Tag Archives: beer

Mastri Birrai Umbri brewery visit

Light malt at Mastri Birra Umbri

Mastri Birrai Umbri’s beers have featured on this blog several times (eg here and here). When I first moved to Rome a few years ago, I didn’t know anything about Italian birra artigianale (craft beer), but that soon changed: in part because I discovered beer bars Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà? and Open Baladin and in part because it turned out the boyfriend of a London friend was actually a brewer in Umbria. This was Michele Sensidoni, master brewer of Mastri Birrai Umbri, whose beers don’t feature on the menus of the birrerie (beer bars), but were to be found on the shelves of my local supermarket.

Last month, Jeremy Cherfas and I paid a visit to Michele at the brewery, located in the charmingly named village of Bastardo in central Umbria. Over at Eat This Podcast, Jeremy’s done a comprehensive podcast about the visit, but I want to add a few more things here, along with some more photos.

The brewery, whose name means “master brewers of Umbria” or “Umbrian master brewers”, was founded by the Farchioni family: one of biggest names in olive oil in Italy. The Farchioni family has been farming and producing foodstuffs for centuries. Although they weren’t previously involved in brewing, Umbria has a beer history, with a brewery, Fabrica della Birra Perugia, that closed in 1929. Indeed, Italy itself has an ancient association with beer. Cervisia or cerevisia, as it was known in Latin (and the clear root word for the Spanish word cerveza and even the uncommon Italian word cervogia*), was used as payment for troops in ancient Rome, and was a common drink among the poorer members of society.

Obviously, wine was more important as the viniculture became more dominant, though barley (orzo) has long been grown in Italy, and experiments into hop-growing were done in Perugia at the start of the 20th century (check out this archived newspaper story, in English, from 1912). They’re even starting again now – and why not? If you look at this interesting conjectural map from 1919, the north of New Zealand’s South Island, a major hop-growing area, is similarly located to central Italy in terms of longitude. Mastri Birrai Umbri hope to eventually locally source all their ingredients, though hops may be last.

The sala cottura, or brewhouse, at Mastri Birrai Umbri

Michele has a doctorate in food science and technology from the University of Perugia, he was head brewer at the pilot plant of CERB (Centre di Excellenza per la Ricerca sulla Birra; the Italian Brewing Research Centre), he did an internship at Campden BRI (the beer research institute in Surrey, UK) and he has a background in homebrewing. He’s also a proud Umbrian and as such was the ideal candidate to run the purpose-built brewery for the Farchionis and pursue a remit to make brews featuring typical local ingredients. He started experimenting with brews in 2010.

The brewery currently produces four beers, all top fermented, non-pasteurised, unfiltered and bottle conditioned. Cotta 21 is a blonde, made with farro, an ancient strain of wheat grown in Umbria for centuries. Cotta 37 is an amber ale made with roasted caramel malts and cicerchia (chickling vetch, grass pea; Lathyrus sativus); Cotta 74 is a doubled malted dark ale made with 15% lentils; and Cotta 68, which is also double malted, but is a paler, strong ale (7.5% – which isn’t actually that strong for an Italian beer). All of which are delicious.

Cicerchia, aka chickling vedge or grass peas, used in Mastri Birrai Umbri's Cotta 37 amber ale

The use of these atypical ingredients brings about some interesting challenges. A special mashing process, for example, is required to break down the proteins in the legumes. (Michele explained barley is about 10.5-11% protein, the legumes more like 18-19%.)

It’s certainly a very impressive brewery, with state-of-the-art German equipment and even facilities to automate the first brew of the day, which starts at 1am. Indeed, the whole impression is a more industrial operation, though perhaps that’s a misconception. We assume craft breweries are based in rough sheds with rudimentary equipment and labels stuck on by hand, but there’s clearly a broad spectrum. Especially in Italy, where there’s currently no legal definition of a “craft brewery” or “microbrewery”. This is an interesting question that Jeremy’s podcast gets into and something I talk about more in the following post.

The fancy German-made mash tun at Mastri Birrai Umbri

Michele says they produce 100,000 hectolitres a year, that is 1 million litres. Or if you prefer that’s equivalent to about 6,097 UK barrels (36 imperial gallons, 43 US gallons, 164l) or 8,547 US barrels (26 imperial gallons, 31 US gallons,  117l). He says they’re the “biggest craft brewery in Italy, currently”. As a comparison, Baladin, the brewery that really started the whole craft brewing scene in Italy in the 1990s, produces 12,000hl a year. Dogfish Head in the US, meanwhile, apparently produced 75,000 US barrels in 2008: 877,500hl. How about that for a serious spread in what can be considered a craft brewery, or even microbrewery?

For Mastri Birrai Umbri and Michele, it’s not about legal definitions, though, it’s about quality of ingredients; quality of production process (where time is perhaps the most important factor; not rushing the brew); quality and consistency of product; and a product that’s distinctive. He questions why you’d even want to create a legal definition for “craft beer” or “microbrewery”, as that could “put some borders” on your process, constrain your creativity.

Bottling conveyor at Mastri Birrai Umbri

So ultimately, Mastri Birrai Umbri might be fairly large scale, but with Michele as master brewer and the similarly proud Umbrian Marco Farchioni as his boss, its ideology remains firmly based on producing a quality product with passion, both for the brew itself and for traditional local ingredients used in the beers. All questions of craft beer, scale and strange ingredients aside, Michele simply says “We want to be a quality beer for every day.” They’re certainly making an impact, though if you want to try the beer in the UK, it’s currently available at Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion, an Umbrian restaurant in London.

Master brewer Michele Sensidoni at Mastri Birrai Umbri

To hear Michele giving us a tour of the brewery and further discussion of the concept of craft beer in relation to his product, check out Jeremy Cherfas’s Eat This Podcast.

* For fellow etymology geeks, these words may have their origins in viz + cerere, with viz the Latin for “force”, “strength”, and cerere related to our word “cereal” and the goddess of the harvest, Ceres (aka Demeter to the Greeks). So: drinks that contain the strength of cereal grains. There’s an Italian etymological explanation here.

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Birradamare’s Birra Roma at Zoc, Rome

Birradamare's Birra Roma and 'Na Biretta Rossa

Saturday lunchtime we stopped by Zoc trattoria (aka Zoc 22) for some food and ale. Zoc is owned by the same people as the more established Urbana 47 in the Monti neighbourhood of Rome. Urbana 47 is stylish place where the food is produced along sound principles, with an emphasis on season and local (“KM0”), the provenance of ingredients front and centre on the menu.

