An excerpt of Paul Greenberg’s book The Omega Principle in Hake Magazine. It’s the part when Paul hangs out with the Gustiamo team in Cetara! Here he recounts the scene right before we went anchovy fishing together.
In Cetara, I met up with Beatrice Ughi, the woman who had promised to unlock the secrets of the local anchovy for me and help me understand how the fish fit more broadly into what has come to be called the Mediterranean diet. Ughi is an Italian specialty food importer based in New York City who visits her native Italy every year in search of the best local foods.
Ughi marched me down a narrow street to a small storefront bearing the name Nettuno. The door opened up onto a large cavernous space, tiled white and redolent with an intriguing smell…
To make colatura, anchovies are fermented for years in barrels of brine, a process that likely began with the Phoenicians, maritime traders who predate the Roman Empire.
Ughi hurried us inside to meet Vincenzo Giordano, a singular fishmonger. Giordano wasted no time leading us into the fermenting room—smell of fish rot hung even heavier in the air—and over to a row of tersigni, barrels cut into thirds for the specific task of fermenting small batches of the fish sauce made from anchovies. “Here,” Giordano said, “what you have to do is take the fish, and you, well, you pinch the heads off.”
He laid out rows of anchovies, their heads removed, in neat silvery rows. Then adds a layer of sea salt, then another layer of anchovies. Finally he placed a wooden lid over them.
“And then?” Ughi asked.
“Now we wait. For about two years. And then. Colatura.” Truly slow food.
The full name, colatura di alici, is direct—it means anchovy drippings. The sauce is the color of amber and it’s delicious. Colatura represents two things to me. To be all judgmental, one of those things is good: it’s the epitome of the famed Mediterranean diet, heavily laced in life-enhancing omega-3 fatty acids. The other thing is bad: colatura symbolizes the severing of an ancient relationship between Mediterranean societies and their sea.