Why you should care
Because rules are made to be broken.
Let’s just admit it: When it comes to good food, Italy rocks. Pizza, lasagna, ice cream, pasta — we simply do it better, and we’re proud and protective of our gourmet recipes.
Lately, though, a new kind of fetishism is rising. Italians are taking gastronomical matters too seriously, and across the boot, a bunch of food crusaders and protection lobbies are rising. Secret societies, academies, gourmet hermits and petty chefs are out to tell the world that their local cuisine and ancient recipes are sacred, untouchable.
The Ventricina Academy protects a spicy salami made of animal entrails that is produced in only one location; the organization is also engaged in a tiff with a rival region over who created ventricina. The Azdore are Italian-style Amazon warriors who defend the art of handmade pasta, rolling pins in hand and worshipping their own goddesses. Tiny neighboring towns bicker over who has the best fish soup and have set up scientific committees to ascertain this, while others have founded mystical confraternities to defend original stockfish and sea urchin recipes and to hand them down to future generations. Members, who believe fish must be cooked in a certain way, go around dressed as monks and in search of followers. Cod ambassadors travel the world via kayak to spread the gospel on how to prepare the one and only stockfish soup made the Venetian way. If, say, a restaurant cooks the cod for three hours instead of four, it will be kicked out of the exclusive club.
There’s also the Wisemen Brotherhood of Tortellino, which has hired a pool of lawyers to defend its copyright of the ring-shaped pasta that looks like Venus’ belly button. The group even tells you how to eat it: in a thick capon broth. If you gulp tortellini down with meat ragù, you’re committing a sacrilege. Even cakes can be taboo: The original panettone recipe, for example, is fiercely defended by Milan’s Chamber of Commerce. There are, of course, fanatical pizza-makers. “Real” Neapolitan pizza can be savored only in taverns that boast the special label.
Forget the gluey stuff you find in markets and restaurants across the globe. The genuine item is made not of cow milk but of water buffalo milk that comes exclusively from animals that freely graze the fields in a sun-kissed, fertile patch of land between Rome and Naples. Outside that zone, as if special magnetic vibrations existed there, it’s bullshit (sorry, but that’s the best description I can come up with right now). In fact, Italians use bufala to refer to any kind of hoax, meaning you were fooled into buying what you thought was premium porcelain-white mozzarella, but which turned out to be a tasteless, yellowish dense cow cheese of unknown origin.
Tell you what: If it tastes good, who cares what the sages say?