Very Vinegar

Whilst grocery shopping in the condiments isle have you ever stopped to think where our average vinegar comes from, how it’s made and which ingredients are involved? A staple food in most pantries across countries, vinegar is often taken for granted as if it were invariable, with no options for different varieties.

Apparently man has known vinegar for as far back as 2000 years, making it the most common acid-based ingredient worldwide. Different raw materials are involved in its production: fruit, wine, beer, honey, rice, molasses… each culture has their own. Historically, acidity in food was a consequence of preservation necessities, and often was probably achieved by mistake. A batch of wine gone bad for example. Today it has also come to play an important role in cooking – as one of our main flavors in the search for balanced dishes.

In nature, any sugary matter acidifies spontaneously – vinegar being the result of a double fermentation – through a process that is first alcoholic and secondly acetic. The name comes from the French “Vin aigre” meaning sour wine. Basically, once it has finished its alcoholic fermentation, wine left in contact with air turns sour. Sour wine is not, however, the same as fine vinegar made with care. Controlling the process means making sure the right bacteria are activating the fermentation.

A good vinegar isn’t made in a hurry, the process takes time and air exposition is essential. Once it has reached the right acidity, some of it is drawn off and more wine (or other ingredient) can be added. The process can be repeated indefinitely. This is why “mothers” can be passed on for generations. The “mother” is a gelatinous scum full of living bacteria which ferment vinegar (similar to the scoby we make kombucha with). Most retail vinegars are mass-produced, highly diluted with water, made from inferior wine or other ingredients using techniques that save time, but sacrifice quality. Luckily there are a very small number of craft vinegar producers that make incredibly high quality vinegars.

We have recently visited Josko Sirk in the far North-Eastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia that makes a unique skin-contact grape vinegar. The Sirk family works very closely with the culture and territory they operate in. The vinegar production is just one of their many amazing projects – which include a traditional trattoria, an amazing Michelin star fine dining restaurant, guest homes immersed in nature and much more (visit
This vinegar is made exclusively from local prime white grapes from the renowned Collio wine region. They make vinegar from the best grapes that would otherwise be used to make wine (indicating the quality of the raw material). It is very rare to find vinegar made from fresh grapes as its usually made from wine, most often from bad wine. The grapes used by Sirk are pressed and left to ferment on their skins in wooden barrels in the family’s all-wooden vinegar house. It is aged for 3 to 5 years. Just like any great wine, time is essential: it sharpens, matures and becomes grand. No other ingredients are added and the product is not diluted with water.

The quality of the grapes, the slow process and the presence of noble moulds convey a very complex structure, persistency and great minerality. The result is a fine product, an incredible ingredient to enhance dishes and balance foods. Strong and displaying character, it is at the same delicate and elegant.

Bella Italia!

Italy is relatively small, roughly twice the size of the state of Georgia. Yet, it houses one of the most varied geographical conformations and climates. Result: an incredibly diverse territory, in terms of landscape, culture and of course food.

Diversity is also related to the fact that Italy, believe it or not, is actually a young nation, that was unified only in 1861. To give you an idea just 2.5% of the population used to speak Italian at that time. Up until then the territory had been divided into city-states, if not ruled by foreign powers. It was a land where identity and fighting with neighbours was the norm.

Italy is an incredibly rich land offering perfect pastures for animal raising and dairy products, grain prairies, rich soil for fruit and vegetable growing, olive trees, vines and the Mediterranean sea with it’s impressive seafood and salt productions. Incredible ingredients are the building blocks for a magnificent cuisine.

Italy’s eclectic food culture never ceases to amaze. You can go from eating sausage, sauerkraut and beer in the far north east, to eating couscous in Sicily, going back to alpine cheeses in Valle d’Aosta to buffalo mozzarella in Campania. You’ve got fresh egg pasta in the north and dry pasta in the south. Mineral wines grown on Vulcano soil, rich red wines from the heart of Tuscany and sea-influenced whites grown on steep terraces facing the sea in Liguria.

It is very common when travelling across Italy to notice that even between two bordering small towns, food traditions are extremely different and locals take a lot of pride in it, obviously describing their own cuisine as unique and better than all the rest.

Same thing happens with recipes. Take an internationally renowned staple pasta sauce such as Ragù alla Bolognese for instance. Ask anyone in Bologna and they will tell you about their own family version. There are those who add garlic to the soffritto and others who believe it’s blasphemy. Some will only use pork, others a mixture of pork and beef. Some will add mortadella, milk or, god forbid, cream!!

Don’t miss out on our Sunday Stories exploring one of the richest and most diverse food cultures on the planet.



Italy is harvesting

It’s that time of the year. Italys countryside is filled with beautiful ripe grape bunches and busy winemakers picking, selecting and rushing back to their cellars to make sure all fermentations start as planned. The coming together of a whole year’s hard work in the field, a critical moment where all decisions and timings will determine the outcome of the year’s vintage.

2016 has been strange for wine production so far, lots of rain in early summer, and droughts in August. Climate unpredictability plays an important role in today’s winemaker’s jobs. Everyone was hoping for late harvest, but rain came and winemakers across Italy started picking.There were no extreme conditions though and overall it could result in a great year.

Italy has a long tradition of grape fermenting, making it one of the oldest places for wine production. The country’s landscape is very diversified and is host to plentiful vineyards and unpronounceable grape varieties, with a wider variation of wine styles than any other country. There are supposedly between 800 and 3000 indigenous grapes – although only 400 of these are authorised and classified in the appellation system.

We travelled across the country and visited some of the smallest and unique wine producers, who grow their grapes without chemical additions, who hand harvest the fruit and avoid the addition of selected yeasts, keeping sulphur additions to a bare minimum, if added at all. All the focus is on the fruit, the land and the vintage.

