Sale Marino – The Sea Salt

Salt farmers

Ingredients

  • Salt

How to make Sale Marino – The Sea Salt

In ancient times, salt was collected from seawater pools after the water had evaporated in the sun. This technique is still in use today in Italy’s marine salt production. A series of linked salt-water basins, enormous but shallow, are naturally filled with seawater, which quickly evaporates in the Mediterranean sun, leaving pure marine salt.

There are about 20 such marine salt basins in Italy. Still, only four of them are functioning using this ancient technique: Sant’Antioco in southwestern Sardinia, Trapani in western Sicily, Santa Margherita di Savoia in Apulia, and Cervia in Romagna. However, there was a time when every important maritime city had its sea salt basin: from Syracuse to Trieste, from Ostia to Venice. The Canal Grande is all that remains of the city’s old salt basins, covered in 1732.

Most salt basins were abandoned because it is cheaper to mine salt industrially. However, the four bays that are still in use survived thanks to the exceptional organoleptic qualities of their salt. In addition, salts produced in those basins are not used just as plain salt but for their particular flavor, which can turn an excellent typical dish into an extraordinary gourmet experience.

Where to buy authentic Italian Sea Salt in the USA

Coarse Sea Salt and Fine Sea Salt from Trapani are available in North America imported by Gustiamo.com.

Salt is a kitchen essential, and the artisanal sea salt from Trapani will replace your everyday commodity salt with a truly artisanal product. Gathered from the low waters of the Mediterranean Sea along the northwest coast of Sicilia, this salt is naturally rich in iodine, fluorine, magnesium, and potassium, with a much lower percentage of sodium chloride than regular table salt. This authentic Italian sea salt adds more “salt” flavor to food with less sodium, so use a pinch to enhance the taste of all your favorite dishes naturally. Sale Grosso, or coarse salt, is ideal for preserving foods; its larger grains penetrate food more slowly, resulting in more even dehydration. In addition, the grains dissolve quickly in water, so use it for brine solutions or boiling pasta.

Food Festivals In Italy

Winter Food Festivals:

Feast of the Star: A large star lights up a presepio, or creche, placed on a cart and carried in procession through the streets of Sabbio Chiesa near Brescia in Lombardy. Everyone brings food gifts for the Three Kings, mostly cheese, wine, and salami, which are consumed at a lavish dinner that follows.

Epiphany: There are many feasts and special foods for the Epiphany. In the Veneto, everyone eats la Pinza de Marantega, a sweet bread made with cornmeal, white wheat flour, dried figs, anise seeds, and candied fruits. The town of Andreis near Pordenone in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia celebrates with a sagra of bread and wine. Everyone drinks the local wine and eats a particular fig and raisin bread baked in a wood-burning oven.

Sagra delle Luganighe: At Cannobio near Novara in Piedmont, January brings the feast of luganiga, a type of sausage, celebrated with heaps of boiled sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut.

Festa di San Antonio: At Volongo near Cremona in Lombardy, young people collect wood to build a pyre sixty feet high to burn an old witch made of straw who represents winter. Everyone eats torta dura, or hard cake, made with cornmeal and spices.

Spring Food Festivals:

Feast of the Cherry Trees in Flower: Held in Vignola near Modena in Emilia-Romagna in early April.

Sagra dei Garagoi: At Marotta near Pesaro in The Marches, you will find this sagra dedicated to the garagoi or sea snails. They are cooked in tomato sauce with lots of pepper. The locals say the best way to eat them is to sip wine for every seven snails. So naturally, only the local wines such as Bianchello and Verdicchio from the Colli Pesaresi will do.

Sagra dei Gnocchi: More than fourteen hundred pounds of potatoes are cooked for this feast at Teolo near Padua, and everyone eats potato gnocchi.

Sagra della Pie Fritta: This fair honoring a small fried flatbread is held at Fontanelice near Bologna.

Sagra dello Stoccafisso: The stockfish fair is held at Melazzo near Alessandria in Piedmont. Five chefs cook vast quantities of the dried fish with tomato sauce, olives, anchovies, tuna, and garlic. The day’s events include stockfish hurling contests.

Sagra del Biscottofisso: This fair is held at Bomarzo near Viterbo in Latium. Ring-shaped cookies flavored with aniseed are dedicated to Saint Anselm, the patron saint of Bomarzo.

Sagra delle Uova Sode: To celebrate Easter, a hard-cooked egg-eating contest is the highlight of this feast held at Tredozio near Forli in Emilia-Romagna.

Sagra del Carciofo: Held at Ladispoli in Rome, this sagra features a mountain of mammola artichokes, the round, spineless variety for which the region is renowned. The piazza is surrounded by stands offering them cooked in different ways. At night there is a fireworks display.

Sagra del Pesce is held at Camogli near Genoa in honor of the feast of San Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen. The townspeople fry up fresh fish in an enormous pan and distribute it to all. The locals say the best way to eat them is to sip wine for every seven snails.