As it should be.

We eat far too much food where we have no idea of the origins of the ingredients. This is important for all ingredients, but especially so for meat and dairy, where barbaric industrial techniques have cheapened the human relationship with animals, resulting in a form of de-humanised husbandry that emphasises quantity at any cost. Sadly, many people have been duped by the persuasiveness of the meat industry and supermarkets. Your intensively reared beef, pig unit pork, or industrial broiler chickens really aren’t that cheap if you factor in the subsidies and the cost we’ll all have to pay in the long run for the accompanying pollution and disease.

The bar at Zoc, Rome

So yes, bravo Urbana for its principles. These principles are similarly followed at Zoc, where the menu lists not just the ingredients, but the azienda that’s provided them. The trattoria even has photos on the wall of some of their suppliers, including one chap Fran recognised as the guy we’ve bought salumi from at the market in the Testaccio Ex-Mattatoio (currently closed for the summer – go figure).

I was also encouraged by the drinks list, which mostly consists of local wines, but also includes four bottled beers from Birradamare. Birradamare has pretty much established itself as the craft brewery for Rome. Although it’s not in the city, but instead is located at Fiumicino, the town at the mouth of the Tiber near the airport of the same name, its products are fairly ubiquitous here. If a Rome venue has just one craft beer brand on offer, chances are it’ll be Birradamare (eg here).

I ordered a Birra Roma, Fran a ʼNa Biretta Rossa. I’ve had the latter before – it’s a decent malty beer, inspired by German bocks, sweet and medium bodied, with 6.4% ABV. Its colour is amber or copper. Surprisingly, the Birra Roma was a similar colour (see pic, above), despite being called a birra oro (golden ale) on Birradamare’s site or even bionda (blonde) on the label. Birradamare’s own site says the Roma is 35EBC, which is about right, but there’s no way the Rossa is 74EBC (a serious porter tone). Surely that’s an error?

Anyway, the Birra Roma (5.5% ABV). Like Baladin’s Nazionale, which I tried a few days ago, the Roma seems to be one of the many experiments going on to create specifically, uniquely Italian style beers. In this case, even a specifically Roman beer. It’s a beer that clearly takes into consideration Italians’ love for fairly straightforward but strong lagers, as it was inspired by Bavarian Märzen lagers. I found it had a slight orange aroma, slightly hoppy. Taste-wise, it’s hoppy but not bitter (35 IBU apparently), crisp, fresh, with very faint smokiness and more body than a lager. Interestingly, Fran said it reminded her of the sea, of seaweed and salt and Breton Atlantic  beaches, the Côte Sauvage, which is far more poetic than I can be about it.

Birra Roma at Zoc Rome

So anyway, we were enjoying the beers, and the ambiance of the place, which is located in a 1950s block on the Centro Storico side of the river near the Ponte Sisto. The dining area is spacious, with high ceilings and some great design features, like an enlarged detail of a nautical map (I love maps). Much of the furniture is for sale, with price tags, so there’s a slightly distracting feeling of eating in a hip secondhand furniture showroom. There’s also a decent sized courtyard at the back, though it was a pretty hot day when we visited, and they seemed to be trying to cool it off with misters – which only succeeded in making everything soggy.

When the food finally arrived, it was pretty tasty. Fran had three chicken legs and a fig, the flavour profile a nice change to much Roman food, with some turmeric, cumin, rosemary. But it really was just three drumsticks and a fig, for €16. Mine, meanwhile, was half an aubergine (/ melanzana / eggplant) and one piece of cheese toast. Like Fran’s, the flavours were a nice change, more north African say, though it was underseasoned. And just plain meagre (for €9). I’m more than happy to pay for quality and provenance, for more ethical food, but there’s got to be some balance – the portions were so small we left feeling hungry, which isn’t what you want when your bill comes to €44. We even had to ask for bread (a dense, white sourdough, somewhat stale), and there we no other contorni (side dishes). Essentially we paid meal prices for a snack.

Blown up nautical charts on the wall of Zoc

This is all something they need to work on, to make for a more satisfying experience. They could also do with working on the service. The staff were amiable enough but just seemed a bit apathetic. When, for example, a fuse tripped, cutting out the fans and lights, the waiter wandered around for a while first before going to click it back on. He wasn’t busy either, there were just a few covers there for Saturday lunch. Perhaps it’s busier in the evening. Although it’s right near two very popular areas – Trastevere and the Centro Storico around Campo de’ Fiori – it’s just off the main drag. Although Urbana 47 suffers from the same small portions/ high-ish prices issue at least it’s got a bit more atmosphere from being busier, as Via Urbana is a more lively street.

So, Zoc: nice spot, good beer, sound principles, iffy value for money. Must try harder (er, as I may have had on my school reports a few times in days of yore).

Info:
Via delle Zoccolette 22, 00186 Rome, Italy
zoc22.it (English site, sort of) / 06 6819 2515 / info@zoc22.it

Birradamare
Birradamare.it (English homepage) / 06 658 2021 / info@birradamare.it

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Revelation Cat beers at Brasserie 4:20, Rome

Brasserie 4:20 Rome, the bar

Brasserie 4:20 is not in a prepossessing location. Sure it’s located not far from Porta Portese, a 17th century gate in Rome’s 3rd century Aurelian Wall. And sure the actual street, Via Potuense, is historical, constructed in the 1st century AD to connect the city to Portus at the mouth of the Tiber. And sure the section where Brasserie 4:20 is located comes alive on Sundays for the Porta Portese market, a kilometre-plus of stalls selling tat clothes, cheap electricals and bric-a-brac. It’s even the place to go in Rome to buy bikes or scooters of occasionally dubious provenance. (Porta Portese is one of the locations of Antonio’s desperate search in Vittorio De Sica’s unbearably heartwrenching neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves [Ladri di biciclette, 1948]: go to 9:52 here.)

But, frankly, this stretch of Via Portuense is a scruffy rat-run.

At rush hour, it’s an untrammelled racetrack for Rome’s horrendous car population, and not a great place to tackle on foot – there are no pavements, just potholed gutters. One side of the road is given over to semi-derelict buildings, wasteland and one restaurant overlooking the Tiber. The other side, where 4:20 is located, consists of a large, graffitied wall punctuated with arches. Even when 4:20 is open, it doesn’t exactly look inviting – a dark entrance in the wall, a few smokers outside.

So I’ve walked past dozens of times, without even quite making it inside. Shame on me really, as it’s a) not that far from where I live and b) one of Rome’s most significant birrerie (beer bars).

