Articles by: Dino Borri

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Being Italian Versus Sounding Like One

    According to recent data, in 2009, 20 billion euros worth of authentic Italian food products were exported, while roughly 60 billion euros of low-quality imitation products were sold at a discount price around the globe. This means that, for every can of tomato sauce or authentic peeled tomato, for every carton of pasta or bottle of extra virgin olive oil from Italy, there are three products that use bogus Italian images, colors, labels, and names to trick consumers.

    The numbers change, however, if we examine the issue geographically. The North American
    market rakes in 24 billion euros for “Italian Sounding” products, compared to just 3 billion euros it earns for authentic exports. That means that only one out of eight products is actually Italian. 

    Cheese, and other scandals

    Cases of fraudulence aside, our image has suffered indirectly, such as during the latest scandal surrounding a few cheese manufacturers in the U.S., when a series of articles appeared on websites and newspapers revealed that “parmesan” cheese distributed and sold in the U.S. contains non-dairy ingredients such as wood pulp cellulose. 

    The study began with a Pennsylvania cheese manufacturer in winter 2012 and has since spread to several American producers, leading to the discovery of high percentages of cellulose content, for the most part consisting of ground wood pulp and paper in four different brands distributed by major national chains. The study found levels of cellulose as high as 8.8%, while experts from a research center in Wisconsin say that an acceptable level is between 2 and 4%. (Is cellulose even acceptable?) 

    Trying to quell the polemical tone, one professor from the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University came out saying that cellulose may not necessarily be cancerous; it may actually be healthy. In fact, it’s considered a fiber and is present in laxatives and many other drinks. And in the case of cheese, it acts just like a fiber. Despite the fact that none of these brands is Italian, unsuspecting consumers could easily be confused by the Italian-sounding name. 

    The discovery of wood in cheese is only the latest scandal regarding what we eat. In November, a few of the most widely distributed olive oil manufacturers—this time in Italy—were accused not only of failing to label the exact origins of their product but of selling low-quality “virgin” oil as “extra virgin” oil. 

    The list of products being hawked as Italian may have no end: estimates suggest that over 60 billion products are sold as Italian even though in actuality they are not Italian.   

    Among the most frequently “forged” products are tomatoes, sauces, vinegar, wine, and cold cuts. Only a few of the latter are from Italy. For example, only three kinds of DOP prosciutto can be imported in the US: Parma, San Daniele and Toscano. Furthermore, in the U.S., you still cannot find cured meats like salami and coppa that are made by Italians with 100% Italian ingredients.  

    Use the language properly

    Continuing to slap Italian names on products that come from God knows what country confuses consumers, who can’t tell up from down. Of course, I don’t have a magic solution to the problem, but one important strategy for proving the origin and quality of a product is to use the language properly, and greater education concerning who chooses to sell Italian products and who abuses them.  


    Firstly, because certified products (bearing the label DOP, IPG, DOC, DOCG, etc.) bear names that indicate a particular quality and origin, names that acts as a kind of safeguard. 

    There can’t be a real Parmigiano Reggiano and a fake one, since the very fact that a product is called Parmigiano Reggiano means it isn’t fake. Nor can the original contain cellulose!

    Proper language and correct spelling should be the first indicator for making wise purchases. 

    So let’s start calling products by their god given names.

    My name is Dino Borri, not Daino Bore. Parmigiano Reggiano is not ‘parmesan.’ Neither is Grana Padano ‘grena,’ nor gorgonzola ‘bergonzola,’ nor Mortadella di Bologna ‘boloni.’ 

    Retailers, importers and restaurateurs who use and publicize Italian products in the world must act as ambassadors of these cultural/gastronomic basics, and instate a policy of saying what is from Italy and what isn’t. 

    Food, like culture, depends on language

    I believe in the words of my dear friend and ex-vice consul of New York Lucia Pasqualini when she said: “Remaining aware of one’s mother tongue is fundamental for all Italians who decide, whether by choice or necessity, to live abroad. Italy has been and still is a country of emigration. The Direction of Italians Abroad and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are responsible for helping Italian citizens who reside abroad. Their responsibilities include the promotion of the Italian language in the Italian community, that is to say, the children of Italians who live abroad and want to sustain a relationship with their country of origin.” 

    I would also add that everyone who loves food must love Italian products, and Italians have to be the first ones to teach our foreign friends the proper names of our products. Culture depends on language, as does peace and unity.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Italia, Europe’s Rice Paddy

    Rice’s story is linked to migration and occupation. Suffice it to think of the influence it has had on the cuisine of Lombardy after the French resided in Milan for ten years and the Spanish almost 200.

