China and Crystal Tableware for the Modern Man–by Richard Brendon

Bone China and Crystal—for the modern man

by Richard Brendon

 

Richard Brendon

 

When the typical 21st-century gentleman thinks of equipping his household—be it bachelor pad, starter-house, urban penthouse, or country mansion—he does not think of bone china and fine crystal. Simply stated, most men—not even wealthy and worldly ones—do not live like that anymore. As such, luxurious, iconic brands like Wedgwood and Lalique have given way to the likes of Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.

 

But for the discriminating modern man who insists—like his father before him—in dining in

elegance and with style, there is a new generation of tableware designers who, using the age-old exquisite materials of bone china and lead crystal, create collections that are at once classic but modern, elegant and therefore understated, simple though luxurious. And one such firm is the design house of Richard Brendon ( www.RichardBrendon.com ).

 

Bone China

Stronger than “porcelain china” and “fine china,” “bone china” is a soft-paste porcelain composed of a minimum of 30% bone ash, feldspathic (rock-forming) material, and a fine, white clay called kaolin.

 

Bone ash is a white substance made by the calcification of animal bones. To make bone ash, the flesh is removed from the bone, then the bone is washed clean. It is then heated to about 1832 °F (1000 °C) in order to remove all organic material, the bone thereby becoming sterilized. The sterilized bone is then ground with water into fine particles that are used as the raw material for bone china. Today, many manufacturers of bone china use synthetic bone ash alternatives such as dicalcium phosphate and tricalcium phosphate. Richard Brendon, however, does not. His bone ash is made from the bones of English cattle.

 

Relatively resistant to chipping, bone china is also known for its whiteness and translucency. And because it is harder than other porcelains, it can be crafted into thin, delicate objects that are exceedingly durable.

 

English potter Josiah Spode, in the early 1790s, is credited as the first person to commercially market items made of bone china. And from its introduction until the latter part of the 20th century, bone china was primarily a British product, made almost exclusively in Stoke-on-Trent.

 

Lead Crystal

Comprised primarily of silica sand, calcium, magnesium, soda, and lime, the earliest examples of crystal glass date back to 500 B.C.E., Mesopotamia. But it was in 1674 C.E. that English glassmaker George Ravenscroft decided to substitute lead oxide for calcium, thereby inventing the now-famous lead crystal that is used to craft some of the most prized glassware known to man.

 

By adding lead oxide (typically from 18% to 40% by weight), the silica sand, of which glass is primarily comprised, becomes easier to melt. Lead oxide also increases the “working period” of the molten glass, affording artisans more time to manipulate the glass in its formative stages. Besides adding weight and stability, lead oxide also imparts a heightened refractory characteristic, resulting in a finished product with a brilliance that far exceeds that of regular glass. And while there are health issues associated with eating and drinking from vessels with lead content, such issues primarily arise when food is cooked or stored in lead-content vessels. (Drinking wine from glasses made of lead crystal poses no discernible health risk, whereas it is ill-advised to drink liquor that has been stored in a lead-crystal decanter, for example, for three or more months).

 

Lead-free crystal, sometimes called crystallin, is also a material of high quality with light-refractory properties similar to lead crystal. Crystallin, however, is generally less expensive and is not typically etched and carved. Much of its appeal is its light weight, enabling the manufacture of drinking-glasses that are ultra-thin, thereby enhancing the experience derived from their contents.

 

 

Richard Brendon

It is upon centuries-old traditions of English bone-china and lead-crystal manufacturing, then, that young Englishman Richard Brendon, a native of Notting Hill, established his company in London in 2013.

 

Brendon’s penchant for pottery began in his childhood years when his mother enrolled him in ceramics classes. But it was while studying product design and working at a pub on Portobello Road—famous for its every-Saturday-morning antiques market—that Brendon’s interest in antique ceramics was piqued. And it was while attending those weekly Portobello Market events that Brendon got the brilliant idea to revive “orphaned” antique tea saucers that had long been separated from their presumably broken, but certifiably missing, teacups. So, for his design school graduation exhibition, he produced platinum- and gold-mirrored teacups and paired them with antique saucers, their patterns reflecting on the teacups, seamlessly uniting the two.

 

Brendon’s ingenious, thrifty, sustainable concept, titled Reflect, was received with critical acclaim, the concept serving as a cornerstone of his design house, which was inaugurated shortly after his graduation. Prestigious clients, commissions, and collaborations soon followed: Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Fortnum & Mason, Four Seasons Hotel, etc.

 

And the natural complement to exquisite British bone china is exquisite British crystal. Thus, since 2013, Richard Brendon has offered several lines of lead-crystal stemware, Fluted and Diamond being the most notable. And in 2018, Brendon collaborated with esteemed English wine critic Jancis Robinson in the creation of an all-wines wineglass made of lead-free crystal.

 

But what makes Richard Brendon especially appealing to the modern gentleman with discerning taste is the company’s option of creating bespoke—custom-designed, custom-made—collections for clients: Just as a gentleman of means can go to London’s famed Savile Row to be outfitted with a bespoke suit, such a gentleman can go to Richard Brendon to commission a bespoke suite of British bone china and crystal. And for the modern man who otherwise would use tableware by Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, setting his table with a Richard Brendon bespoke collection speaks volumes without uttering a single word.

