You might be forgiven for thinking, as I did that real salami can only be found in Italy…
This was before I heard about Luca Picco and his artisan salami production in Angel Islington called Picco.
I showed up unannounced which didn’t seem to be a problem and Luca enthusiastically showed me round his facility which can produce up to 1000kg of fine salami each month.
The story goes that after running restaurants and the stress that comes with it he longed for a more tranquil life. This was promissed by returning to what his family has been passionately doing for the last 80 years, making salami!
Here you see from left to right the finocchiona (fennel seed), salt and pepper, celery seed and paprika sopressata. If you look closer you might notice some unusual ingredients and origins in there like Jamaican Chili or Hungarian Paprika.
Some might cry “Thats not original!” but who cares when you have such a high quality final product!?
Mace spice in the salami makes for quite a kick!
My favourite anecdote from Luca’s extensive knowledge was about the mould which matures and flavours the salami. This particular fungus grows on the walls of his familie’s ripening cellar in the Piedmont region in Italy which they the scraped off and re-cultured in a lab to spray Luca’s sausages in London with it.
This is a matured fillet mignon in a beef casing. Apparently the antibiotics and hormones-free british pork used by Picco is much higher quality than that of the italian curly tailed cousins due to the wider variety of pig breeds available here and the animals being held free range instead of inside kennels.
People are literally banging on the door to try these artisan delights which are sold for example by Cannon and Cannon at Borough market.
So to sum up; 80 years of know how, high quality ingredients and original spores, hand made by a fearless producer who balances orignal methods with innovative spice combinations make for an exceptionally rewarding taste experience!
Best of luck!
Roccadaspide is also the place we source our Salsiccia from. A small mountain road winds through valleys heaving with chestnut trees. There are pigs. They eat chestnuts. And then, somewhere near the end of the world, is Maria’s Macelleria. The little butchers has an even smaller back room where Maria makes the sausages. Then they hang for a fair bit. And sometimes we pop round to pick a few up. Meanwhile, the next generation of pigs is feasting on the next chestnut crop.
If you plan on getting black truffles in Bagnoli Irpino, you should be prepared to speak to some rather special people. via this
I touch down in Naples and the pilot informs us of sunny weather, 21C and a light breeze. Nice! At least not bad for November, thoughts of emigration come to mind. The car rental is typically Italian, hidden, and a nonsensical bus ride away, but I am rewarded with an ugly but nippy Fiat Panda. I load it up with my empty luggage and 80 liter thermo box soon to be filled with the finest produce the Campania region has to offer!
My first stop is the costal slope of Amalfi. The micro climate is ideal for growing citrus fruit due to the high difference in day and night time temperature which results in higher sugar levels than usual. The sweetness of the juice and aroma of the skin is stunning, lending itself very well to desserts compared to commercial varieties.
These Ponzino Lemons were actually what I had come here for but as you can see from the green skin they were not in season yet. However, I did get to sample them in their most common usage, Limoncello.
However, I couldn’t leave these ripe, plump Sfusato lemons behind and they filled my car with a lovely aroma
Next I head off into the mountains to Bagnoli Irpino which is famous for its truffles. My instructions for actually finding a merchant are equally amusing as they are dubious: ‘Go to the local bar on the piazza, approach people asking them for “tartuffi, mezzo kilo”. It’s a bit like buying dodgy gear from old men… It’s fun!
I manage to find the bar, order a beer and try to blend in. Not easy when everyone is staring at you. With my almost none-existent Italian (which is actually a confused mix of Portuguese and Spanish) I eventually locate a man who whips out his phone and “Pronto” 10 minutes later I find myself in the possession of a very pungent bag of fresh truffles.
Excuse the bad picture taken with my phone but I had decided not to take my camera with me which, even though these guys look like they rob trains for a living, proved to be entirely unfounded. Once the deal was done they not only bought me beer but even drove ahead to show me the way to my hotel which I wouldn’t have found without their help!
The hotel is not to be recommended so I’ll just skip ahead to the next day. I drove to the famous buffalo mozzarella farm, Tenuta Vannulo which is in Cappacio in the Salerno province.
I bought one large 600g ball of plain and one ball of smoked mozzarella as well as ricotta and butter all made from buffalo milk.
The staff were slightly snappy and didn’t take well to probing questions about their production processes in “shitalian” so I decided to take my cheerful self and my many questions to the next farm, 10 minutes down the road.
It all starts with a buffalo…
Barlotti is a slightly less famous brand of mozzarella but a much bigger operation where I bought more mozzarella and ricotta to be able to compare the taste side by side.
At Barlotti they seemed more used to inquisitive strangers and after letting me photograph their brine pools behind the counter, encouraged me to go and see the cheese being made.
I learned that the buffalo milk is cultured and left to curd for four hours. The paste separates into water and base which is shredded up and heated in the water to stretch the base. This is then either feed into a machine or torn apart by hand to form the cheese balls.
This tearing is what gives the mozzarella its typical hand made rough scar.
