In 1991, Paola Calciolari’s dream was simple: “I wanted to open a school that teaches how to make jams, using the products from my own territory like Campanina apples.” This seemingly simple vision gave rise to a small laboratory just outside the town of Mantua, in the rich Northern Italian countryside. And today, her dream comea to fruition, as Paola is the director of a small artisan company, “Le Tamerici”, and is considered to be the queen of jams, marmalades and savory mostarda, the Italian pickled fruit compotes.
“We only work with fresh fruit and employ methods that allow us to preserve their colors and aromas without conservatives or additives. We’re in the land of white watermelon and Mantuan pears, of pumpkins, melons and Campanina apples. I’ve tried to revive these products that have almost been forgotten,” says Calciolari.
She works alongside other teachers like Gianfranco Allari, who are called upon to teach courses in their areas of expertise, within the school’s well-equipped kitchens. So what is mostarda? We asked the expert. “Lots of fruits and vegetables are appropriate for mostarda, all you need is the patience to leave them alone for four days while the sugar caramelizes them. It’s very easy to make at home. The main trick is in the final step: adding mustard oil, which you can find in pharmacies, in the right amount. If you add too much, you’ll bring on tears. If you add too little, the mostarda will have no character.” Mantuan mostarda stands out among the other versions because it features just a single type of fruit. The Campanina apples are a local variety, quite small in size, with red skins and firm flesh and a slightly sour taste. They are a key ingredient in many Mantuan dishes, especially the mostarda, which is traditionally enjoyed alongside a plate of boiled meats and firm, aged cheeses.
Other regional fruits that are often used in mostarda include white watermelon, whose slightly grassy taste makes it the perfect companion for aged cheeses like Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano and Castelmagno as well as fatty cured meats. This ancient fruit was prescribed to the Marchesa Isabella d’Este as a restorative cure. The Viadenese melon is also a Mantuan variety, which stands out for its aroma and sweetness and is often eaten alongside prized cured meats like prosciutto di Parma or culatello.
Over the years, the mostarde from Le Tamerici have ventured into new and bold flavors, winning over countless chefs who use them as ingredients on their menus. The company makes a version that celebrates the aged Grana Padano cheese, with red onions and orange zest; the Lambrusco gelatin was created to marry perfectly with Pugliese burrata cheese; the prunes with smoked tea are ideal when eaten with toasted bread and a rich slice of lard.
What distinguishes the Mantuan mostarda from the rest is its perfect balance of sweet and spicy, of the density of the syrup and the crunchiness of the fruit – which should remain “al dente” even after being caramelized. But its real secrets are carefully kept in the ancient recipe books of Mantuan households. That is, unless you have the good fortune to attend a class at Le Tamerici.
Recipe for Gorgonzola flan with fig mostarda:
Butter, flour and milk, make a thick béchamel sauce, then add eggs and gorgonzola at the end. Pour into small moulds and cook in the oven with a bain-marie. Serve with a spoonful of fig mostarda at the center.
Recipe for Cannelloni filled with ricotta, grana and Campanine apple mostarda:
Stir together the ricotta, grana and finely diced mostarda, correcting for taste if needed. Roll out the pasta into triangles, boil them and then fill them with the mixture and shape into cannelloni. Place the cannelloni into a buttered baking dish, brush them with melted butter and cover with a generous sprinkle of grana and then bake.
Recipe for Pumpkin cream with goat cheese foam and Campanine apple mostarda:
Cook the diced pumpkin in vegetable broth and a few amaretto cookies, then blend in a mixer and adjust seasonings. Whip the goat cheese with a bit of cream and pour the pumpkin mixture into small cups. Dollop with the goat cheese and garnish with slices of the mostarda.
Recipe for Chicken salad with red radicchio and Campanine apple mostarda:
Boil the chicken in seasoned water with celery, carrot and onion, then let cool in its cooking liquid. Cut the radicchio into julienne slices, then arrange on a plate with the diced chicken and the mostarda. Dress with oil, salt and pepper.