 

 

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Literary Critics Praise Volume Two, “Manly Manners: The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman” by Wayne James

Critics Praise Volume Two of Manly Manners Trilogy by Former USVI Senator Wayne James

 Wayne James’ Manly Manners:  The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman, is garnering critical acclaim.  Volume two of a trilogy on modern men’s manners and lifestyle, the book received a coveted five-out-of-five-star review from Foreword Clarion, and a glowing review from Kirkus, which does not have a star system but has earned a reputation since its establishment in 1933 for being conservative with its laudatory declarations. “James…finds a more to say about etiquette in this wonderful new volume,” says Claire Foster of Foreword Clarion.  “In this second book, [James] dives deeper to explore the ethical questions that underlie etiquette, providing moral grounding for what would otherwise be empty rituals,” declares Kirkus Reviews.

The premise of volume two is that ethics must be at the foundation of etiquette; and that upholding good manners must be good men. Volume two guides the reader towards achieving inner peace and equilibrium, thereby increasing his inclination towards gentle and genteel behavior. To that end, the book delves into topics that are not typically included in traditional books on manners:  how to gracefully deal with the emotional upheaval of a heartbreak; what distinguishes “love” from “lust” and “in-love”; what differentiates a job from a profession or a calling; how to identify one’s genius, and what are the best ways to avoid midlife crisis; how to survive “frenopause”; what to expect in inter-generational, same-sex marriages; and what distinguishes a “man” from a “gentle man,” a “genteel man,” and a “gentleman,” for example. The book’s mission is to build gentlemen from the inside out—to make men internally happy. “It is harder for a man to be polite and helpful to others if he is fundamentally unhappy in his own life,” James said.

“In order to write volume two, I needed solitude and quietude.  So, I set off for Italy, where a Tuscan friend lent me his family’s grand Palladian villa, set amidst vineyards and olive groves, to enjoy all to myself,” James said. “There, for one full year—actually, for thirteen months—I envisioned myself writing what I would tell a son or nephew or student who was about to depart for distant lands, perhaps never to return. The volume is a veritable ‘master’s class’ on ‘class’ as well as on modern men’s spirituality. The book also contains what I regard to be the masculine wisdoms. I wrote it from my soul—from a place that has allowed itself to be touched by youth and adventure, disappointment and triumph, life and love. My mission with volume two is to give young men a crash-course on what has taken me over a half a century—a lifetime—to learn.”

Published by the iUniverse division of Penguin-Random House, distributed by Ingram Books, and with a glowing foreword by Baron Peter von Troil of Finland and Sweden, Manly Manners:   The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman (ISBN:  978-1-5320-2818-2) comes on the heels of the critically acclaimed volume one, Manly Manners:  Lifestyle & Modern Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century (Nov., 2016; 840 pages), declared by BlueInk Reviews, “one of the 21 best indie books of 2017”; “ornately mannered prose,” says Kirkus Reviews; and “Emily Post…would likely tremble in her petticoat at some of the subjects James takes on,” says Claire Foster of Foreword Clarion. The edgy-but-elegant trilogy gives guidance on everything from how to eat caviar and open a bottle of Port with a feather, to how to suggest an enema before engaging in anal sex, to how to distinguish a blazer from a sport coat. Manly Manners is already being touted as “the new Bible of masculine behavior.”  James, also a lawyer, fashion designer, historian, and art collector, has been writing the 1,800-page, three-volume treatise since completing his tenure in the U.S. Virgin Islands senate in January of 2011.

Volumes one and two of the Manly Manners trilogy are available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats at bookstores worldwide and online at www.Amazon.com , www.BarnesandNoble.com , and www.iUniverse.com .  Volume three is scheduled for a fall 2019 release.

 

 

Front Cover Vol. II Manly Manners Official

Commandaria Wine of Cyprus–The world’s oldest named wine

Commandaria—the world’s oldest named wine

Commandaria, the storied fortified wine of Cyprus, is one of the world’s most luxurious dessert wines.  It has been enjoyed throughout the ages—from ancient Greece to the Crusades to the Age of Exploration to today—by kings and queens and knights and knaves alike, all the while inspiring conquest, soothing the palates of travelers from faraway places, and fueling international trade. Admittedly, Commandaria is today not as well-known as its other fortified counterparts—Sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala, and Vermouth—but it is every drop as esteemed by the world’s wine cognoscenti and is experiencing a renaissance within the ranks of 21st-century young gentlemen who insist upon indulging in the masculine luxuries of life.

 History

Legend has it that the first wine-tasting competition was held in the 13th century in France.  Organized by France’s King Philip Augustus (1180-1223), the event, recorded in a poem by noted French poet Henry d’Andeli dated 1224, was dubbed “La Bataille des Vins” (“The Battle of the Wines”) and was open to wines from all over Europe. Emerging victorious was a sweet wine from Cyprus, widely believed to be Commandaria.

Commandaria holds the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production.  Made from sun-dried grapes, the wine is first described in 800 B.C.E. by Greek poet Hesiod and was known to be widely consumed during the festivals of ancient Greece. At the May 12, 1191 wedding of England’s King Richard the Lionheart and Berengaria of Navarre in the city of Limassol (Lemesos) on the island of Cyprus during the height of the Crusades, Richard declared Commandaria “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” In 1212, Wilbrand von Oldenburg, Count of Oldenburg, writes: “The wines of this island are so thick and rich as if they are meant to be consumed like honey on bread.” And in 1363, at a symposium of sorts that would come to be known as “The Feast of the Five Kings,” organized by the Lord Mayor of London in honor of Peter I, King of Cyprus; King Edward II of England; David II, King of Scotland; John II, King of France; and Valdemar IV, King of Denmark, it was Commandaria that was served.

