The anchovies and the Cetara PDO status


Fishing for anchovies

In Cetara since ancient times it has been practiced the fishing of the anchovies representing a widely consumed food as well as the main nourishment of the coastal populations. This fishing was practiced with a type of net called a menaide: a net arranged in a current, three hundred to four hundred meters long, made of a single sheet with all the same mesh (on average 12 mm.). This mesh allowed the small anchovies to pass while the larger ones remained entangled. The two ends of this tool were passed through cables with two empty barrels that acted as floats. With these nets you could fish both day and night. The anchovies caught in the meshes were recovered by hand one by one. The menaide anchovies were of good texture and excellent for salting because when they were removed from the meshes they bled, assuming, during their ripening under salt, a salmon pink color. Starting in the 1920s, the net was then replaced by the lampara: a funnel net of the type used for purse seines with two wings or bands, secured to two wood sizes and formed by different parts which continue towards the codend in the seabed with increasingly narrow meshes.

Lying vertically and held on the surface by cork, it reaches almost the bottom at about thirty meters. The net is lowered while another boat with a light source attracts the flock of fish that is circled by the tool. At the appropriate time the light source is switched off and the net is set. This demanding and complex tool in the setting up, required large financial allocations and availability of more and particularly experienced personnel. It represented a remarkable technological advance for anchovy and sardine fishing. At the beginning the light source of the lamp was powered by carbide, then with oil, then with electric accumulators and finally by generators.

A type of fishing, even if with results almost always scarce, requiring little money to practice it was the one called to “Sciabica” or “Sciabichiello” (Spanish word: jabeca, corresponds to the Arabic Shabaka, which is the same, sort of net). These nets have the same use that was made with the paranze but the difference was that it was practiced by 6 to 12 fishermen. The net head was held by half of the sailors engaged in the operation while by a boat the remaining part of the net was extended from the beach always circling for a certain stretch of sea until returning to shore. Here, the other half of the fishermen collected the other head and with only the strength of the muscles, with a constant rhythm, set ashore the net that ended in a final “coppo” where  the fish present in that sea area, covered by the net, remained entangled. The same operation but with tighter meshes was used to catch the juveniles of anchovies and sardines, the classic “cecenielli”.

In 1946 a new system of fishing with purse seines was introduced. This is a purse seine that contains the flock of fish collected under the light source. It is equipped on the top with floats and on the bottom with weights. After the tour the pack is enclosed in a trap from which you can no longer get out. At this point the net is closed like a sack acting on a steel cable that flows through large rings attached to the bottom. Then it is pulled by hand until it approaches the anchor to the fishing vessel; finally, with large sheets of net the catch is hoisted on board. Fishing with this system had a rapid development; the traditional boats of the lamps, become obsolete and insufficient in size to house this new fishing gear, were replaced by motor vessels from 20 to 40 tons of gross tonnage. The considerable tonnage of these boats compared to the lamps responded, in addition to technical-practical needs due to the complexity of the purse seine system, also to improve and make more comfortable and safe on board the life of the crew which was 15-16 people.

Various weather-marine phenomena such as atmospheric disturbances, phases of the moon, sea currents, winds and anything else that could adversely affect, limited the activity on average to 180 days of fishing per year.

The salting of the anchovies

The first step of the salting process is the gutting (scapezzatura): the anchovies are decapitated and gutted in a single and extremely expert movement. Then, they are put in brine to dehydrate them for the first time. This step is called incruscatura. Then they are placed in layers in specially prepared clay pots or barrels. At the end of this operation, a circular wooden cover was placed over it to close the mouth of the barrel, on which the stones are placed, which are used for pressing. It is a technique perfected over time that has made the salty anchovies of Cetara famous and appetizing everywhere. This technique has been practiced in Cetara since antiquity, when the fishermen of Cetara started fishing for anchovies. Naturally, for obvious reasons, this bluefish can only be consumed in a very short time from the catch. So it happened that when fishing was plentiful or the market did not require large quantities of fish, it was destined to be thrown back into the sea. The fishermen’s wit devised a method, that of salting the fish, that allowed them not to frustrate the efforts of fishing. Often it was the women of the country who took care of this preparation. The ritual consisted in preparing the anchovies in large containers and then decapitating them and then inserting them in layers in specially prepared “jars” of clay. Each layer of anchovies was covered with coarse salt and then repeated the operation until the barrel is filled to the brim. At the end of this operation a  lid called “tumpagno”, made of a round piece of wood, and some stones , collected on the beaches of the village, was placed on top to press everything down. This ancient technique has come down to our days and now, as well as artisanal, it is also practiced on an industrial level.

The bond of anchovies with the territory is so strong that they often talk about anchovies of Cetara. Here anchovies and blue fish in general enter every day in recipes in a natural way: for many decades they have been the basic element of nutrition for “Cetaresi” and, even today, are valued by local restaurants.


The traditional anchovy colatura

It is well known that Cetara is the town of Anchovy colatura, the noble descendant of the Roman Garum, mentioned by Pliny and used by the great imperial cook Apicius who made extensive use of it.

In its current version, Colatura di alici differs from its famous ancestor: garum was a creamy fish sauce made by macerating alternating layers of small, whole fish (probably anchovies) and large, chopped fish (perhaps mackerel or tuna), with layers of chopped herbs, all covered with coarse salt. Colatura di alici di Cetara, on the other hand, is an amber-colored liquid with a strong, full-bodied flavor. It is obtained from the process of maturing anchovies in salt, following an ancient procedure handed down from father to son by the fishermen of Cetara. It involves simple rules and precise timing that now make it a product that has obtained PDO recognition.

The raw material for Colatura is anchovies caught using the “cianciolo” technique in the sea of the province of Salerno. The anchovies are sent to the salting process a few hours after being caught. Anchovy colatura is recovered at the end of the salting process, after a few months, through a hole drilled under the wooden container (terzigno): maturing slowly between the various layers of anchovies, the liquid gathers the best of its organoleptic characteristics, until it is recovered, according to tradition, at the beginning of December to season the main dish of the Christmas holidays. It’s almost an ancient ritual: every family gets it to season spaghetti or linguine, a must for vigiliar dinners, or to flavor boiled potatoes, vegetables. Many starred chefs use it to prepare dishes that garner unanimous acclaim among gourmet enthusiasts.

In 2015, the path to achieving PDO began. In compliance with the indications provided by European Union Regulation No. 1151/2012 (on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs), the specific Association for the Valorization of Cetara anchovy colatura was established. This is a promoting association that brings together three producers of anchovy colatura, three restaurateurs and two shipowners who practice the encircling fishing of anchovies.

On October 21, 2020, with its publication in the European Official Gazette, the process for the recognition of the PDO to the traditional Colatura di alici di Cetara anchovy sauce was concluded.