We resolved to finally visit on Saturday, meeting several Italian friends, many of them counfounding stereotypes by enjoying good beer as much as wine.

Fortunately, at 5.45pm on a Saturday the stretch of Via Portuense was quiet, Brasserie 4:20 safe to approach on foot. The bar was quiet too as although the sun is well and truly over the yardarm as far as we (and other Brits) are concerned, 6-ish is a freaky time to have a drink for Italians, as one of our friends commented straight away on their arrival. Still, at least it meant we had our choice of seating.

Some of the beers available at Brasserie 4:20 Rome

Downstairs is an atmospherically gloomy cavern of bare brick walls, a long bar featuring a barricade of taps, and seating that includes a couple of inviting (though tight) horseshoe-shaped booths. We settled into one of these, not realising there was also an upstairs terrace, with awnings. This was handy as we’d just had a massive thunderstorm, which had given way to blazing sunshine. After ordering our first beers, we relocated upstairs to enjoy the space and partake of an aperitivo buffet. It was basic – some couscous, some pasta salad, bread, a few dips – but included in the price of the drinks at that time of the evening.

As for the drinks, 4:20 only has beer, whiskey and water. Downstairs, there are apparently 47 taps, including 12 hand pumps, though I didn’t count them. Upstairs, there’s a more limited selection, with six taps, but hey, it’s hardly a long schlep back, down some stairs and past a mound of containers of fry oil. Yes, there’s also food. In this case, that means burgers (mostly), the smell of which was filling the air on the terrace. They use beer a lot in the preparation of the food, though we didn’t sample anything beyond the buffet.

Some more of the beers available at Brasserie 4:20 Rome

Beer-wise, there are menus on blackboards on the wall. We weren’t offered an actual menu, though they may exist, especially as they have a selection of bottled beers. These are the only refrigerated beers, as the tap beers are kept in a cellar and served at ambient temperature – important for the “organoleptic quality” according to their site. What this means is that the precise qualities of a bar are better experienced – by smell, taste etc – at ambient temperature. (Ice cold beer is of course nice on a hot day but that’s another argument.)

The beer comes from a variety of craft breweries, some Italian, but also a lot of Belgian, British etc. Among the Italian breweries, a major presence here is Revelation Cat (English site) – a Rome-based outfit whose products are distributed by Impex, which owns 4:20 as far as I can tell. So Revelation Cat is effectively the house brewery.

When we visited, there were 13 Revelation Cat beers available. Fran chose their Little Lover, a 4.5% ABV stout so chocolaty it could almost have been mistaken for a milkshake in a blind tasting. Okay, not really, but it was very pleasant, in a sweet, mild, creamy kind of way.

I’m still on a quest to find a perfect golden summer ale, so I was torn between Salada from Lariano brewery, in Lombardy – a golden ale al sale, “with salt” – and Magical Mystery Gold from Free Lions, a brewery I talked about over here. I got the latter as it was from a little closer to home, Tuscania, northwest of Rome. I’ve still not found my ultimate golden ale, but Magical Mystery Gold wasn’t bad. I seem to be drinking a lot of citrussy beers at the moment, and this was no exception with an aroma of grapefruit. Taste-wise, it was strongly hopped, dry and crisp.

Brasserie 4:20 Rome, the roof terrace, July 2013

We managed to get in a couple more after this, from the small selection on the terrace. These were California Moonset and Take My Adweisse. We had to order the latter on the strength of the terrible pun alone. Both are from Revelation Cat. These were served in jars. This seems like a strange affectation; I’d rather drink from something that doesn’t have a thread on the lip. The beers were both interesting though.

Take My Adweisse is a 4.5% hoppy American wheat ale. It’s not terribly bitter, but instead is crisp, fairly floral (elder, etc), and refreshing. California Moonset, on the other hand, was fairly odd. It’s nominally a 7% IPA, but I found it pretty challenging, with a pungent odour of, well…. rot? Cat pee? I’d need to drink it again to really nail the description, but I found the smell almost off-putting. Taste-wise it was pretty hoppy, with some serious clashing flavours – resin, citrus, malt. I’m not sure whether it was interesting or unrefined.

Take My Adweisse (left) and California Moonset (right) from Revelation Cat. In jars.

Anyway, after all that we had to go – as we had a birthday to attend at Open Baladin, perhaps Rome’s best known beer bar. This experience of two key beer Roman birrerie in one day was telling. Although we had a good time at 4:20, and I’ll definitely go again, I found our welcome a bit unfriendly there, with three staff just giving us a cool stare when we first arrived. Baladin, on the other hand, I’ve always found more friendly, and the staff ready with advice.

Also, I had my most interesting beer of the evening at Baladin. I asked a friend who works there what she thought was their best beer at the moment, and she recommended a Wallonie saison beer, from Extraomnes, another Lombardy brewery. I’m increasingly getting into saisons as they seem to be challenging without the confusion of a beer like California Moonset. This 6.7% beer was golden-orange in colour, with a serious head and an inviting perfume of herbs and spice. Flavour-wise it balanced a slight peppery piquancy with notable, but not overly bitter, hoppiness and a broad fruitiness, tending finally to crisp and dry. In my notes I wrote “fermenting fruit, bubblegum”. Hm.

All in all, a great evening of socialising and beer sampling. And I’m definitely keen to get back to 4:20, see if I can warm them up a bit asking for recommendations, as it’s certainly a serious beer joint, for fans of real beer.

Infodump:
Brasserie 4:20, Via Portuense 82, 00153 Rome
Impexbeer.com 4:20 site (English)
Open Mon-Sat from 5pm, Sun from 7pm.

Revelation Cat brewery

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Specchia White Night amber ale at Tree Bar

Last night, we had tickets to go and see Neneh Cherry and Fat Freddy’s Drop at the Cavea of the Auditorium Parco della Musica, in the Flaminio district of Rome. This is the area to the north of Piazza del Popolo,  the popular spot for tourists, shoppers and manifestazioni at the top of Via Del Corso, central Rome’s main consumer strip and sometime location of yacht races *.

We’d never been far into Flaminio, so were keen to check out a spot called the Tree Bar, and the Auditorium itself. The Auditorium was designed by Renzo Piano, who has more recently radically altered London’s skyline with the Shard, and was inaugurated in 2002. The complex consists of three beetle-roofed concert halls with the Cavea in between – a fourth, open air auditorium. This is where we were headed. But first, a beer.