Towards the end of the 12th century, Richard the Lionheart sold the island of Cyprus to the Knights Templar (founded in 1118), who, upon recognizing that they could not maintain the island, in turn sold it to Guy de Lusignan, French King of Jerusalem (1186-1192) and founder of the Lusignan Dynasty that ruled Cyprus from 1192 to 1489.

During the Lusignan era, Cyprus became a beacon for settlers from Western Europe, amongst them arriving the Order of St. John of Jerusalem Knights Hospitaller to whom an extensive tract of land in the area west of Lemesos (the area known today as Kolossi) was granted, such land holdings laying the foundation for the establishment of feudalism on the island of Cyprus.  Headquartered in a castle today known as Kolossi Castle situated on the sunny southern coast of the enchanting island, the estate was referred to as “La Grande Commanderie” so as to distinguish it from two smaller command posts on the island (“Phoenix of Paphos” and “Templos” in Kyrenia). The word “commanderie” referred to the estate’s function as a military headquarters.  Eventually, the area under the control of the Knights Hospitaller came to be called “Commandaria.”  And when the knights began producing significant quantities of wine for export to the royal courts of Europe as well as for consumption by the many pilgrims en route to the Holy Land, the wine assumed the name of the region that gave it rise. As such, the present-day practice of naming wines after the regions where they are produced began with Commandaria. (In 1307 the Commandery region came under the control of Philip IV, a descendant of King Richard the Lionheart.)

For the three centuries of the Turkish era, from 1571 to 1878, production levels of the luscious Commandaria wine declined drastically due to exorbitant taxation:  20% duty on grape production; 10% duty on wine production; and 8% duty on wine exports.

Today, the wine is produced and marketed as “Commandaria,” though it has had other names and spellings in the past: “Commandery” by Cyrus Redding in his book A History and Description of Modern Wines (1860); “Commander” by Thomas George Shaw in his book Wine, the Vine, and the Cellar (1863); and “Commenderia” by Samuel White Baker in 1879.

Production

Commandaria is made exclusively from two Cypriot grapes:  a white variety called Xynisteri, and a red variety named Mavro.  The grapes are left to overripen on the vines, thereby increasing their sugar-content. The period for harvesting is declared by the Wine Production Association of Cyprus when it is determined that the grapes have attained the desired levels of sugar. The grapes are then laid out and sun-dried for seven to ten days, thereby further concentrating the sugar-content on account of the additional evaporation that occurs during the drying-process. Thereafter, the juice is extracted by crushing and pressing and placed into reservoirs where the two-to-three-month fermentation process begins, the sugars in the grape juice converting to alcohol. (Because the phylloxera epidemic that scourged the vineyards of continental Europe did not reach Cyprus, the native grapes used to produce Commandaria are truly native—they are not, as is the case with most European grapes of today, grafted onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock.)

Once the fermentation process has completed (the minimum allowable alcohol content being 10% but typically realizing at around 15%), the alcohol-content may be increased by adding grape-derived alcohol (95% by volume) or brandy (distilled wine) with an alcohol-by-volume content of 70%, the result being a fortified wine with an alcohol-content of no more than 20% (with a potential alcohol-content—which might occur during the aging process—of no more than 22.5%).  In essence, though, because of the high concentration of sugars that naturally occurs in the grapes as a result of being allowed to overripen on the vines then sun-dried for seven to ten days, Commandaria need not be supplemented with additional alcohol in order to attain the minimum-allowable alcohol-by-volume content. Thus, fortification of Commandaria is not mandatory.

While the origins of what is today regarded as the method of producing Commandaria has been lost to time, evidence of the wine’s production appears in the poem Works and Days, written in the 7th century by Hesiod. Only grapes harvested from vines that are at least four years old may be used in the production of the luxurious wine, but it is generally accepted that the best wines derive from vines at least 10 years of age, the region known for having vines surpassing 100 years of age. In addition, vine-training must use the “goblet” method, and no watering is permitted.

The wine is aged in oak casks for at least two years in underground cellars. In a system similar to Sherry’s “solera,” Commandaria employs the “manna” system, the distinction being that in “manna,” the aging occurs within one barrel, with one-third of the wine being harvested each year before new wine is added to the barrel.

Regulation

Since 1990, Cypriot law requires that wine labeled “Commandaria” be produced in 14 villages situated on the foothills of the Troödus Mountains of Cyprus.  And use of the term “Commandaria” enjoys Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status in the European Union, the United States, and Canada, thereby requiring that wine marketed as “Commandaria” in those regions be made in Cyprus per production standards and regulations.

The wine—which must be aged on the island of Cyprus, though not necessarily within the 14 villages where the grapes that produce it must be grown—is aged under strict regulations. The result is a sweet, rich, amber- or ruby-colored dessert wine.

Usage

Commandaria is best served well-chilled, between 42-48° F and 6-9° C, in a small, stemmed glass. Thus, in February of 2006, the Wine Products Council of Cyprus, a team of sommeliers, and the Riedel company collaborated in the selection of a House of Riedel glass excellent for the enjoyment of Commandaria.  The wine is traditionally paired with chocolate and chocolate-flavored desserts.

