weekly basis. I was always early, and I never missed a class (though I had 3 excused absences if I wanted). This wasn’t just because my morals tell me not to skip a class I 1. don’t have to skip and 2. pay for, but also because I never wanted to miss it. It’s definitely one of my favorite classes, period; top 5 at least.
One of the things that made this class so special was the fact that Simon frequently offered food workshops, or food tastings. We tasted everything from eggplant (roasted, fried with bread crumbs, and fried with batter), polenta (two different fried forms), Sicilian cannoli (cannoli is actually the plural form in Italian), and wine. There was even a workshop where we tried to guess between organic and non-organic apples, bananas, carrots, cheese, and jam. My favorite was our last workshop. Simon bought 11 different kinds of chocolate for us to try:
- 100% Cacao (very bitter)
- Cacao bean
- A cheap form of gianduia
- A more expensive form of gianduia that tastes a little less hazel nutty than the cheap version; it’s called “vestri”
- Chocolate truffle with hazelnuts inside and a coffee powder on the outside
- Milk chocolate with jellied lemon inside
- Coffee-flavored milk chocolate
- Dark chocolate spiced with cinnamon; it has a very interesting grainy texture to it
- Simple white chocolate called “venchi”
- White chocolate with a colorful decoration on top and blueberry filling inside
- White chocolate made with spicy red pepper
But not only were we all on chocolate overload, he also brought in the fizziest water he could find (which I detested) to clean our palates, and he let us try miracle berries. Miracle berries aren’t actual berries; they’re pills that dissolve in your mouth and make your taste buds flip-flop. For example, Simon gave us each a small tablet, and after it dissolved in our mouthes, he offered oranges and lemons which then tasted like lemonade when bitten into. He also offered us shots of apple cider vinegar, and it tasted like just cider (you just have to make sure you don’t smell it or your brain is going to realize what’s going on and it’ll taste like vinegar again).
But because I was not in the Food Studies Program version of this class, there were a lot of workshops I missed out on – but that’s alright because they were often offered by Umbra for a small price. For example, I went to another wine tasting workshop, a coffee workshop (though I don’t drink coffee nor can I stand the smell of it – but I figured it was a big part of Italian culture, so why not), a pasta workshop (at which I got to mix the dough) and a pizza making workshop!
Food was a really big part of my time in Italy. I got to try a lot of really interesting things, like ox tongue and rabbit, and a lot of very simple things with just a new approach, like pizza and different kinds of pastas. And the Italian concept of a meal is very different. They eat at weird hours (like lunch is around 2 and dinner is at 10), their meals are different (minimal breakfast and pasta and meat aren’t usually in the same dish) – and the meals take forever!
But as the semester is slowly starting to wind down, I am at least appreciating the longer meals because they help to draw out what little bit of time I have left here.