The central Roman section of Via Flaminia (one of the city’s ancient routes, heading north) is canonically long and straight, and plied by trams. It’s lined with handsome mid-20th century apartment blocks and collection of tired looking markets, workshops and older, more historical buildings, along with a couple of stretches of open park. Tree Bar, a former kiosk, nestles in one of these.

Inside, it has has light, Scandinavian style wood fittings, outside there’s a terrace area that spills into the park. Some kids’ football kept escaping from their game – inside a dry fountain – and flying past us while we drank.

With its emphasis on aperitivo drinking, Tree Bar has a long menu of sparkling wines and cocktails, but thankfully there were also a few craft beers tucked in there too, with three bottled beers in a section marked “Birre Artigianale”. I didn’t know any of them, so asked the waiter what one, from a brewery in called B94 in Lecce, Puglia, was. He said it was a birra artigianale. Yes, but what type, I persisted, and he managed to come up with the fact that it was an amber ale. Okay, fine, that’s enough for me. He also said it was enough for two (a 75ml bottle), but Fran wanted a cocktail.

B94 Specchia White Night, plus snacks, Tree Bar, Rome

When it arrived, a black bottle with a slightly muddle label design and the apparent name “Specchia White Night”, I told him not to worry, it’s not too much for one person – as I’m British. Nothing like reinforcing stereotypes.

Anyway, he poured and inch of so, and there wasn’t much head, and the liquid was a murky amber-brown. I poured more, a bit more vigorously, and got a better head. Head, or schiuma, is very important in the appreciation of Italian craft beers – all the descriptions mention it. My Guida alle Birre d’Italia 2013 says it’s a beer with colore ambra intenso con schiuma di buona persistenza. Which I’d have to disagree with – the head wasn’t very persistent.

I didn’t get much in the way of strong scents coming off it, bar malt and some melon, or apple. Which made a nice contrast to the more citrusy beers I’ve been drinking a lot lately. Taste-wise, the maltiness (from both malted barley and wheat) was combined with a fairly strong bitter hoppiness and yeastiness, along with some spice (cloves), caramel and even a soapiness. It was a reasonably drinkable beer, with a medium body, low-middling carbonisation and 6% strength, though perhaps slightly heavy for my tastes for a warm summer evening. Plus, well, another aspect of my Britishness – the name and label brought disconcerting flashes of White Lightning, a trashy cider from the early 1990s. An unfortunate association.

B94 Specchia White Night's label, at Tree Bar, Rome

Still, it’s always good to try something new, from a brewery I’d not heard of before. Apparently B94 was founded in 1994 by Raffaele Longo to make beers for his friend. It’s that step from home-brewing to commerce that’s the familiar narrative for many micro-breweries.

Having quickly consumed Tree Bar’s stuzzichini (a plate of appetizers/snacks often served at aperitivo time), we had a pizza too. The food wasn’t bad – the stuzzicini included some pieces of particularly nice frittata and they seem to use some wholegrain flours in their doughs. Thus fuelled, we dashed on up the road to get to the venue.

Neneh Cherry had, disappointingly, bailed (with no reason or excuse forthcoming online), and the support act were pretty noodly, but the Cavea is a great location, the overcast weather didn’t give way to rain, and Fat Freddy’s Drop – New Zeeland’s finest reggae-dub-soul-rave combo – were energetic and entertaining, taking us through their new album, Black Bird, and including a few old favourites. Though they didn’t do an encore. What’s up guys? Grumpy? Tired from the world tour?

Fat Freddy's Drop, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, 3 July 2013

Infodump
Via Flaminia 226, 00196 Roma
treebar.it

* “In December 1878 [the Tiber’s] floodwaters in the Via del Corso were so deep that a sailing race was held held there…” (p114, Whispering City, RJB Bosworth)

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Casa Veccia’s Formenton and Dazio at Oasi della Birra, Testaccio, Rome

Formento

Haven’t been to Oasi della Birra in Testaccio for what seems like an age. It had become something of a regular haunt, but then something in the aperitivo buffet wasn’t quite right, then other life-things got busy, and well, months went by. But last night I found myself back there, enjoying the evening sun – after a faltering spring, the Roman summer has arrived – and wondering what had become of my chum Cameron. (Never did get those texts.)

On a previous visit, we’d tried a called Molo, a stout made with port from a confusingly named brewery that’s either called Casa Veccia or Ivan Borsato Casa Veccia or Casa Veccia Ivan Borsato Birraio. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of Ivan Borsato before,  but I like your beers, Ivan, and I like their branding… even if the bottles neglect to actually include such salient information as what type of beer is contained therein.

So this time round, I asked one of the guys from the Oasi what Formenton was, clearly having forgotten what I wrote on my own blog in March. He said it was made with farro (I didn’t get into the issue of what specific farro). As I like my ancient wheat varieties, and it was a warm evening, that seemed like a good place to start. Like many wheat beers, it’s a beautiful bright golden yellow, especially when suffused with the Roman evening sun. I should probably mention the head, as Italian beer reviews always talk about the quality of the schiuma, but what can I say? It’s frothy. But not as frothy as the second beer (see below).

The taste is typically fruity. Cameron  and my wife Fran thankfully arrived before I got too sozzled drinking alone. They both talked about the banana notes (typical to weissbier), but I reckon it had a whole macedonia – that’s Italian for fruit salad – in there, with melon, grapefruit, orange zest, and apple flavours, and even a bit of ginger. At 5.5% it’s not exactly weak, but it’s refreshing and very drinkable, with negligible hoppiness.

Oh, and if you’re really serious about your wheat and white beers, and understand the difference, and can read Italian, there’s a spiel on the brewery’s site about how Formenton “was created from the union of two beers that marked the history of beer: weissbier [wheat beer] and blanchebier [white beer].” Now, I never really had a strong sense of the difference between these beers, as both exist under the wheat beer aegis. But according to the Borsato spiel, and a quick spin around online, the former are more German in origin, cleaner, simpler, with minimal hoppiness and, most of all, are defined by the proportion of wheat in place of some of the (malted) barley. The latter are more Belgian (and Dutch), and may have been made without hops – using herbs instead in something called a gruit. Modern gruit may involve herbs, but also citrus and hops. Both are top-fermented. And, frankly, in this era of innovative craft beers, the dividing line between them is blurred. Formenton, for example, made a point of it. That’s something that’s so good about Italian craft brewing; as the country doesn’t have laboriously rigid brewing heritage and tradition, it’s unafraid to mix things up. Yay. I imagine the two Matt Groening style cartoon chaps on the bottle saying an Italian “yay” at their success with Formenton.