    From spice to aliment

    In Italy rice began to circulate around the 8th century but it was not until 1250 that it appears in bills of sale to the Vercelli Hospital and the House of Savoy, which acquired the foodstuff to prepare Christmas sweets.

    The presence of rice in Lombardy was officially recorded by the food tribunal in 1336, when rice was still considered a spice. The history of rice falls into two camps: popular cooking and aristocratic cuisine.

    In Lombardy and throughout Northern Italy, it was only with the Sforza and Gonzaga families, and in Veneto with the Duke of Ferrara, that rice began to be cultivated, especially where rivers were powerful presences: the Adige in Verona, the canals in Milan and all along the Po. 

    Yet it was still considered a spice. Only in 1500, thanks to a Sienese doctor named Pier Andrea Mattioli, does rice throw off that dress and rise to the status of a culinary ingredient. By 1800, Piedmont, Lombardy and Venice were cultivating 900 square miles, and in Romagna the areas around Ravenna and Bologna also contributed to the expansion of rice cultivation.

    Crises in the rice industry

    In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened, and—then as now— cheaper manufacture in the Far East struck a mortal blow to the western rice industry. The wars and economic crises of 1930s further contributed to a reduction of cultivation. Incredibly, rice cultivation was not resumed in Northern Italy until 1952, during the Korean War (Korea was a major producer of rice and its exportation had declined.) The growth of the European Community and its initial laws did the rest.

    Europe’s rice paddy

    Today Italy is “Europe’s rice paddy.” With about 850 square miles of rice fields, Italy is hands down the world’s leading producer of fine rice for high- end cuisine. Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, Baldo, Roma, Sant’Andrea and Nebbione—which a few producers in Vercelli have started growing again—are all great kinds of rice for risotto. On the other hand, Italian cuisine has never adopted long-grain rice used to prepare side dishes or for parboiled rice.

    How rice is produced
    Rice is sown in April, cleaned in June (i.e., the paddies are weeded), and harvested in September and October. Once harvested, the rice has a higher moisture content, which is why it is then dried (it cannot legally have a moisture content in excess of 15%). In order to be edible it is hulled and bleached, resulting in a semifinished product. The more it is bleached and ‘cleaned,’ the more the rice loses its nutritive and organoleptic values. In  any case, those processes are indispensable for making it edible. Rice is a carbohydrate par excellence and more easily digested than pasta because it contains next to no cellulose. It is highly nutritious and the human body quickly digests its starch. How is rice classified?

    That’s a good question. The term “common” refers to rice originally from Japan, indeed it is “common” rice eaten on a daily basis. In reality, around the world rice is categorized exclusively  by grain length and not other qualities, like cooking time or nutritive values (for the varieties of rice existing in Italy see table in the next page). 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    What Balsamic Vinegar Is

    Records show that, for as far back as we can tell, the people of Modena and Reggio Emilia have been making a particular type of vinegar. Records also show that that vinegar was unknown outside of the provinces and that the techniques of production and aging have been passed down through the centuries virtually unchanged.

    A long history
    The first reference to balsamic vinegar was made in the city of Modena at the end of the
    16th century.

    But ‘balsamic vinegar,’ as it refers to aged vinegar obtained from cooked must and considered a luxury good, did not appear until a document from the 18th century in
    the records of the Secret Ducal Cellars of Modena.

    In the 19th century, the difference between balsamic and other vinegars became widespread knowledge, and steps were taken for industrial production and global commerce.

    Still, even though the method is the same, every producer in the region jealously guards his or her own recipes, so that each generates a unique, inimitable product.

    Even within a common qualitative framework there are as many different types of balsamic vinegar as there are producers. They are not all the same Today you can find balsamic vinegar in any supermarket. However, what is often on the shelves is sadly not Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar), but an industrial version called Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic Vinegar from Modena). Or else it is simply an imitation.

    The value of the traditional Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is produced in Modena and Reggio Emilia. The barrels used to age it have been passed down from generation to generation
    and were so valuable that they were often used as dowries! Balsamico Tradizionale is only
    made with regional grape must that is cooked, fermented and acetified, then aged for many
    years through a battery of smaller and smaller barrels of different woods. In actuality, this balsamic is vinegar in name only; it is a ‘condiment,’ since it has a level of acidity well
    below the 6% minimum for real vinegar.