Summer Food Festivals:

Festa del Lambrusco: Held in July at Albinea in Emilia-Romagna. Fizzy, red wine is sampled with gnocco fritto, or fried puffs of pasta dough, accompanied by prosciutto and salami and erbazzone, a savory tart stuffed with greens, eggs, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Festa di Noiantri is held in Rome along the banks of the Tiber. Noiantri means “we others,” which is how the residents of the bohemian Trastevere neighborhood think of themselves as a breed apart. Booths offer tastes of bruschetta and sell local crafts and foodstuffs.

Campionato Nazionale dei Mangiatori d’Anguria: National watermelon eating championship held at Sissa near Parma.

Sagra delle Melanzane Ripiene is held in Montanesi near Genoa for the feast of Saint Rocco. Wine and cheese accompany the stuffed eggplant.

Sagra del Pecorino: At San Godenzo near Florence, fresh and aged sheep’s milk cheese is tasted in the town square.

Sagra dell’Anguilla: Orbetello in Tuscany celebrates with eels either fried, marinated, or stuffed.

Autumn Food Festivals:

The harvest season brings a wealth of gastronomic festivals throughout Italy. You could probably find one for every day of September. For example, the Festa of the Duck is held at Desenzano on Lake Garda, of the Wild Boar at Capalbio in Tuscany, of the Octopus at Portovenere, of the Mushrooms at Budoia in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Lucca in Tuscany.

Among the many Grape festivals, the most famous is Marino in the Castelli Romani in Latium, where a vast fountain spouts white wine instead of water.

La Vendemmia della Nonna is held each year at Castagnole Monferrato near Asti in Piedmont, with the harvesting and stomping of the grapes in the old manner. Afterward, there is a big dinner featuring polenta with anchovy sauce.

Sagra della Nocciola: Held in Castellero in Piedmont. The highlight is a footrace through the hazelnuts. Homemade tortes, cakes, and sweets are handed out, and prizes are given for the best nuts.

Sagra della Lepre: Held at Selvatelle near Pisa. Cooks prepare potted hare, roasted hare, and pappardelle with hare sauce. For those who don’t like the hare, there are grilled steaks and roast pork.

Sarga degli Stacchioddi: Held at Latiano in Puglia, this fair celebrated a type of homemade pasta shaped into little curved disks and served with a tomato sauce and sour ricotta cheese.

From: “A Fresh Taste of Italy” by Michele Scicolone.

The Olive Oil

This nectar is obtained by the cold working pressure of olives picked up by hand and brought to the oil mill in a brief time. These olives are washed, milled and then kept under a pressing machine.

The obtained must pass in a separator that separates oil from working’s water, and then is strained. The olive oil is defined “extra virgin” if it has an acidity lower than 0.8 % (and if fulfils other quality requirements, “virgin” with an acidity lower than 2%, “lampante” with an acidity higher than 2%.

The characteristics of a very good “extra-virgin” oil are the following: the light green color, with gold grales, the intense smell of grass and green leaves, the flavor a little piquant and a light taste of artichoke.

The most fit Tuscan varieties to have an esteemed oil are the following:

MORAIOLO, for the low acidity;

FRANTOIANO for the smell and the sapidity;

LECCINO for the fine spicy sensation.

Eating does not mean filling yourself up with food. It is history, culture living together, reassurance, pleasure and tradition. In the Mediterranean culture olive oil typically represents these ties.

To pay homage to this indisputable player in Mediterranean civilization, we have to rediscover this valuable product, to recognize its advantages and its irreplaceable contribution to man’s nutrition.

The variety of wild olive tree in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean sea is a thorny bush which produces a small fruit with large seeds and little flesh, quiet different from the cultivated variety which is not thorny and produces a fleshy fruit reach in oil.

The cultivated olive tree probably doesn’t originate from the oleaster or wild olive even if the two varieties have quiet similar genetic and chromosomal features. The cultivated olive tree probably comes from a hybrid of two species – maybe from the Olea Africana it would have inherited the elongated leaves and from an unknown one the fleshy element and high oil content.

The main differences between the wild and the cultivated varieties are due to man who has selected, cultivated, nurtured the olive trees for thousands of years deeply changing its features. Almost six thousands years ago, during the Copper Age, the early farmers living in the coastal regions of the Eastern Mediterranean (Syria) cultivated a type of olive tree bearing a large fruit and began to select the varieties systematically.

They discovered that they could with difficulty obtain a dense and oily liquid, beneficial and useful in protecting their skin, with a rather pleasing aromatic taste and which could be easily burnt. The study of the long process of selection is extremely complicated as it is not always possible to recognize the different varieties from the vegetable remains.

It was actually with the advent of the first urban civilizations that we can confirm the relation between the civil and olive-culture development, which has remained constant throughout the history of the Mediterranean basin.

