Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mozzarella di Bufala

Buffalo mozzarella is richer and tastier than mozzarella from cow milk.

Here in Sicily, buffalo mozzarella is a staple. We use it on salads, pizzas, sandwiches (panini), in pasta, you name it. It’s tastier than mozzarella made from cows, because (according to Wikipedia) “The digestive system of water buffaloes permits them to turn low grade vegetation into rich milk which, due to its higher percentage of solids, provides higher levels of protein, fat and minerals than cow milk.” Apparently the richness of buffalo milk is also more suitable for processing than cow’s milk because — “To produce 1 kg of cheese, a cheese maker requires 8 kg of cow milk but only 5 kg of buffalo milk. Producing 1 kg of butter requires 14 kg of cow milk but only 10 kg of buffalo milk.” I can personally attest to the superiority of the buffalo mozzarella as during a trip last Fall to Rome, I returned a salad which just didn’t taste as I was accustomed to – the cheese just wasn’t right. When I asked the waiter about it and explained that the cheese didn’t taste that good, he realized I must be used to the mozzarella di bufala. Sure enough, when he brought out a new salad with the bufala cheese it was exactly the way I liked it. One of the products Mamamiafoods is going to begin shipping around the world is authentic Italian mozzarella di bufala, so be on the lookout at your grocer or specialty stores.


Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes With the Mediterranean Diet

Don't have diabetes and want to keep it that way? Olive Oil helps.

It’s official: there’s another proven benefit for a diet high in real olive olive — a reduced chance of contracting type 2 diabetes. The study, which can be found here, came to the following conclusion:

MedDiets without calorie restriction seem to be effective in the prevention of diabetes in subjects at high cardiovascular risk.

The increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes throughout the world, closely linked to westernized dietary patterns, physical inactivity, and raising rates of obesity, is a challenging health problem. Lifestyle changes are effective measures to prevent diabetes, and weight loss is the main predictor of success. Five clinical trials that examined the effects of reputedly healthy, energy-restricted diets together with increased physical activity in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance, a prediabetic stage, showed risk reductions between 30 and 70%. The results of these studies provide convincing evidence that lifestyle modification reduces the incidence of diabetes among high-risk individuals. In four of these studies, diabetes rates decreased in relation to substantial reductions in body weight, whereas in the Indian trial lifestyle intervention was successful despite no weight loss. Observational studies have also shown that diets rich in vegetables and low in red meat and whole-fat dairy products are associated with a decreased risk of diabetes, whereas dietary patterns rich in red meats, processed foods, refined grains, and sweets increase diabetes risk.

The traditional Mediterranean diet (MedDiet), characterized by high consumption of vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, nuts, and olive oil, moderate consumption of fish and wine, and low consumption of red and processed meat and whole-fat dairy products, is widely recognized as a healthy dietary pattern. Two prospective studies from Southern Europe suggested a lower incidence of diabetes with increasing adherence to the MedDiet in previously healthy individuals or myocardial infarction survivors. Recently, a clinical trial showed that, compared with a low-fat diet, a MedDiet allowed better glycemic control and delayed the need for antidiabetes drug treatment in patients with newly diagnosed diabetes. However, the role of the MedDiet in the prevention of diabetes has not been tested in a clinical trial.

We conducted a randomized controlled trial to compare the effect on diabetes incidence of three non–calorie-restricted nutritional interventions: a low-fat diet (control diet), a MedDiet enriched with virgin olive oil, and a MedDiet enriched with mixed nuts

Olive oil is truly emerging as one of the four or five “super-foods” with across-the-board health benefits. Make sure it’s a part of your daily intake.

Sicilian Recipe of the Week: Pasta Al Forno

Sicilian Recipe of the Week: Caponata


One of the healthiest varieties of Italian air-cured meats, or salume, Prosciutto is a household name in most of Italy with many types of protected origin such as: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Prosciutto Toscano, etc.

