Friday, July 9, 2010

Ambasciata dei Sapori: Sicily’s Flavorful Export

Imagine Sicily with an Embassy of Flavors, populated by tasteful Ambassadors bringing the best of its artisanal food and wine to the rest of Italy and the world. No need to imagine; it’s real. Ambasciata dei Sapori (Embassy of Taste) is a new, private initiative out of Sicily that promotes small and medium- sized food and wine producers through presentations, tasting events and theme dinners. I caught up with these culinary ambassadors at a press conference at the Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC and learned some very interesting things.

For starters, Ambasciata dei Sapori works with only artisanal producers, not industrial sized firms. Currently representing 22 producers, the Ambasciata allows them to join forces, strategize and reach markets that they would never have the capital, time, manpower or experience to reach alone. It does not charge the producers a membership fee, nor does it demand their exclusivity. So far, Ambasciata dei Sapori has taken their message to Milan, Berlin and now Manhattan.

The founders of Ambasciata are fellow Sicilians, Marco Scapagnini and Livio Mandara’. They chose to bring samples of 10 of their producers to the Fancy Food Show. According to Mr. Scapagnini, it would have been logistically impossible to bring samples from all 22 producers. As it was, US Customs kept his phone ringing almost incessesantly.

Some of the Ambasciata producers buy their wheat from a cooperative that manages acreage confiscated from the Mafia just outside the town of Corleone. A few years ago, a local priest petitioned the Italian Parliament to allow these once-criminal assets to serve the common good.

I’ve listed the products on hand at the press conference, but not all were available for sampling:

Pasticceria Bonomo: Chocolate from Modica. This company makes its chocolate as the Aztecs did in the New World: stone ground with raw sugar and flavored with cinnamon and other spices. Its texture is grainy and the chocolate taste is strong. It’s wonderful.

Antica Cioccolateria Acese: Chocolate from Acireale. Creamy, melt in your mouth chocolate filled with Sicilian flavors like hazelnuts, pistachio, almonds, figs, coffee or orange rind. A pleasure to eat.

Iblealat: Luscious cheese from Ragusa, paired with jams and honey.

Delight from Corleone: Pasta and pecorino cheese from that infamous town.

Pevin: Wine, Vino Cerasuolo di Vittoria, D.O.C.G. This label stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and is a strict quality assurance standard indicating that the product was produced within a specified geographical region using defined methods. Production of Vino Cerasuolo di Vittoria began about 4 centuries ago from the Nero d’Avola (also known as Calabrese) and Frappato grapes.

Marchetta: Wine, Malvasia delle Lipari, D.O.C. This label stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata and is also a quality assurance label indicating that the product was produced within a specified geographical region using defined methods. Malvasia delle Lipari is an ancient wine produced on the Aeolian Island of Lipari.

Marisco: Fruit jams and jellies. I sampled the Confettura di Mela, made with apples and quince. When paired with the Iblealat cheese I could have eaten it all day. Marisco is also a lovely agriturismo outside of Palermo.

L’Oro di Laura: Artichokes, olives and mushrooms hand-picked and cut by local women. The vegetables are cultivated and harvested from Parco delle Madonie, Madonie Natural Reservation Park, an environmentally protected area.

Cinque Colli: Extra virgin olive oil Monti Iblei DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or Protected Designation of Origin). The olives for this oil are harvested by hand from the area around Catania, Ragusa and Siracusa.

Azienda Agricola Muscara’: Extra virgin olive oil produced in the hills of Piazza Armerina from the Muscara’ family farm.

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