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Seafood

Italian Delicacies from Cibo California

by Lorrie Baumann

Start-up company Cibo California, founded last year, has reached exclusive distribution agreements for artisanal products previously unknown in the United States and is ready to launch them into the American market. Cibo California CEO Massimo Cannas says he spent months and even years persuading families that make artisanal Italian food products in traditional ways to share these products with the American market and to trust his company with that mission.

One of those product lines is Campofilone egg pasta from the Pastificio Decarlonis Srl, a family company run by brothers Paolo, Pietro and their father Enzo Decarlonis, who agreed to hold a “serious family meeting” after a long conversation with Cannas that ended with the decision that they were ready to enter the American market. “I spent several years convincing this family to start selling their products to the United States,” Cannas says. “We are the only company that is able to import their products to the U.S.”

The company is located in the Marche region on the eastern coast of Italy, directly across the Adriatic Sea from Croatia and separated from Florence by the Appenine Mountains. It’s a beautiful part of the country with an uncontaminated environment, and the pasta made in the tiny village of Campofilone is protected by the Italian government with an IGP designation, “Maccheroncini di Campofilone I.G.P.,” which means that the pasta can be traced back to this geographic area. “It’s only there that they can use this name, the Campofilone pasta,” Cannas says. “Only there, by the law, are people authorized to produce this kind of pasta and authorized to call it Campofilone pasta.”

Made with just egg and flour, with no added water, the Campofilone pastas cook in just two minutes. “They make this pasta using just flour and hand-cracked local, fresh eggs. This is what makes the difference,” Cannas says. “One by one, the eggs are cracked by a team of ladies. They must be quick.” Federico Pavoncelli, Vice President of Cibo California, says that one of his favorite recipes for the Decarlonis Maccheroncini di Campofilone IGP is Maccheroncini with lobster. “Very simple, quick to cook and delicious,” he says. He makes it with some chopped onion, chili pepper, a whole lobster and some white wine. He cooks the Maccheroncini separately for just one minute and then tosses it with the lobster sauce. “All this in no more than a minute. Serve it and enjoy!” he says.

Americans are familiar with the name Giuseppe Verdi as the composer of “La Traviata” and “Aida,” among other operas, but today’s Giuseppe Verdi is making vinegars at the Acefificio Aretino in Tuscany in the beautiful medieval city of Arezzo. Cibo California is offering the Verdi brand vinegars in a wide range of products for which it is the exclusive importer into the U.S. These include balsamic vinegar, red and white wine vinegars, organic red and white wine vinegar, red and white wine vinegar made with IGP Chianti wine in Tuscany, apple vinegar, and, very specially, blood orange wine vinegar made with blood oranges cultivated in Sicily. “This is something different, something unique,” Cannas says. “I tried it with a smoked salmon carpaccio and very thinly sliced sweet onions, a little radicchio, and a little lemon juice. It’s delicious.”

Cibo California is also importing a range of innovative high-quality products made with white and black truffles from Tartuflanghe, which is recognized as one of the world’s leading producers of truffles from Italy, according to Cannas. “Tartuflaghe is the master. We are talking about a very high-end product, the Louis Vuitton of the truffle industry,” he says.

The company based in Alba, Piemonte, is recognized as a leader, not just for the quality of its truffles but also for the elegance of its packaging, both for its retail and foodservice products. “This is a company that does a lot of research. They are not following the market. They are anticipating the trends in the food industry worldwide,” Cannas says. “It’s more expensive than the average imported truffle products, but in two or three bites, you see the stars, the best expression of an extensive line of truffle specialty products.” Tray the Parmiggiano Reggiano Cream with Truffle, or the Truffle Butter or the Acacia Honey with White Truffle!

