The Verdicchio wine
By now, everyone is aware of the fact that the Verdicchio is one of Italy's premium white wines. Over the last few decades, winegrowers in the region have invested significantly, both in their vineyards and in their wineries, thanks to a new generation of local enologists who have provided training and helped them to achieve success at the highest levels of excellence. The results speak for themselves as Verdicchio wines, today, can boast a ranking at the uppermost levels in all gatherings, tastings and competitions, both nationally and internationally. The Verdicchio is an indigenous vine (the name Verdicchio had already appeared in documents dated 1579) which has been predominant in the Marche region, having developed on the hills that run from the Esino River Valley to encompass the whole area around the town of Jesi, a terrain that is gently bathed in the sea breezes coming off the Adriatic Sea. The vine also thrived in the area around the town of Matelica where the more continental climate presents different characteristics, being nearer to the mountains and lacking the maritime influence. Within the region, a few large wineries that have made a name for themselves internationally as well as domestically, and some small ones, too, have distinguished themselves for the superior quality of their wine production. It often happens that an expert wine taster or simply a wine enthusiast passes through the region, marvelling at having “discovered” one or another producer, this or that bottle and describing the wine in terms of the intensity of flavor, the surprising structure, the balance between the acid notes and the alcohol content, the long and persistent final note. At one time, the Verdicchio was a vintage white wine, to be drunk young. This is no longer the case. All of the present day winegrowers, aware that the future will bring a greater selectivity and that only those who can satisfy new tastes and meet new challenges wisely and courageously will be rewarded. In fact, these producers are presenting us with great labels, capable of ageing well, without sacrificing any of their freshness and fragrance, as is befitting a product of class. Another aspect to be pointed out is the favourable quality/price ratio of this wine, something which certainly is a plus for the careful consumer and for anyone who knows how to move on international markets.
The Rosso Conero wine
Monte Conero is a promontory which detached itself from the Apennine Mountains in an ancient geological era and is now a cliff, falling sheer down to the Adriatic Sea, in the vicinity of Ancona.
The surrounding landscape is one of pure enchantment which, with the crystal clear waters, draws considerable numbers of summer tourists. At the highest and rockiest point, reaching 572 meters in altitude, it is predominantly wooded, but includes typical Mediterranean vegetation such as privet, Spanish broom and arbutus. The latter gave its name to the promontory, as the word “Conero” derives from the Greek “kòmaros”. Further down, in the agricultural terrain that was created thanks to the erosion of the mountain, there grow wild aromatic herbs and lavender is cultivated, along with grapevines, long ago brought to the area and trained to prosper in the neatly cultivated vineyards. The Latin writer, Pliny the Elder, had praised the red wine produced in this area as far back as two thousand years ago. Today, the area surrounding the hillsides of Monte Conero is part of a nature park in which all of the local species of marine flora are carefully protected. This also includes the vineyards which cover an extremely circumscribed area where the Montepulciano vines are predominant, but where modest quantities of Sangiovese can be found, as well.
In 1967 the Rosso Conero wine earned DOC status, among the first in Italy, for its Montepulciano and Sangiovese grape blend (maximum 15% of the latter, but with time, Montepulciano became more and more dominant as the Sangiovese was gradually phased out and now, is no longer used).
As of 2004, this great red wine can proudly boast a DOCG classification for Reserve wines and can simply call itself “Conero”.
Nowadays, all of the wine growing activity in this area revolves around the production of Rosso Conero with Montepulciano grapes which, thanks to a calcareous terrain and the gentle effects of the sea breezes, take on absolutely unique characteristics.
The production zone does not extend very far, it is true, and quantities are limited; but it is precisely for this reason that this wine is sought-after and admired on both the domestic and foreign markets. This wine is unique because its terroir is unique, just as the climate is very specific and quite particular; the many tourists and travellers to the area who come to see the Conero and its beaches, to taste the delicious “moscioli” mussels, enjoy the breathtaking beauty of this gem of the central Adriatic.
The visitor who wishes to acquaint himself with the area can do so by climbing the steep inclines or trekking along the gentle hills, finding, along the way, small or medium sized vineyards, but never huge expanses.
By following an itinerary proposed by the Strada del Rosso Conero, the curious will have a chance to visit various wineries where the producers welcome visitors and tourists by offering a taste of this splendid red wine of remarkable body and soft, velvety tannins if aged for a number years.
