Genoa Sacla And Italian Food

Jan Leeming

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

GENOA - SACLA - AND ITALIAN FOOD

Date: 18th July 2010

GENOA- SACLA - AND ITALIAN FOOD

What a fabulous couple of days I've just had with the Sacla people in Liguria and I am a total convert to Italian food.  I don't think I've ever really had “Good and authentic” Italian food.  In the UK one expects the ubiquitous pizza and then there are the meat dishes but rarely fish (mind you I don't usually eat fish if I'm too far from the sea as it cannot possibly be fresh and unless you eat frozen fish quite soon after freezing there is always a slightly oily taste and smell to it).

The party comprised Clare Blampied, the delightful MD of Sacla UK Ltd.; her equally lovely PR Sue Wilkins and Marketing controller Katherine Carter.  From the Press were the Editors of Delicious Magazine (Karen Barnes) as well as the publisher (Seamus Geohegan) ; the Editor of the Grocer (Anna-Marie Julyan) and Food Writer and Deputy Editor of Spectator/Scoff Magazine (Tilly Culme-Seymour); and Aggie Mackenzie of TV Fame.

We landed in Genoa and hit the ground running.  Our first trip was to some Basil Fields and a late al fresco lunch where I saw the largest chunk of Parmesan I've ever clapped eyes on and learned that there is Eating Parmesan and Grating Parmesan - so don't be a snob over the length of maturation of the cheese - 9 months leads to a good Eater and 20 months gives you the harder Grating variety.

I love Basil (the herb !)!  I make my own Pesto and I love to see it growing  in a pot on my windowsill.  Now I no longer have a garden, there's a limit to what I can grow and Basil is a pleasure to have in the kitchen.  I've often wondered why it is that the Basil plants I buy in the Spring and Summer will grow again if cut correctly, yet the Winter purchases rarely re-grow - well the answer is that Basil is seasonal and it needs the warmth and sunshine to encourage re-growth.

The Basil fields (grown in rotation with Corn and Wheat) are cropped several times and as I stood surveying Basil as far as the eye could see, I did a mental tot-up of how many £2.59 pots of Waitrose Basil could be gleaned from the crop.  I was looking at a field worth millions - but it doesn't work like that!  The Basil in the fields has tougher leaves than those on the plant you purchase in the supermarket and they are cropped in rotation.

Below I'll post a picture of me surrounded by Basil.

I won't get technical but they harvest 300 tons of Basil per year!!!  No that is not a typing error.

After we'd savoured the aroma of the Basil and ooh'd and aah'd at the peaches and nectarines growing on the trees near the farm, we were treated to our Al fresco lunch of Parmesan, tomatoes, melon, peaches and nectarines and cold meats - delicious.

Back into the coach and transfer to our hotel Locando del Sant'Uffizio - and as the name suggests it was an old monastery beautifully converted into a luxury hotel.  Unfortunately there was hardly time to enjoy the very large swimming pool because of our Dinner Date with Lorenzo Ercole, son of the founders and President of Sacla along with his daughter Chiara and his niece Lucia and the Chairman and MD of La Cucina Italiana Magazine.

It was a superb meal at Il Cascinale Nuovo in Asti -  splendidly prepared by the chef  Roberto Ferretto.  Course after course arrived - but all small and wonderfully tasty portions.  I like it when someone else chooses the menu - can't bear wading through a huge Carte and changing my mind several times over.  I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and Mr. Ferretto kindly sent me a run down of what we'd eaten.  Sadly I discovered that what I'd been told was Beef was actually Veal - a meat I haven't wittingly eaten in 40 years.  In Australia it was one of my favourites but, on arriving back in the UK, the RSPCA were conducting a campaign against the way Veal Calves were raised and that put me off for life.  I'm not a great meat eater but I like to think that what I am eating had a life - and Veal Calves do not unless they've changed the method.  I won't go into it.  But it was a superb meal and the Risotto course was out of this world - I'd love the recipe.  In fact at the Airport, instead of buying perfume, I bought bags of prepared Risotto and some Trofiette - a pasta I'd never experienced before.  You can probably purchase it in London and big cities but I've never seen it in my part of Kent.  So guess what Leeming is going to be eating for the forseeable future?

