Last week Eataly opened the doors of its long-awaited megastore to the Milanese. While there has already been an Eataly store in Milan for years, its size and visual impact were somewhat underwhelming when compared to some of its counterparts in locations like Turin, Rome, Genoa and New York.
I, and apparently many others given the lines stretching across Piazza XXV Aprile, was curious to see how Oscar Farinetti, its founder, had transformed a much-beloved cultural landmark, the Teatro Smeraldo, into his Milanese flagship store. Over the years I had spent many a memorable night at concerts and shows in the theater's auditorium and even more very early mornings partying underneath the theater in a club that was a well-known hangout for the Milanese movida.
The store, 5,000sqm spread over 4 floors, includes a congress center, the Michelin-starred restaurant Alice, a book store, several counters of fresh produce, thematic open-plan restaurants that focus on specific ingredients (meat, fish, vegetables, fried food, pizza and so on), separate rooms for courses and a part of the old stage, where music events will be held to entertain customers and to remind them of what this building represented for the Milanese for almost a century.
The first area you walk through upon entering the building, past the cash registers, is dedicated to books covering the most disparate food-related topics, from children's coloring books to Slowfood manuals and well-known to more obscure cookbooks.
|Oscar Farinetti's book on Italian wine producers|
Once you cross through what used to be the foyer of the theater, you enter the transformed auditorium, with its central market stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables and the shelves that line the whole space selling anything from mostarda (sweet and spicy pickled fruit to eat with boiled meats and cheeses) to strolghino (a salami of the Parma and Piacenza areas that uses only the cuts of the renowned culatello and fiocco di prosciutto) hamburgers.
Eataly follows the Slowfood ideology of showcasing the hard and often underpaid work of hundreds of artisans, products that would otherwise be lost in today's globalized and fast-paced world. In line with Pedrini's non-profit movement, it also strives to promote the concept of seasonal and local products.
It is a win-win situation: Eataly not only sustains small producers and sheds light on crafts that were being forgotten or that only a handful of people knew about to begin with, real local gems; it also creates jobs, promotes one of Italy's great heritages and has turned into a very successful venture that attracts food lovers and tourists from all over.
To the right of the vegetable stands is a piadina kiosk that imitates the baths on the beaches of the Costiera Romagnola; it serves this typical flatbread made of flour and lard with a variety of savory and sweet fillings.
|Remember this place?|
Next is this Gelateria Alpina, gelato made with the most natural of ingredients and served in a unique way, which I tasted for you a while ago.
And then, just as you are thinking of buying yourself a cone, you look to right and are
distracted hypnotized by this Wonka-like waterfall of molten Venchi chocolate. Welcome to the chocolate corner!
It would not be a trip to Eataly without a shot of Lurisia, our favorite natural sodas and mineral water.
|Mommy, look! This spaghetti is almost as long as I am!|
Then a whole section dedicated to grissini...
...and bread (yes that is artisanal bread studded with bits of pancetta and cheese).
...and in case these breads are not enough, you can have a sandwich made for you on the spot.
At this point we took the glass elevator (yet another Wonka reference) as far up as we could go (to the third floor - the 4th floor is closed off for congresses etc.) and then worked our way down. The kids loved the ride and I was happy to get a great view to take a picture of.
|A part of the stage of the former Teatro Smeraldo|
|This is one of the classrooms for cooking classes, presentations and tastings.|
The wine selection is quite impressive and I saw a few new (to me) and interesting labels... not that I am an expert, far from it.
Or a liter of wine for €2.70... sorry, the €2.50-a-liter wine is empty... Who knew €0.20 would make such a difference when you are buying a liter of wine?
And then we finally reached my personal heaven on the second floor: cured meats and cheeses.
|As much as I love prosciutto, what I really liked here was the map of Lombardy divided into the areas where specific cured meats are produced|
|Cured meats wherever you look, even hanging off the ceiling!|
And them came
my other the kids' favorite part, the mozzarella making area: bocconcini, trecce (braids), you name it, Mr. Mozzarella Man made it. He didn't look that enthusiastic about me taking pictures (but in my defence, he was standing behind a glass window, in front of a crowd armed with phones, making a show) but maybe it was just the millionth mozzarella he was making that morning (but it does look like he is giving me the evil eye in the video below). So, sorry mozzarella guy, I hope you don't mind me posting this!
And then fresh pasta, counters and counters of it.
Stuffed with gorgonzola and pears, speck, ricotta and spinach, cheese and truffles, cheese and radicchio, borage, beets, ricotta and lemon and more.
And if you are buying pasta, you will probably need tomatoes, in all shapes, forms and sizes.
The meat was quite impressive...
... and I stared into this fridge for dry-aging the meat for longer than I care to admit.
And then there were rotisserie meats...
... and organic eggs (that I realized I had already photographed when I linked back to my post on the Genoa Eataly )
The crowds were pretty overwhelming when we were there, but if you are feeling a little peckish browsing though all this bounty, why not stop and taste a selection of great meats, fish, vegetables or pizza?
I also loved that while renovating the premises, Farinetti kept reminders all over the store that this was a theater that hosted many of Italy's and the world's most famous artists.
|Photos of some of the Italian and international stars that performed at the former Teatro Smeraldo hanging in the foyer. Sorry, couldn't let the Boss go unnoticed!|
|I do not use... plastic bags|
Oh, and in case you were wondering about the bathrooms (I know I do, especially since I have had kids), considering there were about a million people there when we visited, they were quite nice and in really good state!
More lines as we left.