The continually increasing demand for oil and wine in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Anatolia determined the prosperity of settlements in the coastal areas favorable for the cultivation of olive trees and vines. The cultivation of olive is confirmed by archaeological sites dating back to 3.500 B.C., with the findings of big olive stones and the large quantity of coal from burnt olive wood, used as a fuel or as a building material.

These remains are sometimes found a semi-desert areas where the olive tree could not have grown spontaneously and therefore is a proof of the first human efforts to spread the cultivation of the olive. In the area of Syria, Ebla was one of the main centers on the caravan trade roads which supplied the products of an already “Mediterranean diet” (wine instead of beer, olive oil instead of sesame oil), connecting Egypt, the Mesopotamian settlements and Assyria, the main state companies and the most important business centers in the world. Sophisticated Egyptian objects, alabaster vases and lamps, jewels, gold, silver and precious stones were traded for local products: fabrics, bronze manufactures, olive oil and wine.

In the 4th century B.C. Athens was about to become one of the most important and splendid capitols in the history of mankind.

However the problems resulting from an internal demographic growth forced Athens and other cities in Greece to implement economic changes and a major development in exportation to meet the need for cereal products.

According to legend all the olive trees in Athens came from the first tree which the goddess Athena caused to sprout during her contest against the god Poseidon for the domination of the city. In fact if a person had cut down one of the sacred olive trees direct descendants of the one that Athena planted, they could have been condemned to death or to exile and all their property confiscated.

Solon, one of the seven sages of ancient Greece, gave to the city a code laws, which exalted the role of the Athenian olive culture. According to this code it was absolutely prohibited to cut down an olive tree, if not for the service of the sanctuary or the community, anyway up to a maximum of two per years. As well, the exportation from the city of any agricultural product different than olive, was forbidden.

There were also precise rules established in minute details for the practice of agriculture, for example the planting in rows and the distance between the olive trees.

Oil was one the goods most in demand in Mediterranean trade during the archaic period. Oil amphora from Athens, Corinth and other cities have been found in colonial settlements from the Black Sea to Africa, in Spain, in Etruscan emporiums and in Phoenician cities, as well as in “barbarian” settlements, where olive oil was held as an exotic and valuable product.

The dominion of Rome around the Mediterranean represents the ancient era of major development of the olive culture. Production, trade and consumption of olive oil were significantly interwoven with the development of the agrarian system and of land property organization.

During the Roman period important refinements in oil production technology were introduced and numerous Latin words on agronomy were written from the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. by authors such as Catone, Columella, the Saserna and others, laying down guidelines for landowners as to the best way of cultivating their lands and all the most efficient ways for pruning, fertilizing, harvesting and tending the olive trees.

After the end of the 3rd Punic War the entire Mediterranean area witnessed the spread of the olive tree. The importance of the Italian production, where the cultivation of the olive had been introduced by the Greeks to the local peoples and the Etruscans, was supplanted by the provinces’ one, in the imperial age.

Along the course Quadalquivir in Betica the land was covered by immense olive groves whose oil supplied the capital and the armies stationed along the northern borders of the Roman Empire, where olive trees could not grow. During the Middle Ages olive oil became quite rare and valuable and in some cases was used as a currency. Since the early 5th century, state controls on oil began to diminish and almost vanish. The religious orders owned the most of the still cultivated olives groves and olive oil was found only on the tables of the very rich people and especially the ecclesiastical ones. In the monasteries there were the “cellar-men” responsible for the daily distribution of olive oil.

Olive oil during the Middle Ages was also used for the catholic liturgy. The Sacred Oils and the Chrism necessary for performing the sacraments were blessed during “Chrism mass” which the bishop presided over on Maundy Thursday. The consecrated oil distributed to the different churches had to last all the year long. Also the lamps which adorned the altar in front of the image of God could only use olive oil, as prescribed in the scriptures.

Today the olive tree has spread beyond the Mediterranean areas to all continents of the world, except the Poles.

There are olive groves in South Africa, China and Vietnam, in southern Oceania, in North, Central and south America and the total world-wide production of olive oil has been steadily increasing since the beginning of 1900.

The ancients use to say “the Mediterranean begins and finishes with olive tree”, to mean the intimate and close links between the plant and the geographical area, considered an organism quite distinct from the cold and wet provinces.

Between 1830 and 1840, the Holy See started a policy of incentives so that in the single area now called Umbria 40.000 olive trees were planted.

Since then Italian olive-culture has continued to grow in quantity and quality. The techniques of planting and pruning have changed.

The olive groves of low productivity have been replanted and the mechanization of the harvesting in some zones has become a reality.

The introduction of new techniques in pressing, together with the overall advances in harvesting, have made possible an enormous qualitative growth.

Extra-virgin-olive-oil (olio extra-vergine d’oliva) is obtained from the mechanical grinding and pressing of olives in special temperature conditions so as not to cause any changes in the product. The only processes allowed are the washing and the pressing of the olives, the decanting, the centrifugation and the filtering of the oil. The maximum of acidity in oleic acid is gr. 1 on gr. 100.

