Italy has over 810 agri-food products and wines recognised as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the European Union, making Italy a leading country for food and wine excellence.s.
Last week, I was invited along by the Scottish branch of the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the UK to an evening of authentic Italian food discovery, as part of the international project “The Extraordinary Italian Taste” at the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School. They have joined forces with the association of the Italian Chambers of Commerce Abroad to combat the diffusion of the ‘Italian Sounding’ phenomenon.
The event was organised in collaboration with the well-known, passionate and visionary cook Andrea Ruisi, Chef Ambassador from ALMA – La Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana, the world’s leading international educational and training centre for Italian Cuisine.
What is the ‘Italian Sounding’?
The Italian sounding phenomenon refers to the retailing of food and beverage produced outside Italy but marketed with Italian names and misleading Italian words, images and brands, even if they have no connection to their Italian origins. Worldwide sales of Italian sounding products have reached around £60 billion. It the UK, products mainly affected are Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto de Parma and olive oil. Their mission is to tackle and combat this movement in order to protect the authenticity and the quality of the Italian product.
The masterclass and tasting
There was no doubting the knowledge, passion and skill of the very handsome and engaging Chef Ruisi for Italian produce. He had a presentation that he told us was over 100 slides long; although thankfully we were only sat through a whistle stop tour of about 30.
This was followed by a trip to discover Italian first courses (primi piatti), in particular handmade pasta and risotto.
He led us through a masterclass, highlighting the benefits of using authentic Italian products, the importance of using authentic Italian products, the importance of protecting the original Italian cuisine and culinary traditions from the ‘Italian Sounding’ phenomenon.
From ‘angel hair’ to ‘fettuccine’ to ‘farfalle’ to ‘pappardale’, there didn’t seem to be any pasta shape that Chef Ruisi didn’t know how to make. We were treated to the making of an abundance of these different pasta shapes, which he seemed to make with complete ease and speed; although in reality, I think you would have to have been tied to your ‘nonna’s’ apron strings for years in order to perfect, using different types of pasta dough.
This was followed by a masterclass in how to make the perfect risotto, involving the three stages of toasting, cooking and whisking.
Chef Ruisi’s saffron risotto was sublime and transported me back to one I had at the Savoy on the occasion of my mother’s 60th birthday. I can still taste that amazing dish and whilst I have tried to recreate it many times, I have never quite achieved it – until now, that is. I almost had a little tear in my eye, it was so delicious.
Italy is the land of ‘primo piatto’ and the only country in which a typical meal is shaped as a succession of an appetiser, a first course, a second course and finally a dessert. The Italians know how to feast!
Pasta and risotto were on the menu this evening and Chef Ruisi told us that these dishes are the actual protagonists of this unique tradition. We learnt that risotto is a very Italian cooking technique, not just a recipe.
Some historians say that pasta had a central role in unifying Italians, under a common gastronomical and cultural flag. Italy is the first producer and consumer of pasta in the world, and surprising the first producer of rice in Europe. In 2011, the linguist Franco Mosino catalogued 1238 entries in the ‘Etymological Dictionary of Italian Pasta. An enormous number of local names which indicates an enormous number of variations and shapes. . . it’s a matter of pasta.
The aim of this evening was to raise awareness and educate us as to the benefits of using authentic Italian products; to promote and enhance values such as quality, culture and tradition; and to enhance the Italian agri-food industry through increasing its knowledge and consumption in target foreign markets. They definitely achieved this with such an interesting event.
Whilst I possibly won’t be slaving away at my counter top making intricate pasta shapes, I will however seek out PDO and PGI Italian products such Aceto Balsamico De Modena IGP/PGI; Mortadella Bologna IGP/PGI; Grana Padona DOP/PDO); Parmigiano Reggiano DOP/PDO as you really can taste the difference.
And for a rather lovely Italian wine, check out Bellavista Franciacorta, of which I have written about before, and which you can sample at the wonderful Italian Contini establishment on George Street.
Fall in love with regional Italian cooking
If you’re looking for some authentic Italian cooking, you must check out Nero a Metà , the latest restaurant from Rosario Sartore of Locanda de Gusti and Pizzeria 1926. I visited recently and had the most fabulous evening and whilst I could only do justice to two courses, it is somewhere that will give you the extraordinary Italian taste.
Slateford Road might not be your usual haunt, being slightly off the beaten track and a part of town I only drive through as part of my commute to work, but I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed.
Taking the helm in the kitchen are chefs Lorenzo Nicolini and Giuseppe Magrone. Even between the differences of the two parts of Italy, Lorenzo and Giuseppe are putting together the northern and southern culture by joining them in cuisine. That’s what Nero a Metà is. Passion and care goes into sourcing and cooking with exceptional ingredients which are sourced from northern and southern Italy, producing a contemporary, yet authentic Italian dining experience.
So go off the beaten track and discover the #TrueItalianTaste.