“Che Bella, Italia”

…, he said sarcastically. Then he raised the tumbler of Santa Maria al Monte to his lips–a savage, pungent amaro–and knocked it back, the black, bitter shot an inoculation against the budding romanticism he had begun to feel for this place, his wayward spiritual home.

Trashy, I know, but in the course of developing a fascination with Italian amari–potent bitter digestivi like Fernet-Branca, Averna, and the aforementioned Santa Maria al Monte–I’ve often begun to associate the drink with how I think of Italy. Or I should say that I associate amari with why I think the way I do about Italy. Not sure if that makes sense or not. But recently it’s been one disappointment after another, making life difficult for the hapless italophile. Maybe diving headfirst into that dark amaro pool is the only way to get over it?

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Above: Checking fresh mozzarella for contamination (via La Repubblica)

Reports of recent scandals involving two beloved Italian products, Brunello di Montalcino and mozzarella di bufala, have left me feeling rather deflated.

I’m staying away from the Brunello affair. But you can read plenty about it in the wine blogosphere. Franco Ziliani blew the lid off of everything here, and you’ll find follow up reports at VinoWire (go here, here and here), Mondosapore (go here) and Do Bianchi (go here).

As for the mozzarella scandal, according to an article in the New York Times (thanks, Lloyd!), high levels of dioxin have recently been found in samples of the famous cheese. Some believe the source of the contamination comes from Naples’ trash–a lot of which ends up illegally dumped in the wild rural areas surrounding the city. While trash dumps have not been found in the mozzarella production areas themselves, it’s not very hard to imagine an illegal dump (filled with god knows what) polluting, say, the ground water. Others attribute the contamination to unscrupulous mozzarella producers.

Italian authorities have begun investigating the contamination but the damage to mozzarella’s reputation has already been done: South Korea recently banned all imports of the cheese. And, according to this article from La Repubblica (where that splendid photo came from, by the way), the EU has warned Italy that current steps to rectify the situation are not enough.

Mamma mia!

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