SCARFING DOWN ITALIAN NIBBLES
Milan, 20 October 2016
I was with an old colleague in Turin at the beginning of last week, and he was telling me that he had visited the city several times over the last few years to attend the annual Slow Food festival. I made a mental note to attend the next one with my wife. It must have been that thought which made me accept with alacrity when my wife proposed that we go to an exhibition of Italian small-scale food producers, which was taking place in Milan over the weekend. Its title was “Milano Golosa”, which can be translated either as Greedy Milan or as Gourmand Milan. I prefer to think that we were gourmands, although I can understand it if, after reading this post, readers conclude that we were greedy.
The exhibition was being held in the Palazzo del Ghiaccio, the Ice Palace, a rather grand name for what used to be the city’s premier ice rink. Just visiting the building was a trip down memory lane for my wife. She told me with a reminiscent smile that she had been taken there many a time by her grandfather; while she skated around the rink, he sat on the bleachers reading his newspaper – no doubt the universal pastime of grandfathers supervising grandchildren in parks and other public spaces. At some point in the last forty years, its use as an ice rink was abandoned. The bleachers were removed along with the rink proper, and the building was turned into an exhibition space. It is actually quite a nice building, of the 19th Century train station type, and the empty space looks gorgeous in that typically Italian good design style.
When we entered the space, though, it was bisected by four or five rows of little booths, each taken by an Italian food or wine producer (there was one food producer from the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, off the west coast of Africa, but that was a definite outlier). They came from all over Italy, from Sicily in the south all the way up into the high alpine valleys in the north, and from Sardinia in the west to the Marches in the east.
For the vulgar weekend visitors like us, who were not there for professional reasons, the deal was this. You paid 10 euros to get in (5 more if you wanted to drink wine, which we didn’t), and then you tried to eat as many nibbles as possible at all of the booths to cover your initial investment. You could do your eating quite shamelessly, just grabbing the nibbles being made available and heading off to the next booth, or you could pretend to be knowledgeable and stand there trying to make intelligent comments about the nibbles you were scarfing down with enthusiasm. I started with the latter strategy, pretending to write notes on my phone (of the type “good cake!”, “good cheese!”), but eventually abandoned all pretense of knowledge and just wolfed down the nibbles. I was rather reminded of the trailer which my wife and I have been seeing of an upcoming French film, “Saint Amour”, which as far as I can make out is the story of a large pub crawl from one French wine festival to another.
For all of this rank amateurism on my part, I could still appreciate that the nibbles were delicious. Many of the classical Italian products were present: raw ham, cooked ham, salamis of various types, bologna, cooked meats in aspic; hard cheeses like parmesan, soft cheeses like stracchino or crescenza, middling soft and middling hard cheeses whose names now escape me; olive oils of all descriptions, as well as the olives themselves, balsamic vinegars; tomatoes, of course, of all shapes and sizes, beans of all shapes and sizes; pastas of varying lengths and geometries, breads made from a variety of grains, but also bread sticks, fat and short and long and thin; numerous spreads to put on the bread (one in particular, from Sicily and based on sea urchin and a fish whose name meant nothing to me, remains in my taste memory bank); sweet dishes in profusion: panettone, panforte, amaretti dolci, chocolates containing varying levels of coca. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. A veritable smorgasbord! Or perhaps the Italian equivalent to a Chinese banquet, where one picks at a little bit of this and at a little bit of that as the Lazy Mary turns slowly. I think we got our ten euros’ worth, staggering out after a couple of hours of busy nibbling. We shelled out some more cash to buy a small bottle of olive oil from the province of Bari and a mozzarella from the province of Naples, both of which we picked up as we wended our way from booth to booth. I can report that at dinner that night the oil went very nicely with the mozzarella, as well as with the salad of green beans I had on the side.
Palazzo del Ghiaccio: http://www.meetingecongressi.com/it/struttura/milano/451/palazzo_del_ghiaccio.htm
Milano Golosa: http://www.ansa.it/canale_terraegusto/notizie/fiere_eventi/2015/09/23/torna-milano-golosa-dal-3-al-5-ottobre-al-palaghiaccio_0867b0e5-db5c-4477-b80a-3e372b3979c1.html
Saint Amour poster: http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm_gen_cfilm=235769.html
Italian food: https://www.magicmurals.com/italian-food-collage.html