Today math and science lovers are uniting to celebrate the world’s most famous irrational number Pi on the date which matches its value: 3.14. I thought it might be a good day for us to look at the irrational side of Italy for an Italian inspired Pi day. Remember psychologists tell us that seemingly irrational preferences may be the best thing for us and let it be noted that the wisdom of Italy is to each his own.
Here are a few seemingly illogical expressions of Italian culture and living that may not be so far fetched after all.
- the number of Italian dialects. The fragmentation of Italy until the 19th century into city states, duchies and kingdoms resulted in many, many ways of saying the same thing depending on where you come from and to some extent your economic and cultural background.For example the sentence”The kids play in the park” translated into standard (classical) Italian is “i bambini giocano nel parco”. While in Rome you might hear “i bambini giocano ner parco” and yet another variation to be heard in Sicily or Genoa. Confusing for those of us learning the language but makes perfect sense in regional conversations.
- certain rules and unspoken regulations to ward off bad luck aka superstitions. As in it may be bad luck to work in the gardens or orchards on a certain day or giving away a sprig of basil to a lover will make him or her faithful or never plant beans on days spelled with “r”. Associations of cause and effect where there are none or common sense folk advice?
- cappuccino is strictly for breakfast. And totally forbidden during meals and never drunk after 11:00am. Fresh whole milk can sometimes play havoc with your digestion so drinking it early in the day may have its benefits.
- olive oil, vinegar, lemon and salt are the only ingredients for dressing salads. Sensible, simple and healthful – enough said.
Cappuccino at the Lodole Country House
Nei dettagli. Into the details. Let’s get into the details of making the perfect cappuccino. First you must begin with good coffee beans correctly roasted and packed. Illy, one of the world’s largest producers of Italian espresso, offers a blend made up of 9 varieties of Arabica beans for your pursuit of the perfect cappuccino.
Then there is the making. Mastering the 4 M’s of Making a Good Espresso results is a concentrate of not more than 30 ml (one oz) of pure sensorial pleasure. You will need about 25ml of espresso for the perfect cappuccino. Next the details of the milk; chilled milk in metal pitcher with the proper pouring performance. Frothing the milk to the proper temperature (150 ºF -160 ºF), inserting the steam wand at the proper angle (diagonal, just below the surface of the milk) and moving it deeper into the milk at just the right moment to create the proper foam can be daunting.
If all goes well you will have made a proper cappuccino which according to Illy’s Università del Caffè should be about 150ml, containing one espresso coffee and equal parts of steamed milk and froth. To me making a proper cappuccino is about the simple fact that Italians care about the particulars, the collective attention needed to accomplish a task at its highest level of enjoyment. Seeking perfection in the art of the everyday, bothered by the devilish details.
Espresso gets all the press at least in terms of cups. There are so many uniquely designed espresso cups on the market that I have to control myself and not buy everyone I see. Like these that remind novice drinkers that it’s eSpresso not eXpresso. Or these bold colored cups by Italian designer Guzzini. Or the iconic Illy cups and their art collection design series.
Espresso’s second cousin has come into its own with a collection of cappuccino cups that are not just a coffee cup cast-off. The Lino Cappuccino Cup, made in collaboration with baristas at Intelligentsia, one of my favorite coffee roaster/retailers outside of Italy, has been described as a “seamless marriage of form and function” where the contour of the cup’s interior provides the “optimal fluid dynamics ” for a perfect cappuccino. A ratio of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and a perfect pour of 1/3 foamed milk.
Available at several online sites, I’m anxious to try these. They remind me of the classic thick-walled Italian designed d’ANCAP cups (another pick of mine) where the weight, size and shape of the cup are of considered importance in the enjoyment of the drink.
A morning reminiscence over my breakfast cappuccino – I’m off the tourist radar in the Bolognese Hills on the loggia of one of my favorite bed and breakfast’s in Italy with my owner- friend Alice. Alice is a most gracious host who makes her guests feel as if she has been waiting for them to arrive and welcome them home. I always know that when I stay here I will be sleeping well and waking up to a breakfast that is never lacking.
An assortment of meats, cheeses, tarts and honey that are fantastici! A generous cup of cappuccino, flavorful and frothy, one of the best I’ve had in Italy with a slice of semolina cake. I can hardly wait to get back.
Golf clubs, watches, joint replacements, bicycle frames and cappuccino cups, what do they all have in common? -the rare and wonderful element titanium. It seems that titanium’s physical and esthetic qualities not only make it the perfect material for making prosthetics, sporting equipment, automobiles and high end jewelry but coffee cups as well. The element has lended its name if not its properties to the Titanium Collection by La Cafetiere, a UK shop that sells luxury café culture accessories. You can buy a ceramic Cappuccino Cup and Saucer set with a silver metallic glaze on the outside that resembles the sleek, modern look of titanium. Although it may not have the high strength and biological compatibility of the element it does have the Ti look – bold and silvery white, a perfect reflective surface for a cappuccino foam.
To me the best part of an Italian cappuccino is the froth, that layer of thickened milk that pours out like a sauce both sweet and rich to float on top of a deep dark sea of espresso. The quality of the coffee is important but a well crafted froth adds something extra to the cup.
In my mind that’s how Christmas should be, like the froth on top of a perfect cup of espresso, the icing on top of the most delicious cake. A time of the year when we get to give and receive something special that truly makes a difference.