A red kimono, Iberian jamón, African aubergines, spices, turbans, chains of dried figs, a double-headed eagle. When the Salone del Gusto joins the Terra Madre event, a blaze of smells, tastes and colors can only be born. And among these there are also the black and red of the Albanian flag, held high by the producers of Lepushe, Elbasan, Thethi, Shkoder and Permet.
But it does not end here: Albania was also the protagonist of one of the Salone del Gusto cooking workshops: "The Terra Madre network: Albania to the fullest".
Altin Prenga, owner of the restaurant "Mrizi i Zanave" by Fishta, was the sole director of the work Slow Food Convivium in Albania . The menu included a set of three byrek, goat of Mirdita, pecorino with slatko of plums and wild figs, a gliko of Permet and a small glass of raki.
We went into her kitchen and interviewed Altin Prenga, his wife and oenologist Alberto Cugnetto.
What was it like to import Slow Food culture into Albania? What reaction did you encounter?
Mrs. Prenga: In the beginning it wasn't easy. We were aware of bringing something new to Albania: the Slow Food culture was not yet very well known. However, with dedication and commitment we managed to assert ourselves.Mr. Prenga: Our goal is to make tradition a fashion. That's why we joined the Slow Food brand and decided to bring it to our land.
Do you cook together in your restaurant?
Mrs. Prenga: Yes, we are peers and we have many common memories. Our grandmothers taught us how to cook, and so they gave us traditional dishes. A dozen people work in the restaurant, and many of them are family members.
How do you choose the raw material for agritourism?
Mrs. Prenga: We have a vegetable garden attached to the farm, and we try to use as much as possible the vegetables and fruits that we produce ourselves. For all the products that we are not able to produce independently, we turn to farmers and nearby breeders, always in our area. Ours is first of all a "km 0" philosophy.Mr. Prenga: This is why we always use only seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the menu changes accordingly.
Mr. Prenga, what is the dish that cooks with more pleasure, which makes you think more about childhood?
Mr. Prenga: Surely the smoked pork with cabbage.
What is the most requested dish on the menu?
Mr. Prenga: We do not have a particular specialty, we devote great effort to all the dishes we offer.
Do you have many foreign customers?
Yes, we have many, especially Italians, but also from other European countries, especially those from the East and North East: Poles, Slovaks, Czechs.
Meanwhile, a winemaker has entered the kitchen, Alberto Cugnetto, which collaborates as a consultant to a three-year project of the wine development LVIA in Northern Albania, funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We interviewed him.
What does the project do?
The project aims to finance a laboratory and an experimental cellar, as well as to establish a more regulated and profitable wine culture, reviving the rural areas of Albania.
What were the premises you found in Albania?
At the beginning the wine production of Northern Albania was not important either for volume or for quality. It was not easy to introduce innovations in the territory, both because of scarce economic resources and because of a wine culture that is not yet sufficiently strong. With this project we have tried to develop and regulate the wine realities already present in the territory. Three years are few: we must hope that the Albanian producers will continue on the path that this project is tracing.
What do you recommend to Albanian producers?
There are already companies operating in the area, but it would be desirable to create a consortium that can standardize and protect the rules of viticulture. We should look for a conformation to the European parameters. I have often found three or four different types of grapes in the same vine: there is a great deal of confusion, and the Albanian state does not deal with it enough.
Did Albanian wine like at the Salone del Gusto?
Much, perhaps more than I expected. We have already exhausted all the stocks, and there are still two days. I hope we can bring more bottles!
On the stand you also presented the famous Kallmet wine. Which Italian wine can you compare?
The Kallmet is a wine that is produced in the north, on the border with Montenegro. It is a demanding vine with unique characteristics, hardly comparable to other wines. However, one could venture a similarity with Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo.
Do you often go to the "Mrizi i Zanave"?
When I am in Albania I always go to lunch and dinner only and only from them. The cuisine they offer is excellent.
A virtue and a defect of the Albanians?
The Albanians are very direct and sincere people: I really appreciate this feature. As for the defects, I believe that the Albanians have not yet developed a full respect for social rules. The biggest flaw is the lack of a strong civic education.
Other articles on Altin Prenga
- Albania at "Km Zero": Interview with Altin Prenga
- Altin Prenga, one of the four faces of the new world cuisine
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