Dazio with OTT head

The second Casa Veccia we tried, and is here featured in a terrible out of focus photo (crappy new phone), showing how I’d rushed to pour it and creating and ridiculous head, was the 6.2% ABV Dazio. The guy in Oasi said it was an ambrata (amber) ale but the Casa Veccia site specifies it’s an APA. As I was talking about yesterday, APA seem to be a very popular style in the Italian birra artigianale scene. And very nice they can be too. And again, unlike in other brewing traditions where beardy specialists might dogmatically insist there’s a distinction between an APA and an amber ale, in Italy it seems an APA can be ambrata.

Dazio was also delicious but very different. Arguably, it’s not as obvious a summer drink, with hints of toffee apple and such autumnal things , along with cinnamon and ginger, but it did the job very nicely thanks last night. Oh, and flavour-wise, Fran said “Turkish delight”, while the Casa Veccia site itself talks about this beer – “in an English style with American hops” – having Profumi terziari come pepe, cuoio, chiodi di garofano, liquirizia: “Tertiary aromas of black pepper, leather, cloves, liquorice.” I didn’t get all that myself, but fair enough. I like the idea of a leather-scented ale. The site also talks about its hoppiness and bitter flavour, but I felt it was pretty mild and mellow. The site also provides a nice bit of history about how the APA evolved from the IPA and the IPA evolved out necessity, with British soldiers in India craving beer, but the long voyage souring the milder ales of home. The solution was more hops, to better preserve the ale. Thanks Ivan and everyone in the Vetch House. Quite why the Dazio label features a cartoon astronaut I don’t know.

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Beer-battered fish and chips with mushy peas and tartar sauce

aerial photo

This post perhaps takes the blog on a slight tangent, but what the heck. It involves beer. And the project was an excuse to buy a selection of beers from a new shop on Viale Quattro Venti in Rome (number 265; it’s a branch of the small chain Gradi Plato). It’s one of a crop of shops that’s been springing up in the time we’ve lived in Rome that specialise in selling international and craft beers.

This guy had a global selection, so I asked him for something Italian, and light and golden, as I wanted to use it to make batter… and drink. We discussed various things, and although he didn’t really seem to understand the term “golden ale” (though I have seen it on other beer menus here), we bought a pils (that is a Pilsner lager), an APA and a wheat beer.

lineup9 md

Now if only I could remember the name and address of the shop. I can’t. But it’s here on streetview, the righthand closed shutter.

Anyway. As strangers in a strange land, we occasionally crave the foods of home. In this case, we’re Brits, and I’ve been craving fish and chips. You could say that the Roman filetto di baccalà when served with patatine fritte is basically the same thing, but… well, no. Just no. Filetto di baccalà is made with salt cod, and while it is battered, it can be made too far in advance meaning the batter can be flaccid, the fish mushy. Plus, I just need my condiments and sauces. It always bemuses us that while Romans have such a passion for deep-fried goodies – fritti – they tend to eat them dry and unaccompanied. A plate of fritti like suppli (rice balls with mozz in the centre, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), fiori di zucca (zucchini/courgette flowers stuffed with mozz and anchovy, deep-fried in batter), and various fried animal bits like animelle (sweetbreads) really ought to be eaten with a nice tangy sauce, something involving tomatoes and peppers, like a tangy chili jam. Even ketchup would be nice. But no.

This craving for fish and chips means I’ve been experimenting with making it at home. I’d only tried this a few times when we lived in the UK as, frankly, why bother in a land of chippies and gastropubs selling fish and chips?

I read around for good recipes and then broadly went with Felicity Cloake’s advice from her “How to cook the perfect…” column in the Guardian. Though her recipe makes too much batter for my needs. And I forgot to chill the flour. Apparently having all the ingredients as cold as possible makes for a lighter batter, but mine sufficed just with cold beer. Of the three beers I bought, I used the pils, reasoning that it was more effervescent, and would help keep the batter light. Plus, I don’t actually much like pils to drink so was more keen on drinking the other two.

I used a Madonna Pils from Free Lions in Tuscania, near Viterbo, Lazio, a brewery founded by Andreas Fralleoni after a career in the banking industry. Leaving behind the evils of banking to make craft beers? Well done that man. (They only have a holding page online at the moment, but it features their funny little logo.) So while I found this pils a bit acrid and hoppy to drink, it made an excellent batter ingredient.

whisking batter

Beer batter recipe

This makes enough for about 4 medium sized fillets.

200g plain / all-purpose / 0 or 00 flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
280g cold beer – preferably something light with a good sparkle

1 Preheat the cooking oil. I used sunflower oil. The fat you fry in is a whole other argument. A true fish and chip aficionado would say it has to be beef fat/dripping, but, well, sod that. Sunflower oil is fine and doesn’t conflict with the flavour of fish.
2 Sieve together the flour and baking powder and add the salt.
3 Whisk in the beer to achieve a thick, creamy consistency.
4 Batter the fish and deep-fry straight away.

5 Fry for about 8-10 minutes. This will depend on the thickness of the fillets. You want a nice golden-brown, crisp batter.

deepfrying

The last time we experimented with this, Fran was in charge of buying the fish. As the names of the fish on our local market stall remain such a challenge (she clearly didn’t refer to my handy list of fish names in Italian, English and Latin), when she explained what she wanted the fillets for they persuaded her to buy palombo. Which was unfortunate as this may well be small, potentially endangered species of hound shark.

This time round, I was in charge. Buying “sustainable” fish is always a tricky proposition, and frankly something that’s subject to a lot of greenwash and disinformation. My loose rule of thumb is to avoid tuna species, avoid monkfish species, avoid cod, and generally stick with things like anchovies and mackerel, ideally caught by small, local fishing boats.

In this case, I ended up buying some fish the vendors referred to as “local”: musdea, aka mostella, which I believe is a type of forkbeard, a relative of cod, Phycis phycis or Phycis blennioides. Although neither are on the IUCN red list (they’ve not be assessed yet), the latter species is listed as one to avoid on the UK’s Marine Conservation Society site. Hopefully it’s not been so overfished in the Med, but I know that’s a vain hope. The only consolation is that we don’t do this too often. Sustainability is of course about making the right choices, but for a society like ours, predicated on over-consumption, realistically it’s also about doing the wrong things less frequently.