    Types of Balsamic Vinegar:
    Every kind of balsamic vinegar has its use. In this regard, we could even compare it to wine.
    You wouldn’t want to waste a $300 bottle as vinaigrette on a salad or drizzle a $10 one over
    some Parmigiano Reggiano! The four main classifications are:

    Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
    Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is is considered to be the best for its rich flavor. Its main
    characteristics are: the specific onion-shaped bottle with the label of the Consortium, its brown/black color, flavor that is a mix of bitter and sweet, and its thickness seen when poured
    out of the bottle. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is produced solely with grape must.
    - 12 years: Good for eggs, sandwiches, red meat, fish, and seafood.
    - 25 years: Perfect for cheeses, desserts, gelato, fresh fruit, or as a digestivo.
    - 25+ years: Ideal for tasting a few drops with a small white porcelain spoon

    Aceto Balsamico Condimento
    These balsamic vinegars follow the same methods of production as the traditional ones,
    except for one difference. It could be that the producer is not in the area of Modena, or that
    three woods were used instead of the five, or that the aging time was less than twelve
    years. Aceto Balsamico Condimento is also produced solely with grape must. They begin
    around 20 Euros. This product is perfect for daily use on salad, bread, mozzarella,
    tomatoes, and sauces. It should always be used as a finisher.

    Aceto Balsamico di Modena
    These are industrial vinegars produced quickly, usually in metal vats with wood chips for flavor. These commercial balsamic vinegars are usually a mix of must, red wine vinegar,
    sulfites, and some-times sugar or coloring agents. If you want to buy them, I suggest you
    always look for the ones with only must and vinegar. Useful for salads and sauces.

    Imitations of Aceto Balsamico
    These vinegars cannot have the name Modena on the label, but their presentation is sometimes so similar to high-quality versions that it is often difficult to notice the difference. The only way to tell is to look at the ingredients. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and
    Condimento contain only grape must, while the industrial ones have must and vinegar. The
    imitations, however, also contain vinegar, sugar, coloring agents, and other preservative.

  • Honey 101

    Since ancient times, honey has served different purposes. It has been used as a sweetener, condiment and preservative. Honey has also been added to fish, beans, focaccia, fruit jam and syrups.

    As a preservative, it has been used with apples, quinces and pears. The upper echelons of


    society once raised their children on a mixture of milk and honey. And fermented honey was used to produce mead, a drink popular up through the Middle Ages. (Another popular drink was honeyed wine, made with the best vintages, like Falerno and Massico.) Honey has supplied us with everything from cosmetics (aromatic oils, perfumes) to medicine (as an antiseptic, cicatrizant and purgative).

    Even artisans have exploited its properties: they have been known to soak precious stones in honey to heighten their shine, and fabrics to bring out their color. Over centuries, honey has remained a catchall product. It sweetens sour food—and not only the palates of rich; one Renaissance document mentions “peasants” who spread honey on leeks—and adds flavor to “country dishes,” like beans, red and white meat, and fruit preserves.

    Honey vs. sugar

    The sugar industry began to expand in 1800, and between 1850 and 1950 production increased 20 fold. In the first half of the 19th century, honey and sugar cost the same in England, which was the principal exporter of cane sugar at the time. Meanwhile in Northern Italy honey was cheaper than sugar as late as 1860.

    But the demand for sugar grew, forcing manufacturers to find an alternative to cane sugar, which they did with the discovery of sugar beets. As manufacturers began mass-producing sugar, the honey industry mobilized and “modernized,” perfecting methods for producing an increasingly purer product. In fact, in the first half of the 1900s, people began to pay greater attention to the provenance of honeys, and what had long been chatter turned into a real commercial enterprise.

    But it wasn’t until the 1970s that scientific research would be used to designate monofloral honeys, thanks to the first Melissopalynology studies, which identified and quantified how many pollen grains were left in a honey and could testify to each barrel’s provenance. 

    Honey—let me count the ways!
    Honey was later classified by its place of origin, by how it was collected and treated, or by what it was to be used for. The main distinctions regarding its place of origin are honeys obtained by the flower’s nectar, which can be distinguished by monofloral honey (i.e., honey collected by bees from a single botanical species) and multifloral honey, which comes from different botanical species.

    There is also the more flavorful honeydew honey produced by bees that transform a sugary substance made from the excretions of an insect called Hemiptera. Honeydew honey is known for its absence or near absence of crystallization due to its high percentage of fructose.

    Classifications based on how the honey is treated include, first and foremost, honeycomb honey, which is obtained when an apiculturist does not separate honey from a loom (that explains why it also contains wax). Honeycomb honey is the easiest kind of honey to collect. There is also filtered honey, which has been separated from the wax using filters, and honey obtained by spinning or pressing looms.

