Edible Gold and Silver–for Decorating (before Devouring!) the Human Body during Sexual Foreplay

“The procedure, it is said, is simple:  The body part is slightly moistened (if nature has not already seen to that!), then the tissue paper bearing the metal leaf is gently placed onto the body part, metal-down (“growers” and “show-ers” calculating accordingly). The tissue paper is then carefully lifted away, leaving the gold- or silver-adorned body part in all its glittering glory….”

 

Gold Leaf (23 karat edible gold—96% gold, 4% silver) and Silver Leaf (99.9% edible silver)

It is oftentimes said, especially in the fashion industry, that crows and humans are a lot alike: They are attracted to “bling.” But despite mankind’s alleged innate penchant for objects resplendent, there is something revoltingly decadent, and, arguably, ungentlemanly, about eating precious metals: It somehow smacks of tales of monarchs of yore pulverizing pearls and imbibing them with nectar, the mythological drink of the gods, or of “Let them eat cake,” the infamous declaration commonly misattributed to Queen Marie Antoinette. After all, there must be at least a million and one other things on which a gentleman could spend his hard-earned money in order to delight himself…. But even so, there is no denying that for thousands of years—despite the fact that neither gold nor silver has any taste or smell discernible by humans [Well, until the Manetti company, at Expo Milano 2015, introduced edible gold crumbs in four of life’s greatest flavors and aromas: vanilla, lemon, white truffles, and olive oil], and that neither metal has any nutritional value—mankind, from Africa to Asia to Europe and now the rest of the world, has eaten gold and silver, some cultures citing aphrodisiacal justifications. All the gold ever mined—since the beginning of human history—would fit into a 100-cubic-feet container. And much of that gold has been used to make jewelry, jewelry-making remaining the single largest use for gold. But from over 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians would eat gold for medicinal and healing purposes; the Chinese, as far back as 2000 B.C.E., were known to eat gold during certain sacred ceremonies; and the Indians and Japanese have long used gold and silver to decorate food. But it was upon the tables of the great houses of Renaissance Italy that gold-adorned food and drink became, and remains, a part of Western tradition.

Traditionally, when gold or silver is consumed, it is not—for obvious reasons—ingested in the form of nuggets or jewelry or coins. Instead, it is eaten as leaf, flakes (the size of Kellogg’s corn flakes), crumbs, or dust. But not all gold and silver leaf, for example, is manufactured for human consumption. Gold leaf to be used for gilding furniture or picture frames oftentimes contains a percentage of copper, which, in high concentrations, is toxic to humans. So a gentleman who wishes to consume gold and silver must be certain to obtain edible varieties. Edible silver is 99.9% silver, and edible gold is typically 96% gold and 4% silver since pure gold is somewhat soft and somewhat sticky, making it difficult to manipulate for food-decoration purposes. The small percentage of silver is added, therefore, to give the gold more workability.

Vark” (also spelled “varak” or “varakh”) is the Sanskrit word for any foil comprised of pure metal, typically of silver, but also of gold, used for garnishing food. In South Asian cuisine, vark (referred to as “edible gold leaf” and “edible silver leaf” in the Western World) is used to decorate sweets. In the European Union, gold and silver are approved for food foils (When created as decorative food additives, gold is assigned the E-number E175 and silver, E174 [“E” standing for “Europe”]). In the United States, edible gold and silver are regarded as food additives, and like in the EU, may be used to decorate food and drink. And both edible gold and silver are certified as kosher. In addition, because gold and silver are inert metals, they pass through the digestive tract without being absorbed into the body. (Besides, the quantities utilized in normal consumption are miniscule: One ounce of pure gold [28.3 grams/31.1 grams per troy ounce] can be hammered into a 10.7-square-yard [nine square-meters] sheet of gold leaf, which can produce approximately 80 twenty-five-sheet booklets of 3” X 3” gold leaf sheets; and the total metal intake for sweets decorated with gold or silver is less than one milligram per kilogram [2.2 pounds] of sweets. The typical circa-3-inch-square sheet of gold leaf or silver leaf has a thickness of 0.2 – 0.4 microns. Yes, inappropriate consumption of silver can cause argyria, a symptom of which is the human skin taking on a bluish or bluish-gray color. But which gentleman in his right mind would eat bowlfuls of silver, day in, day out, for years?)

But as with all products which are to be ingested, the highest level of due diligence should be exercised. And when it comes to edible precious metals, the company Giusto Manetti Battiloro of Florence, Italy sets the “gold standard.” From its earliest recorded beginnings in the 16th century, to its affiliation with the great Renaissance era Medici family, to its presumed unintended destruction at the hands of Allied Forces bombing during World War II, to its present status—four hundred years after its earliest days—as a multinational entity, the name Manetti and its various commercial manifestations have been linked to luxurious gold.

Because baptismal records of the region date only as far back as 1580, nothing is known of the parentage of Matteo Manetti, the family’s patriarch, who lived in the village of Quinto, a few kilometers from “La Patraia,” a Medici villa, some time between the late 1400s and the early 1500s. What is known, though, is that his grandson, also named Matteo Manetti, began distinguishing the family’s name in the gold business when he moved to Rome to work alongside Battino Bologna on the gilding of the golden ball atop Michelangelo’s dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica project established the young Manetti’s reputation so much so that in 1602, when lightening destroyed the golden ball of Florence’s Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, young Manetti was summoned to the city to restore the ball. On September 18, 1602, one month after receiving the commission, the work was completed to much acclaim, resulting in Matteo being appointed Cathedral Goldsmith, the appointment regarded as the Manetti family’s first major public recognition. And it is that same Matteo Manetti who would shortly thereafter establish the first Manetti workshop, employing gilders, decorators, and “battilori,” (Italian for “goldbeaters”), craftsmen who transform gold and silver into thin sheets or “leaf” for gilding, silvering, and/or eating. Matteo further solidified the Manetti family’s ties with the powerful Medici family when in 1633 his son Lorenzo Manetti was baptized godson of Don Lorenzo de’ Medici (1599-1648), thereby buttressing a relationship with the Medici family which is believed to have officially begun by the infant Lorenzo’s grandfather, Antonio Manetti, who is reputed to have worked on the restoration of “La Patraia” for Don Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The 1700s saw the Manetti family’s sustained distinction when in 1732 Nicolò Manetti was appointed Consul of the Academy of Drawing, an appointment which remains to this day a great source of family pride. But perhaps the turning point of the family’s fortune occurs in 1811 when Luigi Manetti (1791-1855), son of Domenico Manetti (1753-1816), embarked, at his father’s suggestion, upon a tour of Europe—Italy, Spain, France, and Prussia—in the throes of the Industrial Revolution to witness, firsthand, a transforming Europe. In 1816, the year his forward-thinking father died, Luigi returned to Italy, poised to give new life to his family’s business. In 1820 he purchased a shop in the heart of Florence, the focus of the business being the production of gold leaf. And in honor of his first-born son, Giusto Manetti (1818-1890), Luigi named the business Giusto Manetti Battiloro, the name which remains with the enterprise to this day. With the knowledge of industrialization gained during his five-year sojourn, Luigi began modernizing the company. And following in the footsteps of his father, Giusto further modernized the company and oversaw its emerging national reputation.

