Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From Italy with Love: Mostarda Senepata

Hello, dear condiment blog,

How I have neglected you over the long, sizzling summer. But now, with autumn in full flush and chestnuts about to drop from the gnarled trees outside my window, I’m back to regale you with some exquisite condiments from far away. 

The Lake Garda region of Italy, actually. 

A great friend of mine recently returned from a culinary excursion around this region with her friend, Laney Sachs of Ortensia Laney imports carefully curated collection of Italian edibles and wares to the U.S. and offers them through her web site. My friend kindly decided that a condiment lover such as I needed a taste of a few of the edibles Laney has discovered -- many of them through the Manestrini family of Azienda Agricola Manestrini

Signor Egidio Manestrini

The Manestrinis have lived on their family compound overlooking stunning Lake Garda -- with the Alps to the north and a Mediterranean microclimate at the south -- for over 150 years. They started producing olive oil from their own trees and made a huge success of it. Over the years and through the joys of relationships developed with small family businesses in the region, they expanded into private label honeys, sauces, jams and mostarda. 

Think Slow Food in action. Old food ways are preserved, new palates get to taste the results and the cycle continues. I was happy to give a few of the products a try. Here's the first, more to follow. 

From the Andrini family in Brescia, this quince mostarda is an extraordinary variation on the syrupy mostardas you may have experienced. (Mostarda is definitely not mustard, but it does combine the intense spices of mustard oil, or essence, or powder with the sweet flavors of candied fruit. Read a detailed description here.)
The Andrini version arrives in a handmade wooden box. Open it and discover a  jewel-like, firm disk, with a reddish/brown  color and a jelly-like texture. Based on an 18th century recipe, this glorious condiment is a blend of quince, candied orange, sugar and mustard. Its flavor is both subtle and complex, sweet and spicy, with the unmistakable heat of the mustard essence rising up as it melts on your tongue. 
Slice it thin and fan it out on a platter with your favorite cheeses, salumi, or other meats. I like to make a little open face sandwich of the cheese and mostarda and experience the soft heat and spice of the mostarda with the texture of the cheese, with or without a cracker. As a condiment, this mostarda compliments rather than overpowers any pairing. 
I also tried it alongside some gorgeous grass-fed lamb ham and lamb pate, both lovingly crafted by Frody Volgger at Caputo’s Butcher Shop in Salt Lake City. Let's just say the combinations were brilliant. As close to Italy as a person can hope to come while sitting in the Rocky Mountains.
You could also simply layer this mostarda on a favorite sandwich – such as roasted turkey breast with arugula on a chewy roll. Or, roll it up with prosciutto. And, apologies to sweet membrillo, a quince-based cousin, but Mostarda Senepata would make a great spicy substitute for membrillo in this recipe for a watercress, almond, manchego salad. 
Someday I hope I get to explore the region of Lake Garda myself. Until then, I treasure these authentic tastes of Italy. The quality is extraordinary and the prices are absolutely reasonable. 
Photos courtesy

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