Thursday, April 29, 2010


As the train pulled into the Parma station, my train of thought went like this: Parma - Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese -  Prosciutto di Parma - pasta with prosciutto and Parmesan cheese - sandwiches with prosciutto and ripe, red, middle-of-summer New Jersey tomatoes - Grandma's risotto made with alternating ladles of homemade red sauce and chicken broth, stirred constantly and finished with sauteed chicken livers and lots of fresh-grated Parmesan cheese. Food and Parma just seem to go together.

As soon as we arrived on a recent visit, it was clear that Parma is a food town. Tempting-looking restaurants are everywhere, serving Parma's signature pasta dish Tortelli d'Erbetta. Incredible markets line the elegant streets, all of them packed to the rafters with prosciutto,  parmesan and culatello. And where else can you find Musei  del Cibo - The Food Museums, three of them, devoted to tomatoes, prosciutto and cured meats, and parmesan cheese? 

It turns out, however, that there's a lot more to Parma than just ham and cheese. 

Its 12th-century cathedral is decorated with frescoes by Correggio, a 16th-century master of light, color and perspective. You have to strain your neck a bit to see the assumption of the Madonna into heaven that adorns the dome, but it is well worth the effort. This is no solemn-faced Madonna with clasped hands, but rather a joyful one with bare feet and raised arms, whose bright, white garments are blowing in the soft heavenly wind.  

Next door is the majestic Romanesque baptistry, built entirely of rose-colored Veronese marble. Octagonal in shape, it is one of the most remarkable baptistries in Italy. Its interior has a high, fan-shaped ceiling and is covered with frescoes, and sculptures by Benedetto Antelami, the 12th-century master who designed the baptistry. (Take along a small pair of binoculars. They are indispensable for seeing details on works of art far above your head.)

From the 1500s to the 1800s, Parma was ruled first by the Farnese dynasty and then by the French Bourbons. They gave Parma a lasting culture of literature, art, theater and music. Verdi operas were performed in its Ducal Theatre; conductor Arturo Toscanini  was born in Parma and the town is home to the Farnese Theatre and the Regio Theatre. Music festivals are held throughout the year and there are two interesting music museums. The National Gallery, housed in the enormous Palazzo della Pilotta, has works by Parmigianino, Canova, Teipolo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Many Italian cities, including Pisa, have a faded, albeit charming elegance. (Recently, with Italy in dire financial straits, faded is the predominant word as the lack of care for all but the major monuments is becoming more and more evident.) Parma, on the other hand, shows no sign of this fading glory and could very easily be the film set for a 18th-century period drama. The obligatory duel could take place in the long, straight walkways of the Ducal Gardens. A carriage ride out to the palaces in the nearby hills (today accessible by bike paths) would be a perfect place for a love scene. 

And even though it's not all about the food, I'm sure our film would include a romantic tete-a-tete across a candlelit table in an elegant Parma dining room. Our couple would gaze lovingly into each other's eyes. And then, perhaps, they would be happily distracted - just as we were - by the arrival of the first course of a wonderful dinner: succulent Tortelli, filled with soft ricotta cheese and wild field greens, bathed in sweet butter and generously adorned with Parmesan cheese.  

(Click here for the recipe. For photos from la Repubblica, click here. Even if you don't understand Italian, the photos are very instructive.)

Click here for more photos of Parma.

Buon appetito,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Oh, Geraldine, you really should write a book. I love reading your wonderful posts. I never did make it to Parma, but thought I'd love to see it one day, and now I feel like I've been there. It sounds great! Thanks for taking me along, as always.

  2. Encore une fois tu me mets l' eau à la bouche. J' ai aimé et çà a l' air que toi aussi, tu paraissait être chez toi dans cette ville.

  3. Got your blog today which made my mouth water

  4. C'est vraiment sympa de vous suivre à travers le monde, surtout en Italie. Mais tu as oublié le plus important à Parme : Fabrice Del Dongo !

  5. Thank you for the update, very nice site..


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