But it was Giusto’s son Adolfo Manetti (1855-1926), who besides further mechanizing gold leaf production through the use of automatic hammers, began exporting the company’s products to other European countries: Giusto Manetti Battiloro, after 300 years, had emerged as a company known outside the borders of Italy. And today, with subdivisions Manetti East and Manetti Iberia, the company is a bona-fide multinational, headquartered at Campi Bisenzio, Florence.

Besides rising from the ashes of World War II under the leadership of the family’s war hero Giusto Manetti (1891-1961), named in honor of his grandfather, the company’s crowning glory occurred, prophetically, in 2002 when the Manetti family financed the restoration of the golden ball of Brunelleschi’s dome at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, exactly 400 years after their ancestor Matteo Manetti, namesake and grandson of the family’s patriarch Matteo Manetti, had answered the call to restore the city’s lightening-destroyed symbol in 1602. So the moral of the story is: When it comes to Manetti gold and silver (www.manetti.it ), a gentleman can put his money where his mouth is! And what is even more appetizing is that gold leaf and silver leaf, because so little precious metal is used to form each sheet, is relatively inexpensive: A packet of twenty-five 3” X 3” sheets of gold leaf typically retails for around $70.00 on www.Amazon.com . So edible leaf packs a lot of “bling” without too much “cha-ching!”

Some of life’s greatest moments—anniversaries, weddings, and births, for example—are celebrated with food and drink, and with gold and silver. So when food, drink, and those two precious metals are combined, the result is usually a tour de force of over-the-top proportions. Many people know about Goldschläger, the liqueur with flakes of floating gold. And long-stemmed gourmet strawberries are beautiful and delicious in their own right. But when they are wrapped in gold leaf, the element of glamor is added, making the decorated whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. Likewise, there are few things in life more delicious than dark, bitter-sweet chocolate. But when it is presented, gift-like, covered in edible silver or gold, it is elevated to the mythical food of Aztec gods. And it is said that some sexy, 21st -century gentlemen dress (or permit to be dressed) certain body parts with edible gold and silver, offering those parts to their lovers to be savored. The procedure, it is said, is simple: The body part is slightly moistened (if nature has not already seen to that!), then the tissue paper bearing the metal leaf is gently placed onto the body part, metal-down (“growers” and “show-ers” calculating accordingly). The tissue paper is then carefully lifted away, leaving the gold- or silver-adorned body part in all its glittering glory….

“Kallaloo” of St. Croix–One of the World’s Oldest, Enduring, and Delicious Delicacies

Crucian Kallaloo

When Crucians (natives of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands) think of Christmastime, one of the things at the forefront of their thoughts is food. And when Crucians think of food, they usually think of kallaloo. That is because of all the foods eaten on St. Croix, kallaloo is arguably the most revered—so much so that many a cook has built his or her reputation upon the ability to cook “a good pot of kallaloo.”

Bowl of Kallaloo.jpg

What is particularly noteworthy about the eclectic, sophisticated, difficult-and-time-consuming-to-make (correctly) dish is its pre-15th-century West African origins. The ingredients list is long and varied (so much so that the word “kallaloo” is used throughout the Caribbean as a metaphor for “complicated”); the prepping-and-cooking time is formidable (so much so that it remains a mystery as to how enslaved people, with their limited “free” time, could ever have managed to have such a complex dish as their daily fare when today’s Crucians, with all their modern kitchen appliances and conveniences, find the dish too cumbersome for regular preparation); and despite its savory palate, kallaloo’s flavor derives from none of the now-ubiquitous, Temperate Region, European flavorings such as garlic, onions, and celery. Instead, the dish, considered one of the world’s most flavorful, obtains its primary flavors from fish, mollusk, and meat (pork and beef) stocks, as well from its mélange of leafy ingredients, hot peppers, and salt. The dish is so much a part of the Crucian DNA that unlike with most fine things, such as Italian wines and German beer, or Persian caviar and French truffles, most Crucians never have to “acquire” a taste for kallaloo; instead, they emerge from their mothers’ wombs loving it. It has been that way for as long as anyone can remember. But despite the long-standing, local affinity for the “territorial dish,” most islanders—even those of the older generation—do not know the historical origins of this age-old delicacy.

In 1767 Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, in his capacity as inspector for the Moravian Church, journeyed to the Danish West Indies to report on the Moravian missions, which had been established in the islands 35 years earlier, beginning in 1732. He remained in the islands for a year and a half. But today, Oldendorp’s findings, first published in Germany in 1777 under the title Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brueder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (History of the Mission of the Evangelical Brethren on the Caribbean Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John), serve as much more than a church history, for Oldendorp’s two-volume work not only presents a detailed account of the establishment and development of the Moravian missions, but also details, with Pliny The Elder (23-79 A.D.)-type scope of interest, everything from local flora and fauna to pirates to the cultivation of sugar cane to detailed accounts of the lives of slaves in the Danish West Indies. And it is Oldendorp’s keen ability to observe and report that provides scholars today with one of the earliest written descriptions of kallaloo: “The Negroes call everything calelu [he also spells it “kalelu”] which they cook into a green vegetable stew from leaves and other ingredients. However, a really complete calelu, which the Whites and particularly the Creoles [in this case, the word refers to island-born whites] also like to eat, consists of okra, various kinds of leaves, salted meat, poverjack, which is a kind of stock-fish [presumably “wenchman”], kuckelus, a variety of sea snail [perhaps “conch” or “cockle”], various fishes, tomato berries, Spanish pepper, butter, and salt. Along with the dish are eaten big soft dumplings made from corn meal flour.” Oldendorp also reports—presumably from previously written records and/or oral accounts regarding mission life on St. Croix in October of 1740—of kalelu as an already-cross-cultural, local dish. Referring to the pioneering efforts of missionaries Friedrich Martin, Christian Gottlieb Israel, and Georg Weber, Oldendorp writes, “They set up their cooking facilities in the regular Negro fashion. A dish called kalelu, or green cabbage, prepared from plant leaves and land crabs, which fortunately were plentifully available there, served as their daily fare in those days.” In essence, then, within a mere seven years after the Danish purchase of St. Croix from the French in 1733 for 750,000 livres, kallaloo had already become such a prominent dish amongst the local, enslaved African population that it was even being consumed by European missionaries to the islands on a daily basis.