    Types of honey based on their use include table honey, made for direct consumption as a natural sweetener in drinks or for cooking, and industrial honey. The freshness and storage time of industrial honey is measured by its level of HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural).

    Royal Jelly

    A particularly nutritious and healthy kind of honey, royal jelly is secreted from worker bees’ hypopharyngeal glands and used by bees to feed larvae (for up to three days) and the queen bee (for her entire life). That is why it is considered a “noble” source of nutrition. In the field of apiculture, it is regarded as one of the most highly esteemed products.

    Propolis, or Bee glue

    This substance is obtained by collecting various bees on the bud and cortex of different species of plants, including poplars, spruce pines, spruce firs, pines, plum trees, oaks, elms, willows, horse chestnuts and ash trees, among others. It contains aromatic essences, essential oils like terpenes and various other elements. Propolis is a popular substance used to make alternative medicine, candy and alcohol solutions to treat soar throats and oral infections.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Changing the Food Industry, Changing the System. Now.

    We caught up with Carlo Petrini at Eataly New York, where he was presenting his latest book, to know more about his preoccupations, his dreams, and his activity.

    How did Slow Food come about?
    It began as an association involved in food culture and over the years it grew into aninternational movement in 170 countries, thanks in part to Slow Food’s partner network, Terra Madre. It’s a network of farmers, fishermen, wanderers and cultivators from every corner of the world working to defend biodiversity. Slow Food in the United States is a beautiful organization that includes over 150 divisions and 50,000 members. But we’ve still got a lot of ground to cover.  

    You just published a new book Loving the Earth. It is subtitled “Dialogues on the Future of Our Planet. What’s it about?

    It’s a series of interviews with a range of people I love and greatly admire. There are iconic figures such as Wendell Berry, Joseph Stiglitz and Alice Waters – also vice president of Slow Food – people who have contributed to changing the food culture.
    These are discussions that have developed alongside Terra Madre and Slow Food.

    Many of the people in the book have gone on to become instructors at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, which you started in Pollenzo, Piedmont.  Tell us about it.

    The idea behind the University of Gastronomic Sciences is to untether gastronomy from the spectacular and consumerist element. That’s not to say that element is wrong, actually it’s fine, but it can’t be just that. We’re in a dramatic situation: it’s like we’re onboard the Titanic grinding toward an iceberg that could drown the ship. Our message isn’t negative. On the contrary, if we understand how to receive the message, we can change the situation and divert the ship’s course. We need a lot of assistance, political activism, a paradigm shift. In some places we’ve seen this paradigm shift. But it’s not enough, and that’s why we need to reinforce it. There are people dying of hunger and there’s also an incredible amount of waste: over 40% of food is thrown away. There are wars fueled by bellicose industries that get us nowhere. That’s the side that makes the fake food industry seem ridiculous.      

    Can you tell us about Slow Food and Terra Madre’s “Ten Thousand Gardens in Africa” project?  

    For 10 years, Africa has been the victim of “land grabbing.” That means that millions of acres are being acquired for ridiculous prices to produce food not for Africans but for countries like China and the Arab Emirates. They’re expropriating the lifeblood of millions of Africans.  This situation—alongside war and poverty—has sparked a major exodus of young people who have not only been robbed of their future but are in life-threatening situations. This is a distinguishing feature of neo-colonialist politics. It’s more violent than the colonialism of the past, and we have to respond. Slow Food launched the “Ten Thousand Gardens in Africa” campaign, but it’s a drop in the bucket. The gardens are run by young African farmers. Such organizations constitute a new African leadership. I’m hoping it will really come to fruition.

    Educating children must be very important in this endeavor.

    They’re the citizens of the future. If we want to get beyond the current food industry, we have to begin by educating children, by recreating intergenerational cohesion.

    I hear you have a new project cooking: the Slow Food Planet project. Can you fill us in?

    We have to embrace those who are doing honest work. That’s exactly why Slow Food Planet was created. In the next three years, by 2018, the app will provide information for travelers across the world. We recommend restaurants that partner with farmers and purchase local foods, indicate farmer’s markets, and put people in direct contact with producers. It will be a guide for honest travel, providing information that gives people the opportunity to pass through cities with a trusted friend. Because we want everyone to get that chance, the app is free and simple.  

    Let’s conclude with this year’s Expo, which just opened in Milan. The theme of the Expo is “Feeding the Planet,” and the Slow Food movement has its own exhibit space there. But at the same time, you raised some concerns. Why?

