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Jewish Heritage in Italy and Italian Kosher Wine

Posted by gen On October - 25 - 2012

Italy has a unique place amongst European nations in Jewish history. The legacy of Jewish culture in Italy spans over two thousand years – from the early recorded Roman period to today. The country contains some of the oldest communities of Jewish citizens in Europe – over the centuries, Jewish communities in Italy have absorbed and welcomed Jewish groups expelled from Spain and Portugal, Eastern Europe, France and Germany.

Their presence has contributed significantly to Italy’s development throughout the ages, with Jewish culture playing an important social and economic role throughout Italy’s turbulent history, from the Dark-ages to fascism in the 20th century.

History records that the first Jewish settlers arrived in southern-Italy from Judea (part of modern day Israel) long before Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman empire. In the early years of the Roman Republic a thriving Jewish community lived in Rome with at least 10 synagogues to worship. Then, in 160 B.C. the Jewish leader Simon Maccabeus sent an embassy to Rome to strengthen the alliance with the Romans against the Syrians. The ambassadors received a warm welcome from the Roman Senate and from the existing Jewish community in Rome at the time. Although, the treatment of the Jews in Rome did fluctuate, they were allowed to live and worship, relatively free from harassment until Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman empire by Constantine I in 313 AD.

After that historic moment the position of Jews in Italy and throughout the empire declined rapidly. They were oppressed considerably until after the fall of the Roman empire, after which the dark ages yielded some respite for Rome’s, and indeed Italy’s Jewish communities. During the Dark Ages they were pockets of Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo and Messina in Sicily. When Milan came under the control of the Lombards, Jews were left to live in peace in the territories under their rule. Although the Lombard families embraced Catholicism, Jews were not persecuted and Pope Gregory I showed them respect and consideration. Although anti-Semitism began increasing throughout Europe from the 8th century, leading to great migrations of Jews from other European nations to Italy, Italian Jews enjoyed  comparably high standards of living.

In the Middle Ages, Rome’s Jews started to prosper as permission to trade and run businesses was given them. The majority of Rome’s Jews lived in the Trastevere neighborhood during this period, a district found on the west bank of the river Tiber, south of Vatican City. Despite the increasing anti-Semitism from the Church at this time,  towns such as Venice, Florence, and Genoa realized that their commercial interests were of more importance than politics of the Church and accordingly the Jews found their condition better than ever before.

Sadly this prosperity for Italy’s Jewish population would not last, by the early 16th century the Catholic church was fighting rising Protestantism and turned its attention to anything deemed a “heresy” or simply not contrary to the Catholic faith, including Judaism. In 1516,  the first ghetto was established in Venice and Jews were forced to live there, under harsh conditions. Poverty was rife and the resident Jewish community was striped of most of their rights and privileges.

Then, in 1555, Pope Paul IV established a ghetto in Trastevere,  forcibly moving all of Rome’s Jews into a cramped space on a few acres of land. They could not own property or run businesses and conditions were dire, many died of disease and starvation. Similar ghettos were erected around Italy and conditions didn’t improve dramatically until the 19th century. In 1848, after Napoleon had successfully taken and occupied Rome, the ghetto walls were torn down and the inhabits were allowed to move freely in the city.

After the Italian unification in 1870, Jews across Italy were granted full rights as Italian citizens. However in the 20th century, the rise of fascism in western Europe spelled dark times for Italy’s Jewish population, although they did not suffer as much as the German and Polish Jews. The Italian leader Mussolini instituted many anti-semitic laws as he allied himself to Hitler. The situation worsened after Mussolini was deposed, as the Nazis occupied southern Italy late in the second world war, and began instigating measures to deport the countries population to concentration camps. However, they met with resistance in many cities – in the Umbrian town of Assisi, Father Rufino Niccacci, sheltered 300 Jews during the war and gave them new identities and lives. Overall over 7,000 Jews became victims of the Holocaust.

Today, the Jewish population in Italy has recovered from the darkness of the mid 20th century and have left an incredible cultural mark on Italy’s towns and cities. Although the current community is relatively small, an estimate of around 45,000 – they are most definitely an important part of the Italian social landscape. The ghettos of Rome and Venice, the Jewish museum and synagogues all attract many visitors each year.