But where did the name “kallaloo” come from? And how was consensus as to its ingredients, consistency, and taste achieved? The most probable answers are that the name of the dish is West African in origin, and its recipe probably derived from a synthesis West African ingredients and culinary techniques. In present-day Angola, for example, a very similar dish called “calulu” is served with “fungi” made either of cornmeal or cassava.

Though the French, who immediately preceded the Danes in their colonization of St. Croix, also brought enslaved Africans to the island, very little documentation has survived from the French era (1665-1733) on the island. And very little is reported in the surviving documents regarding what the enslaved populations ate, let alone what those dishes were called. What is known, however, is that by 1695, the French colonists on the island were given instructions from the crown to pack up their belongings—including their slaves—burn the island to the ground, and depart for Sainte Domingue (present-day Haiti) since it was generally regarded that the colonial efforts on Saint[e] Croix were not sufficiently profitable. (The French rationale for burning the island—and breaking down their buildings—was to make the island, which they still legally owned despite their official decision to abandon it, less appealing to squatters and pirates).

It is well established that Denmark concentrated most of its slave-trading efforts on the African continent in the region that is today called Ghana. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that a significant percentage of enslaved Africans transported to the Danish West Indies on Danish slaving vessels came from present-day Ghana or nearby regions, where language groups would have been interconnected. But it is also equally well established that slaves from all over West and Central West Africa were brought to the slave-trading posts all along the coast of West Africa and sold to the various nations involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Regions such as present-day Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, Congo,Mali, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast, for example, all served as major sources for enslaved Africans. And quite intriguingly, “papa lolo,” also known as “kallaloo bush”—the premiere herbal ingredient in Crucian kallaloo—is still called by that name in the outdoor produce markets of Ghana. Perhaps most interestingly, however, is the fact that the word “kallaloo,” spelled variably, is used in other Caribbean islands to describe okra-and-herb-based dishes, oftentimes flavored with land crabs and/or fish, conch, and salted meats, giving rise to the theory that the name of the dish and its manner of preparation derived from the coastal regions of West Africa before the peoples of those regions were dispersed throughout the New World during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Even in the cases where the word “kallaloo” or a form thereof is not used to describe a similar dish [A similar dish of Antigua is called “pepperpot”; an okra-and-pork dish popularly eaten in Curaçao is called “yambo”; in Bahia, Brazil, “caruru,” a dish made primarily of okra and cashew nuts, is eaten as a ritual meal for the children’s feast, “Ibejis,” within Yoruba Candomble; and the world-famous “gumbo” of New Orleans is often regarded as mainland America’s “cousin” of kallaloo], it is clear that a fundamental connection exists between those dishes and the “kallaloos” of the Caribbean.

Already identified as the foremost local dish by the mid-1700s, kallaloo maintained its popularity into the 1800s. In 1828, when a Lt. Brady of the British Royal Navy came to St. Croix to visit his brother, who was manager of Estate Mannings Bay, the lieutenant observed the lifestyle of the black people on St. Croix, thereafter committing his observations to paper in the form of a pamphlet that apparently served as the basis for an 1829 publication titled, “Observations on the State of Negro Slavery in the Island of Santa Cruz, the Principal of the Danish West India Colonies, with Miscellaneous Remarks upon Subjects Relating to the West India Question and a Notice of Santa Cruz.” In that publication, Brady describes kallaloo as follows: “The common and favourite mess [dish] with negroes is a soup called calalue, which is composed of pork or fish, pigeon peas, ochras, yams, capsicum, and other vegetables boiled in water, with a pudding of corn-meal; this is commonly their supper.” Though Brady’s list of ingredients varies somewhat from the generally accepted recipe, his observation regarding the popularity of the dish in the early decades of the 1800s is invaluable.

Kallaloo maintained its position as the premiere local dish into the middle of the 1800s, as evidenced by the writings of young Danish schoolmaster Johan David Schackinger, who arrived on St. Croix on July 25, 1857 to serve as First Teacher at the Danish School in Frederiksted. In a series of letters addressed to his parents back in Denmark between July of 1857 and 1863, when he suffered an untimely death, young Schackinger describes, in charming detail, his life in the tropics—from the island’s people to its vegetation, entertainment, and cuisine. In a letter dated February 10, 1859, the schoolteacher mentions some of the then-popular soups: turtle soup, white bean soup, guava soup, cucumber soup, and “ ‘calalu’ (the Negroes’ usual meal).” It is interesting to note that of all the aforementioned soups, kallaloo is the only one not to have been relegated to a footnote on the local menu.

Kallaloo was also popular in St. Thomas and St. John. In the 25-year period between 1882 and 1907, Danish lawyer N. A. Kjaer lived on St. Thomas, where he served in various public capacities, the most prominent being Police Assistant and Royal Accountant. After returning to Denmark, he wrote his memoirs, which were later expanded and published in Copenhagen in 1934. In his writings he describes the social unrest in Charlotte Amalie surrounding the 1892 Coal Workers’ Strike: “On one of the days,” writes Kjaer, “unrest broke out at the French shipyard. Before I went to the shipyard with a smaller force of police, I asked my wife for something to eat but the food wasn’t finished. When she offered me a West Indian dish called ‘calalu,’ I first declined it with contempt but as there was nothing else, I had to swallow the bitter pill. But when I had tasted the Calalu, a kind of cabbage mixed with fish and spices, I found it to be excellent and from that day I would eat Calalu and other West Indian dishes. Did nothing else come of those September days, then I at least learnt to eat West Indian food which was more agreeable to me than the heavy Danish dishes, ill-suited for the climate as they are.”