    Yes, I was among the first to believe in the potential of the Expo. One of the major issues today is that people are choosing to ignore the fact that our current practices are not sustainable, that we are heading toward disaster. Unfortunately however, you see this attitude reflected even at Expo Milan. In order to sell tickets and satisfy international expectations, the organizers of the event are focusing too much on the touristic aspect and on turning food into a spectacle.
    Betting on widespread appreciation for stereotypical Italian food is not enough. We need to use the Expo as an opportunity to truly make a change. This opportunity should not be missed. 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Olives and Olive Oil: A How-to

    ll Originating in the Western Mediterranean, for millenia the olive plant has been a part of this area’s human history and its great civilizations and religions. In the Bible the olive branch is the symbol of peace between God and men after the Flood, and for Christians today, it remains a symbol of peace, especially at Easter. The Koran calls the olive a “blessed tree” and oil a “combustible” that provides fuel for lamps that give off “the light of God.” In ancient Greek mythology, Athena and Poseidon compete to become the patron deity of Athens. The goddess produces an olive tree out of a rock as a gift to the Athenians, while Poseidon brings them a new animal from the forest: the horse. Because to the Athenians the horse represents war, they choose the olive tree, a new plant that would provide them with oil, wood and light, and therefore abundance and peace.  

    As the Greeks expanded their domain, they brought the olive plant to Southern Italy, then Magna Grecia, where the Romans would go on to export olive cultivation to France and Spain, as well as methods for producing olive oil that have remained unchanged for centuries.

    The weather conditions there helped smoothly integrate the olive tree into the landscape, and olive oil found a variety of uses: not only for cooking and dressing food, but also for cosmetic and medicinal purposes, as a combustible, and as an essence burned during religious rites.  

    The Olive Plant

    The olive as we know it is Olea Europea. Although its growth is generally linked to the temperature and humidity of the Mediterranean, it was succesfully exported to the Americas (especially in California and Argentina) and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). However, 90% of oil is produced on native soil, including Italy, which is a national olive-growing hub. Only two out of twenty Italian regions (Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta) do not produce olives, while the majority of Italian oil comes, naturally, from the South: Puglia, Calabria, Basilicata, Sicily and Sardinia produce about 85% of the total.

    High-quality oil production is subject to fluctuations, and harvests are classified by non-fruiting years and fruit-bearing years. 2014-2015 was a non-fruiting year, especially for Spain and Italy, due to weather conditions. That means that worldwide production of oil will drop to 17%. This could cause an increase in prices, a diffusion of “cut” oils on the market, and the sale of oils falsely labeled 100% Italian. Therefore, consumers must be careful and know how to recognize real quality oil.

    Virgin vs. Extravirgin
    In the next issue of i-ItalyNY we will examine in greater detail the differences between types of oil and production methods. For now, we’ll just explain the crucial difference between virgin olive oil and extravirgin olive oil. Very often people tend to consider oil obtained by squeezing olives as good-quality oil, forgetting that there’s a difference between virgin and extravirgin oil. From the standpoint of production methods, the two oils are indistinguishable. Even if the different harvesting and extracting methods contribute to determining the quality of production, what (greatly) distinguishes them is a combination of chemical and organoleptic features.   

    In order to earn the label “extra,” a virgin olive oil must have a maximum acidity level of 0.8% (produced by oleic acid, not esterified by glycerol); non-extra virgin oil can have an acidity level as high as 2%. Furthermore, it is fundamental that the “extra” product passes organoleptic tests conducted by competent testing centers; the most important, defining features are the fruity aroma (produced by the olive’s volatility) and a spicy, slightly bitter taste (produced by polyphenols).        

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Durum Wheat vs. Soft Wheat Flour

    Flour has always been people’s primary source of sustenance, especially Italians, seeing as that’s what we use to make bread and pasta, two staples of our diet. Flour can come from wheat, corn, barley, spelt, rice, oats, rye, millet, Khorasan wheat, buckwheat and chestnut.

    Wheat is the most important cereal for making bread and pasta. It’s where we get white flour 
    from (that comes from soft wheat—Triticum vulgare) and bran (that comes from durum wheat—Triticum durum).

    Knowing the difference between flour made with soft wheat and flour made with durum wheat is important insofar as not all flours work equally well for making bread, pasta, or even sweets and cookies. The type of flour you use affects the final product: its color and its protein value, its level of water absorption and its granulometry (or particle size). The greater the particle size, the better it is for pasta; smaller particle sizes are ideal for bread and products made with yeast.

    Two different types 

    Soft wheat and durum wheat belong to two separate species that form part of the Gramineae family. Soft wheat flour (soft because the grain breaks easily) has a powdery, indefinite quality to it, with small granules with rounded edges.