Extravergine olive oil is the queen of the kitchen in the Mediterranean. There is a vast range of choice. Every producer in every region, like for wine, is able to offer an unique product, in respecting the typical traditional taste of the area. As in the case of wine, the type food determines which oil is to be used.

For delicate dishes, raw or cooked, a soft and slightly fruity flavor oil is most indicated. For tasty dishes a full-bodied oil is suggested, even with a bouquet and a strong fruity and spicy flavor. Some examples include: a Ligurian extra-virgin oil for an excellent mayonnaise, a delicate new oil for a broiled fish, a strong flavored oil for bottled beans, a Tuscan flavorsome oil for bruschetta and ribollita. Grilled meat is an already taste dish but a little of Pugliese oil at the end of cooking will add that extra something. If the meat is raw, as for carpaccio or albese, try the oil from Liguria. For grilled fish, we recommend a fine clear oil while a strong Sicilian oil is requested on salads. Also the olive oil can be successfully used for cakes, pie pastry and biscuits.

The olive tree and the oil obtained from its fruit was already known by the peoples of the south-eastern Mediterranean, particularly the Palestinians and Phoenicians. However, they didn’t use it as a dressing, also because their methods and production were more limited compared to those of the forunners of the Greeks, the mythical Cretans, for whom this culture was a major source of wealth right up to 2,500 BC. Methods of cultivation, harvesting and pressing were perfected further by the Greeks.

Sample fruits were taken from different plants, pressed into a sieve of very small holes and the oil filtering through collected into a small container. From the color and taste of this sample they checked the maturity of the olive and decided on the best moment for the harvest. This happened, more or less as today, by shaking the tree, beating it with long sticks or stripping it by hand. The extraction of the oil was carried out immediately after the olives were harvested.

These were ground and crushed by rotating cylinders where the pressure could be increased until the seeds were extracted but without also crushing them. Then, using a press, a mixture of oil and water was squeezed out, which was left for period, after which the watery substance – the bitter, sour part – was removed. Further pressings, up to three, produced oil but of an inferior quality and different taste.

    Olive Oils DOP

  Alto Crotonese DOP
  Aprutino Pescarese DOP
  Brisighella DOP
  Bruzio DOP
  Canino DOP
  Cartoceto DOP
  Chianti Classico DOP
  Cilento DOP
  Colline di Brindisi DOP
  Colline di Romagna DOP
  Colline Salernitane DOP
  Colline Teatine DOP
  Dauno DOP
  Garda DOP
  Laghi Lombardi DOP
  Lamezia DOP
  Lucca DOP
  Molise DOP
  Monte Etna DOP
  Monti Iblei DOP
  Penisola Sorrentina DOP
  Pretuziano delle Colline Teramane DOP
  Riviera Ligure DOP
  Sabina DOP
  Sardegna DOP
  Tergeste DOP
  Terra di Bari DOP
  Terra d’Otranto DOP
  Terre di Siena DOP
  Terre Tarentine DOP
  Toscano IGP
  Tuscia DOP
  Umbria DOP
  Val di Mazara DOP
  Valdemone DOP
  Valle del Belice DOP
  Valli Trapanesi DOP
  Veneto DOP

Miele Della Lunigiana Dop

jar of honey with honeycomb on wooden table

Lunigiana is a mountainous territory in Tuscany, extending across the Magra River valley to a creek known as Vara. It takes its name from the ancient settlement of Luni that was established in 177 BC.

Thanks to its geographical position, the Magra Valley has always been a significant trade route between the southern Italian peninsula through the Po River Valley to the rest of Europe. The ancient Roman road that connected Pisa to Genoa, via Luni, and extended north to Arles, was built over a prehistoric trail.

The earliest reference to honey production in this region is a detailed tax assessment, from 1508, that lists honey as an income-producing activity and sets a tax on each of the 331 beehives in the area. Honey was used at that time as a general sweetener, as an essential ingredient in cakes and desserts, and for its medicinal qualities. The wax, on the other hand, was used to manufacture candles.

The great importance of apiculture to the earliest history of the valley’s economy is evidenced by legal statutes and ancient regulations on swarm recovery, colony placement, and other necessary activities for maintaining beehives.

Legal documents from the 18th Century provide a glimpse of measures adopted by communities against thieves. For example, regulating bodies kept lists of honey producers that were updated each year and included information on the number of hives owned and the amount of honey they harvested.

The Mediterranean Diet

Ancel Keys (at the center, standing), Paul Dudley White (at his left), and Flaminio Fidanza (at his right), during a press conference held in Gioia Tauro, Calabria, Italy, 1960 – Unknown author Public Domain

The discovery of the Mediterranean diet is attributed to the nutritionist Ancel Keys, who following the fifth fleet in 1945, landed in Salerno.