Delizie di Sardegna and Sarda Affumicati are Cibo California’s source for bottarga, both from tuna and mullet. Bottarga is salted, cured fish roe, with mullet bottarga traditionally being produced in Sardinia, while tuna is used in Sicily. Most people prefer mullet bottarga for its flavor, which is less fishy than the tuna bottarga, Cannas says. “Bottarga is extracted from the fish and cleaned and covered with salt and put in a special drying cellar for a very slow drying process. In the last century, this process was done just under the sun,” he adds. “Today, bottarga is made in a drying system that produces an even better quality, flavor and consistency. Then it’s vacuum-packed and shipped all over the world.”

The bottarga is offered as the baffa, the egg sacs which have been extracted and processed whole, as well as grated or powdered in 40-gram jars. The baffa is vacuum-packed and sold at weights between 70 and 200 grams, with the best seller at around 100 grams.

“Add it to pasta to add a special flavor to any kind of meal. Over pasta, rice or soup, on top of a cioppino, drop a few drops of olive oil infused with grated bottarga,” Cannas says. “Or the bottarga is fantastic grated, a little spoon on top of grilled pork chops. This is the Sardinian way. Just use a little sprinkling of the bottarga to finish the meat after grilling.”

“With the baffa, you just slice the bottarga very thin, slice fresh artichoke heart, mix those together, add extra virgin olive oil, little bit of salt and two-three drops of lemon. This is all. You are in paradise,” he says. “That is a delicious appetizer that is offered in every restaurant in Sardinia. Instead of artichokes, you can use celery and add some cherry tomatoes.”

For dessert, Cibo California is importing biscotti and cookies from Grondona Pasticceria Genovese, a very traditional baker-biscottificio in Genoa since 1820. The pastries are made with simple ingredients of the highest quality, including, Cannas says, a lot of butter. Grondona products are made with La Madre Bianca, the company’s mother yeast, in which baker’s yeast and beneficial bacteria have been nurtured for almost two centuries. The process for feeding, tending and dividing the yeast has been kept a secret through four generations of the Grondona family – the art is rare today even in Italy, according to Cannas. “They are starting right now to enter the U.S. market, and we have been able to become exclusive importer for western U.S.,” he says.

Likewise, Grondona recipes are based on almost 200 years of tradition. Today, the company is operated by Orlando Grondona and his family. His son, Andrea Grondona, is in charge of the export division. “I took the airplane, I go to Genoa and I spent two days with Orlando and Andrea, the son. They are two wonderful human beings. Orlando is a lovely person, a genius, a master in the biscotti and cookie industry, not just in Italy but in the world. He is also a master wine expert and collector,” Cannas says. He is importing four Grondona products: the Baci di Dama in 100-gram packages, super-delicate and rich with real butter, honey, 14 percent chocolate and 17 percent hazelnuts; Canestrelli Antica Genova in 100-gram packages, in the shape of stars, 25 percent butter, lemon juice, Madagascar vanilla pods and packaged with a small packet of icing sugar intended to be sprinkled onto the cookie just before eating; Cuori Mori, heart-shaped and rich with butter, 9 percent chocolate and 3.5 percent cocoa; and Pandolcini Antica Genova, a miniature version of a cake that’s traditionally bought on the way home from church on Sunday to be served with Sunday’s lunch. It’s made from wheat flour, butter, 30 percent sultana raisins, orange peel, apples, pears, pineapples, 2.3 percent pine nuts, fresh eggs and lemon juice.

Cibo California is currently seeking account executives and distributors for southern California and other areas in the western U.S. Anyone interested in evaluating local distribution agreements for both foodservice and retail products is invited to contact Cannas at 949.230.6866 or email m.cannas@cibocalifornia.com.

A Salmon Called Frankenfish

By Micah Cheek

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the sale of genetically modified salmon in the US, sparking conflict in seafood circles and setting a new precedent for genetically modified foods in the US market. Aqua Bounty, the company producing salmon modified to grow at a faster rate, was approved to sell their product, AquAdvantage Salmon, after data from their organization was analyzed along with data from other peer reviewed sources, determining that the health and environmental risks to the fish’s production are low, and that the genetically modified salmon is not nutritionally different than its conventionally-bred alternative.

