Curiosity is one of the things that most food lovers, and definitely most food bloggers, share. We're always looking for the next undiscovered restaurant, ingredient or dish that crosses our way, in the hope of feeling a new mind blowing emotion to enrich our knowledge. For the bloggers among us, the desire to find a new story to tell adds an extra dimension to the search for novelties.
Today restaurants tempt us with an array of unusual and exotic ingredients, and even the plain old meat course has acquired a number of new entries that are muscling their way through the beef, pork, lamb and game classics. Ostrich and kangaroo, or for the faint hearted Australus, have been around for over two decades (in European restaurants, that is). Crocodile seems to be becoming popular, at least with farmers breeding them. Bison is quickly gaining a gourmet street cred, with places like Alinea in Chicago using this meat successfully, as it seems.
In Italy there is an old tradition of alternative meats like donkey and horse, while European water buffalo is slowly carving a small market niche for itself. Yet, the real red-hot new meat back home seems to be European Mouflon. This animal has been on the diet of the people of its native Sardinia for ages, but a bit of good old press put it onto the radar of gourmets. About three years ago Davide Paolini, the gastronomical critic of the financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, wrote an article about Mouflon meat cooked by chef Fulvio Pierangelini – chef-owner of Il Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo, Tuscany, considered by some of Italy's finest food journos as the best chef back home –which sparked some interests in pro-cooks and food lovers. Mouflon remains a bit of a rarity though: although a near relative of sheep, it is anything but docile and it must be reared in a state of semi-liberty, needing great spaces to roam free. For this reason it has remained an elusive ingredient even on the table of the best restaurants.
A couple of months ago, on a blitz visit to Italy, I surprisingly received a few links of mouflon dry-cured sausage as a gift from chef Igles Corelli of Locanda della Tamerice. How could I refuse? Igles and his sous chef, Gianni Gnessi, have recently been having some fun with unusual cured meats, and the sausages where one of these experiments. Gianni, who is a master in scoring top quality ingredients, had obtained the meat from a central Italian farmer trying to set up a mouflon breeding farm, and so the menu of La Tamerice had a special mouflon main for a few weeks, plus plenty of these little sausages served as amuse.
The meat of mouflon resembles sheep, whith that typical woolly aroma that some find unpleasant, but is leaner and its taste is more powerful than that of its domesticated cousin. Yet it is rather richer and earthier than gamier, similar to the way wild boar resembles pork yet unique in its own way. For my part, I have no problem with the taste of sheep: I could have eaten these little sausages, as big as my small finger, like peanuts or, maybe better, simply thinly sliced on some good bread. My hope was that I'd be eating most of these on my own back at home, but Daniela (as I expected) appreciated them too and my son Saami, surprisingly, adores them and has eaten more than his parents together.
What was that again about kids and simple flavours?