Anchovies... of the mountains! The salt route between Piedmont and Liguria
Through the ancient Salt Road, anchovies discovered mountains and hills: it was through roads and paths travelled by farmers and merchants that anchovies became part of our diet. Discover their history.
Italy, Anno Domini 1600. The Via del Sale is travelled by merchants and peasants... more peasants than merchants, to tell the truth! Because in Piedmont, it was precisely farmers who used to set off along the roads and paths linking the Cuneo area to Liguria, to sell their produce and buy salt and... anchovies. This is how this much-loved fish came to Piedmont. There are some curiosities worth sharing. Because it is a very old story, with roots going all the way back to the Middle Ages...
5 interesting facts about the Salt Road
1 - Stories of winter trade, carts, oxen and smugglers
One of the most widely accepted theories about the introduction of anchovy consumption in Piedmont states that smugglers were the first to bring them. Why? Because at one time, hard to believe today, there was a flourishing clandestine salt trade. To avoid penalties (and even worse consequences), smugglers would cover the salt contained in crates or barrels with layers of anchovies. A habit that was lost over time: because anchovies had become so popular, they almost overshadowed salt smuggling!
2 - Dronero, the home of the anchovy makers
At the end of the 19th century, a real trade was born in Piedmont: that of the anchovy seller (in anciuè dialect). The Maira Valley saw peasants and merchants leave in winter for Savona. Here, in the port, anchovies, salted cod and herring were bought and then resold in the mountain villages during the cold season. Even today, Dronero pays homage to this ancient trade with a fair: and it is still possible, among the market stalls, to come across modern anciuè 2.0!
3 - A single ingredient for 3 champions of Piedmontese cuisine
The anchovy has entered so deeply into Piedmontese gastronomic traditions that it is one of the main ingredients of three classic preparations: Vitello Tonnato, Bagna Cauda and Acciughe in Salsa Verde. It may seem strange that a seafood ingredient is so deeply rooted in the mountain and hillside cuisine of Piedmont: but, you know, when the Piedmontese set their minds to something, they do it! And fetching fish directly from the sea is one of them. So, we can say that anchovies and anchovies have become the first fish... of the mountains!
4 - In yellow tin the Ghiotto Galfrè homage to the Salt Road
We at Ghiotto Galfrè have also experienced in times past the pleasure and anticipation that the arrival of the anchovy seller brought to Piedmontese kitchens. Because a good anchovy can become the protagonist of truly mouth-watering specialities. Our homage to tradition? The Alici in Salsa Ghiotto Galfrè. Inside the classic yellow tin, we select the best fillets fished from the sea of Sicily, which are deliscated and rolled exclusively by hand. The first thing that stands out, as soon as you open the tin, is the aroma: we cannot say much about our exclusive sauce, but if you have smelt it even once, then you know exactly what we are talking about. A Mediterranean sauce that harmoniously combines tomato, spices and... we can't reveal much more!
Tasting our Alici is a bit like going back in time: a hint of nostalgia for a flavour that is unique, modern and ancient at the same time. And they are also great for preparing the great classics of Piedmontese cuisine.
5 - Salt: a portentous preservative
Strange to think that anchovies arrived in Piedmont only to hide the salt that lay beneath them: yet the Via del Sale, without salt, would never have existed, and we could never have had the pleasure of tasting anchovies in all the forms that Piedmontese tradition has to offer. Salt, in fact, is an extraordinary natural preservative: think of the long winter journeys of the anciuè: without salt, stockfish and anchovies would never have arrived in good condition in Piedmont, even in the harsh climate of the past. Because salt, by its very nature, has two effects on the foods it preserves: it helps to limit the presence of water inside them (drying them out) and prevents the formation of bacteria. A precious helper, especially for those who travelled the Via del Sale with the flavours of the sea on their way to Piedmont. Let us also thank this precious ally: without him, Alici in Salsa Galfrè would never have existed!