Anyway. After I’d fought the fillets to remove the bones, this forkbeard fried up really well. I don’t have an oil thermometer (though I would like one of those fancy IR guns, available from a corporate tax-dodger not very near you), so I just played it by ear. I did three batches, with the second two pretty much perfect. Apparently you want 185C or thereabouts for deep-frying fish in batter.

Fish & chips and ale

It went down very well with the other beers I’d purchased: La 68 from Math brewery in Florence, Tuscany, and Runner Ale from Pontino brewery, which seems to be part of All Grain SRL in Latina, southern Lazio.

Math don’t have a proper site up yet, and I don’t know anything about them, but I love their style already. The design is cool and La 68’s label includes a funny little fellow with a speech bubble with this beguiling epigram: Il disordine é l’ordine meno il potere, “Disorder is order without the power/means/ability” The beer itself was a fresh summer beverage: a 5% wheat beer whose ingredients also include spezie, “spices”. I’m not sure which, but it had a nice limey flavour and subtle hoppiness.

La 68

Like La 68, Runner Ale isn’t in my Italian craft beers guide, but it’s similarly very drinkable: notably because, unlike many of the Italian craft beers I encounter, it’s not overly strong, at only 4.5% ABV. It’s an (Italian) American Pale Ale. APA style beers seem very popular in the Italian microbrewery scene and, despite me being British, it’s a style I’m really enjoying at the moment. Italian APAs are often light yet full-bodied, tasty without being aggressively bitter or hoppy. And as with the La 68, the Runner Ale’s bottle also comes with a quirky quote, in this case Come tuo avvocato ti consiglio di andare a tavoletta. It’s attributed to Dr Gonzo, Hunter S Thompson’s creation, and I think it means “As your lawyer, I advise you to go to the bar.”

runner ale

Sides and condiments

As you can see, I went the whole hog here and did chips, tartar sauce and mushy peas. I’ll admit the chips were not proper chips. As I don’t have a proper deep-fat fryer or even a pan with a frying basket, I couldn’t be bothered. I’d read up Cloake and discussed proper chips with friends (the knowledgeable Oli Monday saying they were best when “oil-blanched”, frozen, then deep-fried a second time) for my last experiment, but this time I just cut chip shapes and roasted them, without any pre-cooking, with plenty of sunflower oil and salt. They tasted good even if they weren’t proper chips.

nice spread

As for the tartar sauce. I just had to. As I said above, fried food needs condiments. One of things that drives me made about British pubs is getting tartar sauce in those tiny sachets. I need about 10 per meal. So here I made a decent bowlful for the three of us.

Tartar sauce ingredients
1 egg yolk
1 cup / 240g oil (half-half sunflower oil and extra virgin olive oil)
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
A good handful of cornichons or gherkins, roughly chopped
A good handful of capers, rinsed, soaked, drained, squeezed out and roughly chopped
A good handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Some water, lemon juice and salt and pepper

1 Put the yolk in a bowl and whisk it a little with the Dijon.
2 Start adding the oil, whisking constantly, starting with just a few drops.
3 When the oil and yolk starts to emulsify, you can pour in the oil, whisking continuously.
4 When the mayo starts to thicken, thin it down with lemon juice and water, to taste.
5 Add the cornichons, capers, parsley and taste – your capers could be quite salty still, so you might not need to add more salt.
6 Add more lemon juice to taste.

And last but not least: mushy peas

Years ago, there was a great ad campaign in Britain that called some industrial brand of mushy peas “Yorkshire caviar”. Funny, if not entirely true. The industrial stuff, made with dried marrowfat peas (that is, big old starchy peas, Pisum sativum) rehydrated and dyed green, can be pretty nasty. Homemade mushy peas, however, are delicious.

To serve 3-4

1 About four good handfuls of peas. I used half-half frozen and freshly podded. (It’s the end of peas season here; if it’s not pea season, just use frozen peas.)
(Yes yes, I’m not being very accurate here but I didn’t bother to weigh any of these things. Say about 350-400g)
2 Place the peas in a pan with a good knob of butter, say 30g.
3 Add a handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped.
4 Add enough water to cover then bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the peas are tender.
5 Drain (keeping the cooking water) then puree with a zizzer (er, hand-blender), food processor, or just mash with a work to the desired consistency, adding more of the cooking water as necessary.
6 Add a bit more butter if you fancy it and season to taste with salt. You could add black pepper, but frankly with something so lovely and pea-y and minty, I don’t think it’s needed.

Serve it all together, warm and lovely. With good quality craft beers – chosen according to your taste and the season, naturally.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Other food, Recipes

Baladin’s Nora at Le Café Vert, Monteverde, Rome

Thursday night, difficult week. Me and Mrs BC&A, aka Fran, decided we deserved a drink. Though we couldn’t be bothered to range beyond our Roman neighbourhood, Monteverde Vecchio. It’s not a best hood for a beer, but one café-bar-bistro has a reasonable selection of bottled craft beers (or whatever you want to call microbrewery fare. It’s called birra artigianale here in Italy – artisan beer). This is Le Café Vert, which opened not much more than a year ago, demonstrating how Italy’s urge to eat and drink continues to defy The Global Depression. As King Silvio said back in November 2011, “The life in Italy is the life of a wealthy country: consumptions haven’t diminished, it’s hard to find seats on planes, our restaurants are full of people.”

Quite why this bar has French name, and the lady serving us kept saying voila not the Italian equivalent ecco, I don’t know, but rest assured it’s in Rome, with great Italian beers and aperitivo snacks included in the price of the drink for a period every evening. According to their site, they stock beers from four Italian microbeweries: Baladin (which is Piedmont, NW Italy); Birra del Borgo (which is in Lazio, the central Italian region around Rome); ‘na Birretta (which is also in Lazio); and Birra di Fiemme (which is in Trentino, NE Italy).

We entered, glanced around, and I saw Baladin’s distinctive labels. I’ll be honest and say I don’t really like Baladin’s design style, which pervades Open Baladin bar in Rome and the labels on the bottle. It’s kinda scrappy, cartoony, vaguely Keith Haring, vaguely hippy, like someone’s mate did it, someone who’s not a professional designer. But remember kids, don’t judge a beer by its label. Baladin beers remain among my favourites, in part because Open Baladin was my entry point to birre artigianale. It’s not cosy like a nice British pub, its food is middling (especially if you’re not a fan of beef burgers on brioche buns), but its beer selection is stupendous, with dozens of craft beers, mostly Italian, on tap, and there are some very knowledgeable, helpful staff there too.