    Dough made table with this white flour is highly extendable, relatively tough, and is usually used for making bread and leavened products, like sweets (cakes, biscotti, brioches) or pizza. It is also used for making fresh pasta and egg pasta. Soft wheat flour contains less protein and absorbs less water than flour made with durum wheat. 

    Different Properties

    Durum wheat or durum semolina is made by milling durum, a grain that is difficult to break apart. The large grain has sharp edges and is a yellow-amber color. Their color, which varies depending on the grain used, is transmitted to the products, making them darker than products made with soft wheat flour. Unlike soft wheat flour, dough made from durum is less extendable and tougher, which makes it good for making bread (in fact, it’s often used for homemade bread) and pasta. 

    By milling the grain twice, you get remilled durum wheat semolina, a subtler durum flour also used in bread and pasta production. 

    Durum wheat flour contains more proteins and gluten than soft wheat flour and a higher capacity for absorbing water, having more crushed starch granules. The products made with durum wheat flour keep longer, have a lower glycemic index and contain carotenoids, organic pigments that can bond and eliminate antioxidants.

    Durum wheat semolina found in stores and used for making sweet and savory semolina, vegetable and meat pies, and sweets is produced by milling the grain that, in this case, yields a larger grain. 

  • Fatti e Storie

    Frutta da “Presidio”

    Il progetto
    dei “Presìdi” di Slow Food è un lavoro durato 10 anni che ha affermato con forza valori fondamentali: la tutela della biodiversità, dei saperi produttivi tradizionali e dei territori, che oggi si uniscono all'impegno a stimolare nei produttori l'adozione di pratiche produttive sostenibili, pulite, e a sviluppare anche un approccio etico (giusto) al mercato. Li potrete scoprire quest’anno dal 23 al 27 ottobre al Salone del Gusto e Terra Madre,la grande fiera internazione dei piccoli produttori di cibo che Slow Food organizza a Torino ogni due anni.

    Eccovi qui di seguito in una breve carrellata di prodotti, che sono stagionali ma vengono trasformati per poter poter essere conservati e consumati tutto l’anno soprattutto in dolci, crostate, torte, e come marmellate, canditi, sciroppi, gelati e gelatine.
    La bella di Garbana (piccolo paese in Piemonte) e’ una varieta di durone (ciliegia) di colore rosso brillante, con il picciolo medio lungo, molto croccante e quindi particolarmente adatta alla conservazione sotto spirito. È ottima anche sotto forma di confettura, oppure come materia prima per la produzione di liquori. Con cannella oppure con chiodi di garofano, diventa un accompagnamento inusuale ma estremamente interessante per le carni.
    Sempre in piemonte si coltiva il Ramassin, una piccola susina blu-violetta. Il termine è dialettale e traduce il nome della varietà cosiddetta damaschina, che si rifà a sua volta alla città siriana di Damasco, località originaria di coltivazione.
    Questa susina è buona fresca, ma è ottima anche essiccata, trasformata in confettura, oppure cotta e conservata per l’inverno in barattoli di vetro.
    Pera Cocomerina: un nomignolo quasi affettuoso, da fiaba per i bimbi, definisce questa piccola pera coltivata sull’Appennino Cesenate in Emilia Romagna.
    Data la particolare aromaticità e la fragilità del frutto, che ne rende difficile la commercializzazione, la pera Cocomerina si presta molto bene alla trasformazione in marmellate o alla conservazione in sciroppo.
    Albicocca Valleggia è inconfondibile: la si riconosce grazie alla buccia sottile, di un delicato colore arancio, picchiettato da puntini color mattone. Valleggia è anche il nome della località di massima produzione, sita nel comune di Quiliano, in provincia di Savona in Liguria. E' di piccola dimensione ma il suo aroma e il suo sapore sono molto più intensi delle altre varietà sul mercato.
    Nessuna casa di Carmignano in Toscana (paese detto non a caso “Carmignan da’ fichi”) era sprovvista di almeno una pianta di fico, accanto al portico o nell’orto. E ancora oggi sopravvivono molte varietà. La migliore per produrre i fichi secchi è il Dottato (una varietà dal frutto bianco che rappresenta circa il 90% dei fichi coltivati a Carmignano). Dopo un’essicazione di quattro o cinque giorni al sole, i fichi secchi sono riposti in un locale fresco e asciutto, dove rimangono per 35, 40 giorni fino a che si forma un velo di zucchero in superficie (la cosiddetta gruma).
    Sulla costa adriatica dell’Italia non ci sono agrumi, con un’unica eccezione: il Gargano in Puglia. Gli agrumi qui maturano tutto l’anno: Il Melangolo, un’arancia di pezzatura medio-piccola, e dal gusto agrodolce. Il Biondo del Gargano, che matura tra aprile e maggio, conservandosi dolce e succoso sull’albero fino a settembre. La Duretta del Gargano, praticamente priva di semi con una polpa dura e croccante, e il Femminello del Gargano, che è la varietà di limone più antica d’Italia. Con gli agrumi del Gargano si preparano ottime marmellate, canditi e limoncelli, oltre naturalmente ad essere consumati freschi nella stagione giusta.
    Frutto stranissimo, grande come e più di un pompelmo – puo’ pesare anche 700 grammi - la Pompìa esiste da oltre due secoli e cresce solo in Sardegna, spontanea nelle macchie e negli agrumeti. Della Pompìa si usa solo la scorza per fare liquori, oppure la parte bianca sotto la scorza per fare le i canditi: la polpa e il succo sono troppo acidi, molto di più del limone.
    Il purceddu d'Alcamo è una variet`a rustica di melone siciliano e si chiama così perchè la sua forma ricorda un maialino (purceddu in dialetto Siciliano). I meloni sono uno dei prodotti più importanti e antichi dell’agricoltura trapanese e qui le confetture di melone si possono trovare tutto l'anno.
    Sempre in Sicilia la fragolina di bosco cresce spontanea nelle macchie del massiccio delle Madonie, sui Monti Nebrodi e sull’Etna, ma esistono anche coltivazioni nelle zone vallive di Ribera e Sciacca. Pare che queste piccole fragole derivino da piantine portate in Sicilia dai reduci di ritorno dalla Grande Guerra, che le avrebbero raccolte in qualche località sconosciuta delle Alpi – in Friuli o forse in Trentino, reimpiantandole nei vigorosi terreni siciliani dove le fragoline resistettero e si acclimatarono piuttosto bene. Marmellate, sciroppi, gelati e gelatine sono alcune delle preparazioni che esaltano le caratteristiche di questo frutto e permettono al contempo di prolungarne la vita. La farmacopea tradizionale poi, ne impiega le foglie e le radici essiccate per la preparazione di tisane dall’effetto depurante e antidiuretico.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    FROM THE SLOW FOOD ‘PRESIDI’ PROJECT Special Protected Fruits

