• sondra bernstein

a mostly TRUE STORY

How taking a chance with social media and human kindness turns into a win win. With my best recollection, this is what happened on a day over ten years ago during a road trip with John in Italy.

In 2009, while we were in the process of opening a new Italian restaurant (the now defunct ESTATE) in Sonoma, John and I decided to take a spontaneous research trip to where some of the most authentic Italian artisan food items were being produced.

We flew to Bologna, rented a car, and drove North through Piedmont, stopping in Emilia Romagna, Modena, and Turin, visiting wineries, food markets, and restaurants. The trek was mapped out with all roads leading to the original EATALY. With guide books in hand, we aimed to take it all in, but as tourists we were just barely scratching the edges of what we really wanted to see and taste.

And that is how the following happened:


Driving in the rental car from Bologna, Italy.


(says enthusiastically)

I am going to make a tweet that we have

arrived in Italy and see if someone responds.


Why would you do that? Social Media is such a

time waster.

(rolls eyes)


You never know. I follow some cool food people

in Italy, maybe they will want to show us



Good Luck with that.


"We are two San Francisco foodies heading to

Modena/Emilia Romagna. Any suggestions

for us"?

(silence for a bit, than a beep)


"If you meet me tomorrow at 10am under the

E35 underpass near Chiozzola I will take you

taste the best Parmgiano Reggiano and to my

family's Acetaia."

(With a big grin, Sondra looks

at John who is driving)


See, we should definitely meet this person.

This is what adventures are made of.


You would seriously trust a stranger under

an underpass in a foreign country?


Not without you here.


"Thank you so much! See you tomorrow under

the underpass, we are so excited! What will

you be driving?"


"I will be driving a gray Fiat station wagon."

Fast forward to how we met Andreas, under an underpass, feeling the excitement of either awaiting a robbery or worse or having an incredible foodie experience because we took a chance and tweeted. In fact, it was one of my favorite food discovery days ever.

We followed Andreas in our car (feeling good about the whole thing, but not crazy enough to jump in his car) as he led us through the picturesque villages and eventually down a dirt road. Still somewhat unsure, we hesitated but of course kept going. As we drove down the road, there were cows on both sides and as the road got bumpier and muddier, he finally pulled over in front of one of the barns and signaled us to park and follow him. We continued walking to a small building where Andreas was greeted in Italian by a lovely couple. We did not understand a single word.

It didn't matter. We knew we were in the right place for this day. The age-worn room was all about cheese, the aromas, the ribbons of awards, the homey hospitality. We tasted from wheels and chunks of cheese aged from 24 months, 36 months, and 60 months old. Andreas translated for the couple as they explained the process and how they use the milk coming from their neighbors, the local cooperative, and that it was enough milk to make just one wheel a day.

Their certified 'Biologico' (organic) cheeses varied in flavor from wheel to wheel; you could taste the unami, the rich sweet caramel notes, and saline nuttiness. The texture got harder and more crystallized as it got older. They were all extraordinary - never have I tasted Parmagiano any finer.

After making a hefty cheese purchase, we got an up close and personal tour of the barn and the animals. When we turned the corner, there were BABIES, little lambs cooing outside of the huge cows stalls. Jackpot! I was handed a bottle to feed the babies. The day could have stopped there and I would have been satisfied.

Nope - next stop.

We hopped back in the cars and followed Andreas back to his family's Acetetaia (balsamic vinegar factory), San Giacomo, outside of the small town of Novellara where we had a private tour and tasting. Andreas (pictured below with John) explained that he was the youngest generation of his family and his responsibilities were increasing in the family business as he wanted to modernize the distribution efforts to sell more internationally, as well as spur up their social media presence (thank goodness for us on that). He explained the traditional Solera Balsamico process, letting us taste the different barrels and ages of the vinegar. He taught us how to taste Balsamic and the differences between quality artisan and factory mass produced bottles. We were introduced to Saba and fell under Andreas' Balsamico spell (not to mention I was swooning over his gorgeous eyes).

Feeling guilty that we have consumed enough of his time, we once again made our hefty purchases and asked where we should go to have a meal. He suggested Trattoria Bric. He gave us directions to the trattoria, but in actuality patiently got us there by phone as we got lost within a few minutes.

He warned us that there would be no menu and no one will speak or understand English, but that we should definitely order the gnoccho fritto and the tagliatelle.

We arrived and were awkwardly greeted in the international form of smiles and nods. I looked around the busy restaurant as we were taken to a table. This was a casual spot with wine bottles lining the shelves. The bar at the end of the room was more of a service bar or perhaps a spot to have a standing espresso. There were framed posters, maps of the area, and postcards of Italy on the walls.

When it was time to order, we asked for Lambrusco and another regional wine thinking we were each getting a glass, but two opened bottles were placed on the table with tumblers. Using our best Italian dialect, we ordered prosciutto, tagliatelle, parmigiana, salami, and of course gnoccho fritto. This was a divine feast (less than 60 Euro total) that we fondly recalled for the rest of the trip. Later, we come to find out that all of the pasta is made in-house with organic eggs and Mulino Marino flour.


Back in the ESTATE kitchen in Sonoma, Sondra and John are in the kitchen trying to recreate the gnoccho fritto.

SONDRA TWEETS (with picture)

"Inspired by our recent trip to Emilia

Romagna, we are working on Gnoccho Fritto,

fried pasta pillows for our salumi."

Two hours later, Sondra receives a direct message from Restaurants and Institutions Magazine asking to set up an interview to discuss gnoccho fritto (excerpt of article to the right).

It's a small world. However, it got even smaller when social media came to be. Making connections throughout the world, sharing our inspirations, and creating friendships that stand the test of time are just some reasons why social media is changing the way we travel.

San Giacomo

Strada Pennella, 1 - Novellara (RE) T. & F. +39. (0) 522.651197

You can find San Giacomo products online at FormaggioKitchen.com, Chefshop.com, Amazon.com, and Gustiamo.com

Trattoria BRIC

5, V. Manzoni - 12050 Castagnito (CN) - Italy | PI 00963340047

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