Italy vs. France...Sorta

After spending some time in France and Italy, I'd like to compare the two regarding their dissimilar commonalities. In many cases it is tough to make a call- in some it is painfully obvious... and only a bit unfair. But who cares, I am no authority.

Toilets. I love Italy but this one I have to give to the French. The public restrooms were better over-all from smell to visual cleanliness to the presence of an actual toilet upon which one could sit if desired (and sanitized). There are still squatty-toilets in Italy which require odd contortions for the jeans-clad to relieve themselves, and whiz-splattered shoes are an unavoidable and gross result. France also gets high marks for presence of paper products in the rest-room.

Coffee. Italy wins hands-down. While my first cafe au lait nearly made me cry with joy at its huge-ness (it was about the size of a dog-bowl) I have to say that overall flavor is better in Italy- even though the cappuccinos are dinky to this excessive American. Even if the French coffee shop had an Italian branded coffee roaster it just wasn't the same.

Meat. I am still entirely un-impressed with European fresh meat products- and let's just forget a steak. But here I have to say that the French preparation of meat is very impressive. They take cuts we'd normally toss and make them amazing. In Italy I've only seen grilled or roasted and while this is fine, it's not so great when dealing with meat that isn't all that fabulous to begin with. For example, I had a beef cheek in Burgundy that was incredible because they had stewed it in red wine for twelve hours. OK, maybe I had been stewed in wine, but it was quite a dish that on description sounded foul but was one of the more memorable meals I've had. In contrast I had a beef cheek in Italy and every ribbon of fat that you'd imagine would be there was quite present and I ate very little of it. Of course I am aware of the difference in restaurants and preparation.

Wine. This really isn't fair because I was only taken to Burgundy which is home to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay- both of which are not my absolute favorite grapes. To be fair- the Chardonnays from Chablis were more pure and characteristic of the grape alone than those that I have tried from elsewhere. It is a quality I respect and like the flavor of. Also, I did find a Burgundian red I liked- however it was from 2003 which was apparently a season that produced Pinot Noir that was not in keeping with its typical characteristics and therefore not a fan-favorite. OK, I just don't love Pinot Noir.....I'll just accept it. So, really what I can base this on is my preference for the style of Italian winemakers. Italy's wines feel like they have more tons of passion per hectare than France's. They are less predictable, less organized by “terroir,” and seem to have less to loose by tinkering with innovation. While there is tradition in both places, it seems to be less of a straight jacket for Italian wine producers and that can lead to some yummy accidents, super-tasty rule-bending blends, and over-all relaxation and that's what wine is for isn't it?

Bread. Here geography has me biased again. Parma, Italy is home to some of the crappiest bread ever extracted from an oven. It is difficult to describe. Flavorless does not even touch the dearth of life in this bread. Usually presented as little baseballs in a basket, the exterior is deceivingly golden-ish. When you pierce this non-porous rind with a thumb, dust-like crumbs are airborne for the next few seconds. This is when you apologize to the people at the next table and try to fish an especially offensive crumb from their wine glass. The white pouf inside is reminiscent of 18th century men's wigs- smooth as can be from the over-processed flour and a shade of white what would make a Crest white strip jealous. I've tried to justify its existence with the idea that this is also home to two strong flavors- Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano, so having a really sturdy bread might compete. But it's still just not acceptable. So France didn't have to do a lot to win this category- Wonder bread could have won- but the French baguettes cannot be beat.

Cheese. This cannot be decided. I have tried. French cheeses are a different animal from Italian cheeses. Both are to die for and neither can lose anything. I love all cheese....except for this one incredibly smelly one from the mountains somewhere. Apparently it is the ends cut off another kind of cheese, smooshed together and cured in beer. It is cone shaped and bright orange. If it is offered, go ahead and try it, but I'll admit, after a bite and then a sip of my water, I couldn't drink from the same glass again for the smell....do NOT try while on a date- unless it's not going well.

Mouthfeel, by Julie Glenn