I met a man who makes balsamic vinegar. He's been making it for 20 years, or so; and he's selling a 25-year-old that tastes like an explosion of cherries. When this balsamic started its journey to my mouth, there were 25 litres of vinegar in the cask. By the time he bottled it, the vinegar had moved through oak and mulberry-wood casks as well as the cherry wood cask that left its stamp; and it had reduced to just one litre.
That's why it costs 25 euros for 50ml, that's about R14 for 2ml. Of course I bought it. It's so beautiful you could weep, and I will weep with pleasure over the next few months as I measure it out, drop by drop, on his recommendation, over perfect vanilla cream.
This man is one of the many thousands of exhibitors at the biannual Salone del Gusto in Turin, a food geek's heaven. There are dozens of vinegar makers, twice as many oil producers, charcuteriers doing more indecent things to a boar than there are days in the year, variations on the cheese theme that would take you a lifetime to work through.
Honey is cultish; almonds are gold; there's a mountain of salts from pink to sulphurish black. You could swim in rivers of grappas, and you could travel the world through the tastes and flavours of every country you've never travelled to.
Er... but not every country.
There's no South Africa presence at the stands, though there are a few delegates from Slow Food convivia in Johannesburg and Cape Town, one chef (Neil Jewell from Bread & Wine in Franschhoek), some industry people, and three journalists (who all paid their own way). We – chef and journalists – have been perching on pavements with beer from Ireland or Poland, discussing this, mourning it.
Looking at the nations united in their understanding of the power of food to promote interest in a country, and wondering why our own tourism people don't think to promote our own extraordinary heritage here in Turin, where the world comes to see where they want to go next.
Boerie rolls are a great ambassador. So are our meebos, chutney, pickles, sosaties, and koeksisters of both Afrikaner and Malay origin. Our wines have always won hearts. Our fruit is legendary. Our inventiveness is legendary.
So this is a challenge to the SA tourism authorities: get with the menu.
When a girl gets married, my vinegar-maker told us, it was customary – and generous – to send with her to her new husband, a barrel of vinegar (ideally started when she was born). There are a million things one could say to that, but once you've tasted this vinegar, the words die in your mouth.
And all the presumptions people have about South Africa, could die in the world's mouth with the first sip of Vin de Constance; the first crisp driehoek-kerriekoek.
Heather Parker is the editor of Health24. She is one of SA's most respected journalists, and a serious foodie to boot.