The best mozzarella this side of Naples

Battipaglia precisely. Yes, our buffalo mozzarella comes every 2 weeks from Battipaglia, the capital of the buffalo kingdom. As you know at Ipsum we love sourcing the best ingredients and we decided it was time to add the buffalo mozzarella, the real thing, to our selection and get it straight from the Caseificio as to have the best quality and as fresh as it gets.

One of the perks of working in a restaurant is that you get to taste all products before anyone else, and in our case the perk is even bigger because we get to taste plenty of it until we find the one we like and the buffalo mozzarella has been no exception. Before choosing our mozzarella we tasted mozzarella from about 50 different caseifici, after having done the homework and selected only the ones that met our quality requirements, and what a tasting. Luckily, we all love buffalo mozzarella but we almost got to a point of starting to refuse to eat mozzarella, it was mozzarella for breakfast, lunch and dinner, from Monday to Saturday for a couple of weeks.  Not only fresh mozzarella, but also smoked and burrata and cheeses made with buffalo milk.

Eventually, exhausted, we found the one we wanted and started to import it and it comes every 2 weeks, 2 days after being made, as fresh as it gets, and if you have been in at Ipsum recently and seen our new wine bar menu, you may have noticed that we offer plenty of dishes that have it, from salads to sandwiches, from starters to pasta. And our mozzarella has been such a big hit that is available for you to take home, pop in or just give us a ring and will save some for you.

Our 10 tips for healthy Italian cooking and eating

At Ipsum Vinoteca we don’t just love Italian food, but we are advocate of good and healthy food. Andrea, the owner, has put together 10 tips to prepare your food like Ipsum do.          

1. Keep it seasonal

We have said it many times and it is all over on our menu, only use seasonal and fresh ingredients, not only they will give plenty of flavour to all of your dishes, but also full of nutrients and vitamins, and by doing so, you will be able to discover plenty of new ingredients and will enjoy your food even more. This is one of the basis of Italian cooking

2. Pasta and sauces

When cooking pasta, there are 2 basic principles to bear in mind. The first one is to cook the pasta al dente, if you are  not familiar with the concept, bite one and if you still see a white line inside, then the pasta is “al dente”, not only is like Italian eats it but it is also healthier, it has a lower glycemia index. Secondly, each shape of pasta has its own sauce, without going too much into detail, the rule of thumb is the thicker and bigger the pasta, the richer should be the sauce. Lastly, a good pasta keeps its “cottura”, cooking, it does not start breaking as soon it is served. A special mention for homemade pasta, making pasta is not difficult and homemade pasta can be kept on the freezer, so you can abound, and does not need defrosting. This is the pasta we use at Ipsum and our chefs run masterclasses.

3. Use extra virgin olive oil

Italians love extra virgin olive oil, we use it everywhere, from salad to cooking, we only have extra virgin olive oil. Olives are grown everywhere in Italy and extra virgin olive oils are different, like grapes, depending on where they are grown, have a different taste, northern olive oils are more delicate, southern’s richer. Virgin olive oil is high in good fats and omega 3 as well as containing anti-oxidants and  should give you that peppery taste on the back of your throat, if it doesnt, then it is not 100% extra virgin olive oil  

4. Vary your dishes

This is very easy if you follow tip number 1, follow the seasonality, and your food will never be the same again

5. Make eating an occasion

Whether a full meal or just a snack, Italians take their time, they are never on the go. Food is not about being fed, but about appreciating and enjoying what we have on the plate, eating is sitting around a table all together and talk, talk and talk. This is one of life’s and Italian’s pleasure.

6. Cook from scratch

If you cook from scratch not only you will appreciate your food much more, but you will know exactly what is in it and you’ll be able to vary and make your daily food more interesting, and once you have done it a few times, it come easily and naturally, and you wonder why you never did it before, like going to the gym, after the first few sessions, you can’t live without. We also think, please note that there is no research to backup this, but simply looking at Italians in general, that if you cook,  you tend to eat less and healthier

7. Watch your sauces

Italian don’t flood their dishes with sauces or creams, not only they increase substantially the number of calories count, but change the flavour of the dishes all together and too often spoil it covering all flavours. Always remember that you want to taste the food you cooked, whether pasta or fish or meat, and not just the sauce unless it did not come out as you wanted and need to cover it up.