 

 

Wine-Tasting Etiquette

 

wine glasses and spittoon

 

Wine-Tasting Etiquette

Wine is one of the oldest and most storied alcoholic beverages:  The ancient Egyptian nobility imbibed it at lavish banquets; it was so important to the Greco-Roman world that there was a god of wine; and according to the Christian faith, Jesus transformed life-giving water into precious wine in his first recorded miracle. But despite the prominence of wine throughout much of human history, many men remain intimidated by it.  And of all the activities pertaining to “the beautiful liquid,” official wine-tastings arguably cause the most trepidation.

But a gentleman of the world must know the ways of the world. And since he is almost certain to be invited to an official wine-tasting at least once in his lifetime, he should know the etiquette associated therewith.

The senses of smell and taste are so intertwined that something can smell as it tastes and taste as it smells.  At a wine-tasting, of the five senses, the senses of smell and taste are of paramount importance (with the sense of sight coming a close third). As such, rule number one at a wine- tasting is that extraneous scents and flavors are to be avoided.

Wearing perfumes and colognes to a wine-tasting is an absolute no-no for olfactorily obvious reasons. Even scented body lotions or garments laundered with fragrant detergents should be avoided (Perhaps one day wine-tastings will be conducted in-the-nude, but until then…). Likewise, perfumed hair conditioners—especially because of the proximity of hair to the nose and mouth—are considered particularly egregious. Also, a taster’s palate should be as neutral as possible:  Consuming smoked or heavily spiced foods shortly before a wine-tasting can adversely impact the appreciation of a wine.  Some purists even insist that a taster should not brush his teeth for several hours preceding a tasting—not even if the tasting occurs in the morning! And attempting to circumvent the no-brushing rule by chewing gum or eating breath mints is a sure prescription for a disaster of gastronomical proportions.

Generally, a wine-tasting will be presided-over, whether by a sommelier, a wine merchant, or a knowledgeable pourer.  While more casual tastings may take place at a bar, more formal tastings are typically conducted with tasters seated at a long banquet table.

When multiple wines are being tasted, the general approach is to begin with whites before reds, young wines before old wines, delicate wines before robust wines, dry wines before sweet wines, etc.

The typical “equipment” for a wine-tasting is wine glasses, a linen napkin (for pat-drying one’s lips after spitting into the spittoon—but more on that later), individual spittoons (thank God for that courtesy!), and, on occasion, offerings of water crackers, plain bread, or mild cheese to “reboot” the palate when “palate fatigue” sets in after so many wines have been tasted that the taster’s ability to distinguish the characteristics of one wine from another becomes blurred.

To rid a wine glass of any trace of the detergent with which it was washed, the person conducting the tasting will pour a little wine into each taster’s glass, then, holding the glass by its stem, tilt the glass while rotating it, thereby allowing the wine to coat the entire interior surface of the bowl of the glass. Then, of course, that rinsing-wine, no matter how precious, is discarded into the spittoon. (Drinking the rinsing-wine would be like drinking the water in a fingerbowl!)

Once the glasses have been prepped as described above, whether by the pourer or by the tasters themselves, the tasting begins, the operative term being “tasting” (as opposed to drinking!).  As a wise Italian once said, “We taste with our mouths, not with our stomachs.”

Bottle by bottle, a mouthful-quantity of wine will be poured into each taster’s glass. Whether white wine or red wine, the taster holds the wine glass upright by its stem (whether elevated off the table or with the base of the glass upon the tabletop), and swirls the wine for two or three seconds so as to aerate it, thereby releasing its aromas and flavors. Then, holding the wine glass about one inch from the nose, the opening of the bowl tilted towards the nose, the aromas of the wine are gently inhaled via the nostrils and slightly parted lips, thereby heightening the perception of the wine’s flavor since both the senses of smell and taste are engaged.

After the fragrances of the wine have been explored and appreciated, it is then time to taste the wine primarily with the mouth: A small amount of wine is taken into mouth and allowed to “set” for a second or two before it is swallowed so as to ascertain its drinkability.  Immediately thereafter, a more complex tasting occurs:  In a process called “aspiration,” more wine is taken into the mouth then gently swished around the closed mouth while simultaneously being aerated by gently clenching the teeth, slightly parting-pouting the lips, then inhaling through the nostrils and slightly parted pouted lips. [For some tasters—quite understandably—the aspiration process looks too ridiculous and sounds too disgusting to be entertained, regardless of its alleged efficacy.] Once the wine’s qualities have been determined, it is released from the mouth into the spittoon; the mouth is pat-dried with the provided napkin; and the remaining wine in the glass is also discarded into the spittoon.  (Incidentally, spitting into the spittoon should be done as elegantly and uneventfully as possible. It should, for example, never rise to the level of animation with which one would hawk and spit upon an archrival’s grave!) The wine glass is then placed onto the table in preparation for the next wine. If only one or two wines are being presented for tasting, the remaining contents in the glass may be drunk rather than discarded into the spittoon. But if many wines are being tasted, the tasters must be mindful to do their work with their mouths, not with their stomachs, for multiple glasses of wine, especially whilst not eating, will leave many a man in a drunken stupor.

