Home to Fieschi, our mustard fruit maker, and also to the violin. In this beautiful medieval historic city reside what sound like the entire world population of violin makers. One hundred and eighty of them apparently, many of them visible through the doorways and windows of their workshops with the works in progress often hung on display or being gently moulded on the worktables.
Every morning in the square a Stradivarius is played. Apparently a violin does not really come into its own until it is 100 years old and is best if it is played everyday.
Aside from the highest tower in the region with a climb of 500 stairs to the top, fronted by an astrological clock which is hand wound every morning and a fabulous looking cathedral complete with legends and statues, there are also some very nice cafes set around the square, some of which are very elegant and modern, and offer a visual juxtaposition to the antiquity. At one we enjoyed a very nice farro salad with octopus and Grana Padano nestled on a bed of greens and tomatoes, all drizzled with olive oil and balsamico. Phil had linguine with fish and capers and our dishes were accompanied by a fruity little Sauvignon Blanc from Fruili, though Carlo, the owner of Fieschi, is a big fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
The little factory where they make the 'mustard di frutta' is further out of town, and is manned by two very pleasant Italian boys (from my viewpoint - one did tell me he was 37), Matteo and Andrea.
Now there are a few industrial versions of this product complete with colourings and preservatives, which are made in large mixed batches with a few short cuts but for Fieschi the process is a simple one involving quality equipment, ingredients - and that most valuable thing of all - time.
Top quality fruit is delivered in season to their door and they place it with sugar into their large copper bowls which date back to the 1930s and then candy them at a low temperature for a week or more, depending on the variety of fruit. Mustard oil is added at some point.
We tend to use mustard fruit at Christmas with ham, but here the use is much broader as they are often served with cheese and dishes like ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and amaretti and meats, cured or otherwise.
You can also look forward to trying their hotted up version of quince paste, which will be pretty amazing with duck, turkey, venison, cured meats and cheese for a start.
We also popped by our porcini supplier, Gigante, in a nearby town, and no, dried porcini are not all equal either. Selection, humidity, season, origin, quality, cleaning and drying all make a difference here.
Back in town for dinner with Carlo and his delightful wife Antonella, we swapped teenage son stories and talked about quality as Carlo is familiar with some of our range. Antonella was interested to hear of our visit to Callipo as she eats no other brand of tuna, though Callipo can be hard to find in Cremona.
They were interested to hear we were going to Pastiglie Leone the following day as Carlo carries their mint pastilles in his car and they are treasured by many people we meet as Italy's oldest and highest quality sweet maker.
Another, more amusing connection came when he said he had looked through our catalogue and seen Menozzi and Rosa liquorice. His friend in Abruzzo makes a liquorice liqueur under the Torre label using the M&R product. Luckily the restaurant we were dining in not only had that but his Limoncello and Sambuca as well. Not a lot of sugar is used in them apparently.They were all very smooth....