Everyone’s Italian on St. Patrick’s Day. My Irish friends may disagree but it goes something like this. The food traditions of Italy began with the ancient Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilization that apparently liked to eat and eat well. Archeological remains of clay pots, bronze cooking vessels and cheese graters may have established the Etruscans as the original “foodies”.
Enter the Irish. Celtic tribes from central Europe, hearing of the well laid tables of the Etruscans, were attracted to the region of Eturia (now known as Italy). Around 350BC the Celts built a settlement alongside an Etruscan village near Monterenzio (BO) and began to invite themselves over for dinner. So began a Celtic-Italian fusion that inspired me to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day “wearin’ the green”, white and red colors of Il Tricolore, the Italian flag.
What’s in your cup?
For our italyin30seconds literary baristas that would be coffee or more likely a shot of espresso but if I would be asking a group of ancient Etruscans (Italy’s original foodies) it would probably be wine. Patrick McGovern, adjunct professor of Anthropology and Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, is the world’s foremost expert on ancient fermented beverages. He has been called the “Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages” and in his lab, a flask of coffee-colored liquid bubbles on a hot plate with tiny fragments from an ancient Etruscan amphora.
Ceramic powder extracted from the amphora’s base is boiling in a chloroform and methanol solvent meant to extract organic compounds that might have soaked into the pottery. McGovern is hoping to determine whether the amphora once contained wine. His book on Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture explores the contents of many ancient cups and is a sleuthful look into the history and origins of the makers, drinkers and cultivators of the fruit of the vine.
I’ve seen Etruscan cups and other utensils including a grater and strainer used to grate cheese mixed with wine then strained and diluted with water. Not particularly what I would want in my cup but then again foodies (both ancient and modern) tend to be adventurous, curious and a little eccentric.