Prosciutto Crudo di Parma, my personal favorite, can cost as much as 52 Euros per Kilo!

It is practically impossible for any Italian household with kids to prevent the routine raiding of the refrigerator’s prosciutto. It’s simply irresistible for children—and most adults. Prosciutto crudo is one of the most delicious, lean, and healthy varieties of typical Italian salume (air-cured meats) that there is. There are seven major types of prosciutti (plural form) in Italy that carry the D.O.P. label (translated as Denomination of Protected Origin), ensuring authenticity of origin and the strictest standards of production—plus there are a plethora of other good quality prosciutti that are often sold as “prosciutto di montagna” which means “mountain prosciutto.” The seven international superstars are: Prosciutto di Parma—simply referred to as “Parma” in Italy; Prosciutto di San Daniele (from the region of Frioul)—just called “San Daniele” here; Prosciutto di Modena (from Emilia–Romagna); Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo (from Veneto); Prosciutto di Carpegna (from Marche); Prosciutto Toscano (from Tuscany); and Jambon de Bosses (from Val d’Aosta). Parma and San Daniele are without a doubt the most demanded and renowned in Italy and abroad. But, besides all the celebrities, we must not neglect to mention the excellent Prosciutto di Norcia (Umbria) that bears an I.G.P. seal of “Protected Geographical Indication”—another highly esteemed European certification guaranteeing authenticity. All these prosciutti—together with Culatello di Zibello and Speck dell’Alto Adige—are considered to be the nobility of Italian salumeria.

The term prosciutto comes from the Latin word “perexsuctum” which means “prosciugato” in Italian, or “dried thoroughly.” There are two forms of prosciutti—“crudo,” which means “raw” or “uncooked;” and “cotto” which means “cooked.” Prosciutto cotto is a relatively recent variety, but also very appreciated. The origins of prosciutto crudo go back at least to pre-Roman, Etruscan times; that is, almost three thousand years ago in Italy. Until just a few generations ago, its production remained entirely artisanal. Today, the same work is done on an industrial scale, in part due to the global demand. Of course, it’s impossible to know if prosciutto crudo actually tasted better in previous times or today, but we do know that the quality controls are stricter today than they were centuries ago. Nowadays, every step in the production is performed by the prosciuttai (prosciutto makers) with exacting care and skill, and monitored by the consortiums to ensure that each prosciutto satisfies the most demanding consumer.

The care and vigilance begins long before the curing process begins. One of the most important aspects of the laws regulating prosciutto production requires that the hogs are born and bred in specific areas of Italy, and not imported from abroad. There are very stringent regulations about the conditions in which the animals are raised and the way they are fed since this greatly affects the final product. After the hogs reach a minimum weight of 160 kilos (350 pounds), they are butchered and the salting and curing process begins. The making of prosciutto can take up to 16 months, in some cases even more. Only the posterior legs are used—and all that is needed is a cool environment, salt and time. There are absolutely no additives or preservatives used in making an authentic prosciutto crudo, D.O.P.—just salt, which is rubbed manually over the entire leg every day for a month. Sometimes the prosciutti are pressed or flattened, and then they are washed and hung to dry for 8 to 16 months in an environment where the temperature and humidity is carefully monitored. During this period the sugnatura is applied. The sugna is a mixture of salt, pepper, pork fat and sometimes herbs, depending on the type of prosciutto, which is spread over the exposed part of the pork leg—that is, the upper side of the thigh that is not covered by thick skin. This procedure is done to slow down the drying and to avoid the meat from cracking. Ultimately, each prosciutto is branded with its own identifying symbol: for example, the San Daniele stamp is an “SD” inside the outline of a prosciutto; the Parma insignia is a ducal crown.

