“Struncatura”, illegal Calabrian pasta, now become high cuisine

28.11.2019

We are in the plain of Gioia Tauro where the “Struncatura” has risen after being for a long time an illegal recovery pasta.

Calabrian Struncatura arrived in Gioia Tauro in 1919, brought from Atrani, a village on the Amalfi Coast. An inexperienced eye can confuse it with a simple whole wheat pasta, but a Calabrian from the province of Reggio recognizes it at first glance. Dark, porous and rough linguine: this is how the Struncatura (Italianized, “Stroncatura“) presents itself, a symbol of the gastronomic identity of a part of Calabria.

Atrani (Amalfi coast)

The Calabrians are great eaters of pasta, but unlike the “fileja” (a kind of strozzapreti made with flour, water) diffused almost everywhere, the Struncatura is available only in the province of Reggio Calabria and the production area is restricted to such area.

Handmade pasta

Many years ago there was no law governing whole wheat pasta, it had no label and was not legal. It could be sold only smuggled, just under the table to the people known.

THE TERRITORY OF STRUNCATURA

The place of Struncatura  is the plain of Gioia Tauro, the second largest plain in the region, enclosed between the Tyrrhenian Sea, Monte Poro and Aspromonte. A fertile agricultural center, rich in citrus groves and ancient olive trees, whose fame unfortunately is also connected to sad episodes of ‘ndragheta and caporalato.

The two main cities, Gioia Tauro and Palmi, compete for the paternity of the Struncatura, but if you want to eat the real one, you have to go to Gioia Tauro.

In Gioia Tauro one hundred years ago the Struncatura was brought to the this city, making it the culinary center of the whole Plain.

Gioia Tauro (Sunset)

Struncatura arrived in Gioia Tauro in 1919, as said above, brought directly from Atrani, a village on the Amalfi Coast. Some merchants  came to Gioia because, at the time, the town was an important merchant artery. Nobody knew Struncatura here, it was a pasta that was made only in Campania, using the various durum wheat semolina that advanced in the sacks of pasta factories.

THE PRESENT OF THIS PASTA

Today the Struncatura is in great demand, even as an ingredient in starred restaurants, especially in Calabria, but its appeal has not always been recognized. Rather. There was a time when this pasta was synonymous with pet food or poor cooking.

Nowadays, the ingredients are always the same: Italian durum wheat, semolina (from Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Lazio) and water. Semolina, not flour. It is not the same thing and the flour is not among the components of this pasta.

Durum wheat and Semolina

To make the Struncatura it shall be used, in particular, the parts of the durum wheat that are less sugary and richer in fiber, the bran and the endosperm. This affects the color of the dough, made porous and rough by the slow drying.

In the past, given that this pasta was synonymous with pet food and poor cooking, in order to cover its acidity, it was often seasoned with sardines and anchovies which, with their strong flavor, were intended to suppress its taste without compromise.

Still today, the dough retains cooking in an exceptional manner, and the porosity retains a savory, but not intrusive, seasoning, in which it can be added anchovy and the chili pepper, plus some olives.

Struncatura + anchovy, chili pepper and some olives

Its re-discovery, however, led to an unbridled race to production with unsuccessful attempts to replicate it, which resulted in the frequent opening of pasta factories, not always up to par, not very respectful of the raw material. So it often happens that you come across culinary oxymorons of fresh Struncature or, even, vacuum packed, in front of which the only question you can ask yourself is “why?“.

In these cases the only thing to do is to rely on common sense, which prevents us from calling Struncatura a fresh pasta!

Balbino, the ancient wine of Altomonte

11.11.2019

Balbino” wine is the ancient white wine of Altomonte. Discovering such  mysterious Balbino means re-discover the ancient wine of Altomonte (Cosenza) handed down from Roman authors and that in the last century, thanks to the Giacobini Company, became one of the ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria.

THE LAND OF THIS WINE

The vineyards rise above a mountains chain, which dominates the whole Valley of Crati river, and extends its view to the Gulf of Taranto.