Fresh glasses are not generally provided for each wine to be tasted.  Instead, the pourer will “rinse,” as described above, the tasting-glass with the wine to be served, thereafter pouring fresh wine from the bottle or decanter into the prepped glass.  If multiple wines are being tasted, glasses will be changed when switching from white wines to red, or from dry to sweet, for example.   Rinsing glasses with water is highly disfavored since even miniscule quantities of residual water can adversely alter the profile of a wine.

At the end of the tasting, the specialist is thanked.  When the tasting is conducted at a bar by a bartender, he or she is generously tipped.

Finally, a gentleman who participates in a wine-tasting should always arrange for a designated driver.

 

Wine glasses

Wine-Tasting within the context of Wine-and-Food Pairings

Wine-tastings are sometimes conducted as wine-and-food pairings, where dishes are presented as complements to the featured wines.  At pairings, each course, typically from appetizer to dessert, is presented with a different wine that is poured into its designated wine glass.At a wine-and-food pairing, the wine is expected to be drunk, not merely tasted.  So spittoons, thank God, are not provided, for to have them would make for a most unappetizing occasion. Also, thank God, no aspiration antics are indulged in. Instead, the wine is savored with the meal, just as would be the case at a dinner table or in a restaurant. Only the desired portion of each wine need be drunk. At the end of a particular course, its corresponding wine glass is removed when the dishes for the course are being cleared from the table.

Generally, a wine-and-food pairing is conducted in a restaurant, with a sommelier or wine merchant officiating.  Under such circumstances, the waiters and waitresses are tipped and the officiant is thanked.

And as is the case whenever alcoholic beverages are being consumed, designated drivers should be employed to safely transport tasters to and from the event.

 

 

 

Lardo di Colonnata I.G.P. (Fatback Aged in Marble Vats)– one of the all-time gastronomical luxuries of Italy

 

Lardo di Colonnata I.G.P.

Lardo di Colonnata is one of the great gastronomical traditions of Italy. Simply put, it is aged fatback. But what delicious fatback it is!

Colonnata, its earliest recorded history dating to around 40 B.C.E., is a hamlet with a present-day population of about 300 residents, nestled in the Apuan Alps, the mountain range that is home to world-famous Carrara, situated on the Carrione River, about 100 kilometers west-northwest of Florence. Carrara is where the quarries from which Michelangelo obtained his marble are situated; and Colonnata—its name believed to have derived from the Latin word “columna,” meaning column, since many of the marble columns that decorated the Roman Empire were of marble from the area—is a subdivision of the city and commune of Carrara, in the Province of Massa Carrara, in the Region of Tuscany. But while Carrara is, in general, famous for its white and blue-gray marble, Colonnata is, in particular, famous for its pearl-white lardo—aged in precious marble!

How and when it first occurred to people to cure fatback in “conche,” hollowed-out, sarcophagus-looking (sans decorative carvings) blocks of white marble from the Canaloni marble beds, has been lost to history. (Whereas some deposits of marble in Carrara proper make for excellent sculpture material, the marble from the Canaloni Basin is more suitable for columns and other architectural elements. The marble is hard, dry, and glassy. Today, it is known that the porous, calcium carbonate surface of the marble absorbs some of the fat’s cholesterol that is not naturally reduced during the long aging process and also helps to create the salty, brownish brine, “salamora” in Italian, a byproduct of the aging process. And university studies have confirmed that the final product is bacteria-free—after all, very few things can live in a vat filled with salt). Any or all of the area’s primary inhabitant-cultures could have initiated or contributed to the tradition of lardo di Colonnata. The Romans were very much aware of the importance of pig fat in their diet, especially for people engaged in strenuous work and activities—so much so that the Justinian Code stipulated that Roman soldiers were to receive a ration of pork fat every three days. The historical record indicates that the processing of pigmeat increased considerably during the Lombard occupation. (Master masons during the Lombard period would receive 10 pounds of pork fat as a condition precedent to their beginning a newly assigned project). And in the medieval period, there were significant advancements in the techniques for processing and conserving pork. Discovered in the area are marble basins, each hollowed-out from single, solid blocks, dating from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, that were used for curing pig fat. Also noteworthy is the fact that several of Colonnata’s 19th -century edifices depict, in low-relief, images of St. Anthony, the hermit who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries and by the 11th century had become known for his work in curing persons inflicted with shingles (popularly known as “holy fire” or “Saint Anthony’s fire”) by applying pig fat to the skin of the inflicted, the saint oftentimes depicted in those reliefs accompanied by a pig. Additionally, of note is the fact that Colonnata’s parish church is dedicated to St. Bartholomew, the patron saint of butchers, and that for many years on St. Bartholomew’s Day, there was an annual pig fat festival held in the village, attracting a large number of Italian and international connoisseurs. Clearly, the urge to preserve fat as a source of food, especially for sustenance during the harsh winter months, was the result of experienced scarcity. And with the Colonnatese being a quarrying people, marble would have been a readily available material that could be put to collateral use to protect the aging fat from scavenging animals and to conceal it from marauding and invading humans. What is known for sure is that with the decline of Rome in the 5th century, the “Barbarians,” most famously the Lombards, who ruled Italy from 568 to 774, took up residence in the area, joining the remaining quarry workers (who were typically people from across the known world, enslaved by the Romans and brought to the region to toil in the marble quarries), and the focus of the area shifted from quarrying impeccable marble for statutes and monuments and buildings to raising swine and producing the items derived therefrom, lardo perhaps being one of them. (Today, the Colonnatese do not raise their own pigs for lardo production since only the fatback is used and the region is not conducive to the production of the other traditional pork products of Italy. So the producers of lardo purchase suitable fatbacks from swine farms). What is also known is that from time immemorial, the aging of lard has been part and parcel to Colonnatese culture. But however the tradition of lardo di Colonnata emerged, it eventually became apparent that there is something particular about the Colonnata microclimate that makes the mountainside village perhaps the best place on Earth for aging fatback: high altitude (average height of 1,800 feet above sea level); high precipitation; high humidity; moderate summer temperatures; and small or modest daily temperature fluctuations throughout the year. The cold, white marble basins used for curing the fat promote the condensation of the humidity in the air, converting the salt into brine. And all the foregoing factors become even more pronounced in the marble cellars and workrooms where the fat is aged.