In the late 1940s, just about a half-century after Kjaer’s introduction to kallaloo during turbulent times on St. Thomas, celebrated New York fashion designer Elizabeth Hawes decided to spend some time on St. Croix during those tumultuous years on Seventh Avenue, when fashion was at war with itself: couture versus ready-to-wear. In her book But Say It Politely, published in Boston in 1951, Hawes created a local and national sensation when she—without restraint—discussed race relations on St. Croix; poked fun at the island’s white, racist, self-proclaimed elitist families; and expressed her concerns about how tourism would affect the long-term authenticity of St. Croix.

Hawes, too, took a liking to kallaloo, though by her time it had become a once-a-week dish more than a daily meal. Hawes took up residence in Christiansted, employing a local cook by the name of Astrid. “I decided to invite the Hollinses to eat fungi and calalu,” Hawes writes, “the chief Crucian dish.” “The dish,” she continues, “consists of some kind of salt pork, okras, eggplant, crabs, fried fish, hot pepper, and four kinds of weeds, the chief being calalu. This is all thrown into boiling water at various times depending on how long it has to cook, and finishes up as a sort of thick stew which is eaten with fungi—corn meal flour boiled in just enough stock to come out a solid ball. The dish is not only delicious but it’s a whole and balanced meal.”

From time immemorial, kallaloo was served locally with fungi. And one of the earliest recorded descriptions of fungi comes from the writings of Reimert Haagensen, a young Danish plantation owner who came to St. Croix in 1739, just six years after the island was purchased from the French. After achieving rapid success in the islands, Haagensen returned to Denmark sometime around 1751. In his book Description of the Island of St. Croix in America in the West Indies, published in Denmark in 1758, he describes the making of fungi: “This corn is ground, as the slaves do it, between stones, in such a way that the grain, which is itself dry, is quickly ground and turned to flour. The latter they boil with water and salt, which to the slaves is a delicacy, since, in addition to alleviating hunger, it is highly nourishing.”

Another early record of kallaloo’s chief complement, fungi, comes from Johan Lorentz Schmidt, who lived on St. Croix during the 1770s and 1780s, working as a surgeon on the Schimmelmann family estates of La Grange and La Grande Princesse. In 1788 his manuscript detailing his experiences in the Caribbean, titled Various Remarks Collected on and about the Island of St. Croix in America, was published in Copenhagen. He writes: “From daybreak, and often before, the Negroes work until eight or nine o’clock, when they have about half an hour free for breakfast. All of them sit down and eat whatever they have. Usually they have ‘fun[g]ie’ with them, which is made of corn meal pressed into large clumps or balls.”

Though today regarded by many as a delicacy to be eaten only on special occasions, kallaloo was in former days an everyday meal because its key ingredients were readily available, free, from nature. Kallaloo bush, or “papa lolo,” was commonly found in cane fields, locally called “canepieces.” And except for tania leaves, which were grown in provision gardens, the other herbal ingredients, namely [“man”] bower, [“woman”] bata-bata, whitey Mary, and pusley, were “yard-bushes”—those herbs that tended to catch root in the towns’ “big yards” and alongside “long-rows,” and village-houses back in the days when Crucians were still sweeping their yards clean (sometimes until the compacted earth attained a glossy patina). And interestingly, the brooms used to sweep those yards were made by lashing the discarded papa lolo twigs—after all the precious leaves had been picked off for use in the pot—to a tan-tan stick. Those clean-swept yards, swept with traditional “kallaloo brooms,” served as fertile ground for the other kallaloo herbs. And so the cycle continued, generation after generation: kallaloo brooms made way for yard-herbs, that in turn combined with papa lolo to make the kallaloo dish.

By 1966, the sugar cane industry of St. Croix—after serving as a way of life from around 1736—had come to an end. Many Crucians moved off the plantation villages and out of long-rows, finding lodging in public housing. Likewise, they left their agrarian ways and found employment with the Virgin Islands Government and in the tourism and manufacturing industries. In essence then, the way of life that kallaloo had sustained and the way of life that had sustained kallaloo was altered. The Crucian desire for the dish, however, never waned. So when the average household could no longer prepare kallaloo on a weekly basis, Crucians turned to local restaurants and cook-shops to fill the need, each establishment preparing its kallaloo on a designated day: Pennyfeather’s on Mondays, Steen’s on Tuesdays, Birdland on Wednesdays, Harvey’s on Thursdays, Brady’s on Fridays, Motown’s on Saturdays, for example. Even Crucians who had left the island to live abroad never gave up on kallaloo, even when they had to substitute spinach and collared greens for the traditional herbal ingredients. Some families would go as far as to clandestinely send the herbal ingredients via airmail so that mainland relatives could make “kren-kren,” which is kallaloo made with the same herbal ingredients, dried, thereby taking on a brownish, rather than greenish, appearance. And in the late 1980s, mainland-transplanted Crucians were thrilled with the coming of Express Mail and Federal Express siince they were then able to have frozen kallaloo shipped from St. Croix with guaranteed, next-day delivery to them all across America.

Not even the “Stay off the Swine” campaign of the early 1970s could dissuade Crucians from eating kallaloo; the no-meat disciples simply turned to a seafood-only version of the classic dish, which is accepted today as sufficiently authentic—except, of course, by the old-school traditionalists.

The problem for the traditionalists is that the ancient, noble kallaloo tradition is quickly fading. It is not uncommon today, for example, to hear of Crucian children who do not “like” or “don’t eat” kallaloo. And even though great Crucian cooks have preserved the recipes for future generations in their cookbooks such as Amy Mackay’s Le Awe Cook (1980) and Laura L. Moorhead’s Krusan Nynyam—from Mampoo Kitchen (1977), many of today’s young cooks—people in their 50s and younger—could not identify the key herbal ingredients of kallaloo in an open field if their very lives depended on it. And those herbal ingredients are critical for achieving the authentic kallaloo flavor.

Of critical importance to the preservation of kallaloo is the new generation’s ability to identify its traditional herbal ingredients. And until a Virgin Islands Department of Culture is established, and/or until the Virgin Islands Department of Education adopts a cultural curriculum, old-time Crucians will have to adopt an each-one-teach-one approach (by, for example, posting “how to” videos on YouTube), less this great tradition–one that came across the Atlantic in the holds of slaving vessels to sustain and nourish Crucians throughout four centuries–will be lost in a generation or two.

Puerto Rican Lechon: Arguably the World’s Most Delicious Pork!