We start our tour with the birthplace of the Jewish arrival in Italy – Rome. The eternal city has over 22 centuries of Jewish heritage, which in addition to the classic sites of Rome – the Vatican, the colosseum, add up to an incredibly varied and almost overwhelming cultural experience. Although after the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome became the center of the Christian world, the Jewish community played an important role in Rome’s history. The oldest synagogue in Rome and possibly Italy, can still be visited. Then there is the ghetto, the largest in Italy and the Ponte Fabricio, not to mention the wealth of Jewish shops, kosher restaurants and guest-houses.

I’d suggest starting your Roman tour on on the east bank of the rive Tiber, near the Isola Tiberina (Island in the Tiber). This district, known as Trastevere houses the majority of Rome’s Jewish cultural attractions, including the synagogue and of course, the ghetto, constructed in the 16th century by Pope Paul IV. Although when Italy was unified in 1870 the ghetto was largely demolished, some of the streets remain as they were and make for a fascinating viewing, a leisurely stroll is the best way to sample Rome’s Jewish ghetto. Take a walk down Via del Portico d’Ottavia, the main through ware of the ghetto and notice kosher restaurants proudly serving carciofi (artichokes, a Jewish Roman specialism) and shops of fine, locally produced Judaica.  On Via San Ambrogio, there is also a small art gallery, promoting the works of young Israeli artists, well worth a detour. If you get peckish then check out the Jewish bakery on Piazza delle Cinque Scole.

You have already seen many wonders of the Jewish legacy, but before you leave make sure to visit the “Synagogue of Emancipation”, built after the ghetto was dismantled and completed in 1904. It is beautiful! Highlights include the impressive dome, painted with the colours of the rainbow and the museum. It contains historically significant artifacts, many of which were created by some of the finest artists at the time, as Jews were not allowed to be craftsman during the 16th-17th century.

A tour of Jewish Italy could continue with Venice, beautiful in its own right, Venice can lay claim to having the oldest Jewish ghetto in Europe and a wealth of Jewish historical legacies. By the 12th century, Venice was an independent city-state, and through its control of the spice and silk trade from the East, became one of he riches trading nations in Europe, wealth that the Jewish business community helped to generated. Step back in time as you visit the ‘Scole’ or Synagogues of the Venetian ghetto that were constructed in the mid 17th century, each representing a different ethnic group that settled there. Today, the Ghetto is still the focal point for Venice’s Jewish community and contains several welcoming guest houses and kosher restaurants. Another highlight is the Renato Maestro Library, founded in 1981 it contains a wealth of resources on Judaism and it a must see for any Jewish visitor. Not to mention The Jewish Museum of Venice, founded in 1953 which gives visitors a fantastic insight into the Jewish communities in Venice over the centuries; how they have evolved and contributed to the great renown of this magical city.

Copyright Mario Camerini www.mariocamerini.it

The eager visitor, after marveling at the wonders of Venice should head to the small town of Ferrara, one of Emilia-Romagna’s greatest walled towns. It has a special significance in the region, as there has been a continuous Jewish presence from the Middle Ages to today. Jews were welcomed in the 15th century by the Duke of Ercole I d’Este and have left an impressive cultural legacy. There are three synagogues, contained within Ferrara’s ghetto, which were constructed in 1627 and was the obvious focal point of Jewish life in the town. There is also a wonderful Jewish museum, which although fairly small, houses many artifacts and exhibitions on Jewish culture through the ages. Access to the synagogue cannot be gained from the museum.

After Ferrara head for Bologna, capital of Emilia-Romagna and one of Italy’s most prosperous cities. Bologna has an impressive cultural heritage that includes a rich Jewish legacy that dates back to the Middle Ages. In the mid 14th century the Jewish population was enclosed in a ghetto by the authorities, but by the end of the 14th century they owned houses in all parts of Bologna and ran thriving businesses. Another example of how the importance of Jewish community to the commercial success of a city superseded the religious dogma of the time.

Well worth a look is the restored ghetto, containing craft shops with Jewish prints and other hints of new life in the old Jewish neighborhood. Restaurants and cafes abound, if you need a well earned pitstop! The only synagogue in the Bologna ghetto is another big draw for visitors, as is the recently opened (1999) Jewish Museum. It celebrates with colourful art and displays the history of Jewish community in Bologna and Italy, there is also a well stocked book and kosher store.

Of course no visit to Italy is complete without a tour of Tuscany. Our next port of call is Florence, a monument to the Renaissance, the artistic and cultural reawakening of the 15th century. During this time Florence was the cultural and intellectual heart of Europe, its cosmopolitan atmosphere and wealthy patrons, such as the Medici, providing the impetus for a period of unparallelled cultural and artistic growth. The early Medici families were good friends of the Jewish community, so there are plenty of fascinating monuments and areas to explore in Florence after you have seen the Uffizi Museum and the Duomo.