Stationed in the Battipaglia area he noticed that cardio-vascular illnesses, widespread in his own country, were quite rare. In fact, among the population of Cilento, there was a particularly low incidence of the so-called “diseases of affluence” (arteriosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes).

These observations were the basis for a research program that examined eating habits in Japan, the U.S., Yugoslavia, Germany, Finland, and Italy. The results showed without any doubt that the eating habits of more than 12.000 subjects were analyzed, that the more they moved away from the Mediterranean areas, the higher the incidence of the above illnesses was recognized.

A sensational discovery that led American scientists to set up in the 70s a widespread program of preventative medicine based on the studies conducted by Keys in Cilento.

Thus followed the international success and popularity of this Mediterranean diet consisting of whole and natural foods, essential for the health of the individual. The basic elements of this diet are cereal (bread, pasta, polenta), legumes, vegetables, fruit, and olive oil.

Normally the word “diet” carries a negative connotation, associated with limited food, depending on a particular pathological state or an excessive increase in “fat” in the body. Instead, if we look up at the etymology of the word “diet” in the dictionary, we find that it originates from a Greek word with the meaning of “life, lifestyle, way of living”.

In fact, eating is one of the fundamentals of our life, and being more aware of it can help us to live better and longer. Today all doctors agree on prescribing a diet based on a Mediterranean model, that appropriately divides the daily calories for the different nutrients to prevent the beginning of the “diseases of affluence”:

– 60% carbohydrates (cereals, pasta, bread)
– 30% fats (olive oil, butter, lard)
– 10% protein (meat, fish, legumes)

The Mediterranean diet pyramid

The Mediterranean diet can be represented graphically as a pyramid. On the lower level, there are the foods that variously combined can be consumed every day.

Moving up the pyramid we find the foods which should be consumed a few times a week. At the top, we have only one food, meat which should be eaten only a few times a month.

Meridians and parallels of European eating habits

In discussing European cuisine we need to think about a map where the political borders have been canceled leaving space only for meridian lines and parallels, for mountain ranges, rivers, and seas.

In this way, we can recognize the shape and content of the various cultures that are once so well-blended as in the case of Mediterranean Greece or northern Denmark or once so rich, various, and even contrasting as in the case of France and Italy.

To understand better how these elements are located on our silent map, let’s look at the sumptuously laid tables, where every nation offers not only a view of their own gastronomic heritage but also the lifestyle that has created it.

Going through the calendar we can see how the dates, names, and seasons have become “festivals”. Even if the number of days, the weather of the seasons, the government of countries change, The “festivals remain – San Nicola in the north, Santa Lucia in the south, Christmas and Easter. The churches themselves seem to have re-thought the eating precepts, with which they used to prepare and follow the celebrations. The fasts for Lent, Advent, and Sunday morning are finished, yet none want to give up a good banquet of pheasant, German goose, Italian capon, or international turkey.

In Europe every Country has interpreted the holy and the secular days according to their history and culture – for example, Easter is more important than Christmas in Orthodox Greece, but the differences are hazy, only small signs remain.

Some religious festivals have been lost – San Giuseppe gives very few Tortelli in Lombardy, less zeppole in Naples. The new celebrations find it difficult to establish themselves, but the true greed-inspiring inventions and spectaculars of modern Europe use the past. They bring it back to life and make it more efficient – Oktober fest in Germany, Kermesse in Fiandra, with a festivity of games, the Palio in Siena and the Feria in Spain, all tap into a breathing and well-fed affluence.

Moreover, we have Carnival which outdoes all the festivities. The Carnival has the advantage of having its own broken historical dignity and an uninterrupted string of sweets – krapfen in Germany, bigne’ in France, pansees brouillues in Luxembourg, Shrove Tuesday in England, the castagnole in Rome, and the cenci in Tuscany.

Then we can mention the celebration of the anniversaries – the French Revolution, the discovery of America, the recently celebrated turn of the Millennium. A myriad of feasts accompanies them, each one a feverish recovery of all the joyous signals of the past.

If the Belgians of the 1800s adorned their festival tables with a wild game from the Ardennes and exotic fruits, we cannot forget that the Danish Vikings used to eat sweet-scented bread and drink valuable wines in silver goblets, served on snowy-white delicate lace table clothes.

To lay the table sumptuously, decorate it with flowers, place markers and candles is a traditional gesture that brings all of Europe closer to a common feeling of secular or religious respect for the meal and the guests.

The styles and occasions are many but the spirit which dominates the banquet table is the same. A centerpiece of freshly picked flowers in the south or dried flowers in the north. Place markers of rough and curved wood in continental Europe, clay or terracotta figurines in the peninsulas and islands of Europe. Silver candelabras for winter, floating candles in a glass bowl for summer evenings. From East to West, from North to South, the tablecloth is required: snowy-white, simple cotton, modern prints, and lines.

