Before I ventured into Alimentari De Angelis, our local salumeria for the first time alone, I stood outside and took a breath. My heart was pounding. Would I remember all the Italian I needed to buy mortadella or prosciutto or – well anything? Etto? Cento grammi – was that close to 1/4 pound? Theatre training kicks in – I review my lines – visualize my actions – think about what I was doing before I went through the door and said, “Vorrei un etto di – – Un etto of what – eeeeeeech -here is where I point at the case and resist saying “that salami looking stuff”. I know these words. I eat these words – wait – I didn’t say that right.
Now you are thinking – it is just a store in a small Italian village – stop with the dramatics. You’re right. But in this village everyone knows everyone else. I can’t embarrass generations of Guerreras and Sollas. I notice the woman on the bench near the store staring at me. I go in. The small shop – about 8X10 – was crammed full of just about anything you needed to create a quick scrumptious meal. Packets of pasta, a few round loaves of bread, rice, canned good, juice, paper plates, – you get the picture.
The three people in front of the meat counter turned as I pushed aside the beaded curtain, entered and said “boun giorno.” (Everyone says boun giorno every time they enter a shop – most times the folks in the shop echo an answer.) While I was waiting for my turn, the other customers and I stood close together in the jammed packed shop. This was a good thing. I could see and hear how they interacted with the shop’s owner, Pierina De Angelis. After all, we were all here for what was found in the refrigerator case – mortadella, prosciutto, salami di Milano, salami di Napoli …..
Soon it was my turn – I noticed a price list taped to the refrigerated display case and had memorized it. How could everything be un euro or un euro e 20 centesimi per un etto? Cheap great meats – how did I know the cold cuts were great? My cousin and world’s greatest cook, Carmela Mancini, shopped here.
“Vorrei un etto di mortadella, per favore.” The blonde Pierina standing by the old fashioned counter smiled and asked me where I was from – in Italian of course. Damn, was my italian so bad that she pegged me right away as an outsider? That happens to me a lot. I told her I was from New Jersey and before I knew it we were having a simple conversation and she discovered where I was from, who I was related to and how long I was staying! She made me feel comfortable and not embarrassed by my accent. I wanted to be her friend for life! OK, now it is time to order – guess what – I forgot the entire product list that I had memorized. Ugggg. We started with the mortadella.
If you haven’t had great mortadella – but only the crap we get in the USA super markets – you haven’t tasted the cold cut that makes you keep coming back and buying more! As a matter of fact, even though my cholesterol rises when ever I think of mortadella, I bought the yummy meats about every other day.
Starting in about 1899 Americans were calling anything made of pork parts and stuffed in a casing bologne/baloney. Maybe manufacturers thought they could trick folks with limited taste buds into buying the stuff thinking it was like Mortadella – a famous culinary tradition of Bologna, Italy.
http://www.lifeinitaly.com/food/Mortadella.asp has great descriptions and the history of Mortadella. Here is a sample:
Mortadella di Bologna starts with finely ground pork, usually the lesser cuts of meat that are not used for other types of sausage. In fact Mortadella is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Italian pig farmers as nothing edible on the pig is wasted. This ground meat is mixed with a high quality fat (usually from the throat) and a blend of salt, white pepper, peppercorns, coriander, anise, pieces of pistachio and wine. The mixture is then stuffed into a beef or pork casing depending upon the size of the sausage and cooked according to weight. After cooking mortadella is left to cool in order to stabilize the sausage and give it firmness.
After the first week of repeated stops at her shop, Pierina could almost guess my order. Un etto di mortadella for me and due cento grammi di salami for Jack. Jack experimented with the various types of salami and couldn’t decide which he liked best. Bottom line? It was all wonderful.
Alimentari De Angelis has been in Pierina De Angelis’ family for generations. She and her husband Antonio Santo Pietro have run it for a long time. I was saddened to hear that they will be closing the shop this fall. They are moving on toward retirement. Boy, do I hope that someone as nice and who sells products just as good steps in to fill the gastronomic void.