Amalfi Coast and the Cetara Anchovy Extract

Cetara

Amalfi Coast evokes postcard-like landscapes and charming little villages crowded with wealthy tourists.

It represents one of the most famous places in Italy, it’s officially a Unesco Heritage Site, featuring an amazing sea and jewels like Amalfi and Positano.
Besides the usual tours, if you drive on the statale amalfitana, you realize how the locals have been able to create excellent products in a rather difficult environment.

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We start from Vietri, the first village you met in the Costiera, really close to Salerno and famous for its hand-decorated ceramics. A must-do is to visit Solimene, a ceramic temple with an intriguing building, covered by coloured “fish scales”, you would expect it coming from a sea fantasy world. The inside is a huge showroom-shop full of plates, jugs, vases, etc, where it’s also possible to see the craftsmen working.

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We continue our roadtrip heading north.

We arrive in Cetara, an enchanting village less known than others, maybe because it has always dedicated to fishing rather than tourism, as its name itself suggests (cetarii, fishermen’s place).

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Indeed I came here to discover a product strictly connected to the sea, especially the anchovy fishing, which is the most remarkable activity of this place: the precious Colatura di Alici of Cetara (Anchovy Extract), Slow Food Presidium since 2003.

A forefather was the Roman garum romano, a creamy sauce made from the steeping of pieces of different fishes. It’s Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages to have created a sauce more similar to the present one.

Nowadays the Colatura di Alici is an amber liquid, with an intense smell, but if it’s used correctly, it gives a lovely savory taste to a dish.

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We visit the small factory Nettuno, where we are introduced the method they use, which differs in some phases with the traditional one explained on the Slow Food website.

As the owner told us, the anchovies come from the Gulf of Salerno during springtime, when they contain less fat and therefore they are suitable for salting.
Anchovies – fresh and not too big – are beheaded and eviscerated, and put in a barrel with coarse salt for 24 hours, so they lose their water.

Next stage is salting. Anchovies are put with the head-tail technique into a terzigno – 1/3 of a barrel made with chestnut wood – and covered with salt.

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When the layers of anchovies and salt are done, the terzigno will be closed with a lid, called tompagno and topped with an heavy stone.

The natural fermentation of anchovies and the pressure made by the stone will cause a liquid to emerge on the surface.

After 18/24 months it’s time to leak out the liquid, through a small hole made at the bottom of the terzigno. In this way, the liquid that was in the surface will be filtered by the anchovies, dripped out of the small barrel and then immediately bottled.

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The Colatura di Alici is the essence of savory taste, of Umami as we would call it nowadays. You love it or you hate it, but to appreciate it, you have to know how to handle. It has to be used raw, so don’t heat it up and be careful not to use salt.

The most traditional recipe – typical for the local Christmas Eve‘s dinner – is the simplest yet so scrumptious:

Prepare in a big bowl a raw sauce made with two spoons evoo and half spoon of Colatura di Alici per person, sliced garlic and parsley. Cook the spaghetti into boiling and unsalted water, drain and toss them into the bowl with the sauce. Stir well and serve. For the umami-lovers, you could raise the quantity of colatura.

This is actually the Gold of Cetara, an extract of what this land can offer, through its sea and the know-how of its people. A further pride for the Amalfi Coast, rich of many other food treasures, I’m going to speak about in my next post.

Useful addresses:

  • Ceramica Artistica Solimene
    Via Madonna degli Angeli n.7
    84019 Vietri Sul Mare (Sa) – Italy
    Tel. 089-21024
  • Prodotti ittici Nettuno
    Via Umberto I, 64 degli Angeli n.7
    Cetara (Sa)
    Tel. +39 089 261147
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