Anyway. We chose a Baladin “Nora” – we had to, as it was our friend Nora’s birthday, so we could drink it in her honour. This beer was named after another Nora – the wife of Teo Musso, the founder and master brewer of Baladin. Musso is a big name in the Italian beer scene, and for good reason. Baladin is apparently the biggest microbrewery by volume-produced in Italy (according to my chum, who is the brewmaster of the second-biggest, Mastri Birrai Umbri). Baladin brewery produces around a dozen varied, fascinating brews. Musso and his colleagues aren’t afraid of experimenting, of unusual ingredients, and Nora is no exception.

At first glance and sip, Nora’s a wheat beer, relatively pale, aromatic, slightly sickly-sweet (in a good way – if that’s possible. I’m not a big fan of wheat beers, so maybe that’s just me). But it’s not made with wheat, or at least it’s not made with a modern wheat strain. Instead, it contains both malted barley and “Kamut”, which is a branded version of Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), an ancient strain. (I discuss wheat strains here.)

There are other ingredients too that make their presence felt in a certain spiciness and perfume: ginger and, get this, myrrh. Now we all know the latter was one of the gifts the Baby J got in Bethlehem, but did you know it’s a resin from the thorny shrub Commiphora myrrha. It’s an ingredient more commonly used in medicine and for incense (ah, memories of being the thurifer). As such Nora, is a beer that’s both sweet, citrussy and easily drinkable, and complex and slightly confounding. It’s also quite strong, if you’re British, but not that strong if you’re Italian: 7%ABV.

Final geek detail, it also alta rifermentata in bottiglie, which literally means “high-re-fermented in the bottle”, but I believe we’d say it’s top-fermented and bottle conditioned. Though I need to double-check that.

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32 Via Dei Birrai brewery’s Atra beer at Oasi della Birra

One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a record of all the wonderful Italian artisan beers I’ve been trying. I’ve been remiss.

I won’t say I’m going to “review” these beers. I might have reviewed several hundred films and videogames in my time, but I’m really not sure I have the right vocab for appraising alcohol. So yes, it’s just a record, and hopefully a source of some useful info for other anglophone beer enthusiasts who might find themselves in need of a good brew while in Italy.

Anyway. We had this one last night, in the wonderfully named Oasi della Birra (“Oasis of Beer”) in Testaccio in Rome. It’s a pretty cool place, basically a shop that’s expanded sideways and crams in dining tables among the wares (which can give it a feeling of eating in a warehouse, though at least that’s novel).  In all honestly, though, a better of oasis of Italian craft beers in Rome is still Open Baladin bar, for the simple reason it has dozens on tap, whereas the Oasi, disappointingly, only has German beers on tap. Go figure.

The Oasi does, however, have an extensive menu of bottle beers, and a fairly epic menu of wines. Why it’s not called the Oasi del Vino I don’t know. It also does a reasonable aperitivo buffet, where you can pile up a plate for a fraction of what a restaurant meal would cost you, that is €10 for a drink and a plateful. (The cost of eating out is something that continues to confuse me in Rome – restaurants, and even most trattorie, are not cheap. Broadly, the only cheap way to eat sitting down in an establishment is an aperitivo buffet. There don’t really seem to be many options half-way between, in terms of price, bar a few genuinely cheap trattorie, mostly outside touristy areas, or the occasional good tavola calda. This literally means “hot table”; wordreference.com translates it as either “cafeteria” or “hash house”, neither of which is quite right. The former makes me think of British caffs, the latter sounds like “crack house” or “opium den”. They’re places that are generally defined by seating and a glassed-in counter displaying various dishes you can select. Volpetti in Testaccio has a good one, but it’s overpriced. The yummiest I’ve tried food-wise is Pasta… e pasta on Via Ettore Rolli near Ponte Testaccio, but I don’t want to get into the habit of eating there there I have an ethical problem with the throwaway plastic plates, cutlery, cups etc. Every diner creates probably around 50g of waste with each meal. It might not sound like much, but imagine the pile after just one busy day, say, and think of all that plastic sitting in a landfill for millennia. It’s a waste of resources, full stop. I know food and catering is all about overheads but we just have to think more sustainably in the 21st century.)

Anyway. Back to the beer.

So last night I tried to get a Sally Brown, a lovely brown (yep) beer that I’ve had at Open Baladin. It’s from Birrificio del Ducato, and on their site here it’s described as Birra di alta fermentazione, a cavallo tra le oatmeal Stout e le Porter inglesi – “A top- fermentation beer that straddles the styles of oatmeal stout and English porters.” The Oasi, however, had run out. This seems to be a typical factor of drinking from the Oasi beer menu. They don’t generally have what’s on the tatty photocopy, but are always happy to give advice about an alternative. It’s a process I really enjoy actually, as it usually involves trying something new.

This time, that something new was, well, I couldn’t work out what it was called last night, so had to check online today and in my Guida alle birre d’Italian 2013. The 75ml bottle is very elegant, with a minimal design. But as I’d never encountered this beer or this brewery before, I wasn’t sure immediately what was what from the label. Now I know though. The brewery (birrificio) is called 32 Via Dei Birrai.

The blurb on the homepage of their site says:  32 Via dei Birrai è il primo micro birrificio artigianale italiano a ottenere la certificazione di qualità ISO 9001:2008 DNV e la certificazione CI, a testimonianza di un prodotto 100% Made in Italy. / Passione, per 32, significa infatti selezione di materie prime e accorti procedimenti che rendono onore al nome stesso di essere e fare birra. Which means: “32 Via dei Birrai is the first Italian micro bewery to obtain the certificate of quality ISO 9001:2008 DNV and the CI certificate, testimony to a product that’s 100% made in Italy. Indeed, passion, for 32, first and foremost means the choice of materials and a grasp of how to make beer that honours our name.”  (I know I could just put my [not Google translate’s] English translation, but I like the two side-by-side, it helps me learn Italian. Plus, my translation is probably a bit shonky, so if you speak Italian and English, you can likely do it better.)

Anyway, 32’s beers. Atra is from a range of nine beers, most of which are made with top fermentation and bottle conditioned. Atra itself is, well, molto buono, as the waiter who recommended it said. But then he also said it’s non troppo forte, “not too strong”, when in fact it’s 7.3%ABV. I love how that’s not strong in Italy. In the UK, anything above about 5% is considered strong. To give some context to the Italian attitude to beer strength, Tennent’s Super is popular here, and that’s 9%. Apparently, it’s even considered kinda classy, as it was among the first import beers to make inroads here. The mind flippin’ boggles, as in Britain Tennent’s Super is basically a beer for alcoholic tramps on park benches. I’ll say now, so as not to confuse things, it’s popular among undiscerning Italian beer-drinkers, in much the same way as Fosters, say, is popular among British drinkers despite them having so many wonderful quality beers to choose from; hell, even if you like lager, you can choose a better lager… (I’m trying not to get started.)

