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Dec 31, 2010 05:52 AM

Recommendations for a whirlwind tour of Cremona, Spoleto, and Parma

Hail fellow chow-hounds!

I'm quite excited - I've been invited to visit Italy for a week as part of a program called European Art of Taste. I have zero control over the schedule, as this is a sponsored, food-focused trip. However, there are a few opportunities for independent exploration. I have two free afternoon/evenings each in Spoleto and Cremona, and an hour or two during the late afternoon in Parma.

I'd like recommendations for:
What foods to buy in each place (return flight is 8 hours, so any perishables need to be able to survive that)
What local specialties to try in each place and where to try them
What local liquor to bring home
What one sight of historical interest to see in Spoleto and Cremona

Also, if I want to bring home truffle oil and dried mushrooms... can anyone recommend a good brand?

Ditto for foie gras - what brand, and what form would be best for travel?

Thanks much!

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  1. Why don't you buy a copy of Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler? It answers all your questions for the places you are going.

    1 Reply
    1. re: barberinibee

      I second the suggestion to get a hold of Plotkin's book.

      I spent a couple of days in Cremona in 1996. It is a lovely city and, at that time, it was relatively tourist-free. I remember not being able to find an English language newspaper for sale there!

      The food there is quite good. There is a large candy store there (called Sperlari) that is worth a visit, as Cremona claims to be the brithplace of torrone. Cremona would be a good place to buy a jar of mostarda to bring home.

      As far as sightseeing, the tower of the Duomo in Cremona is one of the tallest in Italy. The Stradivarius Musuem is worth a visit. In the city hall, they have a room displaying 6-8 violins made in the 1600's by Stradivarius and others. On weekdays at 11:00am, one of the attendants would take one of the violins out of the display cases and play on it for a few minutes. The sound of those violins is remarkable.

      Link to a good article about torrone:

      Here is a good article on sights to see in Cremona. The cathedral tower is the 2nd tallest brick tower in Europe:

    2. From the Po plain region (Emilia-Romagna- nearby Lombardia) in which both Parma and Cremona sit some specialties are parmiggiano reggiano and grane padano cheeses (both of which can travel) cured meats, like culatello, prosciutto di parma, etc, fish from the Po (sturgeon), luscious fresh and filled pasta using the local cream, milk and pork products, aceto balsamico tradizionale, including related products, various mostardas, and locally made liqueurs like nocino, sburlone (quince), and lambrusco wines, Sbrisolana is a cornmeal and almond sweet from lombardia which could travel.

      I would want to try the meats and the wines while in the region, since the pork products generally will not travel.

      A hunk of hard cheese will travel. Most fine food shops in the area will carry a range of the balsamico products (yes they are made a few miles away from these cities but they are still widely sold and used regional products. We love nocino, made from green walnuts, there are artisanal varieties but the one we bought in a liquor store was a strega (witch) brand.

      You should be able to find dried funghi porcini pretty much anywhere on your route- in a vegetable/fruit shop, i n a public market or a fancy food store. If you dont want to purchase a big bag, you can buy the porcini by weight in a veg store - the quality will be more obvious that way.

      the cathedral and particularly the baptistery are the outstanding sights of parma.

      I dont care for the Sperlari mostarda, its very sweet, but it is a characteristic cremona product.

      Looking forward to hearing about what you find, since Im hoping to have a day in Cremona next year.

      1. Hi Suman. Nice to read someone from Bangalore.
        Without considering possible air flight restrictions...

        UMBRIA (Spoleto)
        • Mountain Lentils
        • Mountain Spelt
        • Chickpeas. The variety typical of Umbria is characterized by a small seed which is particularly flavoursome. Chickpeas are the ideal ingredient for tasty soups and side dishes.
        • Olive Oil. Look for a monoculture production harvested by hand, processed at the mill and the oil extracted by natural, cold-press dripping. The lesser acidity the better. Less than 0,17% is the top.
        • Truffle Oil. Real connoisseur (and honest producers) would tell you that truffle oil is a legal fraud. It would be better to call it “Oil with a chemical scent of truffle” because the scent/aroma comes from no truffle. The oil is flavoured with a petrol derivate and the olive oil is of a very mediocre quality: an excellent olive oil aroma would in fact kill the fake chemical truffle aroma.
        • Cured Meats. Norcia , around 50 km from Spoleto, is venerated for its pork meat and butchery and the name ‘norcineria’ has become part of the Italian vernacular to mean a butcher of serious skill and quality. When in Spoleto look for a “Norcineria” shop.
        • Umbrian typical sweets you could try to find:
        Crescionda di Spoleto: an ancient sweet from the town of Spoleto.
        Brustengolo: bread enriched with dry fruit according to the ancient peasants' tradition.
        Tozzetto: a cookie similar to the Tuscan cantucci.
        • Dried Porcini Mushrooms – you’ll of course find them everywhere.
        • Fois Gras?!? :-)

        LOMBARDIA (Cremona)

        No offence, but I personally wouldn’t buy Sperlari industrial products: Torrone and Mostarda. Have a look at Pasticceria Duomo, near the Cathedral. You could also find Torta Sbrisolona there.

        EMILIA-ROMAGNA (Parma)
        A lot of previous posts on this subject.

        Ciao e buon viaggio