Various environmental groups and seafood organizations have spoken out against the FDA’s decision, contending that the animal has the potential to cause serious damage if it escaped into the wild. Concerns over environmental damage and risks to human health have vocalized consumers and pushed many retailers to publicly announce their refusal to sell Aqua Bounty’s salmon. Aqua Bounty has declined an interview request for this story.

Dana Perls, Food and Technology Campaigner with Friends of the Earth, an environmental reform group, says that public concern is based in a lack of consensus in the scientific community over genetically modified foods. “Consumers have strongly vocalized that they don’t want to eat GMO seafood or meat,” says Perls. “There are far too many risks for consumers to feel that this is sustainable or healthy; in fact, scientific studies point to the opposite.”

Critics of the FDA approval contend that using studies that Aqua Bounty itself conducted is unacceptable, as Aqua Bounty has a stake in the results of the findings. One document used to counter the FDA’s decision is a draft risk assessment of the environmental and human health risks of Aqua Bounty’s salmon conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Information in the assessment suggests that the genetic modification to the salmon can produce fish with inconsistent growth rates. This, groups suggest, indicates that the genetic modification process is not well-controlled or predictable. While the assessment does state that the salmon’s accelerated growth rates are highly variable based on environment, a summary of the assessment released by Fisheries and Oceans Canada goes on to indicate that AquAdvantage salmon pose a low risk to both the Canadian environment and human health.

Jacqueline Claudia, CEO of Love The Wild and formerly the Chief Strategy Officer of Kanpachi Farms, says that the risks involved in adding GMO fish to the menu have been overblown. It should be noted that Love The Wild will not be using genetically modified seafood in its products. “From a scientific perspective, a lot of issues in the media are just not true,” Claudia says. For instance, there have been concerns that escaped genetically modified fish could wreak environmental havoc if they escape. “In order to produce this gene[the genetic modification that makes the salmon grow faster], what happens is you get all females. And only 1.1 percent of those fish are capable of reproducing,” says Claudia. While the FDA’s draft risk assessment says that Aqua Bounty’s methods have been 99.8 percent effective at inducing sterility, the assessment by Fisheries and Oceans Canada says that Aqua Bounty only ensured an effectiveness of at least 95 percent. Claudia continues, “Let’s just say the stars align and it lands in the right gravel bed and finds a male salmon. The chances of them reproducing are really ridiculously small.” Claudia adds that part of the reason the genetically modified salmon grow so fast is because they have to eat all through the year, rather than hibernating as conventional salmon do. This, plus the fact that the modified fish have smaller fins than conventional varieties, suggests that any progeny of an escaped modified salmon would be unfit to live in the wild and pass along their genes.
Claudia believes that increasing yields with genetic modification has the potential to help feed the world in a less expensive and more environmentally responsible way. In addition, she believes that in the future, organisms could be modified to be disease resistant, reducing the need for antibiotics. “If people were to understand the science, we could increase the welfare of the animals.” While she believes the potential benefits of genetically modified fish are high, she believes fisheries should focus on selective breeding methods first, as the limits of that kind of growth optimization have not been fully reached.

While argument in the environmental and scientific communities continues, public opinion has already begun to turn the tide economically. In a 2013 New York Times poll, three-quarters of respondents said they would not eat genetically modified fish. A Friends of the Earth petition urging retailers to publicly refuse to sell genetically modified salmon has been signed by some heavy hitters in grocery retail. ”Customers have spoken, and we have seen companies such as Kroger and Costco stand up as leaders in seafood sustainability,” says Perl. “Fishing communities around the world are also rejecting GMO salmon because of environmental risks and the economic impacts it could have.” With such a strong public reaction, it is difficult to see where AquAdvantage salmon’s place would be in the US market. “We’ve had pretty much every grocery chain refuse to sell it; I struggle to see how anyone will sell it,” adds Claudia. “I don’t think we’ll see a lot more GMO fish if the first one in the market is just flatly rejected.”