A Jewish tour of Florence must start with the imposing Emancipation-era temple and the Jewish ghetto. Built in 1571 by the Cosimo de Medici, most, but not all of Florence’s Jewish population were moved into the ghetto in the 16th century. However, Jews in the ghetto had some freedoms and could build synagogues, schools and other public buildings as they saw fit. The spectacular, Moorish style synagogue in Florence is considered to be one of the finest in Europe. It was opened in 1882, the Moorish facade was based on the designs of the Byzantine cathedral in Constantinople. Jewish presence in Florence over the ages can also be witnessed first-hand in the two Jewish cemeteries (only open the first Sunday of every month) and an excellent Jewish museum and library.

The above is merely a snapshot of some of the main attractions of the Jewish legacy in Italy. However, there is another important aspect to this Italian discussion, which must not be omitted and that is kosher wine. This can be produced from any grape or Italian wine region, but crucially the wine must of course be produced according to Jewish dietary law, know as Kashrut.

For a wine to be certified kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must have been involved in the entire wine making process and any ingredient used, must be kosher. Although this was not formerly the case, today many famous Italian appellations and winemakers are making kosher wines, much of it exported as Italy has such a small Jewish population. Some to look out for include: Terra Di Seta Chianti, Chianti Classico, Tuscany; Rosh Aglianico, Campania; Batasiolo Barolo, Piedmont; Araldica Pinot Grigio, Piedmont; Fattoria Scopone Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany.

Nitra’e bekarov!

The Gin Boom has exploded all over Europe’s cities, trendy clubs and bars in the last few years. Not since the roaring twenties has Gin been so “in”.

And in our view, the most delicious, sexiest, buzziest gin on the market is definitely “Ish”.  We chatted with the creator and founder of The Poshmakers“, Elli Baker, about how Ish came about.

Ellie who is based in Madrid, and owns the Bristol Bar (premier gin bar and restaurant) is indeed also from Bristol. She actually studied  Oenology & Viticulture at the University of Brighton and worked at a vineyard in Stellenbosch, South Africa (as well as the UK!) before moving to Madrid. She had intended to move to Chile and make wine, but fell in love with a Galician (her husband and business partner) and stayed. The past few years have been whirlwind for Ellie, as within a year of creating the now firmly established Bristol Bar, she had a baby and if not busy enough with that, she created her own Gin (Ish) and Rum (Virgin Gorda British Caribbean Rum), and a new Vodka is in the works for September of this year. How does she do it?!

CT- 1. What encouraged you to create your own Gin?

Ellie- As a gin lover I was disappointed that out of all of the new, premium gins that were coming onto the market nobody was producing a premium London Dry Gin. So by producing exactly that a super premium traditional style London Dry Gin, but with a modern twist I filled both a personal desire and a gap in the market.

CT-2.  Where did the name Ish come from?

Ellie- -ish comes from the suffix Brit-ish/Engl-ish and also stands for “Irresistible Scandalous Hallmark” The name really works well as it’s short, so easy to remember and helps to explain the gin’s personality.

CT-3. How is your gin made, and where?

Ellie- -ish is a London Dry Gin, which means that all of the botanicals are steeped for 24 hours before distillation in a pot-still, using 100% British  Natural Grain Spirit, a total of 5 distillations are involved providing a very pure, high quality gin concentrate. After distillation the concentrate is allowed to rest during two weeks before it is blended with more natural grain spirit and then reduced to the desired alcoholic strength of 41% with water. (London Dry Gins must include all of the botanicals in the distillation and cannot add any flavourings or colours).
-ish is distilled and bottled in Clapham, London.

CT-4. Gin is famed for its botanical ingredients, what botanicals make Ish so special?

Ellie- One of the important things about -ish is that we haven’t played around with any weird or wonderful botanicals, we have stuck to traditional London Dry Gin botanicals, but added a little twist “an extra shot of juniper”, basically double the amount of juniper you find in most London Dry Gins. We source the highest quality, Baltic juniper which is much more resinous and helps provide a desirable oily texture. So -ish is obviously a very Junipery Gin, but we have included another 10 botanicals, providing complexity and balance, these include lemon and orange peel, liquorice, nutmeg, corriander, orris root, angelica, almond and cassia. Apart from the quality and ratio of botanicals, another important factor in the quality of -ish is the high ratio of gin concentrate to alcohol and water, -ish includes almost 4 times the amount that you find in other London Dry Gins, this provides a fantastically smooth and full body.