Of an intense ruby red color, a vinous and heady bouquet, it is full-bodied and rich on the palate, dry, velvety if well aged. In nearby Ancona, a young wine is usually paired with typical dishes such as the local version of lasagna, the “vincisgrassi”, and the rich, Ancona-style stockfish or with local cured meats such as salamis and hams; if the wine is more mature, it is served with red meats, game or cheeses, either aged or blue-veined.
Olive oil in the Marche
The terrain in the Marche, dominated by the foothills of the Apennines that gradually taper down towards the Adriatic coast, makes an ideal habitat for the cultivation of olive trees.
Because this type of agriculture is non-intensive, we find many small lots where olives are cultivated in numerous varieties to produce oil with unique characteristics. Over the last twenty years, much effort has gone into the selection process and a veritable olive oil culture has ensued and spread.
The fact that production has improved is obvious, as quality olive growing has increased, cultivation and harvesting methods have been bettered, the premium cultivars are well identified and modern oil extraction and conservation techniques are in widespread use.
There are considerable numbers of cultivars which are capable of producing quality oils, even monovarietal ones. In addition to the leccino, frantoio and moraiolo varieties which are also well-known in other regions of Italy, the Marche is home to many other cultivars such as the tender Ascoli table olive, the coroncina, mignola, piantone di Falerone, raggia, and rosciola.
The use of olive oil, instead of animal fats, is a fundamental characteristic of the Mediterranean diet.
A good quality olive oil improves the dishes we serve at table, as it enriches them organoleptically and furthermore, it is indispensable to our good health.
In the Marche, depending on where you go, it's given different names (visciolato, visner, etc.), but is most commonly known as visciola wine. The story behind this drink is rooted in ancient traditions, probably going as far back as Medieval times when it was customary to add flavorings to the wine. Then, over the course of centuries, individual farmers continued to prepare this “special occasion” wine to serve at a wedding or when a child was born, and each kept his own jealously-guarded secrets as to the recipe. Even today, this sweet, aromatic wine is prepared according to different techniques and, sometimes, with slightly different ingredients. The basic ingredient is the wild cherry, or visciola, that ripens in early summer, sugar and a local red wine (generally Sangiovese or Montepulciano). At one time, rum was added to increase the alcohol content, or spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or mace, to round out the flavours, but this practice is only a distant memory, the recipe long forgotten in the cobwebs of time. Nowadays, there are still two variations that can be found in the preparation method. One calls for the very ripe cherries to be put in sugar and left to macerate all summer until grape harvest time, when grape must is added to start the fermentation process. The other method uses wine from the previous year to ferment the cherries and sugar. In both cases, the visciola wine will be ready to drink the following year, in about mid-spring. This lovely wine, redolent of warm and aromatic tones, that can be served either as a dessert wine or simply to sip over conversation, was virtually unknown outside of the Marche region until just recently when it has seen an increase in production. Aside from a very few industrial productions, we are speaking of only a few thousand bottles per producer and therefore, we can say it is a niche product. Consumer attention is on the rise, though, as those who taste the goodness of this delicious elixir rarely forget it. The favorable market trend is encouraging a number of producers to plant new wild cherry orchards, although they remain limited in size, almost as if to protect and guard the territorial uniqueness of this product. The taste of visciola wine is delicate and yet, intense, sometimes offering a pleasant and slightly bitter aftertaste which goes so well with the traditional rustic sweets of the Marche, such as the ciambellone (a hearty ring cake with or without a chocolate center), ciambelle di mosto (soft buns made with grape must) or biscottini all'anice (cookies flavored with anise). We invite you to contact the following producers: www.vignamato.com - www.vicarivini.it - www.cantinedelcardinale.it
The Truffle from Acqualagna
IThe truffle is a “subterranean fruiting body of European fungi” or, underground mushroom, known since Ancient times and well-loved in the kitchen for its sharp, distinctive and powerful aroma. There exist a number of different varieties, but the highest recognition for excellence has always gone to the “prized white” (Tuber magnatum Pico). It matures from October to December and is used raw, in its natural state, finely sliced over piping hot dishes.
Acqualagna is a small town located not far from the gorge called Gola del Furlo, along the Metauro river, in the Pre-Apennine area of the region. The tradition of gathering and appreciating these prized tubers dates back to ages past. On Sundays, in the months of October and November of each year, one of the most important and well-known trade shows in Italy is held here. It attracts truffle connoisseurs and buyers from near and far.