The method of producing lardo di Colonnata is at once simple, beautiful, noble, unique. Prior to being packed tight with slabs of fatback, the marble vat is “prepped”: A fist of garlic is halved at its “equator,” then the open face of the fist is rubbed onto the entire interior surface of the marble vat, the garlic serving as a natural antibiotic. Fresh (trimmed within 72 hours of slaughter and never having been subjected to freezing since freezing would seal the pores, thereby adversely affecting the infusion of the salt and flavorings and the release of the moisture of the fat), quadrangular slabs of fatback, at least 1.25 inches thick, but usually about 2.5 inches thick, are cut from the back of pig—the section from immediately behind the head to about midway down its center-back or even all the way to the rump—washed with cool water, then pat-dried. The slabs of fresh pork are then generously rub-covered with coarse sea salt and placed skin-down into the marble conche, the bottom of which has been covered with a layer of sea salt then a layer of seasonings comprised primarily of black pepper, with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon, and a blend of herbs such as fresh rosemary (which, besides adding flavor, also serves as an antioxidant), sage, and oregano, as well as chopped garlic cloves. (The various ingredients and their proportions vary from producer to producer). The salt-rubbed slabs of fatback are snugly arranged so as to occupy the entire bottom of the marble box. A layer of coarse sea salt, then a layer of herbs and spices, is evenly distributed over the fat before the stacking process of skin-down fatback, followed by salt and seasonings, then followed by another layer of fatback, etc., is repeated until the marble container is filled, a layer of salt and spices being the uppermost layer. The marble container is then sealed with a snug-fitting marble lid, and the pork is allowed to age for a minimum of six months, but typically for an average of nine to 12 months, and possibly for as many as four years, in the ideal Colonnata climate. The aging of the product must take place in a site with little ventilation and no artificial air-conditioning. At the end of an aging cycle, the cured fat is extracted and packaged, and the remaining brine is vacuum-removed from the conche, the vat thereafter washed clean with a solution of hot water and vinegar and allowed to air-dry. Immediately prior to receiving a new batch of fatback for aging, the interior surface of the vat is again rubbed with fresh garlic as described above.

Per production rules, the slaughtering of the pigs and processing of the fat occurs only in the colder months of the year, September to May, inclusive. (In the past, the pigs were slaughtered and the fatback processed only in the coldest months—January and February—in order to safeguard the natural character of the production process). The result, at the end of the aging process, is a moist, fragrant, buttery-soft, melt-in-the-mouth, sweet-savory, exquisitely seasoned fat that is traditionally sliced paper-thin and laid atop slices of crisp bread and garnished with freshly chopped tomatoes to be eaten as antipasti. Lardo di Colonnata is also traditionally served as a complement to fresh onions and salted anchovies. (In the olden days, whenever meat was scarce, laborers would sustain themselves with lardo sandwiches—thin slices of lardo di Colonnato between two hefty slices of homemade bread and nothing more).

Lardo di Colonnata received I.G.P. (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) (Protected Geographical Indication) status in 2004, meaning that only lardo made within the specified geographical region—per established production standards—may bear the designation, “Lardo di Colonnata I.G.P.”

Today, with the mechanization of quarrying, most of Colonnata’s population has emigrated in search of other work opportunities, leaving a native population numbering only in the hundreds. But the hands-on, cottage-industry nature of the production of lardo di Colonnata has ensured its survival as a labor-intensive delicacy. And today, the product constitutes the principal economic resource of the village. Perhaps the most celebrated producer of lardo di Colonnata is the firm of Larderia Fausto Guadagni, www.larderiafaustoguadagni.com , whose family has been producing the delicacy for generations. The commercial enterprise was established in 1949. And since the 1950s, the product has been receiving national and international acclaim as one of the culinary luxuries of the world.

But all lardos are not from Colonnata. A buyer must therefore be aware of what to look for if what he desires is “the real McCoy.” Lardo di Colonnata I.G.P. is typically sold in slab-form in vacuum-packed plastic (or some other suitable) packaging, weighing between 250 and 5,000 grams. The product may also be sold sliced or diced and packaged accordingly. The label on the packaging must bear clear and of legible characters; the logo of village of Colonnata must be on the package; the words “Lardo di Colonnata,” followed by the designation I.G.P. or “Indicazione Geografica Protteta” must be the most prominent lettering on the packaging; and there must be a non-reusable product seal affixed to the rind of the product, among other labeling requirements.

