Dark clouds over Italian cuisine
Misleading ‘traffic light labels’; European goods threatened with hefty tariffs by the USA: just a few of the grave dangers menacing the ‘Made in Italy’ brand.
Food-related news in the past few days has not been rosy for Italian cuisine; amid a few merely intriguing items, there are others which sadly showcase the typical Italian penchant for self-harm, while still other developments, not brought about by us, appear to be bona fide punishments.
In the merely intriguing category: the acclaimed but somewhat unconvincing World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 ranking, sponsored by the San Pellegrino and acqua Panna drinking water companies (Nestlé group), having eliminated Massimo Bottura because he topped the chart last year, has anointed as world’s best restaurateur Mauro Colagreco (from La Plata, Argentina) with his restaurant Mirazur in Menton, France, while Italy has fallen heavily from last year’s heights, having to make do with 29th place for Piazza Duomo in Alba (from 16th place) and 31st for Le Calandre in Rubano (from 23rd). Niko Romito has plunged from 36th to 51st place.
Speaking of the Swiss multinational Nestlé, we have also gathered that by the end of 2019, every product sold in Europe must bear the infamous Nutriscore traffic light labels, a system already addressed in an earlier Focus and solidly opposed in Italy “for misleading customers”. In fact we are facing, just for a change, a convoluted situation on which the European Commission should pronounce itself clearly regarding simplified food labelling. Concerning labels, however, the bad news doesn’t end here. Brussels and the legal authorities in Rome have also impugned the norms approved by the Italian parliament requiring food labels to display place of production or packaging. Though it probably matters little to know whether a well-known frozen pizza was made in Germany or Naples, we believe that in food, greater transparency is preferable. However, food industry lobbies champion the opposite ethos.
‘Made in Italy’ also faces overseas threats: the USA have added various products to the list of European goods facing possible tariffs. These include cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino romano, parmigiano reggiano, grana padano, provolone), olives, cherries and jams, but especially, coffee: a crucial product exported worldwide. Of course, various cured meats figure too, such as raw and cooked ham, salami etc; and as a finishing touch, pasta, whether fresh or dried.
Speaking of ham, we have read woeful news about Parma and San Daniele raw hams, apparently produced from Danish Duroc hogs, which is absolutely forbidden by the relevant quality consortia. Consequently, by late 2018 alone, almost a million hams were confiscated and ‘unbranded’: approximately 20% of the annual Parma and San Daniele production, generating almost a million Euros in revenue from two products which are emblematic of our food culture.
We would like to conclude with a bizarre nugget about our capable, gruff, lovable chef-star Antonino Cannavacciuolo, boasting several Michelin stars for Villa Crespi (2 stars), Café & Bistrot (Novara, 1 star) and Bistrot Cannavacciuolo (Turin, 1 star). There are also Laqua Charme & Boutique in Meta, province of Naples, and finally (for now), the gourmet street food stand christened ‘Antonino, il Banco di Cannavacciuolo’ (‘Antonino, Cannavacciuolo’s Food Stand’) in the Style Outlet, northern Italy’s busiest outlet, located in Vicolungo.
Among our boy’s many activities (such as television programmes and cooking courses) there is that of writing recipe books. His recipe for linguine with Genoese pesto is truly surprising. He starts by listing the ingredients, including 500 grammes of basil for four people! Half a kilogramme: a mountain of basil (recipes generally call for a cupful, about 100 grammes). Even overlooking the ten walnuts which tradition doesn’t include but which some cooks use anyway, what follows leaves us nonplussed: “Wash the basil; pick and dry the leaves. Blanch (parboil) them in salt water and chill them in water and ice. Drain and press them dry”. One wonders whether the otherwise competent Antonino has even read his own publication.
President of the Accademia