8. Dessert

Italians, more or less, love desserts, from ice cream to panettone, we have something for every season and time. Yes Italy also grows a lot of fruit, so, Italians tend to love their fruit as well, which is healthy, but if you do love desserts like we do, just make them yourself so you know exactly what on them and make it a treat 

9. Salad dressing

In Italy there is no such a thing as salad dressing, Cesar dressing or similar, for Italian salad dressing is plenty of olive oil and vinegar, and depending on what in the salad, it could be a good balsamic vinegar, you only need a few drops and want it to be thick and not watery, or a good wine vinegar, tastier and healthier

10. Buon appetito

Finally enjoy your meal, if you have followed the other tips, be proud of what you have done and enjoy your full of flavour, healthy meal, bite after bite and share it with the people you love, and if you can, if you are not driving and can afford a “siesta”, do like Italians always do, have a glass or two of good Italian wine during their meal

Why a short menu changed daily

I have already written about the food at Ipsum but never about the reason behind our daily changing menu and often we are asked this very question, so here I am explaining it. I have known chefs for years, and spent plenty of time with them and always look at them with admiration, seeing a chef that loves his job, is a not only exciting but  makes you wanting to become one, I even thought about that but then decided to stick with wine, still a lot to learn,  but in all these years I have learned plenty from them, with  the most important lesson for me being “get the best ingredients available and dont mess too much with them”, like one of our guests wrote on his review on tripadvisor, we are followers of Escoffier’s advice: “Surtout, faites simple”. Not only, due to this constant exposure, food for me has become much more than what I eat, it has almost become a religion, an obsession, a way of living.

And when opening Ipsum, I wanted to make my obsession, the Ipsum obsession, we spent days thinking how to achieve it, and for us, the only way was to keep the menu very short and changing it constantly, only then Ipsum would have been able to deliver what we wanted, with no limits or constraints given by a fixed menu. We decided to use the best Italian ingredients and decided to import them directly from Italy, could not find the quality we wanted here, and the best, locally sourced, fish, meat and vegetables.

Our fish is delivered daily, only fresh fish, from a local fishmonger, we don’t know what the fish is until delivered, the meat is from a local farm, only the best meat including our 65 days matured grass fed beef and lamb, and seasonal and fresh vegetables from the local market and then the bit I love the most, that keeps me excited and awake at night, the constant research for special ingredients that make our dishes standing out, cooking is our passion.

We also spent plenty of time looking for similar restaurants, we wanted to know their experiences, learn from their mistakes, but we could not find any place offering such a small menu changed daily, we had to learn the hard way, it took us 6 months for people to start understanding our concept, and now, after 2 years I read of similar places, apparently this is now the new trend in the south of England.

Sorted the ingredients, next on the list were the type of food, but this was the easiest part, we wanted to show a different taking on Italian cuisine, our interpretation of “Surtout, faites simple”. Eating out is a treat, an occasion, I remember when I was a child, the whole family would go out to celebrate, to mark an occasion and as such we were always looking forward to it, so our menu was going to reflect this, keeping in mind our being Italians, we did not want to forget our roots, our cuisine, which in a way was exactly what we were trying to do, a very good olive oil and the best seasonal and fresh ingredients freshly cooked.

The menu needed to be short and without any limitation and so we could not have any fixed ingredients, we wanted to be free to change our menu according to the product availability, we did not want to be forced to offer something that wasn’t at its best, there are factors that neither us or our suppliers can control, so we needed a short menu that could be easily changed. At Ipsum the food is what we are, our stories, our past and hopes for the future, our feelings and emotions, it is never the same, constantly evolving with us.

Eating out is now officially cheaper than eating in.

Yes, eating out is officially cheaper than eating in. It started with the happy hour many years ago, set menu, set price, the new trend is bottomless menu, first only drinks and now food as well, eat and drink as much as possible in the allocated time, is this the future of eating out? 

Eating out has become so cheap that if we were to buy the raw ingredients from our local shop or supermarket it would be more expensive, let alone the time required to cook and wash up, why bother eating in if we can go out, get fed as much as we want, and be back home on time for the movie without fighting for who has to do the washing up.