(A similar high-quality product, Valle d’Aosta’s lardo d’Arnad, is made in the Aosta Valley).

 

The History of Men’s Pajamas

Sleepwear/Loungewear

It is said that the great Marilyn Monroe, when asked what she wears to bed, responded, “Chanel No. 5.” Like Monroe, some men sleep in-the-nude. But perhaps even more sleep in nothing but their underwear, whether in just underpants, or underpants plus undershirt. And then there are those men—albeit only a few these days—who insist upon sleeping in pajamas. For the most part, the rules of etiquette are silent on what a gentleman should wear to bed, leaving such an intimate matter to personal taste and whatever is most conducive to achieving restful sleep. But when visiting the home of another person, or when entertaining guests in shared accommodations, it is imperative that a gentleman sleep in pajamas (and wear appropriate loungewear when going about the home prior to dressing for the day—after all, no one needs to encounter a scantily clad host or house guest with an early morning “woody” in a narrow hallway). Even a gentleman hosting or visiting a friend with whom he enjoys an intimate relationship should wear (or be prepared to wear) pajamas—in the event the proverbial “headache” exception is invoked.

Classic men’s pajamas (spelled pyjamas in British English), with the unconstructed jacket and loose-fitting pants, are actually a British adaptation of an East Indian garment—another prime example of Eastern culture influencing Western fashion. The word “pajama” derives from the Persian word “payjama,” meaning “leg garment.” And the first known reference to Westerners wearing pajamas occurs in a 1611 publication by French navigator François Pyrard de Laval, who was held captive on Malé, Maldives from 1602-1607. In his book, The Voyage of François Pyrard de Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas, and Brazil, he describes how the Portuguese living in the East Indies would do as the East Indians did: wear loose-fitting cotton trousers to bed. But until the end of the 19th century, most Europeans living in Europe would wear nightshirts, rather than pajamas, to bed. Around 1898, however, English merchants began advertising pajamas as the new fashion. And by the early 1920s, pajamas had become commonplace in the United States. When first embraced by Westerners, pajamas were made of luxurious silks and linens. But with the garment’s rise in popularity in the late 1800s came the use of less expensive fabrics: cotton and wool flannel.

Today, “formal” pajamas still feature the unconstructed jacket styling. But many modern men prefer a more casual design: drawstring trousers or shorts with Henley-styled tops or T-shirts in both long- and short-sleeve variations.

Since their introduction to the Western World more than a century ago, pajamas have also, from time to time, served to inspire overall fashion trends. The proliferation of drawstring trousers as resort wear is one prime example.

The type of man who wears pajamas is also typically the type of man who wears a robe when lounging about the house in the morning. Very few men today do as a proper Victorian gentleman would have done: return home from the office; remove his jacket and tie; take off his shoes; slip on a pair of fine leather slippers; don a lounging robe (also called a “dressing gown”) of hand-embroidered silk; then sit in an overstuffed wing chair in front of the fireplace to enjoy a smoke and a drink—legs crossed and dog by his side, or course. Today, a man uses a robe to cover himself prior to getting dressed for his day, or (especially the terrycloth type, called a “bathrobe”) as a garment to cover himself upon exiting the bath or shower. To a large extent, climate, personal taste, lifestyle, and Christmas and Fathers’ Day gifts determine the type of lounge robe a gentleman will wear. And also to a large extent, the type of robe a gentleman wears will determine the type of slippers he selects. A man who wears a silk dressing gown will oftentimes be the type of man who wears leather slippers, while the type of man who wears a terrycloth bathrobe will likely wear it with rubber flip-flops. But regardless of personal preference, every gentleman—especially one who visits or hosts friends—should have at least one set of pajamas, a lounge robe, and a complementary pair of lounge slippers.

Like pajamas, men’s dressing gowns were also influenced by Eastern culture. And like pajamas, dressing gowns have also served to influence fashion in general. The presence of the dressing gown in Western fashion dates back to at least the 17th century when European gentlemen would wear what was then called “Persian gowns” and “Indian gowns” because of the garments’ Eastern origins and oriental, kimono-style design. By the 1860s, the dressing gown had achieved the design which remains popular today: shawl collar; button-less, wrap design secured by a sash-belt; one chest pocket and two front-hip pockets; long sleeves; and of a length ranging from mid-thigh to as far down as the ankles. In the 19th century, lounge robes were worn twice per day: during a gentleman’s morning toilette, and in the evening after work (but before getting dressed for dinner). Today, they are worn primarily in the morning—or until a gentleman decides to get dressed for his day.

Perhaps the greatest trans-fashion influence of the lounge robe occurs in men’s formal wear and outerwear, where the shawl collar design of some tuxedo (“smoking”) jackets and winter coats, and the sash-belt closures of some topcoats, are directly inspired by dressing gowns.

The Correct Way To Use A Dinner Napkin

The Napkin

A formal private dinner officially begins when the person presiding over the meal places his napkin onto his lap and unfolds it. It is only then that each guest places his napkin onto his lap and unfolds it—never before. (At formal public events such as banquets, large receptions, etc., where there is no one person officially presiding over the meal, as well as in restaurants and in informal settings, the napkin may be placed onto the lap and unfolded immediately preceding the serving of the first item—food or drink. If bread and/or some beverage is already on the table, the napkin may be unfolded once a person has taken his seat). Dinner-sized napkins, usually about 18” squared (46 cm. squared), should be opened halfway, with the fold towards the knee. Smaller napkins, usually referred to as lunch-sized napkins, should be opened completely and placed flat onto the lap. Some men have a habit of shaking open a napkin as if about to throw down a gauntlet to signal a duel, but such theatrics are more appropriate for the stage than for the elegant dining table.