    Slow Food’s “Presìdi” is a ten-year-old project that safeguards biodiversity and local and traditional cultivation practices, which has led producers to adopt clean and sustainable cultivation methods, and develop an ethical market approach. You can find out more about it from October 23 to 27 at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, the international fair for small agricultural producers hosted by Slow Food every two years in Turin. Below is a brief list of seasonal products that can be conserved for consumption year round by being transformed into sweets, pies, cakes, marmalades, candied fruit, syrups, ice cream and jellies.

    La bella di Garbana (a small town in Piedmont) is a variety of cherry. Bright red with a medium-length stem, the cherry is very crunchy and particularly good for preserving in alcohol. It is also excellent for making jams and as a basic ingredient for producing liqueurs. Combined with cinnamon or cloves, it makes for an unusual but very interesting condiment for meat dishes.

    Ramassin, a small blue-violet plum, is also cultivated in Piedmont. The name comes from the dialectal word for the variety known as damson, itself a word that refers to the Syrian city of Damascus, where the plum was originally grown. The plum is good eaten fresh but excellent dried, as a jam or cooked and preserved in glass jars for the winter.

    Cocomerina: the affectionate, storybook nickname suits this small pear well. It is grown on the Cesena Apennines in Emilia Romagna. Given its distinct aroma and the brittleness of the fruit—which make it difficult to sell commercially—Cocomerina is very good for making jams and syrups.

    Valleggia apricots are unmistakable. They are known for their thin, lightly orange skin studded with brown dots. Valleggia is also the name of the place that produces the largest quantity of them, in the province of Savoy in Liguria. Small in size, its aroma and taste are far more intense than other varieties on the market.

    There was never a house in Tuscany’s Carmignano (known for good reason as “Carmignan da’ fichi”) that didn’t have at least one fig tree in its portico or garden. Many varieties still exist there. The best for making dried figs is Dottato (a variety of white fruit that makes up about 90% of the figs grown in Carmignano). After drying in the sun for four or five days, the figs are placed in a cool, dry place for 35-40 days, until a layer of sugar forms on the surface.

