On Tuesday June 13, a grand Gala Dinner was held in the splendid parterre of the Arena del Sole–Repertory Theater of Bologna to celebrate the reopening of the Italian borders to meat from Great Britain following the ban imposed by the European Community after the BSE epidemic.
It was the very first occasion for the Italian public to once again relish the flavor of Scots meat, for which Italy had long been one of the most important markets. The significance of the event was underscored by the presence of the Scottish Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Ross Finnie.
Five well-known chefs from Bologna — Maria Di Giandomenico of Trattoria Caminetto d’Oro, Marco Fadiga of the Marco Fadiga Bistrot, Mario Ferrara of Trattoria Scaccomatto, Massimiliano Poggi of Al Cambio and Gianluca Esposito of Ciacco— were joined by Vincenzo Camerucci of the Lido Lido restaurant in Cesenatico to prepare an assortment of Scots meat dishes, all specially studied to bring out the unique flavor of this prime ingredient.
In Scotland, beef cattle and sheep live in uncontaminated areas where they can move freely from coastal pastures to the high grassy slopes of the mountains. And unlike most European breeding operations, the herds spend most of the time outdoors. One of the secrets of the intense flavor of these meats – among which the celebrated Aberdeen Angus – is the grass the animals graze on, which is loaded with omega 3. Although it gives the fat of the meat a slightly yellowish color (not the pure white industrial production has accustomed us to), it makes the meat incredibly tasty and filled with nutritional elements that are good for our health.
Clearly the features of the land have a lot to do with the fine reputation of Scotch meat, but another important factor is the professional standards of the people involved in all areas of the production chain, whose work is certified by Quality Meat Scotland, the organization that promotes quality Scotch meat. Thanks to the vital contribution of QMS, the Scotch meat industry can boast a program of fully integrated quality assurance that guarantees high standards of animal well-being and total accountability at all stages of the meat production chain. It assures the consumer that the animal is born and bred on Scottish farms that have been certified by the ‘Quality Meat Scotland Assurance’ standard and that the animal is butchered in the relevant Scottish facilities.
Why was a theater chosen to promote this important gastronomic event?
‘In the past few years,’ explains Bruno Damini, director of communication and marketing for Arena del Sole and the man behind the event, ‘we’ve had the habit of combining the summer theater program with appointments we call “After Theater with Chefs”, when the most important cooks in the region come to prepare some of their specialties at the end of the performance. We’d already proposed fine products from British gastronomy in the past, so this year we decided to continue the tradition. We wanted to take advantage of the fact that Scotch meat can freely enter the Italian market again by calling on chefs to interpret this ingredient in a dish that would go well with Pasta Latini. The Gala Dinner was meant to celebrate the market’s reopening, but during some of our theater evenings in July (for information www.arenadelsole.it) there will be other opportunities to taste Scottish meat, accompanied by artisan beers from Scotland and followed by a guided tasting of the best Single Malt Whiskies.’
To ensure the success of the event, Arena del Sole organized a trip to Scotland in May with the timely and efficient help of Food From Britain, the organization promoting quality British foods in Italy. Participants included the Chefs involved in the Gala Dinner, as well as journalists and experts in the sector (including, in addition to myself, Sergio Capaldo, Slow Food’s meat expert and head of the La Granda Consortium of Piedmont beef breeders).
For three days we visited breeders of quality beef cattle and sheep on the island of Islay. This southernmost Hebrides Island is also known for its stupendous oyster farms and the famous distilleries of single malt whisky. There was a particularly intense and interesting tour of Craigens Farm owned by Tony Archibald. Tony and his son manage a large cattle-breeding farm of Aberdeen Angus beef and also raise sheep ‘salt marsh lamb’, so called because the animals can graze freely in the salt marshes, where the tidal vegetation gives their meat a very particular flavor.
The exceptional Beef Tasting organized in Glasgow by QMS used the same methods one usually finds in a comparative wine tasting. The tasting of 17 different cuts of beef (from animals of diverse breed and age, served both raw and cooked) was a simple, first-hand way to assess the fine quality of Scotch meats and gave the chefs the opportunity to give some thought to the dishes they later prepared at the Gala Dinner.
Fabio Giavedoni, a journalist, is a regular contributor to Slow Food Editore publications
Adapted by Debra Levine