Travel Like Mozart

You think you know Italy. You’ve traveled to Rome, Venice and Florence. You’ve been to Siena, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi coast and Como. You’ve been to Pisa, Parma and Pompei and basked under the Tuscan sun. Seen the towers of San Gimignano and drunk the Brunellos of Chianti. Bravo fellow Italian traveler you’ve just began to discover Italy!

There’s much more to see and learn about Italy and like the proverbial onion or tip of the iceberg you need to dig deeper and peel away the layers of  “show and tell” travel to discover Italy beyond the beltway. Mozart toured Europe as a child, something that was not commonly done at that time. Traveling with his father and other members of his family he performed for various courts and dignitaries. Journeys that exposed him to many different styles of music (notably Italian and German) with lasting impressions that influenced his destiny as a composer. Mozart made three trips to Italy with varying degrees of pleasure and success but uncontested in the wealth of ideas that strongly influenced his artistic development.

mozartOn your next trip to Italy, travel like Mozart, go further afield and look for something completely different. Besides Assisi visit La Verna, a Franciscan retreat in the centre of the Tuscan Apennines, where Francis received the stigmata. Discover that there’s more than wine in and around Chianti, visit San Giovanni d’Asso near Siena for truffles with a side trip to an Italian terme. Drive the historical route of the Brenta Riviera and visit the Palladian villas  of the Veneto near Vicenza. Stop at Trattoria Porto Menai dall’ Antonia along the canal in Mira for a spectacular feast of scampi giganti griglia (giant shrimp, grilled) with prosecco to drink.

You may have seen the Sistine Chapel but the mosaics of Ravenna will leave you with an equal sense of wonder. Leonardo’s Last Supper is amazing but Giotto’s interpretation, located in the Scrovegni chapel on the estate grounds of a Paduan money lender’s son who in atonement for his father’s sins sought redemption through art, is in many ways as intriquing as Leonardo’s masterpiece in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Discover antica farmacia (pharmacies) where healing ingredients from nature create an Italian sense of benessere. They can be found all over Italy if you know where to look. Visit Ferrara, Verona, the Gonzaga court of Mantua and Bellagio for a romantic view.

Learn new things  about Italy to add to what you already know and come up with something completely different in your travels. I guarantee you’ll never think of  Italy the same afterwards and never think about having a cappuccino after 12 noon.

The Melons of Mantua

Mostarda (mostarda di frutta) is a classic Northern Italian fruit condiment with a healthy kick from mustard.  Not the yellow stuff in the squeeze bottle but fruit preserved in syrup spiced with powdered mustard seed or oil of mustard essence. Sometimes referred to as fruit mustard, the agrodolce flavor of mostarda has been a favorite of cooks since ancient times. The oldest recipe for Mostarda Mantovana was published in the 14th century and is still the basis for many modern recipes. Caterina de’ Medici carried a jar of mostarda in her dowry trunk when she left Italy to marry the king of France’s son in 1533. Pears and apples, grape must and figs, quinces, pears; almost any local seasonal fruit can be used to make mostarda.  Cremona and Mantua (Mantova) are known for their production of mostarda which enhances foods from tortelli to bollito misto.

The Viadana melons of Mantua, grown near the border with Parma, have particular characteristics of the land that create a melon that is fragrant, tender and sweet. The deep orange colored flesh, firm smooth skin and an intense aroma are perfect for the making of a mostarda.

white watermenlon
Anguria Bianca

Another typical product of Mantua is the Anguria Bianca (white watermelon), also known as the lemon verbena pumpkin, a melon with an herbal note that is truly unique. Grown on the fertile Padana plain, the white watermelon makes a sweet savory mostarda with a jewel like quality that the Renaissance court of the Gonzaga favored. Gonzaga documents testify to its presence at the table of the Lords of Mantua.  Made as a luxury by “speziali” (chemists) it was prepared as a delicacy and preserved in “albarelli“, earthenware or glass vases used for pharmacy preparations.