Nikki Palun reflects on the origins of food and wine as she enjoys Salami Day at the De Bortoli vineyard in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.
It has started to rain. Beautiful, delicate rain whose drops adorn your hair with diamonds. I decide to stay outside for a while longer, not caring that I am getting wet. Not caring that my companions around the roaring log fire are beginning to dwindle. The beautiful Yarra Valley scenery surrounds me. I have a glass of wine in one hand and a barbequed pork rib in the other. A fresh breeze causes me to shiver with delight.
I have been invited by the De Bortoli family to attend their annual Salami Day. Most people recognise De Bortoli for their premium wines from the Yarra Valley. However, today the wines are secondary. Today we are here to continue the age-old Italian tradition of making Salami – a cured sausage that has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. And I am not even from an Italian background!
In the shed beside the fire, different types of Salami are already hanging. Our winemakers and some of their friends have been up since dawn making the sausages. The pig from a nearby farm that was hanging last night in the cool room is no longer. I look at its giant head in the bin and feel a slight shock ripple through my body. We are so far removed from the production of our food these days. I silently thank the pig for its death that helps to give us life.
*Pictured right: An age-old tradition: Making salami at the De Bortoli Vineyard.
For the next 12 weeks, the sausages whose skins are filled with diced pork, spices, herbs, salt and the secret ingredient – red wine – will slowly ferment and then dry out. The De Bortoli family will then have another celebration to try the first round of this year’s salami and compare it with salami from previous years. They have been following this tradition for centuries now and continued it on after they came out to Australia in 1924 from Northern Italy. In the early days, before the ease of supermarkets and fast food, people had to grow and prepare all their food themselves – from farm to table. This is why Vittorio De Bortoli started making his own wine in 1928 when De Bortoli was first founded. Imagine an Italian eating spaghetti without a glass of red wine!
I take another bite of my pork rib and wash it down with De Bortoli’s home made wine. Delicious! Why can’t all food taste this good?
My glass is empty. Steve Webber, the chief wine maker for De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley strides over with purpose to fill it up again from the flagon. I comment on the bottle – such an unusual shape and I notice that it has the De Bortoli logo as part of the design.
“This is one of the original glass flagons from the 1970’s. People used to come down to the winery and we would fill up the flagons with our hand made wines straight from barrels in our cellar. They would take them home, drink them that night over dinner with their family and then come back the next day for more.”
“People these days are looking for something real. Take the decorations in the marquee where we are having lunch today, for example. The decorations include green and white striped tea towels instead of posh white napkins. There are common glass tumblers instead of expensive glass wear. Hay barrels with home spun woollen blankets on them instead of couches. This is what people want these days. Something that is real and reflects our origins. Something that people can trust.”
I take my plate and fill it up with pork roasted over an open fire, green salad fresh from our garden, roast vegetables and lentils cooked in the same simple style that Italians have been enjoying for thousands of years. I have never felt so hungry.
Walking back to my table to be with my friends, I catch my reflection. I notice that my hair is still slightly wet from the rain, my shoes have splashes of mud on them and my hand is stained with red wine from where the flagon blessed me with some blood like drops. I feel so content. Peaceful. I have forgotten about the emails, the incessant phone calls. The deadlines. All I can think about is how lucky I am to be here today. To be able, for one short moment, glimpse the true meaning of our lives. ■
*Nikki Palun is De Bortoli Wines’ Export Manager – Asia.