Lechón

During the colonial era, wherever the Spanish went, “lechón” went—and stayed. So today, from the Spanish Caribbean to South America to the Philippines, and, of course, in Spain itself, there is lechón. But of all the world’s lechóns, the lechón of Puerto Rico is unequaled. It is arguably the absolute, all-time, most delicious pork—though many would insist that Italian “porchetta” is equally delectable.

Leche” is Spanish for “milk.” And the word “lechón” was originally—and in Spain and some Latin American countries, still today—used to describe a suckling pig that is roasted. But in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines, for example, the word “lechón” is used to describe a spit-roasted whole pig—of any age and size, pigs from 90 to 120 pounds (40 to 55 kilos), large enough to feed about 50 people, being typical.

Traditionally eaten at Christmastime and on special occasions, lechón is today prepared and eaten in Puerto Rico primarily on weekends—on account of the many hours required to prepare the delicacy. The Caribbean island’s lechón is distinguishable from other lechóns primarily because of the seasonings typically used to marinate the meat: annato oil, salt, black pepper, garlic, oregano, and rosemary.

But before the pig is seasoned, it must be properly “prepped”: The butcher is notified of the size-range of the desired pig; it is then slaughtered, its entrails and hair removed (The head, tail, and hooves are left intact); any hairs missed by the butcher are removed by the chef, using scalding-hot water and a razor; the carcass is then thoroughly washed, inside and out, with a cider vinegar-and-water solution, rinsed thoroughly with cool water, then pat-dried with paper towels in preparation for the seasoning.

Approximately 24 hours before roasting, the pig is seasoned, inside and out, the foundation of the seasoning blend being annato oil. Annato is the spice derived from the achiote tree (Bixa orellana), also called the “lipstick tree” because of the spice’s traditional use in body-painting amongst the native peoples of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The desired quantity of the brick-red, somewhat triangular-shaped spice, about the size of a lentil, is put into a heated skillet and slightly toasted in order to release the essential oils. Cooking oil is then added to the skillet, thereby allowing the oil to be infused with the color, flavor, and aroma of the spice. (Annato is used worldwide as a natural colorant in such foods as cheese and butter. The spice imparts a yellow-orange color and is oftentimes used as a substitute for saffron. The flavor and aroma of annato are at once somewhat peppery, nutty, and sweet). The contents of the skillet is then passed through a sieve, and the annato-enhanced oil is then allowed to cool before being mixed with the salt, black pepper, garlic, oregano, and rosemary to form a seasoning blend with a paste-like consistency. The seasoning blend is then generously rubbed onto the entire carcass, inside and out, before the carcass is placed into a refrigerator, where it marinates for about 24 hours.

After marinating, the pig is readied for roasting: A wooden or metal spit sturdy enough to support the full weight of the pig is passed through the entire length of the pig, emerging through its mouth. (Because of their relatively delicate nature, the pig’s ears and tail are protectively wrapped in aluminum foil until the last two hours of cooking, when the foil wrapping is removed so that those parts can attain the same reddish-brown hue as the rest of the pig). The carcass is then secured onto the spit with culinary wire before the point of a knife is used to perforate the carcass in strategic locations so as to enable any excess melted fat to escape during the roasting process.

Lechón is traditionally slow-cooked, rotisserie-style, over a white-hot charcoal fire, the charcoal usually made from local woods that impart a slightly smoked flavor to the meat. Approximately one hour of cooking-time is required for each 15 pounds of pork, a 120-pound pig therefore requiring about eight hours of cooking-time. The pig is given a quarter-turn about every 10 minutes, and the entire pig is basted with annato-infused cooking oil with each turn, the skin (when fully roasted called “cuerito” [“litte leather”], the diminutive of the Spanish word “cuero,” meaning “leather”), in the process, obtaining a crispy, caramelized texture and its characteristic reddish-brown color.

When fully cooked, the pig is moved to a large table and the spit is removed. Thereafter, the roasted pig is allowed to “rest” for about 20 to 30 minutes so that its juices may evenly distribute throughout the carcass. Thereafter, the meat is carved—traditionally with a razor-sharp machete—and served, each serving presented with a portion of prized “cuerito.”

Lechon is “down-home” food—so much so that it is the official dish of Puerto Rico. It is traditionally served with rice-and-beans, arepas, boiled cassava, or guineitos en escabeche (pickled green bananas). During the Christmas holidays, the complementary drink is coquito (See “Major National Liquors of the World” above), and during the rest of the year, rum or beer.

Italian Porchetta–one of the culinary luxuries of the world

Porchetta (of Ariccia, Italy [in the Province of Rome])

What lechón is to a Puerto Rican, porchetta is to an Italian. Porchetta (pronounced “porketta”) is one of those simple, affordable luxuries that countrymen crave while away in distant lands; pregnant women, in their frequent fits of raging cravings, demand of their “baby-daddies”; and the terminally ill request on their deathbeds.

Pork is a delicious meat. But when it is prepared as porchetta, it is elevated to a delicacy. The Italian delicacy of porchetta is the boneless, roasted torso of a pig. Though prepared and eaten throughout Italy, the dish is believed to have originated in central Italy, especially in the Lazio region, which includes Rome, and is most associated with the town of Ariccia.

During the slaughtering process, the pig is eviscerated, and its four legs are removed. Occasionally, the head is also removed, but it is oftentimes left intact so as to enhance the visual presentation of the dish. The animal’s ribcage is neatly cut away from the carcass, leaving only lean, fat, and skin for the making of porchetta.

Laid out skin-down onto a large, flat surface, the deboned carcass is seasoned primarily with ample salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary, fresh fennel herb, garlic, and juniper berries. (Some cooks saturate the inside of the carcass with white wine prior to applying the seasonings). A long spit—long enough to extend about one foot on each end beyond both ends of the pig—made of metal or wood is laid lengthwise atop the seasoned carcass before both sides of the carcass are brought together around the spit and sewn together, lengthwise, using a bodkin and sturdy twine. Once secured with twine, the skin of the carcass is pierced in various areas with the point of a knife so that excess melted fat can escape during the roasting process. In certain parts of Italy, such as Umbria, or in Valdarno in the region of Tuscany, prior to positioning the spit atop the seasoned carcass, the animal’s internal organs—the liver, kidneys, and heart—are laid out lengthwise, chopped or whole, in the center of the carcass such that after the roasting process and the spit is removed, the delicacy, when sliced depth-wise as is the custom (the way one would slice an orange so as to produce “wagon-wheel” rings), each slice is studded with a portion of an organ. Alternatively, the sides of the carcass may be sewn together lengthwise without a spit in the middle, then placed atop a rack so as to facilitate oven-roasting and the falling away of excess fat.