The next morning we were taken to Asti and the Sacla factory.  This is where it all began and a very large proportion of the Asti population works at Sacla (similar to Phizer at Sandwich which is a town in its own right)  The original home of the Ercole family is now being refurbished and will be turned into a Museum.

We were garbed in special shoes with steel caps, heads covered in the most unflattering white caps (you know the sort of thing I mean - you see staff wearing them in supermarket deli, meat and fish counters) and white cover-alls.   We had to take off all jewellery and then proceeded to the factory. 

Pesto is only mixed - there is no cooking involved - and it comes out a vivid Hunter's Green colour which then changes slightly after sterilization.  There are no short cuts taken in the making of the Sacla Pesto - in addition to the Basil they use genuine pine nuts and parmesan.

Our guide then told us he would take us to the kitchen to show us where other sauces were prepared.  I stupidly expected a huge kitchen with Tubs of Ingredients rather than saucepans and actual people doing the mixing.  Wrong - The 'Kitchen' looked like the pristine boiler room of a ship! - all pipes and Vats.

Our next stop was to be a drive to a little port and then a Rubber dinghy ride to the cove of San Fruttuoso for lunch.  Unfortunately the drive which should have taken an hour and a half took three hours.  There is only one way in and out of Genoa and it was absolutely solid with traffic.  (They have no way of expanding the road being squeezed between the mountains and the sea).  However, despite being out of schedule Clare decided that we would still make our trip to San Fruttuoso and we were all so glad that she did.  The Dinghy ride was wonderfully exhilarating as we skimmed over the surface of the sea.  Again the hub of the tiny cove was the de-commissioned Monastery - well the monks certainly got away from it all at San Fruttuoso because the only way to it was by sea and in the old days, that journey must have taken a couple of hours.  We didn't see it but there is a huge crucifix 17 metres down in the sea to the right of the cove (as you approach from the sea) fishermen and others (with good lungs)  dive down and  kiss Il Christo degli Abissi.  The Crucifix is 2.5 metres high and was placed in the sea in 1954.

We had a splendid seafood lunch at Da Giorgio.  I love mussels but am very wary of them as I've had food poisoning so often - but as we were literally on the ocean I reckoned that I'd be OK and I was.  The setting was lovely, the company great and bonding further.

Our hotel for that night was the Excelsior in Rapallo - a lovely hotel in a superb location.  I was a trifle curious as to the name of the dining room - The Lord Byron.  We were not dining in though and after a very quick shower and change, we were back in the bus and on to Portofino - how stunning a place that is.  It reminded me of Honfleur in France - except that Portofino is even more picturesque.  There was a concert in progress in the square and people were perambulating  - as one does in the Mediterranean with the lovely weather and the gentle sea breeze.  As someone who doesn't eat great quantities of food, I wondered how I was going to make my way through another 3 - 4 course meal at the O Magazin Restaurant.   But I have to say every course was light and delicious and I so love seafood.  There was a castle on the hills above the little Port and we were told it had belonged to Lord Byron - but I've been unable to substantiate this claim.  I think he may have visited it but he does not appear to have been an owner.  However, as the light faded and the castle was lit up, it fed my romantic nature to believe that indeed it had belonged to Byron - especially as I'm currently reading a book about Lady Caroline Lamb with whom he had a brief affair - the effect of which lasted Lady Caroline a lifetime albeit a brief one.

I can't think when I've enjoyed a couple of days as much as my brief visit to Italy.  It was educational and fun - we saw beautiful scenery and ate delicious food - so, once again, many many thanks to Clare for an exceptional experience.  I can well understand why Sacla is so successful with the longevity and experience of the Ercole family and the dedication and drive of Clare Blampied in the UK who says she 'just happened to be in the right place at the right time'.  Lucky for both of them.

GENOA - SACLA - AND ITALIAN FOOD

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