Food, Food Artisans

Bacon Ball Speaker Talks About Italian Cured Pork

Ari Interviews Rolando Beramendi

 Rolando will be hosting the 6th Annual Bacon Ball, Thursday, June 4th, 7pm, our yearly Camp Bacon culinary event at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Rolando and Roadhouse Chef Alex Young have put together a menu based on the evening’s theme: Pancetta, Pasta, and Passion. 

Ari: We’ve been working together for over twenty years now! How did you get started importing traditional Italian foods?

Rolando: When I was in college at UC Davis I was always the one cooking for fun, friends and to practice all the recipes I knew from my family. I always saved money to drive to Sacramento to the only store I knew had good extra virgin olive oil (Corti Brothers!) and cherished every drop on the wonderful greens from California. I graduated in 1987 and went to Italy on a ski vacation. At a dinner I met a group of friends who owned a company selling corporate gift baskets which included some very high quality extra virgin oils, pasta, sauces, jams and delicacies. The name was “Villa d’Aglie” and they asked me if I could find them an importer for their products in the U.S.

Having just graduated and having no career in sight, I told them to send me a case of each product they wanted sell. The products arrived, I took pictures of them and I made a brochure with the photos by gluing them on white pages and typing a small blurb under each photo and explaining what to do with them. I sent it to many importers and distributors and only one asked me to come see him. Walter Guerra from ItalFoods was very interested but the lack of inventory and my lack of experience made him proceed to tell me how I could go about it. So after that meeting I created Manicaretti and ordered a pallet of products.

I then sent the same presentation and a product list to my favorite spots where I was finding good imported products at the time: Vivande on Fillmore Street and Gump’s in SF, the Pasta Shop at the Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland, Oakville Grocery in Napa. They all called me mad but within a month all my products were on their shelves! And then it all started to roll and grow, and now Manicaretti is 25 years old, and we are shipping tons of containers every year across the ocean and have a warehouse in New Jersey and one in Oakland…seems like yesterday!

Ari:You’ve been to Zingerman’s a number of times. Are you excited to come back for Camp Bacon?

Rolando: I will never forget the day we met at the first Fancy Food Show! When you placed your first order for olive oils and pasta, it was my first order to cross the Mississippi! It was a huge milestone for Manicaretti. You asked me to come visit and I came a few times with some of my producers to teach cooking classes and do demos. We taught together with Contessa Rosetta Clara from Principato di Lucedio a risotto class in the backyard with an improvised cooking station and enjoyed getting to see the real America where you live! Your support to the producers and products has always been so important. And since my favorite dish is Spaghetti alla Carbonara, I can’t think of a better excuse to come see you again!

Ari, Gianluigi, and Rolando

Ari, Gianluigi Peduzzi of Rustichella Pasta, and Rolando

Ari: Speaking of bacon, can you tell us about the role that bacon (or, really, pancetta, guanciale, lardo, etc.) plays in Italian cooking?

Rolando: I see it as a key and basic staple of every fridge in Italy. Everyone has always pancetta in the fridge! You see people using a little piece as flavoring or in many of Italy’s pasta sauces.

Ari: What are some of the dishes you have in mind for this year’s Bacon Ball at Zingerman’s Roadhouse on June 4?

Rolando: Grilled asparagus or radicchio drizzled with Agrumato lemon oil, crispy pancetta, cubed hard boiled eggs, and shavings of Parmigiano. For pastas, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Rigatoni Amatriciana, Bucatini alla Gricia. For a main course, maybe pork belly porchetta style. But we’ll see what’s good and fresh when we get closer to the date. One thing I can guarantee is that it will be great!

Ari: When it comes to pasta, few Americans understand what makes the difference between an OK commercial pasta and an A+ artisan offering. Can you explain some of the differences?

Rolando: The quality of the grain is essential as is the craftsmanship. Making an artisan product is very hard because the production is so slow and requires such incredible attention. The bronze dies give it the amazing texture. The drying process ensures its bite and flavor!

Ari: You and I are both huge fans of the Rustichella pasta from the Peduzzi family, in particular their PrimoGrano line. Can you tell us more about both of those?

Rolando: The Peduzzi family pasta-making tradition is the heritage of Gianluigi’s mom, Nicolina Sergiacomo, whose father had a mill in the town of Penne where all the farmers would bring their wheat to be milled. He then started to make pasta for some of them. Since pasta is the basic staple made on a daily basis, the pasta from the Mulino Sergiacomo was called “la pasta acquistata” meaning “bought pasta” which was then served as a luxury mostly on Sunday meals. Gianluigi wanted to recreate the same idea with the PrimoGrano line: 100% Abruzzo-grown wheat. They call those products “0 Kilometer” in Italy. It has the flavor of what his grandfather was making back in the 1920s.

Ari: What else should we know about bacon, traditional Italian cooking, great pasta or anything else?

Rolando: I guess here is when the most basic and simplest notion of what I consider “Italian food” might come to some scrutiny. We all overheard everyone saying keep it seasonal and simple. And it’s basically that. I think when you use high quality ingredients you need less fuss about them and around them. What’s wrong with just a bowl of Spaghetti alla Carbonara? It’s just egg, Parmigiano and guanciale! Do you think adding peas or this and that would actually make it taste better? How about having a bowl of peas with Pecorino and lots of olive oil when they are in season, but not on the carbonara! I feel sometimes like just having a perfectly ripe tomato cut in half with a delicious Crudo oil from Sicily or a piece of bread with a thick slice of sweet butter and a great salty anchovy on it. Why do we need to complicate things when we’re using the best ingredients?

I still remember my grandma serving prunes wrapped in bacon as an appetizer with cocktails. I think figs and bacon are the perfect fruit pairing as well as radicchio, asparagus and a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts. If there is a dish I would eat forever on a desert island would be Spaghetti alla Carbonara!

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See you there!