Navigating Your Customers Through the Fish Case

By Micah Cheek
In the current seafood market, the desire for heart healthy proteins, risks of over fishing and concerns about preparation all seem at odds with one another. According to Dave Rudy, owner of Catalina Offshore Products, this complex environment presents an opportunity for retailers. “People are looking for a place where they can ask questions about their seafood and know where their seafood came from,” says Rudy. With the right information, the fishmonger can be a helpful guide to the stormy seas of an increasingly complex seafood counter.

The seafood species that represent 80 percent of seafood sales are referred to as The Big 5. Shrimp, tuna, salmon, whitefish and crab have historically been best sellers in the seafood case. According to Shawn Cronin, Business Program Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, breaking away from the Big 5 represents a valuable opportunity for retailers. “It’s a trend across all food systems, people love local. It adds an exciting element to supporting the communities you’re surrounded by.” Cronin adds that west coast retailers have seen success with local sole, flounder and rockfish. These varieties belong to the larger category of rockfish, a fishery that has gained a great deal of attention in recent years. While rockfish were greatly overfished in the 1990s, the reduction of bycatch, or unintentional catching of the wrong species, and new technology have made groundfish an ecologically responsible option.

Bycatch reduction, efforts to reduce ocean acidification, and sustainability initiatives have been increasingly successful, and a more informed customer is more aware of these issues. Tommy Gomes, expert fishmonger at Catalina Offshore Products, has witnessed the change over time. “I’m 55 years old, I’m the first generation of the TV dinner. Our food is changing. Everyone’s excited about dock to plate, and farm to market. Now it’s very critical to educate people on how to use the whole fish and how to prepare it in a healthy way.” To get a wide variety of seafood to a consumer focused on sustainable and local eating, the key is communication with a distributor. According to Seafood Watch, 90 percent of American seafood is imported, and tracking the chain of custody of any given fish can be difficult. “The only way you’ll know is diving deep into your supply chain to find out. Having a strong traceability policy in your organization is important,” says Cronin. “If you’re doing that work and you’re proud of what you’re sourcing, communicate that. Let the customers know, let them make purchasing decisions based on that information.”

The role of the fishmonger is becoming more and more involved, as customers want to know more about their seafood. “Sometimes a piece of fish gets bent or broken, it happens. I’m going to take them and grind them and show people how to make meatballs,” adds Gomes. “If you can take fish that’s broken, run it through a grinder, sell it for 5.99 and educate people on how to cook it, people will do amazing stuff.”

Aquaculture, or fish farming, presents another opportunity for discussion with customers. “A lot of the things we do are educate, promote and have fun. A lot of people have questions about farmed fish; these are the questions consumers are now asking,” Gomes says.

Aquaculture has been something of a dirty word in the seafood sector for the last 20 years, after environmental groups found overly dense and unsanitary conditions in Chilean farm fisheries. Since then, the aquaculture industry has made great strides in quality and is now considered an important part of sustainable seafood consumption. Unfortunately, the stigma has been difficult to shake. “This is one of the most frustrating things for me, because I believe that aquaculture is the future,” says Jacqueline Claudia, Co-Founder and CEO of Love The Wild. Using current advances in technology, farmed seafood has been able to encourage consistently healthy growth, eliminate antibiotic use in favor of probiotics and vaccines, and using feed that is composed of as little as one percent fish meal. “There are even some guys out in San Francisco that are basically making tofu for fish. You can replace fish meal in aquaculture feed with this alternative protein and get a farmed fish with a very similar omega-3 content as a wild fish.”

While seafood is gaining more interest with consumers, the barrier of entry remains high. The chance of making a mistake with a delicate filet is a strong concern for potential customers. “Seafood, more than any other category, has the possibility of stinking up your house for three days. It’s pretty high-risk for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” says Claudia. The recent increase in value-added seafood products is a response to these fears. Love The Wild offers prepackaged sets of two fillets paired with sauces. The meal for two is designed to be easily assembled, wrapped in paper, and baked. “Value-added seafood helps people get the training wheels to add seafood to their diet,” says Claudia. “They’re not looking for fish sticks anymore, they’re looking for clean-labeled fish that’s hard to screw up.”

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