Another important element in interpreting European culinary culture comes from drinking habits. Climate, environment, and customs influence “drinking” either as a basic need or a social form of communication. As soon as a drink is named, wine, beer, or coffee, there is immediately an association of ideas and tastes. Taverns, cafes, and bars become the spaces for people to meet and socialize. From Ireland to Bavaria the beer predominates, from Paris to Pantelleria, from Oporto to Rodhes, the wine is the main drink. For centuries along the Rhine, wine civilized the hostile populations. In a few decades, a small cup of coffee has provided a passport for the Italians.

Economic laws and atavistic resistance exist side by side and continuously change. Perhaps there is not yet a single Europe and certainly, there are not many “Europes” anymore. There is only one territory divided mainly into two large cultural basins: the continental and silent North and the rough and noisy South.

European eating habits are much more similar from East to West than from North to South. From Berlin to Dublin there is a thread of common foods the names of which may vary. The English Chester and the Belgian hevre are variants of the classic Dutch red and brilliant rind cheese. The meat-based diet of the Irish Celts was almost identical to the Teutonic one. Northern and central Europe have imposed canapes in all its forms: hapjs in Holland, smorrebre in Denmark, and smorgds in Germany.

Moving south towards the Mediterranean are Spain, southern France, southern Italy, and Greece we have a fairly similar overview. Beef disappears, replaced by sheep and goat which influences the wide consumption of different cheeses, quite similar from region to region in color, shape, and consistency: feta in Greece, manchego in Spain, chevre in France and pecorino in Italy, fresh or seasoned.

Butter’s main role in northern cooking is replaced by olive oil. The cooking becomes tastier and enriched with a wide variety of herbs and spices growing from Portugal to Rhodes, from Provence to Tuscany. In the North, blueberries, raspberries, and forest berries soften the strong taste of red meat and the rather particular taste of the game. Around the Meditteranean sea thyme, rosemary, mint, marjoram, and parsley flavor the white and delicate chicken meat and fish.

The Medieval Pie

In the 14th century the table of the noblemen and the rich merchants of Tuscany became so opulent to force authorities to regulate the number of presents at the banquets and the number of the courses, with very detailed laws called “leggi suntuarie” (sumptuary laws)..

Imagine that in the luxurious banquets of that age, the various courses of meat (chickens, ducks, partridges, pheasants, porches, hams, sausages, fish …) were accompanied by salsas including not only spices (useful often to cover the bad flavor of not well preserved meats), but also gems, gold and pearls.

The way to skip the sumptuary laws, which didn’t allow more than three courses in a meal, can be found in a “Recopies book” of the XIV century.

The recipe of “La Torta” (the pie) was including pork meat, ham, sausages, onions, dates, almonds, flour, cheese, eggs, sugar, salt, parsley, saffron and other spices.

After frying the chickens into olive oil and after making ham ravioli, they put them with sausages on a sheet of dough, than they alternated layers of almonds and dates over layers of cheese and eggs mixed with salsas. The whole pie was coated with dough and cooked under the hot embers.

Traditional Italian cookery is certainly more inspired to the simple dishes of the farmer’s table rather than the sumptuous preparations of middle-age merchants’ tables; however some Renaissance recipes (wonderful are the ones telling how to prepare meat with fruit salsas) show the link and the influence of the old habits of the 1400 cuisine.

Gourmet Foods

Bottarga

True gourmets are not snobs. They will taste and judge virtually any preparation, from the simplest to the most complex, with an open mind. They are attracted to and by the quality and they are not unduly impressed by the price. Cheap food that many might scorn as fit only for the “poor” may delight the true gourmet, whose sole criteria are flavor, aroma, texture, color, and other “objective” values. Fortunately, Italy has plenty to offer gourmets. Some are costly, and many others are incredibly reasonable.

The white truffles of Alba in Piedmont rank in the luxury class. They are appreciated for their overpowering yet extraordinarily delicate aroma. Italians eat them raw, shaved paper-thin over egg dishes, plain pasta (dressed with butter and cheese only), and other light foods. Unfortunately, they are expensive because production is minimal since they grow solely in the wild, and fluctuations in weather conditions can play havoc with their reproduction and growth.

Italy produces black truffles in greater abundance and in a wider area so that they are much more affordable. The black variety is not as odorous as the white and it is usually cooked. The tubers are processed and shipped to markets worldwide.

Bottarga is the compressed, salted and dried roe of tuna or gray mullet. Cut in thin slices, it is dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and consumed as an appetizer.

In recent decades, farmers in northern Italy have begun to produce goose and duck liver pate’ in substantial quality. At the same time, Tuscany, particularly the Chianti zone, is noted for its crostini, a rustic pate’ based on chicken livers and served on toasted unsalted Tuscan bread.

Italian Food The Cereals

Cereal preference or dependence relatively neatly divided the ancient Mediterranean world in half. In the east, the Greeks cultivated and consumed barley, while wheat was the principal grain of the Latin West.

