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Nastro Azzuro creator backs Japan takeover of Peroni

The veteran brewer who created Italy's best known beer, Nastro Azzuro, has given his blessing to the brand being sold to Japan's Asahi.

Nastro Azzuro creator backs Japan takeover of Peroni
The Italian brand could soon be in Japanese hands. Photo: Thos Robinson/AFP

The premium lager is produced by Peroni, a one-time Italian family firm which is currently owned by SABMiller. It is up for sale to help win regulatory approval for the London-based group's proposed $121 billion takeover by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

AB Inbev announced on Wednesday that Asahi had offered €2.55 billion ($2.85 billion) to acquire Peroni and the Grolsch and Meantime brands.

“Given that it has been a decade since Peroni was in the hands of the family, it's better it is being bought by Asahi, which is a very good brewer, than by an investment fund which would only have had a speculative interest,” said Giorgio Zasio, 74.

“The important thing is that the company and those who work for it can look to the future with confidence.”

Nastro Azzuro was first created in 1963 but was not an immediate hit, Zasio revealed in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa.

“It was very different from the current beer, it was too strong and not at all well received by our customers. We spent two years restyling it, changing the face of Nastro Azzuro, making it less bitter and reducing the alcohol level.”

Nastro Azzuro, which means “blue riband” in Italian, is still produced exclusively in Italy and is exported to more than 50 countries around the world.

The light-coloured lager weighs in at 5.1 percent alcohol by volume and owes its distinct taste to the unusual mix of grains used to produce it: three quarters barley to one quarter nostrano maize, a proprietary variety produced for Peroni in the Po plain of northern Italy.

The sale of Peroni and the other brands to Asahi will only go through if the AB Inbev-SABMiller tie up is finalized, the companies said.

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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