The Melons of Mantua

Mostarda (mostarda di frutta) is a classic Northern Italian fruit condiment with a healthy kick from mustard.  Not the yellow stuff in the squeeze bottle but fruit preserved in syrup spiced with powdered mustard seed or oil of mustard essence. Sometimes referred to as fruit mustard, the agrodolce flavor of mostarda has been a favorite of cooks since ancient times. The oldest recipe for Mostarda Mantovana was published in the 14th century and is still the basis for many modern recipes. Caterina de’ Medici carried a jar of mostarda in her dowry trunk when she left Italy to marry the king of France’s son in 1533. Pears and apples, grape must and figs, quinces, pears; almost any local seasonal fruit can be used to make mostarda.  Cremona and Mantua (Mantova) are known for their production of mostarda which enhances foods from tortelli to bollito misto.

The Viadana melons of Mantua, grown near the border with Parma, have particular characteristics of the land that create a melon that is fragrant, tender and sweet. The deep orange colored flesh, firm smooth skin and an intense aroma are perfect for the making of a mostarda.

white watermenlon

Anguria Bianca

Another typical product of Mantua is the Anguria Bianca (white watermelon), also known as the lemon verbena pumpkin, a melon with an herbal note that is truly unique. Grown on the fertile Padana plain, the white watermelon makes a sweet savory mostarda with a jewel like quality that the Renaissance court of the Gonzaga favored. Gonzaga documents testify to its presence at the table of the Lords of Mantua.  Made as a luxury by “speziali” (chemists) it was prepared as a delicacy and preserved in “albarelli“, earthenware or glass vases used for pharmacy preparations.

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