Currently, more and more restaurants are offering bottomless food and drink sessions, yes, session, like gym sessions, come in, lift as many times as possible your fork and glass, and go home. Eating out is becoming about eating and drinking as much as possible paying the least possible, is not anymore a pleasure, a treat, an occasion, a celebration.

In the past we have accused and still do, big food giants and corporations of serving unhealthy or of unknown origins food, but this latest trend seems to have infected small as well as big, and every new establishment that joins in, add something to the plate making the whole offer more and more unsustainable and unreal. Suddenly we stopped asking ourselves where the food comes from, what meat or fish we are given, we just go because it looks too good to be true, and drinks are included and plenty, doesn’t matter if the following day we wake up with a headache. And our children? They can come as well. I recently heard an advert saying that children can eat with a pound, one pound, but, hold on, they are given a salad with their main course if they want to, to make us feel less guilty because there is one of their 5 a day, and then we can’t believe when we read that  1/3 of children are overweight or obese. 

At Ipsum we care about our food, for us is important not only to offer the best quality available but also to know its provenance, we know the origin of every single item on our menus, it gives us confidence and we think it tastes better, for us food is not just about being fed, it’s about enjoyment, pleasure, laughter, good times and friends or family. We would love to be able to offer happy hour menus or even better, bottomless food, but we would need to go against our principles and, frankly, we don’t want to. We are passionate, we are proud and we love what we do and, we may not be here tomorrow because we don’t join the trend, but at least we have been true to our principles.

Give consumers what they want, including cheap and bad wine

We have just finished revealing the wines behind the numbers of our blind tasting and I am pleased to discover that the winner, according to the experts in the group, is our Chianti, which scored better than the other Chiantis bought from Asda, Lidl, Aldi and B&M.

The idea came following my previous post about Italian wine appellations and a comment mentioning a Chianti from Lidl at £3.99, I offered to host a Chianti blind tasting and the challenge was accepted. Ten people, very different profiles and palates including wine experts, 5 Chianti and a Chianti riserva that we left out the tasting, and opposite results when comparing experts’ and ordinary Joe’s scores.

Whilst I always knew that supermarkets wines were worth the prices they were sold at, and I was certain they would not have scored well, my biggest surprise of all was to discover B&M and taste their Chianti, a hurry up, drink now, I said right now, bargain at £2.99, a once a good Chianti, that has now passed its best and on its way down, but still only visible to an expert palate, and much better than the Chiantis from the other supermarkets.

Until tonight I had no idea of what B&M was and I had never come across a review for any of its wine in a paper or online. Following the tasting I visited their website and could not find the Chianti we tasted but found some of the usual supermarkets suspects, whether it was one off or other “drink me tonight” wines can be found need to be seen.

The other surprise was to find that ordinary Joes’ highest rated wines were the ones scored the least by the experts and the experts’ poorest wines were Aldi and Lidl, £3.99 the first £5.99 the second.

Until the tasting I always blamed supermarkets, even in conversations between professionals, for selling cheap wines or like someone likes to put it, just decent enough, but these, including the Chianti from Asda, were not even decent enough, not worth their prices, when I suddenly realised that the ordinary Joe actually does not like good wine, it is not used to good wine, supermarkets are actually selling cheap and poor wine because is what their customers want, and they know it, they are selling what their customers tell them during their focus groups, and unless we start educating the ordinary Joes, there is no point in blaming supermarkets for supplying cheap and poor wine, once the education process has started, the same supermarkets will be forced to improve the quality of their wines, but until then, supermarkets are simply giving what their customers want and we like it or not, is cheap and poor wine.

The bread and Ipsum Vinoteca

At Ipsum we love food and love working only with the best and freshest ingredients and the bread is no exception.

Being Italian, the next thing after milk is the bread. We start eating bread at a very early age, bread with olive oil, with fresh tomatoes, with an omelette, bread is part of our growing up.

I still remember, like it was yesterday, in the cold wintery nights, after school, running to my grandma’s house only to have a few slices of fire roasted bread with plenty of their “made” extra virgin olive oil and fresh tomatoes. I can still smell the roasted bread in the small kitchen with my grandfather sat on his chair in front of the fire, sipping their own made wine and telling me stories of when he had to emigrate to Argentina just after the war or stories from Second World War and as a kid, this was all I wanted and needed, stories and bread.

