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The Strange Story of Spaghetti Bolognese: Foreign-born, Adopted by Italy

Economy / -

spaghetti bolognese

It's not an Italian recipe, but Spaghetti Bolognese has become a popular “Italian” dish around the world. It is an error that’s impossible to correct but now the people of Bologna are happy for this misattribution of origins, in fact, they have decided to adopt the famous dish.

In Italy, it sounds like heresy. Spaghetti Bolognese would probably horrify the good people of  Emilia (the region where Bologna is located) , but beyond the Italian borders this dish is highly  appreciated and requested and those who order it are convinced they are eating a real Italian recipe, but they are not. The belief that Spaghetti Bolognese is from Bologna is an error that has gone viral, and it seems it cannot be corrected, with the goodwill of the people of Bologna.

Spaghetti Bolognese is one of the specialties preferred by German families, who buy it frozen, or find the sauce in packets or cans. Last year, it was the third place of the most popular dishes eaten by German employees at their work place cafeterias (while pizza ranked down in ninth place), as noted by the company Apetito, which provides 1,300,000 meals daily for German workers.  According to Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of an English fast food chain, pasta Bolognese "is now the second most popular dish served in the homes of Great Britain."
 
Like anything that goes viral, the origin of this recipe is not easy to trace, but its vast worldwide diffusion could now come back to Bologna, the where the world thinks it comes from. "We could use the false myth of the sauce as a trade mark, adopting it for our network of ambassadors in the world - offers City Council Member of Marketing for Bologna, Matteo Lepore  - while we can capitalize on the products that may actually have origins in Bologna, they  have done  very little to promote the name of the city. The Bolognese sauce is a challenge, but the 'Bolognese sauce' does in fact mirror the melting pot of this fine city. So is it all just a myth? Yes, but we’d better make the most of it. It could be the brand for bringing together the ambassadors of Bologna abroad."
 
It’s no betrayal, but rather something that is intrinsic in every work of translation, adaptation or dissemination. It confirms that cultural influences are harbingers of new ideas and inspiration, never forcing things one way, and instead engaging in a dialog or in osmosis.
 
 
 

A trip around the world of the coffee bean: 400 billion cups consumed globally

Economy / -

PG le tazzine di caffè nel mondo
@Richard Levine_Demotix_Corbis

After petroleum, coffee is the second most traded product with an annual production of 148 million 60 kg bags. Mugs, demitasses, cups and sacks are commonly cited in statistics and as profits, but few realize that it is not only a matter of macro or micro economics, but also one of style.

Italian roast coffee consumption has doubled
Both the consumption of Italian roast coffee and the sales of moka  (Italian stovetop coffee-makers) and espresso machines have doubled in just a few short years in Germany (the largest market in Europe according to market research institute GFK) and this trend is spreading throughout the world. Even in Asia, where tea is sacrosanct, the consumption of coffee is increasing by leaps and bounds, according to the International Coffee Organization, with a 4 percent annual increase year after year.

Similar name, the price less so
While the name is comparable all over the world, there are as many ways of making and enjoying coffee as there are variations in price. For example, in Australia  the price of coffee has increased more than 15 percent in a single year, while in the United States for two years it has been falling. Coffee, grown in the Ethiopian province of Caffa, is called Qahwa in Arabic, coffee in Anglo-Saxon countries, Ca Phe in Vietnam (the second largest producer and exporter in the world), and kopi in Malaysia. Local variations with similar-sounding pronunciations; today the term “espresso” has also become more widely used.
 
Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia have in common that they each share the custom of drinking the beverage with others in a social setting. This communal habit has endured wars and even the most disastrous world crises.  While 200 million workers are employed directly in coffee production, there has been a sharp increase as well in the sectors of processing, consumption, catering and local establishments where it is served, that has created an incredible and growing number of jobs – estimated between 20 and 23 million.
 
From gossip to Cuban cigars
The strongest example of conviviality comes, surprisingly, from Germany (with more than 7 kg of coffee per person drunk each year) where the term for a get-together for coffee, particularly when referring to a group of women,  is Kaffeklatsch, or “gossip over coffee.” Sipping the aromatic beverage alone is less enjoyable and that’s why from the beginning the first coffee bars began to offer cakes and pastries (in Cuba, on the other hand, it is almost a requirement to smoke a strong-smelling cigar) to entice a pleasant mix of men and women. These local public places started in the 1800s in Constantinople, Venice, Vienna, Paris and London where they quickly multiplied, where the fashion of making and drinking the dark beverage was adapted to local customs which rapidly became the norm at home as well.

Meditating under Bedouin tents
For centuries, in Bedouin tents around Dubai, coffee was prepared in three phases both to help meditation and in honor of guests, utilizing a boiling technique. “The first time is strong like life, the second like love and the third like death.” Even though it’s a stimulant, the dark concoction has been used since the 1400s by Sufi mystics to assist in concentration. Coffee was made by infusion in Europe, North Africa and Africa where it was common to add – according to the individual drinker’s taste - salt, sugar, honey, butter, cardamom, whole cloves or cinnamon. In Cuba, at the noted cafè  Escorial, the ritual of strong black boiling-hot coffee was further enhanced with a selection of fine cigars.

With sugar and pistachios
Of course, the most ancient styles of making coffee come from the Middle East and Africa where it originated, although only 12 percent of the world’s supply is produced there. All of Africa, particularly North Africa, has seen double digit increases in consumption (more than 50 percent in eight years), but with a negative element: exports have not seen the dynamic growth curves found elsewhere primarily due to local warfare.
 
