On the road again…much of today feels very much like that classic Willie Nelson song. The weather is not our friend. Our gloriously extended summer appears to be at an end. There’s a decided chill in the air and the 10 day weather forecast looks oh so very wet. Oh dear…have we miscalculated our time here?
Yesterday’s disappointment of missing out on Parma still ringing in our ears, it’s time to make a judgement call on how the final five weeks of our trip will play out. Most pressing is what direction our travels home will take us. We’ve debated everything from island hopping through Sardinia and Corsica, to ferrying to Spain, revisiting its northern shores, ferrying from there to England. But in the end, we settle for a more modest approach – up through Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, into southern France. Where we go to from there is anyone’s guess.
Thus decided, we take to the road on a determined push through this north western corner of Italy. Our “old school” map deems our selected path a scenic drive, and it’s autumn, so it should be lovely. Sick of the dreadful roads, we short cut part of the way via the autostrada, a truly soulless way to travel, but we’re a little numb from the bad roads.
Once we’re off the freeway, the foodie gods take pity on us missing Parma, offering of all the delights we’ve missed in one convenient stop.
Parmigiano Regganio is the star, with aged offerings from 12 months to 100 months. Fabulous! Also on offer are excellent local salumi, prosciutto cotto and crudo of every description and handmade pasta.
In the end, we opt for a 36 month aged cheese, a fabulously good local salami, ricotta and spinach tortellini and arancini. It’s not the producer tour I’d hoped for, but we have the produce, so it’s a close second place.
We learn a little more about the production process of Parmiginano Regganio. Known as the king of cheeses, it’s named for the only three DOP recognised areas of production. It takes around 600 litres of unpasteurised cows milk to make a 200 kg wheel of Parmiginano Regganio. Wheels are tested for quality at 12 months, and only those passing the exacting standards required are branded with the official stamp bearing the Parmiginano Regganio name. Wheels are aged for a minimum of 12 months, with older aged cheeses named vecchio: 18–24 months and stravecchio: 24–36 months. That makes our cheese a stravecchio. Later, when we try it, the result of the additional aging is unmistakable – studded with crunchy salt crystals, its flavour is unbeatable.
Just as we’re leaving cheesy goodness, the rain starts. Unbeknownst to us at this point, it sets the tone for the next 24 hours when the heavens open on a biblical level. It’s the start of the heaviest sustained rain I’ve come across.
Our map proves correct, this is indeed a pretty drive.
Up through a gentle mountain range, it’s autumn at its golden loveliest.
Surprisingly, we pass many enormous, but virtually dry rivers and the occasional flood warnings, which will make much more sense later on.
Soft rain turns to heavy. Heavy turns to a downpour. Downpour turns into a deluge with thunder and lightning. Very, very frightening.
We stop in the very pretty village of Santa Maria del Taro.
Not that we can get anywhere near it. It’s bucketing down outside, lightening and thunder right on top of us. The storm rages all night, buffeting us with the greatest of ease. It’s an uneasy night, wondering whether the mountain roads will be open tomorrow, whether the valleys might have flooded and if we will be able to pass.