    There are no citrus trees on Italy’s Adriatic coast, with one exception, Gargano in Puglia, where citrus fruit grows year round: Il Melangolo, a medium-small spotted fruit with a sweet and sour taste; Il Biondo del Gargano, which blossoms between April and May yet remains sweet and succulent through September; La Duretta, almost seedless with a hard and crunchy pulp; and il Femminello, the oldest variety of lemon in Italy. Fabulous marmalades, candied fruit and limoncello are made with Gargano’s citrus fruit. It can also be eaten fresh when in season. A very strange fruit, as large as a grapefruit—it can weigh up to 700 grams—Pompìa has been around for over two centuries. It is exclusive to Sardinia. The rind of Pompìa is used to make liqueurs, and the white part underneath for candied fruit; the pulp and juice are too acidic for consumption.

    Purceddu d’Alcamo is a rustic variety of Sicilian melon named for its shape, which resembles a piglet (purceddu in Sicilian). The melons are one of the oldest and most important agricultural products from Trapani, Sicily, and the melon can be preserved year round.

    And in Sicily, you can even find Fragoline di bosco in the mountains. These small wild strawberries come from plants brought to Sicily by troops returning from the Great War, who must have picked them somewhere the Alps, and replanted them in the rich Sicilian soil. The fruit is great for making marmalades, syrups, ice cream and jellies. The dried leaves and roots are used to make cleansing and medicinal infusions.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    On Bread Alone...

    The art of breadmaking may have been born in Egypt and later reached Greece and Rome, where people depended on the cultivation of grains for nourishment.

    The Roman national dish was polenta made with farro, a coarse grain. Near Porta Maggiore in Rome, there still stands an ancient monument built to commemorate bakers, with a tower of three large cylinders where people used to leave their bread to rise. The cylinders are stacked vertically and horizontally on top of one another, and above them a fresco depicts the various treatments a grain undergoes to become bread.

    The Romans cooked their bread in public ovens as well as private ones, like those found in the houses of Pompeii, and the first bakery was opened in Rome in 15 BC.But it was in medieval times that bread took on a prominent status due to its central role in the Christian sacrament. Since then it has been a staple on every table in Italy. But what kinds of bread do we eat and how do we go about making them?

    Industrial vs artisanal bread

    Most people today eat industrial bread that is treated with additives and preservatives to withstand the processes of freezing and packaging for large-scale distribution. 

    Fresh artisanal bread is mainly made with local flour without additives.
    Considering the time and work that goes into making artisanal bread, it’s clearly more expensive than industrial bread. But artisanal bread is more natural and better quality. For example, it’s more easily digested and smells better.  

    In fact, According to the Italian Federation of Bakers, or FIPPA, 75% of bread consumed in Italy is artisanal bread. FIPPA has created a set of regulations for labeling real artisanal bread. 

    The quality seal called “Bollino Bianco” guarantees that a particular kind of bread has been “made in a continuous process without interruptions to freeze, deep-freeze or prolong the shelf-life of primary ingredients for baked goods.”

    Do it yourself, but...

    You can certainly try baking your own bread at home, given the basic ingredients involved (flour, yeast, water and salt), but there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to make real “Italian” bread.

    The main ingredient in bread is flour. Flour is made with kernels of wheat or ground grain. The most widely available grain, flour is mostly cultivated in the central and northern regions of Italy, where it is categorized according to how finely the flour has been ground. 

    “00” flour is the finest ground white flour (similar to all-purpose or pastry flour in America) with no bran. “1” flour and “2” flour contain increasing amounts of bran. 

    Remember, however, that the lack or near-lack of impurities in flour means that the grain is depleted of main nutrients.

    It might seem strange, but the most important ingredient for making artisanal bread is yeast. In particular, “starter yeast,” considered the soul of bread. 

    “Starter yeast” gives bread its shape and taste, whether it’s made with a leftover bit of dough or dough made with flour, water and sugar that have been mixed together and fermented spontaneously. 

    Once upon a time, natural yeast was considered a precious commodity, and bakers would set aside a part of each day’s dough, which they would refresh by removing the outer layer of crust and re-kneading it with water and flour. 

    This kind of yeast goes by many names in Italy: pastella acida, pasta (or lievito) madre and, around Cuneo in Piedmont, Alvà, which is conserved and used to this day.

    Last but not least, if you are serious about breadmaking you should never forget water and salt. You can distinguish all kinds of Italian bread by these two ingredients! Water is essential. Good bread is one hundred parts flour to forty or fifty parts water. Salt is also indispensable. 

    However, some kinds of bread are traditionally made without salt, like Tuscan bread or Umbrian bread from Terni.