Verdi was born in 1813 in the tiny town of Roncole, in the province of Parma, where his parents ran an osteria that was a popular overnight stop. There, in Italy's agricultural heartland, he was nourished by the regional dishes his mother served, like chicche (pronounced KEE-kay), tiny spinach gnocchi sprinkled with the local Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, as well as by the stories he heard from travelers about the great theaters of northern Italy. By the 1850s, Verdi had become not only a well-known composer but also a successful farmer and a renowned cook. "If only they knew how well he composes risotto alla milanese," wrote his wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, in a letter describing a standing ovation he received upon a visit to Turin's Teatro Regio. To his favorite singers, he would often send a pork shoulder, with a handwritten recipe attached.