Last March, at the 13th Florence Taste Fair, the first stand I visited had been set up by the producer of the famous Cantucci di Prato Antonio Mattei, well known biscuits for their mythical Blu Mattei packaging. Less than two months later, we learn that a special boutique in the centre of Florence, which will be both shop and a little Museum, is about to be opened , to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the foundation of the Antonio Mattei Biscottificio in Prato.
Designed by the architect Carlo Achilli, one step away from the central Via Tornabuoni, in the heart of the city, the museum-shop will offer its visitors the opportunity to discover the story of one of the most appreciated ‘Made in Italy’ food companies through testimonies, photos, documents, historical packaging. But also to have a gorgeous breakfast with the products “made in Mattei” . This way Prato shows its excellence in food, suggesting that this town near Florence is a great gourmet tourist destination. Two new varieties of Cantucci can be found on the shelves of the Mattei shop, both based on the classical mixture of flour, eggs, sugar and almonds, that has stayed unchanged for 160 years. The first one has drops of chocolate in it (red packaging) and the second, more recent, contains pistachios (green packaging). Less known to consumers is their brioche-bread sliced and toasted, in three versions, one of which, thankfully, without sugar.
Going back to Taste, its exhibitors grow in number every year, so it is impossible to tell the story of each producer in detail, though they are often as interesting as the one described above. However, by attending this fair every year, one becomes acquainted with quite a few amazing methods of food production by specialised small and medium Italian enterprises, an opportunity highly to be recommended.
To lower the sugar content, now considered an enemy by most consumers, many firms have substituted it with aromatic herbs. Kucino from Aquila does have a full range of them, with many original aromas and perfumes. Vannino from Tuscany makes spicy biscuits together with a new crispy line of savoury biscuits, made of ancient wheat varieties and extra virgin olive oil, both produced in Tuscany.
Italy produces a wide selection of extra virgin olive oils, depending on where the trees are grown and the process used. Gianfranco Ciarletti, owner of the farm with his surname, produces his extra virgin olive oil and is an expert in advising the owners of olive trees on how to obtain the best oil. Oleum produces oil in a vegetable rich area and markets all kinds of vegetables in oil. Olive oil is used also for a sweet, called ferratella, a double waffle filled with chocolate.
To obtain meat with low cholesterol, a species of goose was selected, called Oca Sforzesca. Its sausages and cured meats, very tasty, can be bought in the shop in Fiera and are low in fat and in cholesterol. Snails (chiocciole) do not contain cholesterol. Arcenni is a Tuscan brand (Capannoli). His snails are grown in a 2.5 hectare farm. Considering the amount of work needed to obtain this special food, the prices are reasonable. Visitors of Taste are food lovers and don’t care about spending money, because of the high quality of the products sold. Our search for red rice, for its properties of low fat and high fibre content, is debated by the producer of Carnaroli rice in The San Maggiore Natural Park. He suggests that red rice is a weed. “My pure Carnaroli has special properties - grown without pesticides- unnecessary thanks to the biodiversity of the Park, recognized as SIC by EU”.
Taste 13 has been reviewed by numerous periodicals and books in the area of Conferences, called Ring. Many letters addressed to the Director are from young mothers, asking for recipes of simple foods, e.g. boiled rice, because after the 1970s women had outside jobs and used pre-cooked meals to save time. Today, on the other hand, they want to cook meals themselves, to obtain genuine tastes, but without spending too long on them. Csaba Dalla Zorza, Italian food writer, a true authority of contemporary savoir vivre, speaks of this subject in her latest book, Honestly good presented at the Ring. She describes new ways of cooking, eating and feeling good. The ethics of eating suggests preparing meals, rather than buying ready food, which moreover saves money. She also suggests that when your children are young, one should cook different dishes, to get them used to variety. Many adults refuse to experience new food due to the monotonous menus they were given as children.
To commemorate Gualtiero Marchesi, a group of men and women, who knew him closely, have presented a book about the great “artist of food”, who passed away in December 2017. A film dedicated to him is about to come out. It shows this great Italian in the places where he worked. A focus is also dedicated to Foraging, a widely spread phenomenon of our days, which consists in collecting and cooking wild plants, grasses, shrubs, lichens, seeds, resins, roots and even algae. Wild Food Lab is the name of the research laboratory run by Valeria Mosca, an anthropologist and ethno-botanist who speaks at the Ring of this important food resource, which has almost no impact on the planet. Wild food, however, must be harvested respecting the environment and with the knowledge of what can safely be consumed. This is why it should be a subject taught at school.
Valeria was allowed to teach it at a primary school. It was a first step towards the extension of an environmental culture, increasingly necessary and destined to broaden culinary experimentation. A second Ring, dedicated to the Geography of Foraging, sees a second speaker, in addition to Valeria. His name is Roberto Flore, head of the research Nordic Food Policy-Lab in Copenhagen. Both these Italians were initiated as children to the collection of wild plants by their grandmothers, custodians of a culture handed down for generations . They have become professionals at this, and you can follow each one on their websites. Roberto works in Denmark, where the New Nordic kitchen initially gave birth to the gastronomic exploration of the territory, generating an economy of investments in food by young people. Afterwards, given the very positive results, the government decided to invest in the project too, in the belief that the community is protected through the protection of food.
Roberto, who has a consolidated job in Denmark, where he is highly appreciated, collaborates with other universities and institutions, but at my question whether he thinks of coming back to Italy, regrets that, though his ideas have been accepted and financed by the Danish Government, he receives insufficient attention in Sardinia, his homeland, and therefore despairs of returning. It leaves us with a bitter taste, because innovators are forced, by lack of money in Italian research centres, to emigrate.
The last Ring on books was on one to be indeed applauded and publicised: Il Galateo del terzo Millennio. Two journalists, Filiberto Passananti and Matteo Minà, decided to publish the historic Galateo of Monsignor Della Casa, in the version of 1559. They did not simply publish the original text but also a translation into modern Italian, as well as a synthesis. Accompanying these three versions were ten interviews with contemporary personalities to draw, from the answers of each, ten rules of etiquette, related to different aspects of modern living, like the use of mobile phones, family behavior, how to live luxury, to name a few.
It should be remembered that the word Galateo, for Monsignor Della Casa, did not possess the reductive meaning of good table manners. The same broad meaning was applied during the interviews with Renzo Arbore, Sandra Milo, Giovanna Ferragamo and other icons of our time, asking them when and where the use of Galateo should be applied today. One of the aims of this project, as stated by the Authors, is to "affect young people, who have a predominant relationship with money, shifting their interest to people". That is, to use an outmoded expression, they tried to provide young people with what used to be called “Mum’s rules”, much more necessary than the impudence, which many parents accustom their children to, thinking that it is a quicker way to be successful. This book seeks, in fact, true values, aiming at more satisfactory human relationships, as a basis for a more acceptable way of life than the present one.
In addition to Taste in the Leopolda building, whith all the products shown to be tasted and purchased, Fuori Di Taste also took place, a series of events that involve the city, and last one week with dinners, themed tastings, installations, performances, talks and new convivial ways of interpreting food. There was also a Grand Prix, organized by La Marzocco, aimed at bar-tenders, held last year in Taste, this year in La Menagère, a café that, to make coffee, uses Strada EP, the top-of-the-range professional machine, equipped with pressure profiles, necessary to evaluate the operators' competence and select the one to be awarded the Grand Prix.