The salted anchovies of Monterosso, Liguria; known for its abundance of sardine species. Called “Bread of the Sea” by local fisher folk, they are an important preserved food that has been made up until the present-day.
The Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea is blessed in terrain, climate and saline levels. This makes the anchovies that are fished there perfect for salting, imparting a delicate and balanced flavour. Since the middle ages, the anchovies have been a prime article of commerce in Liguria, recorded to have been traded with neighbouring Piedmont (also known as Piemonte). Since the 12th century, preservation methods involved smoking, pickling in olive oil and salting, the latter of which was developed extensively in the Liguria region and continues to this day. This method involves selecting the best anchovies to be salted, cleaning them and boiling them to be purified. Then they are placed inside glass jars with salt, and kept at a constant room temperature for around two to three years. The secret to perfect salting lies in the purposeful attention to the freshness of the catch, and the careful cleaning of the innards. In Liguria, mainly two methods are used when fishing sardines. The first is known as lampara, which utilises a fishing light to increase the prey they feed on, thereby optimising the numbers in the area. The other is known as ciànciolo or “seine fishing”, which uses a net that tightens and surrounds fish as they try to flee. They are fished from June to September, and on the third week of September an anchovy salting festival is held in the town of Monterosso al Mare, in La Spezia.
Anchovies are rich in varies protein strains, as well as abundant in minerals such as selenium, iron, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, and zinc. 100g of anchovies equates to roughly 130 calories and contains 20g of amino acids and protein, 5g of fat, and barely an ounce of carbohydrates. Anchovies also contain omega 3, which increases one’s HDL cholesterol (HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, remove fat molecules from cells) which helps to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins, which deliver fat to the cells). Selenium helps to regulate and increase thyroid functions, which can have a positive effect on heart disease. Calcium, aside from being beneficial to the health of ones bones and teeth, also guards against osteoporosis and high blood pressure, and is said to protect against both breast and bowel cancer. Furthermore, with ample amounts of vitamins B and E, anchovies are undeniably high in nutritional value.
Salted Anchovy Production
Anchovies in Liguria are mainly fished in an area known as Cinque Terre, meaning “Five Lands”, in the province of La Spezia. The Cinque Terre is both a national park and a UNESCO heritage site. The production of the salted anchovies is entrusted mainly to the cooperate known as Le Ragazze del Parco or “The Ladies of the Park”, in the town of Monterosso al Mare. The anchovies are packed neatly into the glass containers, and the salt levels are carefully measured to ensure the anchovies will keep as long as possible, while also imparting a robust, salty taste. The salted anchovies are sold mainly in Monterosso al Mare. They keep both the flavour and taste of fresh fish, and pair excellently with oil, oregano and garlic.