Nonno Peppino – Tuna That Makes it Through the Net
Nonno Peppino – Tuna That Makes it Through the Net
Sicily is known for some of the most beautiful coastlines embellished with petite and colourful fishing boats floating on top of azure waters. Given these conditions, it is not surprising that this is the home to some of the best tuna. But finding the local tuna factory is not at all an easy task. The white building surrounded by roses looks more like a family home than an industrial site, but this is the origin of some of the highest-quality fish, produced locally and shipped worldwide. This sizeable export is produced by a tiny team, who hand-season each individual piece of tuna and anchovies, before putting them in jars and filling them with organic olive oil.
The Nonno Peppino fish factory is a small family business that started in 1926 when Grandpa Peppino Brunetto took the Sicilian tradition of keeping the fish in organic salt and mixed it with a variety of local flavours. Today, this is recognised as the most authentic taste – and it created a group of Sicilian food addicts around the world.
“I imported 180 kilos of Sicilian food products last year”, says Antonino Balistreli, a Sicilian osteopath based in London. From his point of view, the goods from the average grocery shop in the UK are incomparable with those produced down the road from his family home. He now ships vast quantities of Sicilian foods for his own use to always have a taste of Sicily at home.
“We want to show that we can be good for the Italian image”
Occasionally, these products go to visit their fans abroad. ‘Nonno Peppino’ travels to big cities and small towns alike and is currently planning the next trip to the small town of Keighley in Yorkshire. The purpose of the trip is to take part of a trade fair focused on Sicilian life. Together with many others producers, Nonno Peppino will exhibit authentic food, drink and art, to contradict the sometimes negative stereotypes of the island.
“In the past twenty years, our image has been damaged by stories about the mafia and general chaos. This is why we chose to bring these producers. They have been carefully selected to represent the new and traditional ways. We want to show that we can be good for the Italian image, not just the problem that we have been in the past,” says Prof. Giuseppe Arnone, President of European Italian Foundation (Fondazione Italiani in Europa) and the sponsor of the Festa della Repubblica, a Sicilian food fair that invites producers direct from the Sicilian farms to Keighley.
“We prefer to keep the high quality, even if it makes the product more expensive,” says Giuseppe Brunetto, the grandson of Grandpa Peppe the owner of Nonno Peppino fish factory.
“As a part of that, we have to take responsibility for the sea and keep the fish population healthy. We use long lines along with seine nets that helps to keep the balance of the sea. This way, we don’t waste fish. This is a part of the family tradition that has passed on through generations,” says Brunetto.
“Preserving the fish is the most important steps of the process”
Protecting the fish through tradition is even more important given the rarity of the tuna produced at the factory. The focus lies exclusively on Albacore Tuna, which is known for its white meat and outstanding textures. It’s caught near the Sicilian coastline on small fishing boats, an ancient method that safeguards other marine species.
Much like tuna, anchovy fishing also requires a profound knowledge of the local environment and a few lucky days. Using the traditional “lampada method”, anchovies are caught at night, when attracted by torches placed near the fishing boats. Once enough fish is gathered, the anchovies are picked up by a purse seine net – a fishing net that allows the small fish to escape and prevents the factory from wasting the product.
Although effective, this way of fishing is limited by the forces of nature. Above all, it has to follow the moon circle, as the full moon distorts the torch and makes it impossible to fish. Together with other natural factors, such as sea temperatures and currents, fishermen have to make the most of their time, which is normally limited to a few months a year, so preserving the fish is the most important step of the process.
“Every single step of the process has to be monitored on a scientific level”
The difficulty of catching fish in combination with the Mediterranean heat makes it even more important to know how to preserve the catch in the best way. The Sicilian tradition of keeping fish in a bed of salt can almost seem like the art of making wine. But unlike wine, which matures with age, fish salting is almost as complicated as cooking Italian pasta. There may only be three ingredients (salt, fish and salt) but every single step of the process has to be monitored on a scientific level.
“In the summer, when the temperatures are high, you have to act quicker”, says Surname, while opening a 15 kilo can of salted anchovies that are now ready to be flavoured, rolled and packed.
Despite the challenges, the production is always ongoing, even though the fish only arrives twice a year.
Methods that allow us to make the most of the environment are part of our nature. Humans have been catching food for centuries and gathering knowledge about our surroundings. But picking products from supermarket shelves sometimes means we forget the labour, love and craft that companies like Nonno Peppino put into the produce.