I usually try to do a ‘best 10’ list from the products at the festival. I did make a list, however, this edition of Salone del Gusto was hard to comb through properly. Therefore, rather than submit a ‘top 10’ list, I am presenting a list of my favorite products that I came across. In no particular order, these are my favorite 7 Slow Food items!
1. ALL the syrups – Herbert Sirupy
Put a trio of handsome men behind a stand, surround them with bright food colors, bottles of an obviously homemade product, clean cut creative branding and a quirkiness I can’t quite put my finger on…you have my attention. I had to find out more. I was delighted to have a moment to meet the Slovakian staff from Herbert. They presented an array of all natural syrups made strictly with maceration and filtering processes. The versatile liquids could easily be used in cocktails or non-alcoholic concoctions. The flavor wheel they flirt with is impressive. Stay tuned for more details in a separate post!
2. Amara – Rossa
This lovely Italian amaro is self-described as an “infusion of blood orange, infusion of herbs, water obtained by osmosis and sugar.” Blood oranges are harvested near an active volcano in Sicily and turned into a boldly flavored liqueur that boasts a 30% alcohol content. Campari and Aperol are more common (commercial) amaros that sit on the citrus spectrum. Rossa Amara is bright like Aperol and flavorful without the heavy bitterness of the grapefruit in Campari. Its beautiful color has an almost wine-like quality. The company uses a simplistic yet artsy approach to their branding and packaging. I would love to work with this product in the future. Their current recipe suggestions include using it to amp up an Aperol spritz or a traditional mojito. I am partial to their recommendation of an Amaratonic, essentially a gin and tonic but swapping out your main poison for Rossa’s Amara.
3. Gorgonzola – La Baita del Formaggio
If you want to get my attention at a food laden festival, two giant vats of cheese will definitely do the trick. Offer me a sample and I am a goner! I stumbled upon a stand representing the Italian region of Lombardy and much to the dismay of nearby Italians, proceeded to swoon over several spoonfuls of gorgonzola before lunch time. La Baita is a historic cheese company that has been in Milan for over 50 years. They had humungous tubs of Gorgonzola laced with champagne or fresh black truffles that was creamy enough to bathe in….I mean spread on bread. I would have thought it difficult to combine two incredibly strong and distinct flavors such as gorgonzola and black truffles. The masterful hands at Baita however allow both flavors to come together harmoniously instead of competing for your attention.
4. Taiwanese Soy Sauce – Wu Wan Wo
A quick bit of culinary knowledge for y’all. Soy sauce originated in china and spread throughout the Asian continent adapting to regional variations. Traditionally made with 100% soy beans, brewing methods introduced in Japan preferred a 50/50 ratio of wheat and soy. Taiwanese soy sauce, something many (including myself) are less familiar with, is made from black soy beans which lend it a “meatier” flavor and richer umami. Tasting it for the first time was like combining soy sauce and bacon. While that smacks of a sodium overload, I am not referring to saltiness, but flavor profiles. ‘Wu Wan Wo’, translates to ‘forget me not’. This company was a memorable one indeed. Their soy sauce based on indigenous black soybeans, Piranske Soline sea salt, brown sugar and natural seasonings, is naturally fermented for 180 days in terracotta pots. They also produce a product that is free of preservatives and GMOs. Giovanna and Carine, representatives at the stand, were extremely friendly and knowledgeable. I sampled two different soy sauces and acquired a couple bottles of a delicious balsamic soy glaze. Wu Wan Wo is an umami punch to the taste buds in the best kind of way; it makes you want to come back for more.
5. Deira Passito Wine – Villa Matilde
Passitos are dessert wines made from partially drying the grapes on straw mats to concentrate flavors and sweetness. This particular bottle was served in one of the workshops I took at the festival. This stellar wine is made from black Aglianico grapes grown in the Campania region of Italy. The vineyards are placed in phosphorus and potassium rich volcanic soils at an altitude of 150mt. Generally harvested mid-November, fermented in late December and then barrel aged for 48 months. This is the kind of bottle you buy to show off but end up finishing by yourself. It brings out the selfish glutton in even the tamest foodie. As soon as the bottle was opened and served, you could see heads turning, glasses being raised and polite fingers requesting refills almost immediately. Dangerously delicious. There is a hole in my liquor cabinet reserved for when I can find how to acquire a bottle of this. *cough cough* hint to any Italian friends or wine procurers that like to gift things.
6. Cinnamon Dragées – Pietro Romanengo
With a history dating back to 1780, one can hardly critique the quality of this confectionary company. They have a wide assortment of colorful sweets that are both tasty and elegant. My favorite were the cinnamon dragées. A dragée is a small confection with a hard outer shell. The most recognized is the Jordan almond, but even the commonplace M&M is technically a dragée. Pietro Romanengo’s products stand out due to their adherence to traditional methods that include hand mixing batches in small quantities. The cinnamon dragées are simply sugar coated slivers of cinnamon bark. They are sweet, slightly spicy, holiday reminiscent and even double as a great breath freshener.
7. Cannoli – La Lanterna
A classic Italian pastry with a lewd backstory, how to select a good cannoli is an often disputed argument in Sicily. Some say the shell is more important than the filling or vice versa. This chef believes they are both equally important. When you have something so simple made from so few parts, you should get every detail right. La Lanterna is a Salone del Gusto veteran and in my humble opinion, the best cannoli you will ever try. Plus, how can you not enjoy a baker that smiles when giving you a cannoli and pauses to watch that first bite make you smile or lose your eyes in the back of your head? Any New Yorkers or Jersey Italians can politely keep their comments locked away. La Lanterna makes the best cannoli I have ever eaten on Italian soil and no American export has come close. I said it. No regrets.
Well readers…it may not be a top 10, but it is a solid 7. Many of the aforementioned products can be acquired online if you want to verify my opinions.
Until next time…