During the autumn months, the whole area surrounding the town is buzzing with the frenzied activity of truffle gatherers, who, with the help of their trained hounds, comb the woods and ditches to look for the damp places and hidden spots where they know truffles love to grow in close contact with trees like the Poplar, the Willow, the Hazelnut tree, the Black Hornbeam, the Turkey Oak and the Downy Oak.
In the kitchen, the white truffle is a particularly refined ingredient and it can be used nicely in a variety of dishes, from pastas such as tagliatelle or passatelli, to veal carpaccio, from omelets to fried eggs. Truffles pair well with mushrooms and cheeses and are especially elegant with goose pâté.
Gioacchino Rossini, one of our most famed native sons, loved truffles and was such a great enthusiast that he used them in numerous recipes that he created himself. - www.tartufidiacqualagna.it
The Solfino Bean
An ancient bean varietal of the Marche
The Solfino Bean has returned to the Marche region and specifically, to Serra de’ Conti.
Small, round and pale yellow (like sulphur from which it takes its name), this bean variety was commonly cultivated in the central regions of Italy (Marche, Tuscany and Umbria) in the past. Nearing extinction, it has been brought “back to life“ and cultivated in several areas. It is now once again being grown in the Marche region, as well. The seed, a local ecotype, was rediscovered, studied and selected by the CRA – Experimental Horticultural Institute of Monsampolo del Tronto.
La Bona Usanza di Serra de’ Conti, a cooperative which, in the past, had been committed to promoting the cultivation of the cicerchia, or chickling pea, an ancient pulse on the verge of extinction, is now also undertaking the cultivation of the Solfino bean. The motivation lies in the need to safeguard autochthonous varieties of agricultural products which are being threatened by the increasing use of industrial production methods. Many varieties of vegetables, fruit and legumes are inexorably falling victim to the dangers of extinction, due to the fact that industrial production aims exclusively for the big numbers and looks at the commercial weight, while the value of taste, biological diversity, rich varietal heritage and ties to history and tradition are so often overlooked or ignored. For several years now, in the Marche, a Regional Repertoire of genetic heritage has been established which records dozens of vegetable and fruit varietals, as well as animal breeds.
The Solfino Bean (often called “Solfì”) possesses an array of very special organoleptic qualities, such as a particularly thin skin, creamy consistency, delicate taste and a capacity to hold up well in cooking. In order to appreciate all of its qualities, we recommend that you serve it just-boiled, while still warm, with a drizzling of good quality olive oil and a pinch of salt.
This bean is sown in April and harvested at the end of July; it prefers dry and not overly rich soil as it does not tolerate stagnating water. Cultivation is difficult and somewhat risky each year, as the production of this crop is heavily dependent on the climate and furthermore, many of the operations must be done by hand. Thus, the Solfino Bean is, without a doubt, very good, but at the same time, is very demanding in that it requires much patient care in cultivation. It is for this very reason that it came so close to disappearing altogether. Yet, we can once more enjoy the Solfi, to the great joy and satisfaction of the farmers who have taken to heart this petite bean. - www.labonausanza.it
The pig has been a constant in human settlements throughout Europe, the Middle East and China, in all but the hottest climates, for millennia. In Italy, in particular, home-grown swine have always been considered “part of the family” and have represented an irreplaceable source of food for farm families. Nothing is discarded, all parts of the pig are used, as our grandparents still remind us. All of the meat is utilized in different forms and can either be eaten fresh or easily cured and preserved as whole hams (prosciutto), whole loin (lonza), and a variety of sausages in different sizes and shapes (coppa, salami, salsicce ). In the regions of Central Italy a commonly found delicacy , often sold on street corners, in butcher shops, at village festivals and featured at group dinners is the porchetta. What is it and how is it prepared? Usually, a young suckling pig is taken and first opened from the belly, but left whole, gutted and cleaned carefully and then de-boned. Then the trotters and the tail are cut off and the meat is well seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and plenty of wild fennel (some recipes even call for some rosemary and a dash or two of wine). At this point, the carcass is filled with the lean and fat portions that were cut off the bone and rolled closed and tied with thick twine. This will keep the shape intact while it roasts in the oven, for no less than four hours. The fat will gradually melt as the heat cooks the innermost parts and the skin will brown to make a lovely crispy, golden crackling (a mouth-watering treat that everyone wants to crunch!). Once the porchetta is cooked, an immediately recognizable, irresistibly delicious aroma fills the air as it is left to cool before it can be sliced. When it is time to serve it, the roast pork is sliced so that each portion has some lean and some fat parts, a little of the inside and a bit of the crispy skin, too. It can be enjoyed at home or at a restaurant, but this is also characteristic street food, served heaped onto a freshly baked, split bun. The meat of a properly prepared porchetta should be light in color, well-laced with fat, aromatic and tender, with a nice glass of Verdicchio to wash it down.