CT-5. What are 3 of your favorite gin cocktails?

Ellie- Gin and Tonic, Breakfast Martini and White Lady

CT-6. Can gin be paired with food?

Ellie- Yes, it most definitely can. Especially at the moment with such a wide range of styles available. Some of my favourite pairings include; a Dry Martini with Steamed Mussels, -ish & tonic with Traditional Fish & Chips or with an Ostrich Burger

CT-7. Gin bars are all the rage these days, tell us about your own gin bar.

Ellie- Bristolbar is a British bar and Restaurant in the heart of Madrid. Within a few months of opening we launched Gintonize, our gin concept within bristolbar. Gin & Tonic being one of the most “British” long drinks we decided to focus on that and started with a list of 60 gins, many of which weren’t commonly found in Spain. We provided the opportunity for new/unknown brands to present their gins as “Gin of the Month” including a special event where brand representatives/owners could meet the customers. Over the years the list has doubled and we now have over 120 gins and numerous tonic waters. Although our  tonic water list has been recently modified, now focusing on the British tonic waters; Schweppes, the Schweppes Premium range, Fentiman’s, Britvic and Fever Tree. We also offer numerous gin based cocktails including a Martini list inspired by the 50th Anniversary on Bond. We organise tastings, Master Classes, Gin & Food Dinners…

CT-8. Where are great spots in London for gin lovers?

Ellie- The gin boom that took place in Spain two years ago is only just getting going in London, so everyday there is a new gin bar to be found. Some of my favourite spots for my favourite tipple include; Graphic Bar – Golden Square, Christopher’s – Covent Garden, Coq D’Argent and Royal Exchange – The City (Bank) Calloh Callay, Lab – Soho. And the next time I’m in London I’ll be visiting Gaucho; they have just taken ish on board, so after one of the best steaks in town I can now enjoy one of the best G&Ts!

CT-9. Any advice on making the perfect Gin Tonic?

Ellie- For me the perfect serve is; A large balloon glass or wide neck highball glass with plenty of good quality, large ice cubes (so that they don’t melt too quickly) a twist of fresh lime peel, 60ml of -ish gin and 200ml of Schweppes Original Premium Tonic Water. A gentle stir with a bar spoon or mixer and serve immediately. Drink within 15 minutes to enjoy optimum quality!

Contact>

The Poshmakers, Ltd.

Burwood House,  14-16 Caxton Street SW1H 0QY – London

U.K.:  +44 (0) 7503526419  |  Spain:  +34 (0) 654718925

[email protected]

 

Also interesting:

10 Cocktails with Ish Gin on Summer Fruit Cup

CASA ARTUSI- Trip Report, Emilia Romagna Food and Wine Site Inspection

by Nancy O’Neill

Casa Artusi was set up to celebrate the life and work of the man considered to be The Father of Italian Cuisine, Pellegrino Artusi, born in 1820 to a relatively wealthy family in Forlimpopli. Seeing as the Artusi family were merchants and grocers, they fled to Florence (the heart of trade at that time) in 1851 to escape the terror and violence inflicted upon them by a notorious bandit of the area. In Florence he continued to develop his career in trade however his attentions were more and more focused on his true passions; writing and gastronomy. Living in such a cosmopolitan city, Artusi was exposed to cultures and cuisines from all over Italy and indeed all over Europe.

Casa Artusi

He started to collect recipes from Northern and Central regions while travelling for work all of which were tested by his own cooks Francesco Ruffilli and Maria (Marietta) Sabatini and in 1891 he published “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” a collection of recipes and a cookery handbook. The book was a great success and became a traditional wedding present for the bride of Italian families. Subsequently,  women from all over the country started to send Artusi recipes which their families had been using for generations resulting in the 14 updated versions being published until he died in 1911.

Casa Artusi Culinary Tours in Emilia Romagna Italy
Marietta worked alongside him throughout his later life and to honour her dedication there is now an organisation called The Mariette Association in Italy which was set up to research, collect and log all types of information about Italian cuisine especially that of the Emilia Romagna region. You can even contact them with your own family’s heritage of Italian recipes. At the cookery school Mariettas are called in to help during the pasta and bread making classes only.

However, Casa Artusi is not only a cookery school. This modern, state of the art building located in what was once an old convent, also houses a library, a museum, a restaurant and a wine cellar/shop the latter run by Jamila Khaled, the resident sommelier. On show in the museum there is a beautiful collection of gastronomy based literature both modern and old plus a vast range of Artusi’s writings shown off in glass display cases.

