Sailors were the first "foodies". From the times of the ancient mariners to the present, having decent food on board, and knowing where to find the good stuff no matter where you happened to be, is not only a key survival skill, but can be a source of great pleasure. Traditionally, sailors have and will eat most anything- they can't afford to be picky or judgmental about what other cultures eat, they're well accustomed to trying unexpected foods at each new port of call. Historically a sailor's idea of what constituted "cuisine" was extremely broad in scope but often limited in supply. Fortunately for the modern sailor, what's stored on board most of today's sailing vessels fall's squarely under the heading Gourmet...
First thing this morning Carmen is in the galley tending to her vongole, the shells making a muffled rhythmic clinking sound as she gently sweeps them around a large pot of cold seawater. The fresh seawater has been changed several times already. The bounty of small colorful clams have now flushed through any sand they may have been carrying, any dead clams have been thrown out, the rest will be served with pasta. There was a debate as to whether or not we should have the clams as a "zuppetta", but we didn't have Cozze, the "mussels", so after some careful deliberation pasta won. On this trip, it's been all about the local food, the locally produced wines and cheeses; we're talking the real thing.
A Blue Zone, Sardegna is one of those rare places in the world where the air is clean, the mountains are still wild, the sea is crystal clear, and local people regularly live to one hundred years or more. The traditional dishes typically include no more than three or four ingredients, ingredients that were produced here on the island, and of course a bottle of locally made wine is always nearby. There are very few fast food joints in Sardegna, no drive-up windows, the idea of wolfing down a burger while sitting in traffic would never enter the mind of a Sardinian.
Carmen's been cooking up a storm since our return to the Mediterranean, one day we're standing over the sink cleaning a mountain of mussels, the next we're rolling up flattened beef cutlets with grilled slices of eggplant, basil, mint, and pine nuts. One evening Giamma took over the galley and made us his famous Zuppa di Pesci Sarda made with whole rock fish slow simmered to create a rich fish stock, tomato, garlic, white wine, and a local pasta that looks like toasted cous cous, called Fregola. Of course everything is served with a side of the famous Sardinian flat bread known as "pane carasau".
The ravioli were so finely created they reminded me of Asian style dumplings.
The food on shore's been amazing too. At Ristorante Entoteca da Giovannino in Porto Rotondo, Art and I discovered an unexpected house specialty: delicately hand made ravioli filled with monk fish, and fresh herbs, served with a sweet and sour sauce of puréed red onion that's been garnished with fresh lemon zest. The ravioli were so finely created they reminded me of Asian style dumplings.
The classic Italian song Felicitá "happiness" sums it up when speaking about the Italian love affair with simple food, it's a song about the joy to be found in a sandwich and a glass of wine. When it started playing over the sound system in the galley today, Giamma claps his hands, then begins dancing and singing along. Food is the soul of Italian culture, and it's the history of Sardegna, where European, African and Arab influences are everywhere; on every menu. Each region of Italy has its own specialties to which they are fiercely loyal: Neapolitan pizza is the best, the true risotto is found in Milano, Focaccia made outside of Genoa is not authentic focaccia, and a real pasta bottarga can only be experienced in Sardegna! Ah yes the famous bottarga, a pasta tossed with olive oil, garlic, and a generous mound of grated, dry-cured mullet roe. This dish is delicious classic Sardegna, but search a bit deeper, and even more interesting delights await the food enthusiast, such as the coveted pasta con ricci which is a warm pasta tossed with fresh raw sea urchin roe. This dish is more of an effort to find but well worth it. Our mission during our stay here is to try as many of the local specialities as we can- the more unique the better.
Speaking of unique, Giamma's been promising and this evening he delivered. A Sardinian food so unusual, so unique in fact that it's considered wildly exotic even by Europeans. A cheese, but a cheese of such speciality that it's actually been declared illegal. Indeed, this cheese is an outlaw even by EU standards so of course we had to try it. I'm speaking of course of the forbidden fruit of dairy products, the fabled: Su Casu Marzu (Crema di Pecorino con i vermi), otherwise known as "maggot cheese".. Maggot cheese you say? Surely you jest! Surely indeed! No, actually I'm not kidding, this cheese is legendary, and it's only made here in Sardegna. During the cheese making process, in the case of this particular Pecorino, of which there are many different varieties, maggots are actually encouraged to enter the body of the cheese, once there they literally eat themselves to death, then the cheese is aged for up to six months with the little verme bodies still inside....mmmmm!
The cheese does in fact have the remains of little maggot bodies inside it.
The cheese looked harmless enough when Giamma served it with local dry cured salsicia (sausage) and crispy bread in the shape of tiny pillows known as cuscinetti. It was kinda cute actually in it's own little clay pot. The cheese does in fact have the remains of little maggot bodies inside it, but you don't see them as they've been mashed to a cream along with the cheese itself- yes I hear you; "OMG that sounds horrible!"...As I was saying, once mixed smooth, the cheese then goes into the little pot. To say this is a local delicacy really doesn't do it justice; true Sardinians love this stuff.
Served as a spreadable cheese, the texture of Su Casu Marzu is thick and creamy. I was intrigued, I've eaten a number of unusual foods around the world such as fried rattlesnake in Florida, spicy grasshoppers in Thailand, Musk Ox carpaccio in Greenland, but cheesy maggots?? I broke off a piece of the crispy bread, scooped up a healthy dollop from the little clay pot then popped the whole thing in my mouth...hey..not bad! Wow, this is powerful! It's like a really super sharp Cheddar, imagine the sharpest Cheddar you've ever eaten and multiply it. As soon as it hits your mouth a serious punch hits the palette, but with a surprisingly smooth finish. At no time did the perception or texture of said larva enter the picture. Su Casu Marzu is often served at the end of a meal, appropriately enough, as a digestive...
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