The pork is slow-roasted in an oven or on a spit in a rotisserie or above a charcoal fire for several hours until the skin attains a rich, golden-mahogany-brown color and a crisp texture. In Sardinia, where the delicacy is known as “porceddu,” suckling piglets are typically used and are slow-roasted over juniper and/or myrtle wood.

Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Minestero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali (Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies) as one of Italy’s traditional foods of cultural relevance.

Besides being sold as a popular street-food in Rome, served as the filling for “pizza bianca,” porchetta is also eaten as a meat course in many Italian households and is served as a sandwich at picnics. Porchetta is also typically sold from food vans, especially at street festivals or outdoor markets. But perhaps the grandest porchetta event of them all is the Sagra della Porchetta di Ariccia (Village Festival of Porchetta of Ariccia), held annually during the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of September.

Sal de Ibiza’s “Fleur de Sel”–The World’s Most Luxurious Salt

 

Sal de Ibiza’s Fleur de Sel (Salt of Ibiza’s “Flower of Salt”)

If rivers—the Nile, the Tigres and Euphrates, the Yellow River, the Ganges—are the cradles of civilization, and if grain is its mother, then salt must be declared “Father of Civilization,” for the use of salt to preserve food is one of the cornerstones of human survival.

Man’s earliest beginnings as a hunter and gatherer are linked to salt: Animals would wear paths in pursuit of salt-licks—protrusions of salt deposits from beneath the Earth’s surface—and man, in pursuit of those animals, would create trails that, eventually, became roads. And when man decided to abandon his nomadic ways, grain thus becoming the foundation of his diet, he needed meat to supplement that plant-based diet. Many of mankind’s earliest settlements, then, were situated not only alongside rivers, but also near the paths used by animals en route to salt. But much of that most palatable compound (NaCl—sodium chloride) was situated in underground deposits, beyond the reach of primitive and ancient man. So as populations grew and civilizations spread, salt became a precious commodity.

For most of human history—until about 100 years ago—salt was rare and expensive, demand for it fueling wars, inspiring exploration, and justifying slavery. And as early as the 6th century in sub-Sahara Africa, Moorish merchants traded salt, ounce for ounce, for gold. One of the most famous salt routes led from Morocco to Timbuktu in Mali. Ten-inch long, two-inch thick slabs of rock salt, called ‘amôlés, were used as currency in Ethiopia. Cakes of salt were also used as money in parts of central Africa. And in 1295, when Marco Polo returned from his epic journey to Asia, he intrigued the Doge of Venice with accounts of salt coins bearing the seal of Kublai Khan.

In addition to being used to preserve and flavor food, salt was used by the Romans as an antiseptic and was regarded as conducive to health—so much so that their word for the mineral, “sal,” was etymologically related to “Salus,” the Roman goddess of health, hence the English word, “salubrious.” The pay of a Roman soldier, consisting partly of salt, was called “salarium argentum,” meaning “salt money,” hence the present-day English word, “salary.” Salt was used to preserve food, thereby saving humanity from famine and starvation, hence the word “salvation.” And because the Greeks and Romans oftentimes purchased slaves with salt, whenever a person did not or could not perform to the desired standard, he was typically described as “not worth his weight in salt,” a phrase still used today to describe ineptitude. In the ancient world, it was popularly said that “all roads lead to Rome.” And of all the roads leading to the Eternal City, Via Salaria, the salt route, was one of the most traversed. It eventually ran a distance of 242 km (150 miles), from Rome’s Porta Salaria to Castrum Truentinum (Porto d’Ascoli) on the Adriatic coast, and derives its name from the earliest days of Rome itself, when the route was used by the Sabines as they would journey to collect salt from the marshes at the mouth of the Tiber. Salt also facilitated distant travel and international trade: Mariners could preserve their vittles and sail the “seven seas”; and salted meats and fish from faraway lands could provide nourishment to peoples halfway across the globe. In the English language, the suffix “wich,” as in the case of the towns of Middlewich and Nantwich, typically denotes a place with some historical association with salt, brine springs, or wells. “Wich” derives from the Latin “vicus,” which means “place”; and by 11th -century England, the suffix was being used in the names of places with some specialized function, including that of salt production.

The two primary sources of salt are underground deposits of rock salt and sea water. Salt may be extracted from mines or obtained by evaporating salt water. Rock salt—an edible rock—occurs in vast underground beds and veins, the result of ancient, enclosed seas and salt water lakes that evaporated, their salt residue eventually becoming sedimentary rock salt. Rock salt deposits have been known to be as thick as 350 meters and underlie vast areas the size of regions and countries. Since the second half of the 19th century, with advancements in drilling techniques and industrial mining, an increased percentage of total salt production is the result of mined rock salt. And because the technological advancements made large salt deposits that were previously inaccessible, accessible, and because mined salt is generally less expensive to harvest than salt produced by evaporating sea water, salt prices have declined significantly since the middle of the 1800s. (The invention of the ice-making machine in 1854 and the introduction of freon in the 1920s led to the proliferation of the household refrigerator by the 1930s. With refrigeration a domestic reality in the industrialized world, salt became less critical for food-preservation, resulting in declining prices of salt. But by the 1990s, with widespread health campaigns about the harmful effects of excessive salt consumption, health-conscious consumers began switching to healthier, more flavorful, gourmet-quality sea salts—despite their higher price tags). Rock salt is either extracted in solid form from its underground reserves or by the “solution mining” process, where water is used to dissolve the underground salt, the surfacing brine evaporated to produce salt.

Alternatively, salt may be produced by evaporating seawater, either by solar evaporation or by some heating device. In certain climates, where there is abundant sunshine vis a vis rainfall, the sun may be used to evaporate seawater in a series of linked ponds, each successive pond receiving seawater with an increasing concentration of salt, until the final pond where the salt crystallizes on the floor of the pond. In the “open pan” method, the traditional method employed in temperate climates and dating back to prehistoric times, seawater is heated in large, shallow, open pans typically made of a type of coarse ceramic called “briquetage,” lead, or, later, iron. Wood or coal was the fuel used to heat the seawater. As the seawater evaporated, the remaining salt crystals would be collected. In industrialized nations, the traditional “open pan” system has been replaced by the “closed pan” system, where the seawater is evaporated under partial vacuum.