In the Marche, stockfish is very popular and so much so that it is a long-standing tradition in this region. In fact, the local recipe is well-known to all lovers of good cuisine.
But, just how did stockfish come to the Marche?
It was thanks to the unlucky voyage made by a noble Venetian, Piero Quercini, who had just unloaded a cargo of wine in Flanders and was on the return voyage towards the Mediterranean Sea, when a violent storm pushed his ship far north, towards the Lofoten Islands in the glacial waters of the Artic Sea north of Norway.
It was in the winter of 1431 when the Venetian merchant and his crew were welcomed by the local population on the islands and invited to spend the cold winter months there until they could resume navigation in the spring.
Thus, the Italians learned about cod fish (the best quality can be fished in that area between February and April, when the fish migrate from the Barents Sea) and the local conservation methods: they dry the fish “in the wind and sun, with no salt”.
The unfortunate mishap turned into a fortuitous event as it allowed Quercini to take quantities of stockfish, dried and “stiff as a board”, back to Italy, where it appeared on Venetian tables and in traditional Mediterranean cuisine before long.
At that time, Venice was a powerful city whose commercial activity dominated the Adriatic Sea and the whole Mediterranean Basin. There were daily contacts between Venetian ships and the port of Ancona.
Thus, first air-dried stockfish and then salted cod, referred to as baccalà, became commonplace on our tables. Stockfish was so well-liked that, obviously, many recipes were invented; finally, one specific recipe was codified to become “Ancona-style stockfish”.
Once reconstituted by soaking in water for days, the fish is cleaned and trimmed, cut into pieces about 5 cm. long and placed, skin side down in a pan, that has been prepared with a minced carrot, garlic clove and a little parsley sautéed in olive oil (sometimes the fish is placed on a small rack to avoid sticking to the pan). It is seasoned with salt and pepper and another layer of fish is added, to end with a layer of potatoes cut in thick slices and pieces of fresh tomatoes. The whole dish is sprinkled with a little white wine which is then allowed to evaporate and olive oil and a little warm water are added. Covered, it is allowed to simmer over low heat for about three hours.
It is best to let the dish rest for a few minutes before serving.
In the city of Ancona, the Stockfish Academy is an active organization with many members who take it upon themselves to keep the tradition alive, by organizing convivial meetings and intercultural food events with other regions that also have traditional stockfish dishes prepared according to different recipes. - www.accademiadellostoccafisso.com
Maccheroncini di Campofilone
Campofilone is a small town, one of the many throughout the region that dot the landscape, perched on a hill, not too far from the sea. Yet, Campofilone is well-known in all of the best restaurants of the world, known for its pasta, for its “maccheroncini”. The origins of this pasta go back to the ancient art of making egg-dough pasta by hand, in the home, a common practice of every woman in households of the past. But these maccheroncini have a special feature: they are made from only eggs and wheat flour, without the addition of water. To be even more precise, the proportions are ten eggs per kilo of flour. At one time, families used tender wheat flour, but nowadays, in order for pasta to keep longer, durum wheat semolina is preferred. The egg dough is rolled out paper thin and allowed to dry for several hours, until it is ready to be folded over upon itself and cut into thin strips. The maccheroncini are so thin as to look like “angel hair” and thus, cook very rapidly in boiling water, in just one or two minutes' time, at most. Historical documents dating far back in time make references to this particular kind of pasta. In written texts from 1560 it was described as “so thin as to melt in the mouth”. In the centuries that followed, these maccheroncini appeared on the tables of the richest families alone, because the poorer population could not afford egg pasta every day (it was eaten only on special occasions or feast days during the year). Today, several pasta manufacturers produce the maccheroncini, although they are all small enterprises, halfway between an artisanal business and a small industry. Great attention is paid to the raw materials; the flour must come exclusively from Italian wheat, the eggs must come from hens raised on GMO-free grain and must be used fresh, within 72 hours of being laid. The drying process tries to reproduce the home environment of the past as faithfully as possible, when kitchens were heated by a fireplace and the pasta was left to dry slowly.