The bread we were eating at the time was homemade bread, made by my grandma,  bread that would last a week, 10 days, bread that would not make any mould, for Italians bread is more than just bread, like wine is more than just the alcoholic drink, they are family, sharing, friends, home. 

I recently read that Mirko Romito, a three Michelin Star chef, has decided not only to start making bread like my grandma used to, but make a course out of it in its tasting menu. Mirko started working with a bakery like we do and is now making his own bread, lets hope we can follow his steps, he is from the same region I come from, maybe it’s in the genes.

Since we opened we have been looking for an artisan bakery that would make the bread that reminded me of my grandma’ bread, we did our research, created our recipes, we knew what we wanted, we approached all local bakeries to see if they wanted to work with us but were not interested, the bread we wanted is 48 hour fermented, because it is lighter, easy to digest and taste better. We started looking further afield, and then further, until we got to London, where we found an artisan bakery that makes the bread we want how we want it.

Our bread comes every week from London, to make proper bread a proper bakery is necessary and we dont have the equipment yet, we dont like to compromise, we dont want to offer supermarket’s bread or make ours quickly, if not fermented long enough, the bread is heavy, not easy to digest, we want to offer only the best, and that includes bread as well, even our gluten free bread is artisan made and taste different

Getting our bread from London is costly and I hope one day to work with a local bakery if we can’t make ours, but if you thought even for one minute that all breads were the same, think again, and come to taste ours.

Wine appellations, are really nonsense?

Are wine appellations really nonsense? Are appellations the reason why Lidl sells Chianti at £3.99? Will it make any difference if instead of the “appellation” the label will have the grape? Does the problem lie somewhere else? Is the amount, as quantity, of wine produced to be blamed? I had already touched the subject in several of my posts and always said I would have written a proper one but never got round to it until now. A couple of days ago, I found on my profile facebook a post from Robert Joseph about appellations entitled “The nonsense of appellations. Smartly labeled DOCG Chianti at £3.99 in Lidl” in which he blames the concept of appellations, the whole discussions that generated from it is only visible to us, however, it made me sitting on my computer and write my thoughts on it.

I could not agree more than creating a new appellation now, it is useless and expensive and the same resources could be more profitably invested in promoting the wines and the wineries involved and when it happens I always share my opinion, however, appellations that are already amongst us and we are familiar with, for me are brands, like Coke or Nike, and can be powerful brands if administered as such but like all brands, their value dilutes if not.

Until 20 years ago wine was either an Italian or a French affair, with Spain taking a bite, but now, wine is a worldwide business and while the new worlds does not have the traditions Italian and French and Spanish have, where wine is much more than just a products, these countries have transformed wine into a commodity. Merlot, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc are just like commodities and people buy commodities based on their price, the cheaper the better, there is no substantial difference between wineries that justify a premium, with a very few exception, and price is the only benchmark.

The classic example is chardonnay, until 6 or 7 years the most drunk white wine in the uk, due to the over oaking of some supermarket wine used to cover poor quality grapes, ageing or oaking is a good way of doing so, is currently the least favourite wine with many people just steering off the grape all together. The same people that used to love Chardonnay, now drink cheap Pinot Grigio because contrary to chardonnay, when drunk at 4 degrees like the majority of drinkers like it, has no flavour, it is just like cold water, they have substitute one commodity with another.

Why did I start here? I started here because Italy or France or Spain or any other country that has appellations has something that no other country has and for me this is a brand, it is up to them to make it a highly profitable one or misuse and damage it. A classic example, and the same wine used by Robert, is the Chianti. Chianti is a fantastic wine when properly made, however, for the wine drinker on the street, is the cheap wine that comes in a flask. Is this the fault of the appellation or the wine makers that did not understand that needed to move away from the flask and start presenting the Chianti like a proper wine? There was a time for the flask, but that time is now long gone. When I say wine makers I don’t mean just wine makers, but also the organizations that should support them which Italy is full. Why the Chianti consortium has not created a rule preventing winemakers to use the flask? When visiting Florence or Tuscany in general, shops still sell plenty of flasks with cheap Chianti on it for the tourists to buy that if drunk once at home, taste of vinegar. If the consortium allows this to happen, then they cannot expect that the same tourist at home will spend its hard earned money to buy a bottle of vinegar. In Florence they bought the souvenir not the wine.

