Today we’re talking about capers from Pantelleria, tiny but very rich in flavour. But there’s more, we’ll also discover caper berries, caper leaves and the caper production farm that brings Pantelleria’s tradition to the world. Ready to go?
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ANCHOVIES FROM CETARA: ONE-OF-A-KIND FLAVOUR AND TRADITION
As soon as someone mentions the name ‘Cetara’, we immediately think of anchovies. As a matter of fact, this amazing oily fish is deeply tied to the culture of this village, influencing the work pace, the life and gastronomy of its inhabitants. The artisan producers of salt-packed anchovies from Cetara and colatura di alici (the anchovy sauce) managed an incredible feat: they contributed to the fame of these delights all over the world, educating palates and making people understand what a high-quality product should really taste like.
Anchovy fishing in Cetara
Anchovy fishing has provided a great source of livelihood for the fishermen of the village of Cetara for many centuries; luckily, traditional processing methods have stood the test of time and are still being employed today.
Originally, anchovy fishing entailed the use of a net, called menaide. This net was made of one single net sheet with uniform mesh size; small anchovies could pass through the meshes, whereas the big ones got stuck and were retrieved by hand.
However, in the 20s fishermen in Cetara started replacing the menaide with other nets, called lampare; these funnel-shaped nets would almost reach the seabed. This net used to be cast from the main boat, while another boat illuminated the water to attract fish. It was a very hard and costly fishing method.
Nel 1946 viene introdotto un nuovo sistema di pesca alle alici, la pesca a cianciolo. La pesca delle alici è così fatta con una rete che racchiude il branco di pesci raccolto sotto una fonte luminosa, la rete poi viene chiusa come un sacco e issata a bordo del peschereccio.
In 1946 a new anchovy fishing system was introduced, which was called purse-seine fishing. Anchovy were fished with a net encircling the whole school of fish which had gathered under a source of light. The net was closed like a purse with a drawstring and pulled on the fishing boat.
Anchovies have been the staple food in the diets of Cetara’s inhabitants for many years and they are still used in many recipes. Whether they are chosen for their sapidity or for their undeniable tastiness, anchovies are a special ingredient that can enrich a lot of different dishes.
The life of fishermen in Cetara follows the rhythm set by boats coming in and out of the harbour. Anchovy fishing occurs only in the Gulf of Salerno, in the sea lapping against the shore of the magnificent Amalfi coast. After being fished, anchovies are packed in salt straight away, when they are still very fresh. This swift processing allows preserving the fish flavour and sapidity.
Anchovies are fished between the end of March and the beginning of July. Anchovies from this area are roughly 10 to 18 cm long, and are therefore fleshy and compact.
Salt-packed anchovies from Cetara and colatura sauce
Two delicacies are produced from this incredible oily fish: salt-packed anchovies or oil-packed anchovy fillets and the colatura di alici from Cetara, the anchovy sauce. Anchovies are always the starting point.
How are anchovies from Cetara processed?
Whole anchovies or filleted anchovies are processed by hand, selected and divided according to size. There actually is a whole ranking system, where the biggest anchovies are given the number zero (even if triple zero anchovies do exist), down to the smallest anchovies classified by the number three.
The head, scales and fishbone are removed. Then anchovies are placed ‘head to tail’, alternating layers of anchovies with layers of salt. A lid and a weight are placed on the wood container, exerting pressure; during the 4 to 6-month-long ripening process, the 50-kg content of the barrel reduces to a third!
All detail-loving manufacturers use Apulian sea salt from Margherita di Savoia or Sicilian sea salt from Trapani or only use high-quality extra virgin olive to preserve anchovies. In the past, anchovies were packed in salt and preserved in terracotta jars with a glazed interior for the winter months, when fishing yield was low.
Colatura di alici, anchovy sauce, is another thing altogether.
How is anchovy sauce made?
Colatura di alici or anchovy sauce - a Slow-Food presidium - is an amber liquid obtained by salt-ripened anchovies. Anchovies are fished between late Spring and mid Summer and they are immediately placed in wooden barrels, called terzigni, where anchovies are traditionally left to ripe. Usually colatura sauce is ready by December; that’s why a celebration of this anchovy sauce is held in the middle of December.
Colatura di alici from Cetara is a by-product of preserving anchovies. It requires experience and patience - two features commonly found in artisan production, but always lacking in industrial production.
The story of this sauce is very ancient and is intertwined with the stories of monks living in the San Pietro a Toczolo parsonage, close to Amalfi. After fishing, these monks used to clean anchovies and layer them with coarse salt in big wooden barrels. Then they placed a heavy rock on the lid, which acted as a press.
All excess liquid depositing and dripping on the bottom was so scented that one day the monk in charge of cooking decided to take it and use it to dress vegetables. That’s how colatura di alici became such a delectable liquid sauce - beloved both by local housewives and by people all over the world.
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