Okay, Atra itself. It’s dark (“the colour of friars’ habits”), with a taste that’s charcoaly (ie from well-toasted malt) and surprisingly sweet. It’s very pleasant indeed. We had no idea whether it’s the done thing to drink such beers while eating, but it went very well with a plate of salads and cheese and salumi and bread. Indeed, now I’m reading the brewery’s own description, it seems like it’s fine to drink it with food. But as with wine culture, Italian micro-breweries are very specific in their descriptions of their beers and what to drink them with. So here it says, Abbinamento suggerito: contorni di lenticchie e fagioli, minestre con legumi, stinco con cotenna caramellata, torta al cioccolato, crème caramel, panna cotta. “Suggested accompaniment: lentils and bean sidedishes, vegetable soup, shin with browned bacon rind, chocolate tart, crème caramel, panna cotta [‘cooked cream’ desert].”

If you want a more in-depth appraisal, the Guida 2013 says it has scents of coffee, cocoa, liquorice and toasted cereal and a taste of barley coffee, cocoa and caramel. I’m not sure I got the liquorice, but I can’t argue with the rest. Delicious. And also remisicent of my friend Michele’s Cotta 74 from Mastri Birrai Umbri brewery, which I talked about here.

Hopefully next time we go to the Oasi, they’ll have more from 32 Via dei Birrai, as I’m keen to try the others. And I do like the design of the bottles. Especially now I know 32 is the abbreviation for the name of the brewery.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Rome

Chocolate cake with dark double-malt beer

 

Chocolate cake made with "birra scura doppio malto" (dark, double-malted beer)

One of my favourite breweries here in Italy is Mastri Birrai Umbri. They currently do three beers, one of which is Cotta 74, a doppio malto scura – a dark double-malt beer. A “birra doppio malto” is an Italian legal classification but this specific beer is made with a well-roasted malt as is not unlike a porter or stout. It’s got a warm, deep flavour, with a slight burnt caramel taste and hints of chocolate. So, thought I, why not try and use it in a chocolate cake recipe?

Mastri Birrai Umbri’s beers, developed by master brewer Michele Sensidoni,  also all use a unique ingredient, something distinctly Umbrian. In the case of Cotta 74, that ingredient is lentils, which are a traditional crop in Umbria. I believe they give the beer a slight nuttiness and earthiness. Also good for a chocolate cake, thunk I.

Anyway, available here is a recipe for a chocolate cake made with Guinness. It’s a Nigella Lawson recipe. I never had good results from her cake recipes, I found them unpredicable and unreliable. And nor do I like Guinness (it’s tastes too much like iron and mud, it’s too creamy). But the recipe proved a good foundation for a cake made with Cotta 74.

Of course this is a versatile recipe, so use whatever stout or porter you have to hand. Though I would recommend something good quality from a small brewery. Large scale industrial beer is never as nice.

(Note – I do liquids in grams. It’s more accurate, and perfectly easy if you’re using bowls and electronic scales. If you’re unconvinced, just use the liquid measures in ml.)

250g scura doppio malto, stout or porter
250g unsalted butter
100g cocoa
340g caster sugar
140g mascarpone
20g yogurt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
270g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking power

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line a 23cm tin. (Springform is easier but not essential.)

In a pan, melt the butter in the beer.
Pour into a large mixing bowl.
Beat the cocoa and sugar into the beer/butter mix.
Allow this mixture to cool slightly.

Beat together the mascarpone, yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence.
When the main mix is cool enough, beat in the mascarpone mixture. (If it’s too hot, you’ll scramble the egg content.)

Sieve together the flour and raising agents.
Add this to the mixture and beat well.

Pour the mixture into the tin.

Bake for around 1 around, until it’s well risen and no longer too wobbly.

Leave to cool completely in the tin, on a wire rack.

Make a topping with
100g mascarpone
150g icing sugar

Sieve the icing sugar into the mascarpone and mix.
If it’s too sloppy, add more sieved icing sugar.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Baking, Food misc, Italy

Things I miss from home. And the question of beer.

In no particular order:
Kippers.
A good pub* (preferably in the company of old friends).
Interstate in Covent Garden, so I can buy some new jeans. Been buying my jeans (as well as sundry satchels and undies) there for about 12 years or more. [Edit: Interstate closed down while we were in Roma! End of an era]
Vaguely reliable, functional postal services.
Cinema. There are plenty of cinemas here, but unlike in Paris say, it’s hard to see English-language films in versione originale. And I’m damned if I’ll watch a dubbed film, especially in a language I don’t understand very well. I detest dubbing. There is one cinema here that shows films in VO, but for some reason they had The Iron Lady on there for three long effin’ months. I adore the big screen, indeed it was central to my job for a decade or so, so this dearth of big screen action is a difficulty for me.
Simple brand products – soap, roll-on etc that’s not perfumed, not coloured, just kind.

Things I don’t miss:
Trashiness.
The sheer trashiness of Britain and British culture.
The unfailing uniformity of British shopping streets (mobile phone shops, Boots, Tesco Metro, generic coffee franchises etc).
The grotesque ubiquity of CCTV. I remember my feelings of shock and discomfort when I first became aware of CCTV cameras, such as outside a bar in Radford in Nottingham, c1992, where dealers congregated. Thanks to Blair and co, we’re all treated like potential now criminals in the UK. So much for valuing our freedoms. Never mind the Olympics factor.
The lack of lizards.

By no means a complete list. And is it prejudiced and classist? Who knows. Me ne frego.

* I don’t necessarily have a painful longing for British beer. As much as I love a pint of proper British ale, there’s no shortage of decent beer here in Italy, thanks to what I understand to be a fairly recent growth of artigianale (artisan, or traditional) beer production.

In Rome, we just need to go to Ma Che Sieta Venuti a Fa’ or Open Baladin, or other birrerie (beer bars), or specialist beer shops. We can even get great ales from the supermarket. Last year, the boyfriend of a friend launched a new beer in Italy, and after being unable to source it in the specialist shops, I spied it in our local supermarket. And very nice it is too: Mastri Birrai Umbri.

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Filed under Food misc, Main thread, Rome