By Jo Cooksey
Next week, Manchester’s second, Festa Italiana will begin. This free to attend festival is a celebration of all things Italian in food and drink. Running from 13th to 15th July, Cathedral gardens will become ‘Little Italy’ with Italian brands and producers involved, as well as local restaurants and bars. There will even be hands-on masterclasses, demonstrations and a children’s food festival.
In the run up to the festival we were invited to The Extraordinary Italian Taste Event by the Italian Chamber of Commerce & Industry. It was hosted at Salvi’s restaurant in the Corn Exchange and the purpose was for us to taste and experience authentic Italian food and drink. Did you know that Italy has over 800 food products and wines that have a Protected Designation of Origin or Protected Geographical Indication? While the UK has around 65.
The evening began with a welcome aperitivo of prosecco and Limoncello di Capri. Always a favourite. I love anything flavoured with lemon, be it sweet or savoury. We then moved in to a small room, usually used for wine tasting, where we were to sample olives oils. This part of the event was run by a fabulous lady, >Judy Ridgway, an independent expert on olive oil, as well as a broadcaster, author and journalist. Her latest book, The Olive Oil Diet, was winner of the World’s Best Mediterranean Cuisine Book and the National Best Diet book. It is available on Amazon. Interestingly, where we have been led to believe that one shouldn’t cook at high tempuratues with extra virgin olive oil, this is in fact poppycock and the oil is totally stable and still retains all its goodness. So, it is still the best all-rounder on the market and still extremely good for you.
The oils we tasted came from all over Italy and the each one had its own distinctive flavour and colour. In order to taste it we first had to smell it, then take a small sip and roll it round our mouths, while sucking in air, which is the best way to release the various flavour components. It was amazing how much the oils varied between each other. For instance, the Ca’Rainene Classico from the Lake Garda region was very complex and bitter with a bright yellowy green hue. Whereas the multi-award winning, Fonte di Foiano Grand Cru, from Tuscany was intensely fruity and spicy and quite a dark shade of green. All the oils we sampled were high end, none of your supermarket own brands here, and the Grand Cru was the most expensive at £50 a bottle. I’ve never sampled oils before and it was a very interesting exercise. I will certainly be taking much more notice of what I am buying in the future.
After the tasting we were treated to an Italian feast, cooked by Salvi’s owner, Maurizio and his team. The food and the wines were all PDO or PGI and made to traditional recipes and methods. First up was a simple, rustic Foccacia with San Marzano tomatoes, which are considered the ultimate ones for sauces, and beautifully creamy Buffalo Mozzarella from Campania. This was followed by the eponymous, melt-in-the-mouth Prosciutto di Parma ham served with Burrata, a delicate soft cheese made with Mozzerella and cream. If you haven’t come across it before I recommend you watch this video which shows how it is made. It is fascinating. It is the cheese equivalent of melt-in-middle puddings.
Next up was the pasta course and frankly I was in heaven. The Paccheri, similar in looks to Rigatoni, was smothered in a sauce of cherry tomatoes from the fertile land surrounding Mount Vesuvius, with Ricotta, Smoked Mozzerella and the crème de la crème, truffle salami. Oh, my goodness, I love truffles and this was absolutely delicious. Earthy, yet creamy and the pasta cooked perfectly al dente. I’m making myself hungry writing this.
We’d just about managed to keep room for dessert and we were served Torte caprese, a traditional Neapolitan chocolate and almond flourless cake. Now I don’t do chocolate anything but our photographer, who definitely does do chocolate everything, declared it to be amazing. There was also a Pardule on each plate. These Sardinian, saffron infused, baked cheesecakes are traditionally served at Easter.
The love and care that had gone into the preparation and presentation was obvious and we felt very honoured to have been invited to attend this event. If you too would like to sample authentic Italian food and drink, then bob along to Cathedral Gardens next weekend and indulge yourself. Good times are guaranteed. Find out more details on the festival’s website and social media below.
We attended the event as guests of Italian Chamber of Commerce and Salvi’s but as always, the review and opinions are our own and unbiased.