Local Taste

The black gold of Cetara

The famous Colatura di Alici di Cetara, the core of the Amalfi Coast culinary tradition, is getting closer to the PDO certification.

By Francesca Faratro, Photo by Vito Fusco

The Colatura di Alici di Cetara, known as anchovy drippings, is one of the Amalfi Coast’s most precious product. It’s a transparent, amber-colored fish sauce made with anchovies of Cetara, the old fishermen’s village. «The Colatura di Alici is the excellence of our area. The sauce’s history and tradition and its versatile use in the kitchen have made it possible for our old little village to be known worldwide. This sauce has crossed national borders, and it is used as one of the main ingredients in our recipes,» explains Angela Speranza, Cetara culture and tourism councilor.

From generation to generation

If we talk about the origin of the sauce, we must go back to the Roman Empire era, where a product named garum was widely used. It consisted of a sauce made following the same process used to get the Colatura di Alici but with a different type of fish used as a prime ingredient.
Nowadays, the most crucial part of the sauce, the anchovies, is fished in the Amalfi Coast’s rich sea, and they go through a precise process of preparation. First, they are beheaded and gutted, and then they are arranged in alternate layers with salt inside the traditional wooden containers. «We are talking about a skill that is one of a kind, and for this reason, we must preserve it and pass it on to younger generations. This is not an easy job, it requires a high level of commitment, but we are confident that we will always be successful thanks to our fishermen,» says Speranza.

Fishermen at work. ©Vito Fusco

The process

The period of fishing anchovies goes from the end of March to the mid of July, but to create the Colatura di Alici di Cetara PDO other important aspects need to be considered. The fermentation phase is an essential step that originates in the wooden containers called terzigni, an Italian word that describes their size being 1/3 of a classic barrel. At the top of the terzigno people place weights so that there is enough pressure to help the fermentation. After a while, a liquid will “drip” from the anchovies, and that will take the name of Colatura (dripping). «Usually, this phase can last up to three years, and from each terzigno we can get three liters of Colatura,» tells us Giulio Giordano, owner of Nettuno, a family-run company in Cetara specialized in the Colatura di Alici POD.

The terzigni. ©Vito Fusco

It feels like home

Following the local tradition, this sauce with a savory taste is a significant feature in every Amalfi Coast house during Christmas Eve. On this occasion, indeed, the famous sauce is used to create the traditional recipe of spaghetti, nuts, breadcrumbs with a mixture of garlic, olive oil, and parsley. Antonio Ferrigno, an 83 years old former gym teacher, explains to us that «there are two varieties of Colatura. One is the Colatura di Alici di Cetara POD, and the other one is the sauce that people make in their own homes, filtering the anchovies’ liquid in a linen sheet. Even if it is becoming less frequent, it’s still important to make the distinction.» In the past, families were used to creating dishes with the colatura to replace the fish’s nutrients, sold for money instead. Nowadays, this great sauce opened up different possibilities in the kitchen, and it is used to create dishes, like, for example, mixed up with meat, that differ a little from its traditional use. «Today the Association for the appreciation of the Colatura di Alici Di Cetara – says Speranza – still promotes the sauce hoping to get the PDO certification. That is an important milestone that would give even more recognition to the product and would protect the supply chain.»

(Translation by Michela Pandolfi)

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