Italians did not reject barley. They grew it and ate it in various preparations as they still do, usually in soups. But it was never a major or vital part of their diet. Rye was grown to a certain extent in the Alps but it, too, was and is still today a minor food resource. Millet and oats never acquired much of a following in Italy but buckwheat (grano saraceno) is popular in northern Italy and particularly Lombardy’s Valtellina.

Wheat in the form of bread and puls (boiled meal flavored in innumerable ways) was the mainstay of the diet for centuries. With the decline in hard physical labor in recent years, bread has lost some of its essentiality but puls has become a standard entry on restaurant menus not only in Italy but also in countries worldwide. However, it changed its form in the 17th century after the arrival of corn (maize) from the New World. Corn replaced wheat and the result was polenta.

Various types of wheat evolved at an early date. Some are specifically adapted to use in bread because of their substantial content of gluten, which gives dough elasticity. Hard wheat (durum) is more compact and the dough retains its shape during cooking. It is the ideal grain for the production of pastas. Farro or spelt wheat is a rare survivor of ancient agriculture. Cultivated primarily in Tuscany’s Garfagnana zone, it was only recently rediscovered. Today, production barely keeps up with demand.

Italians have developed a wide range of breads over the centuries and many ancient types are still produced–-in most cases on a local or regional basis. Commercial bakers account for most of the bread consumed in Italy today as they have since professionals started turning out loaves in ancient Rome in the 2nd century BC. Baking is still practiced at home to a certain extent, as at Genzano, a village near Rome. The selection nationwide ranges from extremely large loaves, once intended to keep a household supplied for a full week, to small rolls. Most breads are leavened but many are not, like the Sardinian carta da musica (thin as sheets of music paper) or carasau.

Crackers are a relatively recent addition to the Italian roster of breads and related products. However, the concept is basically the same as that of the communion wafer. Grissini or breadsticks are a specialty of Turin, although they are now found virtually everywhere. Most are pencil-thin but in their homeland bakers still shape them by hand so that they are thick and irregular. Flat breads are extremely popular in central Italy and include Tuscany’s rosemary-flavored schiacciata, the Romagna’s piadina and Emilia’s crescentina and gnocco. Some are fried and some are baked. Sweetened breads are common but they belong to the dolce or confectionery category.

The Coffee Il Caffe

While coffee has been known in the Muslim East since remote times, it was first introduced in the West in the seventeenth century, when Prospero botanist and physician, brought back to Venice some sacks of coffee that he had acquired during a trip in the East.

The first Venetian coffee house opened in 1640, and shortly thereafter the word “cafe'” became synonymous, in all of Italy, with both the beverage and the place where it was served.

In 1763, there were as many as 218 coffee houses in Venice. Coffee, considered to be a token of love and friendship, had become extremely popular. Venetian lovers would send trays full of chocolates and coffee to their beloved ones as proof of their love and affection.

But in Italy as elsewhere, coffee hasn’t had an entirely easy life. In the beginning, its popularity alarmed the Catholic Church. Some of its more fanatical members claimed that it was the “beverage of Satan” and urged Pope Clement VIII to ban its consumption by the believers. The Pope, however, decided to taste a cup of coffee himself and soon came to the conclusion that there was no harm in drinking it. Needless to say, the pontiff’s approval opened the doors to future successes.

In the eighteenth century, coffee became known as the “beverage of the intellectuals.” Men of culture, in fact, were not only convinced that coffee was a refreshing beverage, but they also argued that it could cure almost any illness.

The “Cafe'” is also the name of the place where coffee, but not only coffee, is served, and there are historic Cafes in all Italian cities.

“What news from the cafes today?” King Vittorio Emanuele II would often ask his counselors when he wanted the low-down on the political situation. If we’re going to be honest, a chapter of Italian history was actually written in Turin cafes. Cavour was a patron of Caffe Fiorio, but Massimo D’Azeglio, Giolitti and Einaudi preferred Baratti&Milano.

De Gasperi used to wind down at Caffe Torino. Alexandre Dumas was a habitue’ of Bicerin (the “snifter”), Guido Gozzano liked the Art Nouveau rooms in Mulassano, but Platti was Cesare Pavese’s favorite.

Things haven’t changed much and the historic cafes are the heart and soul of Turin tradition and culture: a safe bet for tasting some special subalpine pastries in oh-so-chic style.

The Spelt

We distinguish the small spelt (Triticum monococcum L.), the medium spelt (Triticum dicoccum Schrank), and the big spelt (Triticum spelta L.). The farmer’s interest is just for the medium and the big spelt, for which populations, selected production lines, and cultivated varieties exist.

The small spelt nowadays is useful in the work of genetic betterment. It is different from the cultivated one because it maintains the “dressed cariossidi” (covered by glumes and glumellas) at the end of the threshing. The elimination of the exterior wrappers needs a further “undressement” that, together with the low yields, has caused the almost total abandon of this cultivation.