It is often said, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But it is also said, “What happens on Ibiza is forgotten on Ibiza”—especially if what happens, happens at the island’s famous “Amnesia” nightclub. But, thank God, the same does not hold true for what is made on Ibiza. Case in point: the island’s coveted salt, which has been exported for almost 3,000 years.

Salt is believed to have been produced on the 220-square-mile Mediterranean island of Ibiza since it was first colonized by the Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C.E. But the earliest extant reference to salt production on the island dates from the Punic era, which began in 540 B.C.E., when the Carthaginians of North Africa conquered the island. The saltworks were in operation during the Roman era, from 122 B.C.E. to 476 C.E. Then for almost half a millennium after the fall of the Roman Empire, Ibiza and its saltworks changed hands frequently—until 902 C.E., when the Moors conquered the island and took up and significantly improved its salt production. In 1235, Spain, during the “Reconquista” (718/722 – 1492) of the Iberian Peninsula, ousted the Moors from Ibiza, thereafter the island—on account of the importance of salt as a preserver of food—becoming a strategic and prosperous partner to some of the most powerful republics of the Medieval period, namely Genoa, Florence, and Venice. During that era, salt production was again upgraded, resulting in higher yields of a salt of a higher quality. With the end of the Spanish Succession War in 1714, the saltworks were administered by the Spanish crown. But by the middle of the 19th century, the facilities had fallen into disrepair, and annual salt production had declined from 25,000 tons to about 7,000 tons. In 1871, the saltworks were sold to a Majorcan businessman who, in 1878, established “Fabrica de la Sal de Ibiza,” the embryo for today’s “Salinera Española S.A.” By 1888, over 1,000 jobs had been created, and production was at 50,000 tons per annum. Salinera Espanola is the exclusive supplier of “Sal de Ibiza,” the gourmet label for Ibiza salt, founded by Daniel C. Witte in 2004, that markets the luxurious salt internationally. Today, the salt of Ibiza is the antithesis of the island’s best-kept secret: It is the Balearic island’s best-known ambassador.

Salt is oftentimes called “the fifth element,” along with water, air, fire, and earth. Traces of salt are found almost everywhere on the planet, and it is essential to life. Natural sea salt, sometimes referred to as “whole salt,” is not simply a compound of the elements sodium and chlorine; it is evaporated seawater and contains an array of minerals and trace elements that are essential to human health. If left untouched by any form of refining, sea salt retains more than 80 essential minerals and trace elements such as magnesium, fluoride, selenium, and iodine.

“Fleur de sel” (“flower of salt”) is regarded as the quintessential sea salt and the crème de la crème of all salts. It is used more as a spice or as a “finishing salt,” sprinkled onto foods just before serving, than as an ingredient for cooking. Fleur de sel is obtained by traditional production and harvesting methods of the “open pan” system, utilizing primarily the sea, the sun, and gentle breezes in its manufacture. Unlike the coarser salt, which solidifies at the bottom of the pan because salt is heavier than water, fleur de sel, like cream, floats to the top during salt-production and must be skimmed off the surface of the water the day it is formed. It is a salt most associated with the traditional salt-makers of Brittany since the middle of the 9th century. Fleur de sel is referred to as “fresh” salt and is harvested by hand. This gourmand’s delight is 100% natural; it is altered in no way. Typically bright white in color, the luxurious salt sometimes has pinkish highlights. It is slightly moist and is best kept as such. Its flavor is milder and more subtle than regular salt, and its aroma is that of the sea. Sal de Ibiza’s (www.saldeibiza.com ) fleur de sel is sold in a distinctive, sea-blue, ceramic container with cork lid and a small porcelain dispensing-spoon, with refill paper bags. An inner-lid maintains the salt’s moisture. The company also produces “novelty” salts containing herbs or chilli peppers or flowers, for example, and also plain sea salts in various finishes, from coarse for salt grinders, to small-grain for salt cellars, to fine for salt shakers. But never are anti-caking or pouring elements included in the company’s products.

Ironically—but deliciously and delightfully so—Sal de Ibiza also produces a gourmet dark chocolate, “Chocolate Extra Fino a la Flor de Sal” (“Extra Fine Chocolate with Fleur de Sel”). A 70% cocoa- content blend of South American Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero cocoa beans, the delicacy is created by chocolate masters according to artisan methods: A little fleur de sel is used to awaken the subtle chocolate flavors in the “conche” (the liquid chocolate-mass); the precious liquid is then spread onto heated slabs of marble, where it begins to cool and its flavors become fixed; then fleur de sel crystals are quickly incorporated into the chocolate just before it is placed into molds to take form and then cool, the result being a tiny salt crystal or two in each bite of chocolate. Created is a delicacy that tantalizes the palate of even the most discerning connoisseur, the fleur de sel imparting a piquant flavor to the intensely fruity chocolate.

The Correct Way To Eat Soup

The Soup Course

There are soups and then there are hearty soups. It is unlikely that a hearty soup—the type with meat and potatoes, for example—will be served as a second course at a formal dinner of multiple courses. Such soups are meals in and of themselves, and they are wonderful in their own right. The type of soup likely to be served as a first or second course at a formal dinner is a much lighter soup—either a clear, broth-like soup such as a consommé, or perhaps a slightly heavier, pureed soup.

Soups are served either in cups, cup-sized bowls (Oriental style), soup bowls, or soup plates. But regardless, when brought to the table, the dish containing the soup will be placed atop the place plate. Soup spoons in Western-influenced cultures are primarily of two prevailing shapes: those with circular bowls, and those with egg-shaped bowls. The Oriental soup spoon is usually made of porcelain and features a shorter, grooved handle, with a deeper, more angular, oval-shaped bowl.

When served in a cup with one or two handles, the cup may be taken up by the hand(s) and drunk—after having had at least two or three spoonfuls, primarily to eat the garnishes that are oftentimes floating atop such soups and/or to test the temperature of the soup before bringing it to the lips. If the soup cup has one handle, it may be held in the right hand and drunk. If the cup has two handles, both hands should be used to hold the cup, the handles being “pinched” between the thumb and index finger of each hand. In the case of handle-less Oriental soup cups, the cup is taken into both hands, using the thumb and index finger of each hand as the primary support for the cup, with the other fingers allowed to follow the natural contour of the hands as they provide additional—and graceful—support to the cup.