Wide is the horizon, always of a temperate climate, often subject to the gust of strong winds. Here lies one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: Altomonte, a municipality in the province of Cosenza, which represents a rare jewel of nature, history and art. Its rich cultural heritage is clearly visible in the splendid architecture of its historic center, in the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, the greatest example of Gothic-Angevin art in Calabria or in the Norman castle of 12th century.

Town of Altomonte

The previous name of Altomonte (its toponym) is Balbia, perhaps a Phoenician voice deriving from Baal, which means “lord” and “divinity”; most likely the village was originally moved to the Esaro river, where, in the Larderia district, the remains of a Roman villa dating back to the 1st century AD have been found.

In 1065 the town of Altomonte is mentioned as Brahalla or Brakhalla, coming from the Arabic hypothesis “blessing of God“.

The town, besides Balbia, was called Braellum or Bragallum, by King Robert the Wise of the Angevin dynasty, or according to others by Pilippo Sangineta in 1337 the name was changed to Altofiume.

But even this name was not lasting, since Queen Joanna I, also of the Angevin dynasty, gave her the name of Altomonte.

Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione

HISTORY OF BALBINO WINE

Balbia (alias Altomonte) was known to the ancients for one thing in particular: his wine. The city became more celebrated in antiquity by reason of its generous wines.

Plinio counting the most celebrated wines of Italy, did not exclude those of Babia.

Athenaeus calls this wine generous, and truly austere [“Vinum Babinum generosum, et admodum austerum, et semper se ipso melius nascitur”; Ath. Deipn. Lib. I], and wants the Bimblina vine to be born here, which was transplanted to Syracuse by the first King Poli, a native of Argo Greco, so that the wine made from this grape by Siracusans was called Polio wine. According to these historical sources, therefore, the Balbino of Altomonte would even appear to be the ancestor of the Moscato di Siracusa, born from the same vine.

In modern times, we find it among those ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria together with the Provitaro Bianco (compared to the Chablis), the Calabrese Rosso (compared to Bordeaux), the Malvasia, the Moscato Giacobini and the Moscato Diavolone.

A FAMILY AND AN INDUSTRY: GIACOBINI

In Altomonte, between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the family of Giacobini were active, a noble family that became a renowned company for the production of fine wines, liqueurs and vermouth.

An ancient brand

Balbino Bianco was one of their best products; in 1889 he won the gold medal at the National Wines Fair; then, Ciro Luigi Giacobini and his son Francesco gave birth to a real industry, one of the few then existing in the province of Cosenza.

The industry of Giacobini family gave rise to a period of great economic development of the territory, the factory created work for dozens of workers, reaching over 200,000 bottles a year, and exporting all over the world.

Fratelli Giacobini Company of Altomonte (CS) was located in the eponymous Palazzo Giacobini in Altomonte, today home to the Hotel Barbieri.

The activity has survived thanks to the Sciarra brothers and their actual brand Moliterno: in the company museum set up in a completely renovated patronal house, the Sciarra family still tells of the Giacobini Company through objects, equipment and documents, private and not.

Effectively, what was the grape used by the Giacobini for their Balbino Bianco (the standard Balbino white wine) is not crystal clear, nor whether it was that of which the sources speak or a mixed grape variety.

In any case, the Farneto del Principe farm in Altomonte called Balbino one of its wines, made from white Greek and Malvasia grapes.

A RARITY: BLACK BALBINO

There is also a Black Balbino in Altomonte, called in dialect ‘mparinata: it is a late-ripening vine (in the first and second decade of October), with a medium-large bunch, conical in shape, fairly long and compact but sometimes sparse and with a peduncle medium-short.

The wine coming from this grape medium-small, ellipsoidal or short ellipsoidal, is a red wine.

The skin is thick, very pruinose (from this the term “mparinata”, that is” floured “) and blue-black. The pulp is not very firm, pleasantly sweet and rightly acid.

Black Balbino wine

The Black Balbino grape prefers little expanded forms of cultivation such the sapling and is a rustic vine, not very sensitive to adversity and to parasites. It was also recovered in Cirò Marina, where it is used in the wine making and is attested from the mid-1800s; once it was used as a table grape, as well as to make wine.

Today, almost disappeared, it gives grapes that come together for winemaking with other locales.