Italian ham company to fund restoration of Naples catacombs fresco

An Italian ham company will fund the restoration of an ancient underground fresco in Naples.

Italian ham company to fund restoration of Naples catacombs fresco
One of the frescoes in the catacombs. Photo: mathes/Depositphotos

The fresco is located in the city's San Gennaro catacombs, a huge network of underground tombs dating back to the second century BC and containing the tomb of San Gennaro, one of Naples's patron saints. The complex is one of the southern city's most popular attractions, ranked sixth in all of Italy on travel review site TripAdvisor.

Italy’s biggest prosciutto producer, Parmacotto, has provided €30,000 for the project, which will begin in January and is expected to take two years.

That money will go towards the preservation of the centuries-old fresco, which has been damaged by the damp climate of the catacombs over the years.

Speaking at the project's announcement on Wednesday, Parmacotto CEO Andrea Schivazappa said: “We chose [to support] the catacombs for the cultural value, but also for the powerful social significance, because it shows how a group of young people from a tough neighborhood can better express their potential if given the opportunity.”

The catacombs are managed by Paranza, a cooperative made up of young people in the Sanità neighbourhood, an area which has become known for high levels of poverty and unemployment.

READ ALSO: 'How I fell in love with Naples, a city full of contrasts'

Schivazappa likened the huge increase in visitors to the catacombs over recent years, under Paranza's management, to the history of his own company, which has relaunched in the last three years.

And there's another link between the catacombs and prosciutto. The history of Italian cured ham dates back to pre-Roman times, when Roman soldiers began to preserve meat in order to take with them on their journeys across the empire.

According to Italian food company Barilla, Roman writer Cato penned a technical explanation for making prosciutto in the second century, and producers today follow more or less the same process. 

Recent years have seen a string of famous Italian sites renovated with funds from private donors, often from Italy's two most globally renowned sectors, luxury fashion and food.
In April this year, the founder of Italian food chain Eataly announced that he would fund a €1 million hi-tech restoration of Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece, The Last Supper, to preserve the delicate painting.

That came days after an insurance company announced it would finance a restoration of Venice's Royal Gardens, and fashion house Gucci said it would fund a revamp of the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

Other sites to have received makeovers from private donors include Rome's Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps.

READ ALSO: Italian accidentally drills through 500-year-old Naples church fresco


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.