Italy Stagionello Trip
At the start of May I was lucky enough to be in Crotone in Italy attending a course in meat processing and curing. Stagionello are a company that have been around for a while producing integrated machines that can be used for ageing and curing meats. I heard they held short courses at their amazing HQ in the south of Italy and thought I would go down and have a look at what goes on there for myself.
Of biggest interest to me during the two-day course was the idea of picking up some classical Italian production techniques. Techniques that can only be learnt directly from the Italians, gaining an insight into their tradition. As luck would have it this is exactly what I was shown. In the UK we typically use starter cultures in our charcuterie (meaning we use already harvested bacterial spores and inoculate them into the meat) this allows us to guarantee food safety and give a uniform taste from batch to batch. At the academy a process was demonstrated to us whereby the use of only good quality meat, spices (that had been treated for cleanliness), wine and curing salts can be used in conjunction with a careful control of environment in order to produce amazing charcuterie. The difference in the process I was shown compared to the UK process is really synonymous with the difference between natural and non-natural wine.
The key really is creating the right environment for the good lactic acid bacteria already present within the meat to thrive and then guide the whole fermentation and maturing process. This process requires the best free range meat, and ingredients produced locally, this means the flora present within the production materials are all native of place in which it is produced giving a uniquely local flavour.
The taste difference was obvious, with the products having an altogether milder but deeply umami flavour. A flavour that was obviously distinct to the environment from which it was created. This is something that became really obvious to me during my short time in south Italy, that the food I ate there had a specific characteristic and uniqueness, it had a special natural quality that I believe we rarely get chance to experience in the UK.
As a chef and food producer I have always been taught to look locally for ingredients and suppliers and have always valued the fact this is environmentally and economically the best choice. I think I left my trip to Italy with a realisation that keeping to a local ethos and producing food truly connected with the land around it can yield amazing results in terms of flavour and some really special food.