27 February 2014

AUNTIE PASTA: Capitano Basilico

CHIAVARI, Italy – No doubt you’ve all heard of the war on drugs and the war on women, well there was another war being waged in Italy just last year. The Italian war was all about basil. Not just any old basil, but Ligurian basil – and the reprobate? The Italian Minister of the Environment Corrado Clini. 

 Capitano Basilico - Defender of Basil and All Things Green
As the law stands now, genetically modified seeds are prohibited in Italy. The only genetically modified foodstuffs allowed to be imported into the country are soy and corn used in animal feed. So when Minister Clini went on to suggest that basil, the pride of Liguria, was on a par with animal feed, all hell broke loose.

A much offended and indignant President of the Consortium of Genovese Basil DOP, Mario Anfossi, issued a statement refuting the Minister’s claim and even went so far as to request the Consortium’s Legal Department look into filing a claim against the Minister of the Environment for damages to the sacrosanct image of Ligurian basil. 

 The Green Goddess of Liguria - Basil
“It is absurd,” Anfossi said, “that an Italian government official would purposely issue false and misleading statements nullifying the good work carried out by the Ligurian Basil Consortium. “After all,” he added, “Genovese basil didn’t earn the coveted DOP designation for no reason.

Having a DOP designation, you may recall, means that the product is the real deal. It's part of a system established by the European Union to protect the reputation of regional foods and eliminate the chance of misleading consumers with non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavor. 

Ready, Set, Pound!
Minister Clini’s timing couldn’t have been any worse. While this firestorm was raging, in the hallowed halls of the Ducal Palace in Genoa the finals of the IAAF World Pesto Championship were in full swing. 

One hundred participants from around the world were pounding their little hearts out, trying to win the coveted Wooden Pestle Award. It was a fair fight. Each pesto maker was given four packs of DOP Genovese basil, 40 grams of Pecorino Fiore Sardo cheese, 50-60 grams of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, 2 cloves of Vessalico garlic, 10 grams of salt, 30 grams of pine nuts from Pisa, a bottle of DOP Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil, a marble mortar and pestle and 40 minutes to prepare their pesto. 

 The Real Deal
Surrounded by TV cameras and photographers, they were then judged by a jury of 30 experts, including restaurateurs, sommeliers and journalists. The judges kept a careful eye on each of the finalist, awarding points for how well they handled the ingredients, how well they organized their work, and of course the color, consistency and taste of their pesto. 

Among the magnificent 100 finalists there was a naturalized Italian from Sri Lanka, 83 year old Alfonsina Trucco, the oldest participant, and 25 year old Christina Orilia, the youngest participant.  Other pesto makers included a businessman and a computer consultant from Genoa, an entrepreneur from Moscow, a consultant from Lyon, France, a nuclear physicist from Genoa, and two medical doctors. Some contestants had come from as far away as the USA, Canada and Argentina. 

And the Winner is  . . . . . Sergio Muto
 And the winner of the Campionato Mondiale del Pesto al Mortaio (World Championship of Mortar-Made Pesto) was 54 year old Sergio Muto, an Italian who lives in Germany.

You know, all this pesto talk has inspired me. I’ve already missed the preliminary competition for this year so I’ll have to wait until 2016 to give it try. That gives me a couple of years to master my pesto making techniques, and even if I’m not the best it doesn’t matter. After all, as the Italians say, it’s not about winning, it’s about being there. Anyone care to join me?

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