To say that prosciutto crudo is enormously popular in Italy is almost an understatement. This delicacy is as ingrained in Italy’s culinary DNA as pasta—and the enjoyment of it starts just about as early in a young Italian’s life. Like Parmigiano Reggiano and extra-virgin olive oil, prosciutto crudo is so natural and healthy that it is one of the first adult foods that babies are given to eat in Italy. There are prosciutti for all palates here; when ordering prosciutto crudo at the salumeria section (what we call the “deli counter”) of the grocery store, one is usually asked: “dolce o saporito?”—that is, “sweet or savory.” Generally, the sweeter varieties are the more highly demanded, and the less salty types preferred. Parma is the most favored brand by Italian consumers.

Truly a delicacy.

Prosciutto crudo is often eaten just as it is, or possibly wrapped around a grissino (breadstick) or just a slice or two placed on a piece of fresh white bread. It’s delicious with melone (cantaloupe) or figs, and it’s an unfailing hit in the typical antipasto misto (mixed appetizer plate). Prosciutto crudo is also a key ingredient in a few classic recipes, such as saltimbocca alla Romana (veal scaloppini); it’s also extremely popular served in a variety of panini (sandwiches), and even as a topping on pizza. It’s also occasionally used as a final touch on a few pasta dishes, such as tortellini alla panna (tortellini with cream sauce).

Here are a few tips for the newly initiated prosciutto devotee: The color of the meat comes in a variety of reddish pink tonalities; the fat should be white to pinkish, but never yellow, which is a sign of being rancid. When cleaned, most of the fat of the prosciutto should be left on and eaten; the fat is an essential part of the enjoyment of prosciutto (analogous to the fat in bacon). It should be sliced thinly, but not too thin, as this will make it impossible to separate the slices and serve it properly. Prosciutto is best consumed at room temperature so that its luscious flavor can be fully appreciated.

“Irreparable Damage”

The Australians have joined the fight against fraudulent labeling of olive oil:

The International Olive Council this week attacked research from the University of California’s Davis Olive Centre and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory which found 73 per cent of samples from the five top-selling imported extra-virgin olive oil brands in the US failed IOC standards for classification as extra virgin. The study also found oils were below par because of exposure to high temperatures and light; age; adulteration with cheaper refined oil; or because they were made from damaged and overripe olives, were improperly stored, or had processing flaws.

IOC executive director Jean-Louis Barjol said the research findings had an “undercurrent of aggressive, inexplicable criticism of imported olive oil quality”. “This could cause irreparable damage to the reputation of olive oil, which it has taken so much time and effort to achieve and maintain,” Mr Barjol said.

Australian Olive Association president Paul Miller said Mr Barjol’s remarks were a standard response from the IOC, which had accredited the two laboratories used in the study. “It’s hypocritical because last time they said this, not long afterwards the Spanish government did some testing and found the same problem in Spain,” Mr Miller said. “They just don’t like people finding things wrong.

“They say everything that’s made in Europe conforms (to the standards) and we know that’s not the case.” Mr Miller applauded the work by the University of California, which also failed samples from an Australian oil, Cobram Estate, because it had spent too long on the shelf. “It was old and that was the point of the test,” he said.The IOC is based in Madrid, Spain, and has 23 member states.

As well as Cobram Estate, the oils bought from California supermarkets and subjected to sensory and chemical testing for the study were: Filippo Berio, Bertolli, Pompeian, Colavita, Star, California Olive Ranch and the top-selling brand from Italy, Lucini.

It’s great that the backlash against fraud has finally been taken note of in the media. Those of us who produce authentic, high quality oils have been damaged for decades by unscrupulous produces of cheap, inferior, blended gunk. If anyone has been irreparably damaged, however, it’s the consumer, who purchases what he thinks is high quality extra-virgin olive oil, but instead of getting all the health benefits thereof, has instead been putting nut oils and other impurities into his body. Not only is he not enjoying better health, he might be poisoning himself over time, especially if he has but allergies! It’s disgraceful.

Olive oil is made from these:

These are olives.

Olive oil is not made from these:

These are not olives.

Sicilian Recipe of the Week