For centuries, coffee has been synonymous, both at home and in public houses, with the Turkish beverage served in metal cups, heavily sweetened, with two fingers of coffee grounds (to leave at the bottom) and flavored with pistachios, most famously at the Ark Kahveshi in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. A curious fact is that Turkey’s coffee consumption is very low at barely 550 grams per capita. In the Arabian peninsula the three phase coffee ritual that entails frequent shaking of the boiling-hot urn, starts with an additional step: to calm guests’ fears of any nasty surprises, the host is the first to taste the beverage.

Coffee to combat northern chill
The most avid coffee consumers are not, as one would think, Italians or Arabs, but rather the residents of northern Europe, with Finland in first place with an annual consumption per capita of 12 kg, followed by the rest of northern Europe. Masses and religious ceremonies typically end with drinking coffee in such abundance that it is sometimes referred to as the third sacrament of the Finnish Lutheran Church.
 
Meanwhile in the US, the presence in every household of a filter coffeemaker demonstrates the widespread habit of offering and drinking the steaming beverage on every occasion. More than 54 percent of adults – approximately 110 million people – drink coffee daily, men more so than women, more than three cups a day for the majority. But for the true disciples of the coffee bean, Americans commit a sacrilege: reheating it continuously so that it loses its aroma and flavor.

In Hong Kong, only for couples and mixed with tea
A large factor in the economic expansion of coffee cultivation is the diffusion in bars and bistros, as well as at home, the morning and afternoon rituals of a steaming cupful. Because of this, Europe has maintained record consumption levels with Finland in the lead, followed by Germany with 7 kg per capita per year, immediately followed by France with 5.4 kg. Italy drinks 4.8 kg and, in addition to straight coffee, has also spread the fashionable habit of cappuccino, now imitated all over the world.
 
In the winter there is the custom of imbibing Irish coffee, made with whiskey, that was first offered by Pan Am to console passengers whose flights were cancelled. And while in Senegal coffee is made with Longorum pepper that is claimed to have medicinal properties, the oddest blend may be that of Hong Kong, where consumed on the street is a mix of tea, sweetened condensed milk and coffee, and is considered a drink only for couples.

China, the world’s largest market
China, with its dizzying growth of 15 percent annual growth for some time now (compared to a worldwide increase of two percent), is becoming such an important market that all the major coffee shop chains worldwide have rushed to open spacious coffee bars in metropolitan cities. Korean, American, European and Chinese coffee house proprietors are constructing lavishly furnished, fashionable spaces, resulting in a spiral of ever higher prices. Luckily, even the most casual drinking spots have begun to have Italian espresso machines while the moka has become a fixture in many homes. The world market in fact now depends less on price and market speculation, rather by how and where the habit of coffee and cappuccino for varied occasions continues to broaden its global appeal.

Use, quality, cultures, flavor, methods of making coffee: the Cluster Coffee Expo Milano 2015 is a unique exhibition space, to discover the world in an espresso cup.
 

Jurgen, the distiller of forgotten fruits

Taste / -

Distillatore di radici
© Bruno Ehrs/Corbis

Berries, roots and forgotten fruits become precious spirits in his hands. One hundred pounds of fruit for one and a half liters of pure alcohol. But it's worth it.

When it comes to spirits, immediately grappa comes to mind, made from pomace, the grape residue after processing (e.g. skins and seeds). The distillation procedure, however, can be applied to any type of fruit, berry or root to create perfumed and aromatic alcoholic beverages.

In the Valle Isarco and precisely in Obervintl, there is a green kingdom nestled in the mountains of South Tyrol, the Brennerei distillery. Here Jurgen Theiner has specialized for the past six years in the distillation of what he finds in the woods: roots, berries, wild berries. These include ancient fruits and almost forgotten varieties such as blackthorn and rowan. Among the most popular spirits include gentian root with its intense and "dry" flavor.
 
Spirits are like a ragout
Jurgen uses a traditional method in two phases, which ensures that it keeps only the purest types of alcohol - and in a distillery there are over 140 - by evaporating the less noble, unpleasant or unwanted substances, such as methyl alcohol which is toxic.

Fresh raw materials, gathered when perfectly ripe, are introduced into the boiler with added dry yeast (as used to produce wine) that trigger the fermentation and convert sugar into alcohol.

The first firing lasts an hour and a half and then there is a second distillation, which heats the liquid slowly, increasing the temperature by two degrees every quarter hour. It is precisely the slowness and the accuracy of the procedure that differentiates the artisan production from most industrial preparations. "It's just like a ragout: it could be ready in ten minutes, but if you cook it for five hours the result is quite different - Jurgen explains passionately  - Thus only the finest types of alcohol and more intense aromas are “saved” for a product that really tastes of the mountain."

At this point Jurgen adds to the distillate fresh water personally drawn from a natural spring situated at 1400 meters above sea level. Thus, he obtains an 85% alcohol from the second distillation that can be drunk once diluted with water for an alcohol content of 40-42% alcohol per volume.

Distillation times vary from ingredient to ingredient: the Williams pear is faster and requires six or seven days, while the gentian root is longer and requires a month of waiting. For a more rounded flavor, the distillate is left to rest in the bottle for about six months.
 
It only takes one bad apple to wreck everything
But how much fruit is required for these artisan products? A lot: 100 pounds of fruit, berries or roots yield a liter and a half of pure alcohol to be diluted. There is a lot of work involved, but when you put your nose to the glass and take a full sniff with closed eyes, you will be overwhelmed by its natural aroma: it seems just like a basket of freshly harvested fruit right under your nose.
"Distillation is a matter of concentration and attention to the process - said Jurgen - The quality of raw materials is always the starting point. I never use second-rate, imperfect fruit, or fruit that has fallen on the ground: it only takes one bad apple to wreck everything."
 

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