SARONNO, Italy - McDonald’s recently introduced the McItaly, an all Italian beef hamburger topped with Asiago cheese and artichoke paste. The Italian Minister of Agriculture, Luca Zaia, thinks it’s a good idea. He said he wants to give an imprint of Italian flavors to Italian kids.
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British chef Jamie Oliver did a series of television programs about food in Italy few years ago. The cookbook that followed is called “Jamie’s Italy” and in it he writes that he has been “totally besotted by the love, passion and verve for food, family and life itself that just about all Italian people have.”
He talks about meeting a six year old girl in Puglia who was sitting with her grandmother making homemade orecchiette, cappelletti and fusilli pasta faster than any chef he had ever seen. And about another young girl who told him if he was going to cook beef on a grill, he should use rosemary to flavor it, and only rosemary, because that was how they grilled beef in Puglia.
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I took my responsibility very seriously. This was our dinner I was in charge of. I remember standing on a chair next to the stove staring at that pot lid just waiting for the first sign of any movement. I also knew that the snails had spent the night in a pan of cornmeal so that now they were clean and stuffed and would be delicious to eat. I don’t remember how old I was but I don’t think I was in school yet.
Italians start their food education at birth and it never really stops. Pre-schoolers and those in elementary school get school lunches, with fairly basic lunch menus. The first course is some kind of pasta or rice; the second course can be meat, fish, cheese or a frittata, some kind of vegetable and/or salad, and desert, which is usually fruit or sometimes pudding. To drink they are offered mineral water.
Once the kids are in middle school their school day ends at 1’o’clock and they go home for lunch. This means that if you walk down the street in any neighborhood in any Italian town around 1’o’clock in the afternoon you will most likely hear the sound of Italian mammas in their kitchens cooking something that smells so delicious you want to knock on the door and invite yourself in. Can you see why I'm confused? I don't understand what happened to Minister Zaia that makes him think Italian kids need to be imprinted with Italian flavors.
I'm sure he knows that Italy has the strictest regulations regarding the care and feeding of beef cattle in all of the European Union. But is it possible that he doesn't know that the Italian beef they serve at McDonald’s is not made with meat from beef cattle, but from the meat and extra (dangly) parts of old milk cows that are no longer productive? It’s safe to eat, but that’s about all I can say for it. It is all very strange indeed.