Italy is full of appellations, way too many, probably some of them could be written off and are worthless, but appellations like Chianti or Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino and many more are priceless, no other country can produce a Chianti or a Barolo or a Brunello di Montalcino, they can all make a Sangiovese or Nebbiolo, however their brand has been diluted by short sighting and it is wrong to just blame the producers, most of them have never heard of marketing or branding and only know how to make wine, they been making it all their life and too often think their wines are the best in world.
Italian wine industry is made by mainly small producers, the majority of which, do not have the knowledge and resources to create a brand. In today world, to create a brand, does not matter what your product is, first requirement is big financial resources and long term planning, and Italian winemakers due to the lack of marketing skills and the necessity to make space in the tanks for the next vintage, never thought of their appellation or their winery as a brand, but just as a business making and selling wine, and unfortunately, the world is full of companies ready to exploit it.

When appellations were created, together with the consortiums to run them, their intentions was to guarantee the quality of the wine, but it never worked, the legislation behind them has never updated to include the changes in the industry and there are too many contrasting parties, wineries pro as well as against the flask, all sat on the same table and consortiums are not run properly, often without the right skills with the only results of not being able to take decisions.

Appellation are brands, but a brand is only worth something when it justify a premium on the eyes of the consumers, otherwise is worthless, currently Italian appellations are worth little and until a change in the way the consortiums are run and a change in the way the different appellations are granted, nothing will ever change and gradually Italian appellations will be worth less and less and the chianti or the pinot grigio or the prosecco will become cheaper and cheaper until will disappear all together but the problem are not the appellations but the people behind them.

Italian Beer

Too often when asking for an Italian beer, too many simply ask for a Peroni, a few now ask for Moretti, but none of them are actually Italian and very few people are aware of it, the Peroni brand is owned by Asahi and Moretti by Heineken with the only Italian connection being the name and their marketing, their selling the Italian lifestyle, more than the beer.

Peroni and Moretti had never been big sellers in Italy, they both had an image issue, beer in general had an image issue, but them more than others; both beers were associated to people playing cards after a long day working in the field and beer in general wasn’t cool, wasn’t trendy, and for both brands it still is the case, Italians don’t buy the Italian lifestyle, after all it is their lifestyle that sells very well abroad and until recently, trendy, cool people would drink wine, spirits, soft drinks, everything but Peroni or Moretti. Italy has had all the beers you would expect to find, all the big names, but they were more for city centre bars than Italians, Italians would only drink a beer with their pizza, this until the craft beer movement started, suddenly, it was cool and trendy drinking a beer outside a bar.

The Italian craft beer became movement several years later if comparing to the UK or US beer market, but it is now very active and exciting and Italy has now made up for its late start and what makes the whole Italian movement more interesting is that whilst in the US and UK the consolidation process has started with big breweries starting to buy smaller ones with the consequence that, eventually, the beers will standardise and become like the ones the movement wanted to fight against, Italy has not started yet and will probably never, due to the fact that the breweries are literally micro breweries of similar size, with a very few exceptions, but even these exceptions, don’t have the capacity and skills to become major players and are happy making “a sort of craft beer“ and sell it.  

Yes Italian beers cost more than UK or US, running a business in Italy is a lot more costly , and these costs need to be accounted for, and when making small batches economies of scale do not really apply, but the beers being currently made in Italy are amazing and unique and keeping things small allow the brewers to create, invent, experiment and us, beer lovers or just drinkers, get excited, the reason behind the whole craft beer movement.

Italian craft beers are still rare outside Italy, but at Ipsum we love them and we stock plenty of, we are truthful to our principles and philosophy, even for the beers and if you need any advice, we have drunken all, so know pretty much everything there is to know about them.

Prosecco, another vintage another alert

Another year, another vintage, another alert that we could be soon running out of Prosecco. I have just stumbled upon this article, on the Telegraph and as soon as I read the alert, a smile appeared on my face, this is the third alert in as many vintages and years and as I said then, I say now, we will never run out of Prosecco.