When using the soup spoon, it is permissible to dip soup towards oneself or away from oneself, though the latter method is regarded by many authorities as more elegant in appearance. Likewise, when sipping soup from the spoon, it is acceptable to turn the spoon such that it approaches the lips from its front or from its side, though the latter is preferred by many authorities as the more refined approach. What is not open for discussion, however, are the following:

  1. When eating soup from a cup or a bowl, the spoon is placed onto the service plate (after—discretely—being wiped sufficiently clean with the lips), to the right side of the cup or bowl, whenever eating is interrupted or at the end of the course. The spoon is never left unattended in the cup or bowl during conversation or if its user has taken temporary leave from the table.
  2. When soup is being eaten from a soup plate, which is a wide, somewhat-shallow dish—a cross between a plate and a bowl—the spoon is left in the soup plate when eating is interrupted and at the end of the course, the rationale being that the soup plate is almost as wide as the place plate unto which it is placed, rendering the spoon with insufficient space to be placed securely onto the place plate below.
  3. When the soup cup, bowl, or soup plate must be tilted so as to access the remaining liquid without noisily scraping the spoon against the dish, the dish is to be tilted away from, not towards, the diner, by gently lifting, with the left hand, the portion of the dish closer to the diner, thereby slightly dipping the portion of the dish farther away from the diner, as the soup spoon is used in the right hand to access the remaining liquid.

The wine traditionally served with the soup course is sherry—if the soup is flavored with or would be enhanced by sherry. Otherwise, some other compatible wine is served as the complement to the soup. Sherry is usually poured from a decanter; but on occasion, especially if the vintage is noteworthy or remarkable in some way, it may correctly be poured directly from its bottle. The sherry glass, usually V-shaped and stemmed, is the smallest drinking glass set upon the table at the commencement of the meal. And before its glorious contents is drunk, it is imperative that a gentleman use his napkin to press-wipe his lips clean of any traces of the soup. The little sherry glass should be held by its stem.

At the end of the soup course, the place plate, along with the soup dish and soup spoon, is removed from the table in preparation of the following course, which is usually a fish dish.

 

Amarone–The World’s Most Luxurious Red Wine!

Amarone (della Valpolicella) of Conti Dagostino

Veneto, located in northeastern Italy, is one of the country’s twenty regions; and Valpolicella is Veneto’s most famous wine district. (The name “Valpolicella” is believed to derive from the Greek language, meaning “valley of many cellars”). Of all the wine styles of Valpolicella, “Amarone della Valopolicella,” or simply, “Amarone,” is the most venerated. And of all the Amarones of Italy, the one produced by Conti Dagostino ( www.contidagostino.it ) is the best.

The Italian word “amarone” (pronounced “ama-roh-neh”) literally means “great bitter”; it derives from “amaro,” which means “bitter,” and the suffix “one,” which denotes impressive size or volume. But to inhale the bouquet of, or to taste the decadently delicious wine, is to wonder how it ever received its disparaging appellation. One unfamiliar with the history of the wine might think that the ever-creative Italians, in a clever attempt to keep the precious liquid all to themselves, gave the wine a discouraging name—the way the wily Danes encouraged unwitting mariners towards barren “Greenland” while keeping the more habitable “Iceland” for themselves. But in the case of Amarone, the Italians were more innocent than their Nordic neighbors.

Like vin santo, Amarone is a “passito” wine: It is made from partially dehydrated grapes. But unlike vin santo, Amarone is not a dessert wine; instead, it is a rich, flavorful, dry, red wine made primarily of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes, sometimes supplemented by Corvinone, Negrara, and Oselata varieties.

Traditionally, the grapes destined for Amarone production are selected while still on the vine: Sparsely spaced bunches of vine-ripened grapes are hand-picked during the first two weeks of October and allowed to desiccate for a period ranging from three weeks to 120 days atop reed mats in a warm, dry, well-ventilated room or portion of the winery. (Today, with modern wine technology, the drying process, called “appassimento” in Italian, occurs in temperature-controlled rooms atop stainless steel racks or upon wooden pallets). The dehydration process allows the natural sugars in the berries to concentrate.

At the end of the designated appassimento period, the grapes are gently pressed, and their sweet “must” (juice) is allowed to ferment until all the sugars have been converted to alcohol, resulting in a robust wine with an alcohol content of about 15 percent by volume. The wine is then aged in barrels (called “barriques”) of French, Slovenian, or Slavonian oak for at least two years, but usually for around five or six years, before being bottled for commercial release.

Veneto’s most famous wine today, Amarone is a relative “new-comer” on the wine scene: In 1953, Bolla and Bertani produced the first vintages for commercial release. While Amarone-style wines have existed in the region for centuries, it was rarely deliberately made. Typically, Amarone was “made” by “mistake” when a vintner producing “Recioto,” a popular dessert wine of the region, would inadvertently allow his or her Recioto to fully ferment, thereby converting all the residual sugar in the Recioto into alcohol, producing, in the process, a strong, dry, somewhat “bitter” wine—bitter as compared to its sweet Recioto counterpart. (When producing Recioto, the fermentation process is purposefully interrupted so as to preserve some of the sugar content of the wine). In 2009, the production of Amarone wine in the Valpolicella zone was granted DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita/ controlled and guaranteed designation of origin) status. And today, when one thinks of the wines of Veneto region, one thinks of Amarone.

Technically, “Amarone” may be made anywhere within the greater Valpolicella wine-producing zone; but only the Amarone from the Valpolicella Classico and Valpantena sub-zones can legally be labeled “Amarone della Valpolicella.” And the finest terroir (the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma) of the entire Valpolicella zone is found in the northern portions of the Valpolicella Classico—in the villages of Fumane, Marano, and Negrar. There, the hills rise more than 2000 feet (610 meters), allowing the grapes to capitalize upon the crisp sub-Alpine air, the northern Italian sunshine, and all the subtleties and aspects that derive from unimpeded exposure from every direction. The grapes of Conti Dagostino’s Amarone della Valpolicella are grown in the hills of Negrar.

For the gentleman who likes dining the old-fashioned way, the way Romeo and Juliet and the other ladies and gentlemen of the Houses Capulet and Montague of fair Verona would have dined—great feasts featuring game-meats such as venison, wild boar, turtle, rabbit, pheasants, geese, and duck, for example—Amarone is without equal anywhere in the world. And of all the Amarones, the one produced by Conti Dagostino is unsurpassed.