82 year old Giuliano Anichini, checking the ripeness of his Sangiovese grapes in Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany. Vallone di Cecione Winery.
Sangiovese grapes,  ready to be harvested. Vallone di Cecione Winery, Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany. 
Ajola winery in Orvieto, Umbria. On the border between Lazio and Umbria, Jacopo, Gigi and Patricia, three young winemakers produce extremely special natural wines with no sulphites. Its a very small production of about 7000 bottles per year. 
Procanico grapes, ready to be taken in the cellar to start fermentation. Ajola winery in Orvieto, Umbria.

Cantaloupe and feta summer salad

Celebrating cantaloupe peak season!
A fresh, Mediterranean and incredibly easy to make recipe.

Yield: serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: none
Cantaloupe, 1 whole diced
Feta cheese, ½ pound
Toasted pine nuts, 2 tablespoons
Black taggiasca olives, 3 tablespoons
Extra virgin Olive Oil, 2 tablespoons
Fresh basil, ½ bunch torn
Salt and pepper to taste

Scrape seeds out of the cantaloupe, dice and mix with all other ingredients in a bowl. Crumble the feta with your hands – the texture will be more pleasant. Tear the basil and don’t chop with a knife, the metal oxidises it very quickly and will make it turn dark brown. Serve chilled with a glass of crisp white wine.

Buon Appetito!



Back to school Italian lunch box

In need of some inspiration for creating balanced, healthy  yet tasty meals for your kids? Here are some quick Italian inspired recipes.

Mozzarella lollipop



4 mozzarella ovoline
4 cherry tomatoes
4 cocktail sticks
2 tablespoons of basil pesto (check our blog to learn how to make your own at home or find it already made at Bellina’s Market)


Roll the mozzarella in the pesto.
Carefully thread the tomato half way through the cocktail stick and top with the mozzarella.


Zucchini pancakes


1 large zucchini, trimmed and shredded
2 tablespoons of flour
4 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Shred zucchini , and squeeze excess water with your hands, Mix with flour in a medium size ball. Mix in the cheese. Add egg, salt and pepper.
Heat oil of choice in frying pan over medium heat. Using a spoon scoop a spoon of the batter into the hot oil.
Using a spatula, flip the pancakes after the first side has browned.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Great to serve with a scoop of Greek yogurt as a snack or light lunch.


Indulge in the flavors of Summer – Pasta al Pesto


Pasta al pesto is a classic summertime Italian recipe. It is originally from Genova in the Liguria region of northern Italy but is nowadays widespread throughout the country. The name pesto comes from the Italian word pestare (to crush) traditionally the ingredients were blended using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle. The good news is that it’s actually incredibly easy to make. The simplicity of this recipe does requires the use of high quality tasty ingredients. Any pasta shape will work but a classic traditional Trofie or Garganelli do the trick.

Recipe for 4

1 pound Trofie Pasta
For the Pesto:
10-12 Sprigs of Fresh Basil, Leaves only
1/3 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1/3 cup Premium Pine Nuts
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, peeled
Salt and Pepper
For assembling the dish:
½ cup Heirloom or cherry tomatoes, coarsely diced
Utensils needed
Large Bowl
Large pot
Electric blender
 Mix all pesto ingredients in a blender until a smooth paste has formed. If Pesto is too dry, slowly add some more olive oil. Pesto can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days in a closed jar. To prevent it from turning brown pour a little extra virgin olive oil in the jar and cover the pesto so that it is sealed and not in contact with air.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water, according to recommended cooking time written on the box.
When pasta is Al-Dente cooked, drain and transfer directly into a large mixing bowl. Add 6 tablespoons of Pesto sauce, 2 tablespoons of pasta cooking water and diced tomatoes. Toss the pasta gently to evenly cover with the sauce.
Place pasta in individual serving bowls, drizzle olive oil on top. Garnish with shaved Parmesan Cheese and fresh basil leaves and if desired tomatoes.

Buon apettito!

Focaccia made easy

Focaccia is an Italian flat bread that comes in many variations throughout the country. Try this easy traditional recipe from the northwestern region Liguria. All you need is a little time.. plan to make it when you are at home for a few hours, like on a Sunday afternoon. We choose to use a whole grain unrefined, unenriched and unbleached flour, stone ground made from only Italian wheat. Whole flours are rich in nutrients and taste and will make a darker and more flavourful bread. Usually local farmer’s markets will offer local good quality, possibly organic wholewheat flours. We also love natural fermentations and love keeping a sour dough starter.. it’s a great excuse to have to make bread, pizza and focaccia at home every week or so. It sounds scary but once you get into the habit, it’s a piece of cake. If this is one step to far for you, fresh yeast will work just as well.

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Yield: Makes a large tray
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking and leavening time: 3 hours

Mother yeast starter, 3 ounce (6 tablespoons)
or fresh yeast from store, if so 2 ounces are enough
Whole grain flour, 1 pack (1 kg)
Luke warm water, 2 ½ cups
Sea salt, 2 tablespoons –
Sugar, 1 tablespoon
Extra virgin olive oil, 9 tablespoons–

Utensils Needed
Oven, oven tray, electric mixer or bowl, tea towel, rimmed baking sheet

Place all ingredients but the oil in the electric mixer or in a bowl and mix or knead until smooth and uniform. Add 4 tablespoons of oil and mix. Cover the bowl with a damp clean tea towel and let sit for about 2 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled. Preheat oven to 390 F. Grease the tray with a little oil (1 tablespoon). Now knead lightly and gently press into the baking tray, flatten to fill whole tray and obtain a sheet no higher than 1 inch. If the dough is too sticky use some flour on your hands. Drizzle the whole surface with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust looks crispy and light brown.
Enjoy with some delicious spreads, cheeses and salumi (cured meats).

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