Casa Artusi Culinary Tours in Emilia Romagna Italy

The cookery school offers a variety of different private and group courses for all levels from beginners to professionals. The light, airy kitchen is decked out with 20 individual cooking stations with plenty of room to move about. While I was there I had the opportunity to part-take in a Piadina making class. Piadina is a delicious flat bread traditionally found and eaten in Romagna. With my “Marietta” Adele at my side talking me through each step I was able to make my very own Piadine in less than 15 minutes. The recipe is a simple, white flour dough which unlike most other Italian breads is not left to rise but cooked straight away on a flat non-stick pan like a pancake. Traditionally specially designed terracotta dishes were used to make Piadine which we also tried during the demonstration however I have it on good authority (from “Marietta” Adele) that the Piadina tastes better from the non-stick pan as it doesn’t dry out so much.

Casa Artusi

After our hands-on class we tucked into our own fare along with some delicious cold-cuts, preserved vegetables, cheeses and conserves. Of particular interest were two types of “Savor”, conserves/jams one made with Autumn forest fruits the other with pumpkin and both wonderfully tasty combined on top of the Piadina with Lo Squaquarone, a local fresh cheese similar to Ricotta but more like yoghurt in consistency.  Also on the menu were Pesche Nettarine di Romagna IGP; a local variety nectarine which is this particular recipe was picked while still extremely unripe and green (think slightly larger than an olive) then cooked and preserved in water, vinegar and sugar. Unusual and a little bit strange but exquisite on the palate. All this sumptuous food washed down with light, fruity Sangiovese red wine made for a very satisfactory pay-off after all our hard work slaving over the stove!

An interesting addition to our gourmet culinary tours in Italy.

Contact details:
Casa Artusi
Susy Patrito Silva (Director)
Tel: 0039 (0)543 743 138
Cell: 0039 347 789 2462
[email protected]

Piadina recipe: (makes 4 or 5)

piadina recipe

500g white flour
20g salt
70/80g soft lard
8/10g baking powder
Tepid water and kneed well until it forms into a soft, pliable dough.
Roll out 4 or 5 portions to the size a small dinner plate, cook on a non-stick pan (prick dough with a fork) until slightly brown on either side.

piadina recipe

More info on our offerings in Emilia Romagna-

Bologna Wine Tours

Balsamic Vinegar Tours

Grand Gourmet Tour

Merano Wine Festival 2010- “the” wine event of the season for Italian wine lovers

By Ivano Martignetti

Wine Festival Italy

The most elegant and exclusive wine event in Italy is just around the corner, from the 5th to the 8th of November, the Merano Wine Festival.  The magnificent Kurhaus is an incredibly elegant venue for the event and exclusive as not all producer are eligible to participate.  Indeed producers are required to send their samples to the examining commission of the MWF and if their wines receive a score of more than 86/100 they can participate, with no more than 3 wines for each winery.

The actual score is not available to the public, to allow everyone to have their own idea without being influenced by the evaluation of the expert examiners, but the highest level of quality is guaranteed by the work done months before the beginning of the event.

This year 1.317 top quality wines will be presented in Merano, with 370 Italian producers, 35 top producers of the “Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux”, 100 producers from the best wine regions in the world. Moreover, the Gourmet Arena will host food artisans’ stalls, artisanal breweries, grappa and distillates. The wine tourism aficionados this year in Merano will receive a treat, the presentation of exceptional wine resorts.

Italy wine festival
To prepare for this major wine event, we suggest trying  some of the Alto Adige/Süd Tirol wines that you’ll be able to taste during the Merano Wine Festival and in the restaurants of the area, should you decide to stay in Merano longer than the duration of the event.

Italy wine festival

Our top wine picks:

·    Baron de Pauli, “Arzio”, Cabernet-Merlot.
·    Elena Walch, “Blauburgunder” Alto Adige DOC 2008, Pinot Noir 100%.
·    Nals Margreid, “Baron Salvadori Gewürztraminer”, Gewürztraminer 100%
·    Kloster Neustift, “Südtiroler Lagrein Mariaheim”, Lagrein 100%.

Hope to see you there!

Info on the Merano Wine Festival here.

Notes from last year´s Merano event here.

While in the region, we can organize an exclusive day (or longer tour)  of wine touring with driver, Mercedes and private visits to top estates in Northern Italy. Contact us for more info.

Italy wine festival