Leather Storrs: Why Italy is the ‘Bull’ of Food
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
There’s this big, solemn Bull on a hill. A teenage bull bounds up to the herd leader and says “Hey boss, let’s run down this hill and screw one of those cows!” The bull turns his heavy head to the youngster and replies “Nope. Let’s walk down and screw em all.”
You’ll soon find that this joke applies to all kinds of life lessons, but here’s how it applies to the difference between Italy and America in terms of food: We are the teenager- newly awakened to a world of mystery and pleasure. Italy’s the bull- wise, purposeful and confident.
A torrid tryst with food
America is enjoying a torrid tryst with food, but our exuberance is clumsy and pubescent. Cappuccino potato chips? Give that guy a raise. Ham hock and collard Pho? Sho ‘nuff! Heirloom tomato 11 ways! Oh, is that all? Rabbit belly bacon? Somebody call Food & Wine!
We are frothy with experimentation in the field and on the plate. Right now, from our local farmers I can buy 9 kinds of tomatoes, a dozen different peppers and something called a “cukamelon”. Hey Chef… Gimme a shocker! Ideally, a winky twist on a classic with a goofy ingredient and some kind of pork. As we spin the bottle and mash with whatever the mouth lands on, we prejudice novelty over flavor.
An understanding of cuisine
Admittedly, this was not big city food, and I’m sure there are Italian chefs experimenting and pulling influences from around the globe. But there is also an abiding appreciation and reverence for the specialties of various regions. Any chump can cure a ham, but the hams from Parma and San Danielle are acknowledged as superior, so that’s what Italians eat, up and down the boot. Same goes for Pecorino Romano, Sorrento’s Limoncello, or the balsamic vinegar of Modena. There is a national pride and solidarity that comes from celebrating regional specialties.
America’s newness and melting pot quality, coupled with Americans’ need to be individuals who get noticed prevents us from ever reaching such consensus. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep fumbling inexpertly with the idea of good, simple food. Slow down. Caress that melon, don’t compress it.
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