The spelt is one of the most ancient cereals used by humanity. His cultivation goes back at least to 7000 B.C. It has been the basic food of Assyrians, Egyptians, and all Middle-East and North African populations.

Attending to recent studies, the birthplace should be Palestine. Nowadays, it is shed a spontaneous kind of spelt (Triticum dicoccoides); it seems that this cultivation has been taken from this region to all the others the nomadic shepherds.

It’s a graminaceous plant with an erect and resistant stalk and a linear leaf growing in the mountain areas. The name “spelt” means fibber in Latin, and it’s a particular type of wheat, which was widely cultivated in the Roman age. After that, it has been almost abandoned and only recently rediscovered for many purposes. Without this sweet and nutritious cereal (it’s known that 100 grains can give a lot of energy), Roman legions, who commonly received it (also as wages), wouldn’t have conquered the world. Two dishes were appreciated at that time: the “mola salsa” prepared with the toasted spelt flour and salt, and the “libum,” a kind of spelt pie, also offered to divinities during the propitiatory ceremonies.

Salt and spelt grains were offered to all the rural divinities, particularly Demetra, the earth goddess, to appease a good harvest during the “Idi of March.”

Also, in the bible (Ezekiel 44-30), the spelt is mentioned with the Hebraic name of “Arisab.” Nowadays, this cereal is used for cooking national dishes in Lebanon, Libya, and almost all Middle-East countries, even if called with different names (Taboule’, Kibbu,’ Salf).

Generally, these dishes result being more or less the same course, that is kind of a very thick soup of soaked spelt (raw or cooked), chickpeas, mint, olive oil, and pepper, with which they stuff just bloomed tender fig leaves. So, for example, Lebanon’s Kibbu’ is made of soaked and boiled spelt in the tomato sauce with sheep meat. The Libic Kibbu’, known as well in Tunisia and Morocco, is made of soaked and boiled spelt, fillets of fish, chopped pumpkin, and walnut slices.

The spelt has been widely used with a medicinal aim, and many ancient scriptures quote cures with this precious food. In the Padania plane (Italy), it was cultivated even in the early Neolithic age.

The most ancient testimony of the wheat cultivation comes from Vho (Piadena, near Cremona), wherein the 4300 b.C. primitive wheat, the most slender of all the cultivated wheat species, the small spelt (Triticum monococcum) was sowed.

The small spelt shows erect green-yellow spikelets flatted on the sides. The single spikelets with two flowers are ordered on two lines. Typically just the lowest flower of each spike matures, from which the denomination “monococcum.” The small spelt is “dressed,” that is, the grains, the matured ones too, remain tenaciously wrapped up, differently than the “naked” grain; in the threshing, only the spikelets are removed, and so it’s necessary to roast them in a drying oven to set the grains free.

In the Neolithic age, the essential cereal was the small spelt (Triticum monococcum), next to the big spelt (Triticum dicoccum), and the barley (Hordeum vulgare). In the north of Italy, the inventory of the cultivated plants coincides with the ones of the near Orient, where the farm revolution occurred. In the middle and the late Neolithic age, the cultivation spread out in the interior alpine area; the farmer came from the south in the valleys, as results by the presence of cereal in the provinces of Brescia, Trento, and Bolzano.

In addition to the two quoted bowls of cereal that were cultivated at that time, also the big spelt and another “dressed” wheat, very similar to the small spelt. The spikes of the big spelt are heavier and more hanging down if they are matured; the spikelets have three flowers and usually just two mature, so the harvest is more profitable.

In the Roman age, there has been a radical change in the cultivation of cereals: in the middle-alps, the barley (Hordeum vulgare) and the big spelt (Triticum dicoccum) got considerable importance, followed by spelz (Triticum spelta) and the dwarf grain (Triticum aestivum compactum); along the time, the small spelt lost prestige, and it was just marginally cultivated; the millet (Panicum miliaceum) took over the foxtail (Setaria Italica).

In the high Middle-age, or the age of the barbarian migration, the most critical products remained the big spelt (Triticum dicoccum) and the barley (Hordeum vulgare), followed by dwarf grain (Truiticum aestivum compactum) and spelz (Triticum spelta); the small spelt (Triticum monococcum) was cultivated just in the areas with a frigid climate, where it could grow neither grain nor spelz.

The spelt is nowadays cultivated in Garfagnana (Tuscany) in modest quantity but with excellent quality to obtain the protected origin denomination (Dop) in the countries of the European Community. In some areas of Umbria, and Monteleone of Spoleto in particular, the cultivation of spelt has never disappeared. For the San Nicola festival in Bari, a typical spelt minestrone is prepared on the sixth of December.

It’s not a coincidence that the spelt minestrone was always suggested to old and young people, more influenced by the risks of underfeeding. In Umbria and Marche, the antique spelt varieties are still cultivated, and they are particularly appreciated for the flavor and the richness of fibers.

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