So did the soups live up to all the hype? As usual, some did and some didn’t. It was obvious that each cook had put loving attention into the making of the zuppa. They had been made with care and all contained the correct basic ingredients. It was the ‘element of surprise’ that I sometimes found too surprising: the domineering aroma and flavour of nepitella (Calamintha nepeta) in sample 2 (it was a blind tasting) and the overpowering sensation of stringy celery in sample 4. Cavolo nero is delicious but had taken over the whole bowl in one sample, and another screamed carrots. The individual flavours should be in balance and harmony; the subtle flavour of cinnamon in one was just right. I like a few whole beans in my zuppa, but only a couple of cooks seemed to agree with me.
In the first round I attended, we tasted five soups, and the winner came next to bottom in my ranking. My friend Kathleen Dunne and I were the only foreigners, while the rest of the jury were Italian and mostly in their 20s and 30s, many of them employees at Effecorta, a newish grocery in Marlia that shortens the supply line by buying directly from local farmers. But at the second round, my favourite of the six was also the winner in the eyes of the locals. The dinner was held in the church hall at Aquilea, and here I was the only foreigner. More of the crowd were older than at the previous judging, and it was a woman in her late 50s who had made the winning soup. Maybe one’s palate changes? Or perhaps the young are more daring and out for obvious excitement, whereas us oldies desire the warm comfort of the known? (Photos of the Marlia round are at: Disfida della Zuppa)