I was given a tasting sample of mozzarella straight from the vat and was surprised that it lacked the typical taste and was, to be honest a tad bland. When I pointed this out I was told that the cheese needs to mature in the salt water for at least 24h for the outer layers to develop the characteristic taste.
For lunch I was invited to have pizza with representatives of Rago, one of the regions leading salad growing companies. They showed me their facility which was very professional and impressive. It reminded me how far the food industry has come compared to the artisan processes the region is famous for and which are now making a comeback as part of the slow food revolution.
My next stop was an unassuming family butcher in Fonte. When I arrived there was already a family waiting outside for the shop to open again which I was told would happen at “chinco” five. I did find myself wondering what Italians do in their 5 hour lunch breaks.
The wait proved worthwhile for their Pancetta Longa which is a chunky role of spiced bacon that is hung for 6 months and smells absolutely divine.
I also followed the butchers recommendation and bought some aniseed salsicha which they seemed to be particularly proud of.
Roccadaspide is know for its chestnuts and I managed to find the regions main pack house off the beaten track and arrived unannounced to the complete amazement off Mario who runs the business. They couldn’t believe that someone would look them up on the internet and then travel all the way from London to see the origins of their produce. After they had sold me 3kg of Chestnuts in the husk they told me to wait for my “regallo”, a present of chestnut flour and pre-peeled and dried chestnut pieces.
That night I stayed in Agropoli and after finding my highly recommendable hotel Vecchio Saracino I was warmly welcomed by the patriarch of the family business, Franco.
He eyed my thermo box and asked what the objective of my quest was and when I showed him its content of the finest foods of Campania he shouted “Vincenzo!” and his son the restaurant chef and all the rest of the family came to steal a peek.
I told them that I hadn’t been able to find a couple of things yet on my list and asked if I could accompany Vincenzo to the market the next morning. They immediately whipped out their phones and started contacting producers and delis who might have the missing items in stock. Franco walked me to the ones close by but they were all closed which just added to my frustration with italian hours of business, but as always, what they lack in organisation they make up may times over in raw passion! When we returned empty-handed to the hotel Vincenzo showed me his own made products. They were an unusual variety of cured tuna and anchovy preparations, such as Ventresca which is tuna belly which he gave me, along with other products from his fridge!
Bottarga (Tuna roe)
Suddenly Franco came bustling in and told me to hurry up we were going somewhere. In the rush I unfortunately left my camera behind so could not document my visits to delis in the town centre where I did manage to find Cacioricotta which is considered to be one of Italy’s best cheeses. It is a mix of half ricotta and half regular cheese, ricotta being considered a milk product not a real cheese product, as it’s not coagulated during the cheese making process. The main ingredient is goat’s or sheep’s milk, but cow and buffalo milk can also be used.
Our next stop rewarded us with the crown jewel of the region, Sopresata de Gioi. The production origins of this sausage date back the best part of a millennium. It is made only from highest quality pork fillet, carefully cleaned of all cartilage and gristle and then seasoned with salt and pepper. The mince, mixed with care, has to rest for about ten hours. It is then packed in natural casings around a central thread of bacon as long as the casing itself. Then begins the stage of maturation. The presence of lard, as well as giving it a decorative touch, helps to maintain a moist dough. The optimum maturity is 40 days. The aromas are strong and herby, minerals and smoked notes go beautifully with the spice and musk. In the mouth the flavor is long, rich, with a hint of chestnut final.
We also managed to find Fichi Bianchi which are very sweet white figs that have a very short season and I was lucky enough to visit just at the tail end of it.
I thanked Franco profusely for introducing me to his friends and taking time to show me around but he played it cool like it was the most natural thing in the world to help a fellow food enthusiast.
Back at the hotel Vincenzo cooked me a degustation menu with many fish dishes made mainly with his homemade ingredients which he will be showcasing at an event in Berlin at the end of the month.
It also, of course, included a mozzarella ball which was my third of the day. But for me it was one of those rare occasions where I completely lost myself in the combination of flavours and kept eating not because of hunger but for the sake of pure flavour indulgence!
The restaurant started filling up with many people who the owner family seemed to know personally but it was only after they had all eaten and brought in the cake and champagne that I realized, to my slight embarrassment, that it was Lorenzo’s birthday on which he had prepared this beautiful meal for me. I just managed to fit in a slice of super rich ricotta and pear cake washed down with a glass of bubbly but I decline their kind invitation to come out and party with them for fear of missing my flight and sheer exhaustion.
The next morning it proved to have been a wise decision judging by the state of Marco, a local food entrepreneur whom I had met the night before; they had been drinking Cachaca until 3am. After saying goodbye to my hosts, Marco took me to a local farm that had freshly harvested Friarilli broccoli which I had tried the night before. It is a common vegetable in the cuisines of southern Italy and has a lovely nutty flavour.
The only thing I didn’t mange to find were The Vesuvius Piennolo Cherry Tomato that have a thick, almost crunchy, skin, and a very firm compact flesh with low water content. However, I do have to leave some scope for discovery during my next trip :)