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Manga Manga, Food Systems in Italy: Monica Caparosa, Food Science Major

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Posted: October 7, 2015

The real beauty of Italy can only be appreciated by visiting my homeland, speaking with the locals, and experiencing the history by walking the streets and through the doors in buildings from long before the beginning of US history.
Aceta Balsamic Vinegar. Thousands of gallons of Balsamic Vinegar stored in various sized casks.

Aceta Balsamic Vinegar. Thousands of gallons of Balsamic Vinegar stored in various sized casks.

Manga Manga

When I think of the word Italy, one word comes to mind: FOOD. As an Italian American, the opportunity to travel to Italy is one that I could not pass. Penn State has allowed me to grow closer to my roots in more than one way and has allowed me to use what I have learned in the classroom abroad.

While 15 weeks of a language class does not make one proficient in a language, it gave me the foundation to communicate with the locals and have the opportunity to have a more meaningful trip.

Northern Italy. Land with hills, cooler weather, and a lack in the ‘traditional’ cuisine that Americans think of as ‘Italy’. The first stop of our 3-city journey was Bologna. Bologna was the perfect start point: an old university town with a young heart and population. This mixture of history and current culture created the perfect learning environment for personal growth as well as learning about the traditional cuisine in the ‘stomach’ of Italy. The native foods here were not the spaghetti and pizza, but more cured meats, cheeses, and other pastas. While in Bologna, I attended La Vencchia Scuola Bolognese and learned the art of pasta making. This hands-on adventure led to a delicious dinner where we ate the fresh pasta we had made, a great start to our gastronomic adventure.

The days passed and the food kept coming. We visited Villiani, a cured-meat company and Aceta where Balsamic vinegar is produced and packaged. Aceta demonstrated the beauty of aging and how sacred processing of Italian foods is. With aging barrels as tall as 2 stories, it is hard to imagine what in 12 years that product can be worth $100 for a few ounces.

From cured meat and balsamic vinegar to Parmigiano Reggiano, Proschuito, and the world’s largest pasta production facility: Barilla, this trip provided so many learning opportunities and exposed me to a diverse world of international manufacturing.  As one can imagine, the mounds of food continued to come and if I went hungry, it was my own fault.

Toward the end of our journey, my feet drew tired but my stomach never turned a meal down. As a student who just completed a 6-month cooperation with The Hershey Company, my favorite tour was at the Ferrero plant. While at this production facility, the smell of chocolate and hazelnuts filled my nostrils and lungs, while the sweet, warm treats filled my stomach. What an incredible way to spend spring break.

The beauty of Italy is not just in the food or the history because that can be read in textbooks and shared at a table in the US. The real beauty of Italy can only be appreciated by visiting my homeland, speaking with the locals, and experiencing the history by walking the streets and through the doors in buildings from long before the beginning of US history. Traveling makes me more aware of who I am as a person and reinforces that communication is both crucial and an art. If you can master communication, beyond verbal alone, you will achieve more with greater ease.

Saint Augustine said it best, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only the pages.” Thanks to the generosity of those who value the education one can only gain by traveling abroad has given me a gift that cannot be given back physically, but I in return can give that gift back by sharing my experience and knowledge with all those I encounter.