Knowing the Italian wine industry like I do, I can guarantee that will never run out of Prosecco, we will always find plenty on our supermarkets, cheap Prosecco will always be with us, it may become slightly less cheap or more expensive depending on which side you are, but will not go away, and there is plenty of good prosecco available. Another reason we will never run out of Prosecco is because often, the sparkling wine we are given, is not actually Prosecco, but simply a sparkling wine.

As I wrote on a previous post, Prosecco can only be a victim of its own success, otherwise it will be with us for many more vintages independently of the world consumption, and by reading the article, and the alternatives suggested, I can see the first cracks starting to appear on the Prosecco bubble.

Due to the Prosecco becoming more and more expensive, supermarkets and similar, are looking at alternatives to protect their margins, and here we read the first attempt in breaking the Prosecco monopoly.  I personally dont think any of the alternatives mentioned in the article will replace the Prosecco for the time being, the only potential threats  are the Cava and Cremant, but the first has been sat on the shelves for as long as I remember and it has a image issue, and the second is overshadowed by the Champagne.

In Italy there are plenty of other sparkling wines, behind every “spumante” there is a sparkling wine, from north to south, now more than ever. Suzy Atkins on her article mentions some of them, however, I would not have included Moscato d’Asti or Lambrusco, I guess she was just looking at alternatives available through supermarkets and a few more big retailers.

Pignoletto is a grape from Emilia Romagna and all grapes from the region are available as still and sparkling, frizzante, wines because they matches perfectly the local food, cheeses and charcuteries, so the Lambrusco and they always been there. The Moscato d’Asti is a completely different wine, is a sweet wine, with very low alcohol, slightly sparkling and sweet due to the fact that is made with Muscat grape and is perfect with cakes and biscuits whilst the Moscato Spumante reminds us Italians of Christmas and the Christmas box containing an industrially made Panettone and a bottle of Spumante d’Asti that we all dread to receive. I have not seen these boxes for years so the Spumante d’Asti.

At Ipsum, not only we have some of the best Prosecco, but plenty more “spumante”, sparkling wines and to introduce you to the wonderful world of Italian sparkling wine, we will be holding a wine sparkling event on Sunday the 22nd of May, for more information check our event section.

How to make rubbish wine taste good, is this something new?

I don’t watch too much TV, too many realities and bad programs, but sometimes I do. A few nights ago, while having dinner, Food Unwrapped on Channel 4 was on. I still don’t get the program, they “unveil” the secrets behind what we eat, I still get the feeling that their investigations are just “open days” to which anyone could participate.

On the latest episodes, amongst the other investigations, Kate Quilton, went to see a vineyard in Romania “making rubbish wine taste good” as she said, like she did not know that rubbish wine can actually be made to taste good by simply adding chemical “ingredients”, like any other recipes, in some countries it is legal in others  it is illegal, but no winery until now was proud of them, and therefore, not shown on TV.  The winery in question was in Romania, one of the biggest I have ever come across, and is producing wine also for the UK market at about 5£ per bottle by adding, depending on the vintage, the necessary chemical substance to keep consistency across vintages. The only way to avoid it, the oenologist said when asked, was to have good grapes, good grapes makes good wine but when you need to keep the prices down, you can’t afford to look after the grapes.

The program was on late at night, I don’t know how many people were watching it, but what really surprised me was the Romanian winery going publicly on TV about their practices, this is what I meant when I said “open days”, and the investigation not investigating the whole cheap wine market, simply visiting a Romanian winery wanting to tell the world that cheap wine is actually made in a laboratory instead than in the vineyards, thinking of this opportunity as a PR exercise, makes the problem appearing like limited to Romanian wine but unfortunately it isn’t.

I have been working in the wine industry for many years and come across many “scandals”, some made public and some stayed within us, but until now, no winery had the courage to show on TV what really happen behind the scene and this is not something new, it is something that has been done for centuries, possibly even before what we know as wine was even made, together with the first fermentations, to make drinkable the undrinkable results, but if at that time these methods were justified, now, they are not anymore, and they are simply the winery responses to request for very cheap wines, the less we want to spend on wine, the more likely it is that we are drinking a wine that has been made drinkable in a chemistry laboratory.