Ontalia Puts Italian Roots in Local Soil
Italian Marries Canadian
You’re a young ragazzo growing up in Castellamare di Stabia near Naples, Italy. In the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, you spend the days watching your mother tend the family garden, raise a small flotilla of farm animals and prepare regional dishes from handfuls of fresh local ingredients. And though her talent in the kitchen has earned her a spot as chef for a noble family, she never wavers in her approach to food: simple, fresh, local ingredients cooked in a manner that showcases rather than overwhelms the individual ingredients.
Cut ahead 20-odd years and you’ve been transplanted to Toronto. Mamma still tends vegetables in the backyard garden and cooks traditional dishes that fill the house with aromas from the past. In the meantime, you train as a cabinetmaker while expanding your knowledge and passion for wine and food. You work in all aspects of the furniture industry, but inevitably the siren song of your true passion calls and you follow into a life of oenology and gastronomy. It’s everything that pops your cork. But still something is missing. The food scene is full of fusion, confusion and, distressingly, disillusion. You crave simplicity, purity and what you remember as a kid. What do you do? Simple, really. Bring home your old home. Put “Italian Roots in Local Soil.”
Before you go screeching off in a state proclaiming, “But Sangiovese won’t grow here!” consider, if you will, Ontalia, a company — and concept — that aims to bring an Italian sense of place (a concept that also happens to embrace the tenets of the Italian-born Slow Food Condotte, but we’ll get to that) to Ontario-centric cuisine. The mind behind Ontalia is Angelo Bean (no, not Mr. Bean; it’s pronounced Beh-an), whose life is encapsulated in the paragraphs above.
“I have always tried to make authentic Italian dishes using ingredients seasonally imported from Italy,” Bean explains, “but the true artisan products and the ingredients needed to make them are rarely exported. Also, the distance these products have to travel compromises their freshness as well as their environmental sustainability. So I came up with the idea of following traditional Italian cooking methods but using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.”
up to speed on slow food
In fact, the notion of “good, clean and fair” that guides Bean’s gastronomic foray is also (not surprisingly) the motto of the Slow Food movement, of which Bean is a member through the Toronto Convivium organization. Contrary to common misconception, Slow Food speaks to a certain mindset as to how food is sourced and enjoyed rather than the speed at which things are cooked — though the movement actively works to combat the creeping onslaught of fast food.
Ontalia’s flagship product is salsiccia ubriaca or drunken sausage. And though he has laced his delicacies with all manner of intoxicating liquors (including single malt scotch — “highland hotdogs,” anyone?), the most attention has been paid to, and the most accolades heaped on, his VQA wine-infused numbers.
“I cook with wine — sometimes I even add it to the dish…”
“Italians commonly add wine to their sausages,” Bean notes. My personal experience suggests that Italians commonly add wine to pretty much everything, including each other. “But in my sausages you get to recognize the flavours of the wine. The flavour comes from the quality and concentration. It’s not just the usual splash we are used to when cooking with wine.”
In keeping with the Slow Food conventions, Bean’s creations use the simplest ingredients. “Pork, wine, salt and pepper,” he reveals. “That’s it.” However, as alluded to, it’s the quality of these ingredients that give the sausages their award-winning flavour. “I am using the best possible meat available in Ontario. Berkshire pork — the ‘kobi beef of pork’ — and VQA Ontario wine, usually Baco Noir and Riesling.” Baco, concedes Bean, “… is the best way to represent the concept of local terroir. It is the ultimate local soil ambassador.”
this little piggy…
Bean uses only shoulder meat for his sausages, something that sets his products apart from those typically seen in supermarkets. “Sausage is typically a by-product of the butchering process,” he explains. “In order to stretch the yield and mask impurities of inferior meat a number of additives are often used. When only shoulder meat with the optimum marbling of fat is used you get the real taste.” In fact, one judge at the Sausage King of Ontario competition noted that Bean’s entries tasted like pork and not “a spiced concoction the sausage maker came up with.” Not surprisingly, Bean was crowned King of the competition. Bean sources his meat from family-owned, sustainable Ontario pig farmers such as Paul Unruh in Durham and Fred and Ingrid de Martines in Stratford. The animals are typically allowed to roam free and are fed a natural diet. Bean notes that they “behave just like pets.” Yum.
It goes without saying that the wine used in the process has to be every bit as good as the meat used since it plays such a pivotal role. But getting enough wine into the meat to allow its flavour to show through poses a challenge as pork meat, according to Bean, is not particularly absorbent. The work-around is both simple and novel; if you can’t get more wine into the meat, concentrate the flavour of the wine.
“In order to intensify the wine’s flavour I reduce the wine to less than half of its original volume by cryoextraction.” This process, simply put, is a way to make pseudo-Icewine. You freeze the stuff and separate the flavour compounds from the water. The result is a concentrated wine essence of which a little goes a long way. “A bottle of wine usually gives me a couple glasses of concentrate that is easily absorbed by about five kilos of sausage meat.”
life’s bean good
The only problem for those of us wanting to chow down on some of Bean’s piggy pleasures is their scarcity, a problem inherent in any artisan product. While certain high-end food shops in Toronto carry them from time to time (try All The Best Fine Food Ltd), they are more readily seen in fine dining establishments. “They are the chef’s sausages,” Bean confesses. “They are my regular customers.”
Should you manage to get your mitts on some, Bean suggests cooking them over a very hot grill for 15 minutes. The myth that pork needs to be cooked to the same degree of doneness as poultry is just that: a myth.
With Ontalia, Bean has taken the best practices of the Slow Food Condotte — plus the legacy of his mother — and combined them with sustainable, local ingredients to create an evolving line of exceptional Italian-inspired Ontario delicacies that offer a true taste of the land. “We have forgotten what natural unprocessed food tastes like and have become too used to cheap, processed, unsustainable fair,” Bean laments. A taste of his drunken sausages is all it takes to remind you that eating is indeed a pleasure and not simply a requirement.
Short Hills Bench Salame
Made from Berkshire pork infused with Riesling Reserve from Niagara’s Short Hills Bench appellation. A yielding texture gives way to a mild smokiness and barely salty-sweet overtones. Rich and flavourful. And addictive.
Salsiccia Ubriaca (Drunken Sausages)
Scotch Infused: Laced with a dash of Highland Park 12-Year-Old Orkney scotch. Perfectly seasoned with just a touch of cracked pepper lending a bare kick; mild honeyed notes from the scotch segue into a hint of bitterness on the finish.
Riesling and pork is a classic match, so it makes perfect sense to marry the two in this sausage. The wine adds a subtle citrus note to the smoky/sweet pork, which is left in a fairly chunky state for added texture.
“Meatier” and richer in the mouth than the Riesling, the Baco Noir infusion ramps up the smoky element and enhances the overall body.
Rabbit Infused with Riesling and Brandy (seasonal)
Niagara Riesling and brandy along with sautéed Spanish onion give these moist, succulent sausages a spirited, mildly gamey character. Bean notes that rabbit cannot be mass farmed or treated with any hormones, antibiotics or other foreign substances. These sausages are also virtually fat-free.