Standard bearers: Bianca e Mora

Categories: Behind the stalls

The story and philosophy behind Slow Food approved trader Bianca e Mora

“See the fat in the meat? That is a sign of the pig having walked around in its life,” Ewa enthuses, pointing to the prosciutto’s pearly white marbling. “The ham you buy in a supermarket, from an industrially farmed pig? It’s just pink meat with thin fat on the edge. Those pigs have barely moved,” she sighs “and they are slaughtered at six months, compared to two years.”

She turns toward the salami. Though covered in thick, sunny, vivid yellow beeswax, once sliced in half the salami reveals a meat of rich vermillion, speckled with the same delicate fat pearls. The natural beeswax protects the meat while allowing it to mature with time, developing a hearty, pungent flavour. The meat for the prosciutto and this salami comes from mora romagnola: a rare, black breed of pig raised semi-wild by just three producers, and the ‘Mora’ of Bianca e Mora

The ‘Bianca’ comes from the bianca modenese, an ancient breed of white cow indigenous to the region. It produces very little milk—barely enough for a wheel of parmesan—so it’s rarely in stock, despite the promise of the stall’s name. “It’s difficult to find. There are just two small producers. Most parmesan these days is made from friesian milk,” says Ewa. These cows can milk 30 or even 40 pints a day, but Bianca e Mora is committed to supporting small, organic producers—and so, while the parmesan from bianca modenesa remains a rare find, parmesan from the red cow (another indigenous breed of Emilia Romagna) is a queen among their cheese. 

Wheel of parmesan

Intense and crumbly
“It is bolder, more intense, and crumblier,” explains Ewa. “Those who try it always want it. They rarely go back to the friesian.” While the numbers of this previously rare and ancient breed of cow have recovered such that it is no longer part of the Slow Food Presidia, the methods and ethos of those breeding the cow and producing the parmesan are very much aligned.

“There are only five producers in the region, and the cows graze freely in the mountains.” In winter their diet is supplemented with hay, never cattle feed, and the milk is tasted every day during making. While ‘normal’ Parmigianino Reggiano can be called as much after a year, the consortium stamp for red cow parmesan isn’t granted until after a minimum of 24 months. The nature of the proteins and the fat globules in the red cow’s milk allows the cheese to mature for longer without becoming dry.

Of course, any food that takes so long to make demands appreciation, but red cow parmesan works hard to earn it. “The taste lingers in your mouth for such a long time,” says Ewa. Enjoy it on its own, with just a glass of quality spumante—Bianca e Mora have a fine, organic, biodynamic selection—or grate on pasta with Bianca e Mora’s passata, produced from san marzano tomatoes grown in Napoli. “The people of Napoli say every tomato wants to be a san marzano,” chuckles Ewa.

Salty breeze
“This producer is part of the Slow Food Presidia. The sun, the salty breeze off the sea—it makes for the sweetest tomatoes.” Indeed, so ripe and tender are the fruit when it comes to harvest, they must be handpicked after nightfall. “The skin is so delicate, it will explode if it’s touched in the sun.”

Within half an hour of being picked they are gently boiled and bottled. “Nothing is added. It’s just tomatoes.” Simplicity, tradition, time and an absolute faith in nature are the leitmotif of Bianca e Mora’s approach to food. There are no preservatives in the salami; the producers rely on salt and the quality of the pork. There is no plastic involved in the mortadella, which is instead preserved “in cow’s small intestine, the traditional way.” Over Christmas, Ewa sold the last of this year’s pecorino di fossa: cave-matured sheep’s milk cheese. “It’s not available now until next winter, because the cave needs time to rebuild bacteria before the cheese can go in.”

It is the opposite of all that’s commercial and fast. It is the pursuit of flavour, and within that contentment. It’s no coincidence that Bianca e Mora is named after two of the Slow Food Presidium’s most cherished sources of produce.