Only when eating shellfish such as lobster, served in the shell, is it acceptable for adults to tuck their napkins into their necklines—if bibs are not specifically provided for the course. (And on airlines that provide cloth napkins with meals—these days a rarity—such napkins are usually appointed with a buttonhole in one corner so that the diner may button the napkin onto one of his upper-level shirt buttons in order to securely cover his chest area since, because of the way airplane seats and their meal trays are designed and configurated, one’s lap is covered by the service tray itself, while one’s torso is especially exposed to food spillage on account of being thrust against the food tray due to relatively confined personal space on airlines—even in the luxury classes).

The primary purpose of a napkin is to clean the lips of oily residue and food particles—especially before drinking (Floating “grease islands” are unappetizing!)—and to protect a diner’s garments by intercepting food that accidentally falls into the lap. The proper way to wipe one’s lips with a napkin is with a press-wipe motion as opposed to a swipe-wipe motion. The appropriate motion should be more akin to dabbing or patting than rubbing or pushing. Any food particle that falls onto the napkin should be picked up with the fingers and placed onto the upper left side of the plate from which one is eating. (The napkin is not the place to conceal bones or grains of rice, for example, that have fallen from the fork).

At most elegant dining tables, the tablecloth and napkins will be made of fine, white linen; and during the course of a dinner—especially one where food with prominently colored sauces is being presented—a napkin is likely to become food-stained. The conscientious gentleman, so as not to present a significantly food-stained napkin to his lips—for all to see and some to shun—will first discretely turn his napkin over in his lap when the stains appear sufficiently unsightly, then inside-out—again discretely in his lap—as the dinner progresses. For an experienced gentleman, then, a napkin has four “fresh” sides, and he utilizes all four during the course of his dinner if necessary. Out of consideration for the host and the person who does his laundry, most ladies of society know to wear a minimal amount of lipstick to the dinner table so as not to add yet another dimension of color to the napkin; and those who do not know that little, considerate rule quickly learn it.

On occasion, one’s napkin will fall from one’s lap onto the floor. But unlike the falling of a knife or a fork, which tends to call attention to itself, thereby alerting the host to request that a replacement be provided, a napkin, because it is made of fabric and generally obstructed from plain view by the tabletop, may fall to the floor unbeknownst even to its user. Upon discovering that one’s napkin has fallen to the floor, the most delicate way of handling the matter is to simply lean sideways, uneventfully reach down to pick up the napkin, and restore it to its proper place. The exceedingly fastidious gentleman, considering that the napkin has fallen onto the floor, will reverse its fold, thereby turning the napkin inside-out, and proceed with his meal. Requesting or expecting a replacement of a fallen napkin is not typical though a conscientious host will usually have a few extra matching napkins ready in case of any major mishaps. Of course, if one is dining alfresco and the napkin falls to the ground, a replacement may be requested. Care should be taken, therefore, to place a napkin securely upon the lap such that it is unlikely to fall. If dining in a restaurant, where extra napkins are usually readily available, a gentleman should feel no hesitation to request a replacement. Under such circumstances, he does not reach down to retrieve the napkin (unless, of course, it has fallen into an area where if left unattended might result in an accident). In a restaurant, a competent table attendant will not only provide a replacement as requested, but also retrieve the one in need of replacement.

During the course of the dinner, if a gentleman must take leave of the dining table for whatever reason, or if he must rise as a lady takes leave of or returns to the table, he places his napkin—not neatly folded, but drawn together in loose folds—to the left of his plate, returning it to his lap upon reoccupying his seat.

A gentleman’s personal handkerchief or tissue should be used to cover his mouth and nose if he must sneeze or cough at the table. If none is available, or if it cannot be retrieved in time, he is allowed to use his napkin. When he has been afforded little forewarning, however, he may use his bare hand, thereafter politely saying, “excuse me,” which should be audible only to those in his immediate vicinity. Of course, if the sneezing or coughing persists, the gentleman should temporarily excuse himself from the table, returning when his proper condition has been restored. Blowing one’s nose at the table, however, is an entirely different matter: it is completely unacceptable. To blow his nose, a gentleman should excuse himself from the dinner table, clearing his sinus and nostrils in the nearest powder room, where there will certainly be the benefit of a mirror to ensure that his face is presentable upon his return to the table.

At the end of the meal, the napkin, gathered up loosely—but not folded—as if to be slipped through a hoop, is placed at the left side of the plate. If the plate has been removed, the napkin should be placed in the center of the space previously occupied by the plate.

In some homes, the napkins to be used by members of the family and guests on extended visits are presented in napkin rings—rather than folded and laid onto a plate—when the table has been set for the meal. In such homes, at the end of the meal, the used napkin should be re-folded and tucked into its designated napkin ring. In such homes, each member of the family has a personalized napkin ring so that he may reuse his personal napkin at a subsequent meal. The custom of reusing napkins twice or thrice is ill-advised, however—especially in this day and age of washing machines. Simply put, a frugal host or hostess should find some other means of economizing than by reusing napkins since no one, not even members of the family, find the practice appetizing.