Rice, Gorgonzola & Frogs
Rice grows in water. Frogs live in water. It’s only a short hop to frog risotto. My beekeeper friend Francesca and I were travelling with Massimo, a rice farmer and our guide for the day, to L’Angolo Perduto, a restaurant that lived up to its name of ‘lost corner’, sitting as it does in an isolated spot surrounded by rice fields and narrow canals on the far bank of the Ticino River from Milan.
What could the fishermen dotted along the canal possibly be catching? ‘Frogs!’, Massimo almost shouted, knowing we would be shocked. He explained the art of frog-fishing with a pole and line. First you catch a very small frog (I’m still wondering whether you first have to catch a fly as bait for the tiddlies) and you leave it on the hook as bait for a larger frog. I never knew frogs were cannibals. When the large frog bites, you hit it on the head with the end of your pole and pop it in a sack. When your sack is full, you walk over to the restaurant to sell your morning’s catch. We had to forego the frog risotto since we hadn’t ordered it in the morning, but the restaurant owner insisted that we try a platter of deep-fried frogs, which were crispy and delicious. In that great divide between everything that tastes like chicken and the rest that tastes like beef, frogs taste like chicken. The texture of the meat is like chicken too, not a hint of slime.
When you see that the body of a ‘large’ frog is only 3 cm long, you realise how long it must take to fill a sack and why frogs are expensive. They’re getting rarer now too. When rice was cultivated by hand, which Massimo dimly remembers when he was a child in the ‘60s, the fields were flooded from March to August and the frog population was prodigious. Now they dry the fields for a period in June to get machinery onto them to spray with herbicides (even in the case of ‘organic’ rice), which disrupts the life cycle of the frog.
The gorgonzola? Some people have a nose for antiques or handbags. My nose is devoted solely to artisan food producers. While searching for a good agriturismo for my Cheese, Grains & Wine tour next September, I noticed one with a restaurant specialising in local produce, including gorgonzola. A quick search for gorgonzola showed that my rice farm was right in the middle of gorgonzola DOP territory. Everyone we met told us it was much easier to fish for frogs than find someone who still produces gorgonzola using artisan methods, but Massiimo directed us to a small dairy in Cassolnovo. The cheesemaker was selling beautiful artisan gorgonzola made by a friend of his nearby.
I’ve got her name and phone number and can’t wait for my next trip to frogland. I’m going to order that risotto before I set out.
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