Recent excavations in and around Pompeii have unearthed some exceptional finds and now researchers have announced the discovery of a ceremonial chariot found in a villa near stables where horses were uncovered two years ago. The chariot is described as almost intact with iron elements and bronze and tin decorations. It is believed that the chariot was used in parades or festivities and possibly marriage processions – given the erotic nature of some of those decorations. This is the first such chariot to be found in Italy. It is believed to have been so well-preserved because it was sheltered by a portico when the walls of the space it was in collapsed around it and was also spared damage by modern-day antiquities looters who had dug tunnels in the surrounding area. The chariot is now undergoing a restoration and reconstruction process after its centuries buried in volcanic material.
Throughout 2021 there are expected to be events, shows and exhibits that commemorate the 700th anniversary of the year of Dante’s death. Already, since 2019, “Dantedi'” has been celebrated on March 25th and again this year many programs are planned for this date. During his life (1265-1321) Dante travelled to and lived in various Italian towns and cities, starting with his birthplace, Florence, and including Verona, Rome, Pisa, Forli’ and Ravenna. There will be commemorative events connected to Dante in these cities and throughout Italy. Many of these will be online. The Uffizi Galleries in Florence is currently hosting a virtual exhibition in high definition of rarely seen illustrations by Federico Zuccari of the Divine Comedy. This is the first time that a broad public is able to see the drawings (made between 1586 and 1588) in their entirety and in such detail. It’s a treat for art lovers and Dante fans!
The most familiar Italian sweets eaten during the Christmas season are panettone and pandoro, with the ongoing discussion about who prefers which one and whether or not panettone should have candied fruit peel in it or just raisins. Other confections that are eaten at this time of year are struffoli, zeppole, panforte, pan giallo and pan pepato. I was interested in discovering biscotti that are typical of the season. My family always bought ricciarelli for Christmas. They’re from Siena, originating in the fifteenth century, and are a diamond-shaped, dense, delicious type of almond macaroon. Other biscotti recipes that I found are often based on ingredients that are usual for the festive season: nuts, dried fruit, honey and spices. There are mostaccioli which, in the Neapolitan version, are made with chocolate, honey, almonds and a spice mixture called pisto. Also from the Campania region are roccoco’ cookies which are crispy, spicy (that pisto again) and doughnut-shaped. Susumelle, from Calabria, are glazed cookies made with nuts, dried fruits and honey and lightly spiced with cinnamon or cloves. The Christmas dessert table often includes a croccante, a caramelized nut brittle, and wouldn’t be complete without torroni, hard and soft nougats.
Parmigiano Reggiano: it’s the king of cheeses. It has ancient origins and its characteristics have not changed over centuries, it has one of cheese’s longest documented histories. In the 12th Century in Parma and Reggio Emilia Benedictine monks were already known for their production of hard cheeses. The first written mention of a “formaggio di forma parmigiano” is in 1344 and in that same year Boccaccio describes a mountain made of grated parmigiano in one of his stories. By the 18th Century there were around thirty dairies producing the cheese, today there are some 350 Parmigiano Reggiano producers. Parmigiano Reggiano is made under very strict standards using the milk of cows raised under equally strict standards – hence the quality of Parmigiano is very consistent, always aiming for perfection in texture and taste. The only flexibility allowed is in aging. To be considered Parmigiano Reggiano it must be aged a minimum of 12 months and labels can have only have the designations of 18, 22 and 30 months. A comparison tasting of these variously aged chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano (even better if you do it in Parma…) is really like being in heaven – you totally understand why it’s called il re dei formaggi!