Taste of Excellence 2016 in Rome, Italy

The Taste of Excellence's fourth edition was as important and well-attended as ever. With 40 food and wine producers, 60 celebrated Italian chefs, and 3 culinary schools, this much-awaited enogastronomic event took place in SET, Via Tirso, Rome from 26 to 28 November 2016. The program was crammed with schedules of guidebook presentations, cooking shows and interactive talk shows with the chefs and culinary experts while the walk around tastings were available for everyone the whole three days.

It was an event where the visitors had the possibility to try out the products in the exposition and speak with the producers, chefs, sommeliers, and culinary experts in one roof. Events like these are always enthusiastically visited by both foreigners and locals because Italian products are always considered as having distinctive quality. When a product bears the mark Made in Italy, then we are all assured of its excellence.

And in Taste of Excellence 2016, the supremacy of the Italian is celebrated by everyone. It's a significant experience to walk along the aisles of food and wine stalls on exhibit and come face to face with the people behind the products. Discovering the process of production, how much attention they give to the quality of what ends up on our plates, hearing the peculiar stories behind them and witnessing the dynamic expressions of the producers that stem from their dedication to quality is one of the most important ingredient of the products. It's the personal touch that makes every product unique and special.

Rice is an integral part of Italian cuisine. In fact, Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe. With regards to good quality, this country also excels. The best known brand all over the world for its excellence is Acquerello. Then there are also other brands that have equally impressive refinement and Riso Buono of Azienda Agricola Luigi e Carlo Guidobono Cavalchini is one of them.

This year's theme emphasized on food innovation. We had a look at the future of creativity in the kitchen which some important chefs gave light to using ingredients that parallel the concept of tomorrow's culinary adventurers. 

I think I stayed the longest in the stall of a young winery, Ferro 13, getting to know their story, how they came up with such creative wine labels and of course, tasting their wines. Just a year old, Ferro 13 has six different wines from Northern to Southern Italy, five of which represent each of the owners. Hashtag, is their Sauvignon from Veneto, the Nerd, a Nero d'Avola from the Siracuse Coast, the Hipster, a Negroamaro from the Salentine Coast, the Hacker, Sangiovese Toscana from Chianti and the Gentleman, Pinot Nero from the hills of Pavia (it was absent that day). Finally, The Boss, the Prosecco Millesimato DOC from Treviso that represents them as a whole. 

I met three of the five men behind the bottles. The Hacker, the Nerd and the Hipster, in order from left to right in the picture above.

Then there is I Casali del Pino, an organic farm at the outskirt of Rome that is owned by a 3rd-generation Fendi family member, Ilaria Venturini Fendi. Straying away from the fashion empire, she put up her dream farm and started producing high quality cheese. The cheese named "illegale" (top right in the collage below) is highly recommended! 

Vini Federici, a winery from the town of Zagarolo, an ancient town in the green area of Monti Prenestini which is just a few kilometers from Rome. Its wines made from autochthonous grapes, Cesanese del Piglio and Passerina del Frusinate are worth filling up your glasses with.

Let's say that I was captivated by the beautiful bottle of Olio Clara (that I had to have a picture with it). This extra virgin olive oil is a product of blending of about four different olive varieties. It has lovely scents of of freshly-cut grass, almonds and apples. The combined flavors of the different varieties of olives gave a very pleasant and decisive taste. It's not too strong that it overpowers the mouth (and the food that you drizzle it on) nor is it too light that you don't have that wonderful lingering taste of olives. It's just the right taste! 

In food and wine events, one of the most popular stalls is always the salumeria or the charcuterie. With people wanting to try slices each, it's not a surprise that the person slicing the prosciutto has a hard time keeping up with the demand. Taste of Excellence had about three producers that participated.

All three were busy catering to people who wanted to try them and all three were exceptionally good too. Every single prosciutto crudo has a different taste and method of production (especially if they come from different areas in Italy). Ask me what I liked the most, and I would say all of them. Bedogni Egidio Parma Ham has minimum maturation of 12 months and the company is from Langhirano in Parma.

Devodier Prosciutti come from Parma too. They have a line called the Excellences wherein the prosciutto are matured between 24 to 36 months. The one I tasted practically melted in my mouth. Sano Salumificio is located in the green valleys between Monti della Laga and the Sibillini Mountains in Amatrice where it found an ideal place in producing hams and sausages. Its prosciutto crudo goes through a minimum maturation of 14 months.

Someone said that the mozzarella di bufala of La Perla del Mediterraneo was one of the best he has tried. I believed him when I saw how big he smiled after one mozzarella disappeared in his mouth. And another one.... and another one. The Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana has a unique and refined flavor that you can only get from Campania.

When food innovation meets entertainment, you get yourself a box of chocolates that not only taste great but also fun to put together on your own. Shockino chocolates come in 3 separate components, all with different flavors and it's up to you on how you want the final flavor to come out. The point is, you don't get bored with just one kind of flavor that comes in one box because you can mix them all up and discover the right one for you.

If the walk around tasting was not enough at Taste of Excellence, continued schedules of cooking shows of well known Italian chefs from different parts of the country were also very rewarding. With my luck, on the only day that I was able to visit, I happened to see the Cooking Show a 4 Mani (Cooking Show with 4 Hands) of two great chefs from Umbria and Puglia, both of whom I have already met beforehand in their respective restaurants. They were cooking together and putting together the characteristics of Umbrian kitchen with that of Puglia's. It was a simple poor man's dish turned into something delectably rich in flavors.

Ristorante Li Jalantuùmene of Chef Gegè Mangano (left) is in the town Monte Sant'Angelo in Puglia. His dishes are traditional Apulian with innovative renditions with the ingredients sourced from the area. The restaurant is located in a tranquil square, facing a 17th-century church. On warmer months, eating al fresco can be a beautiful experience. On the other hand,  La Locanda del Capitano Ristorante of Chef Giancarlo Polito (right) is located in the small walled town of Montone in the region of Umbria. Giancarlo's dishes are best described as innovative with strong roots of traditional flavors keeping them aligned to the strength of Umbrian cooking.

The chefs' choice of dish is Frascarello Umbro con Mùgnoli, Bottarga e Tartufo (Umbrian Frascarello with Mùgnoli, Bottarga and Truffle). Truth be told, I really have no direct translation for frascarello umbro but I can explain it as the little balls that remain on the sides of the bowl when making fresh pasta. During the old times, the poor men would scrape off these uneven little balls from the bowl then cooked them. 

Mùgnoli (or mùgnolu) is a not so common vegetable from Puglia and the neigboring areas. It can be likened to broccoli rabe and broccoli but still, mùgnoli is a unique vegetable on its own. Bottarga is salted fish roe, usually that of grey mullet or bluefin tuna while tartufo is truffle.

The resulting dish is an excellent marriage of Apulian and Umbrian flavors. The colors are vibrant and the edible fresh flowers on top gave a pleasing embellishment. The mùgnoli lent a delicate nutty edge to the pasta, similar to broccoli rabe but much finer while the  breadcrumbs with the bottarga and truffles gave it a remarkable accent. Paired with a glass of Falanghina del Sannio of Cantine di Cicco, I have to say that both chefs made an impressive showcasing of the special characteristics of their regions.

Other Food and Wine Events: