The Anchovy (or Alice): an excellence of Parma

A product that has emerged in an area that doesn’t have the sea

by Franco Pisano

In the gastronomic landscape the city of Parma expresses a strong connection with the land. Air quality, the geological nature of this place, the traditional processing techniques from which the products come alive do the rest: from Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese, king of the aged cheeses, the Parma ham, the leader of secular cold cuts tradition, which includes, among the specialties, salami from Felino, Culatello and the cooked shoulder of San Secondo.

Among the local excellence emerges a product not strictly fruit of the earth, but that had firmly taken root in the Parmesan tradition as a result of multiple economic and trade dynamics developed since the Middle Ages: we are talking about anchovy (or Alice), the Latin Engraulis encrasicholus. The fish, which is part of the Engraulidae family, spreads in the Aegean Sea to the Mediterranean, going beyond the Strait of Gibraltar and reaching the Bay of Biscay, north of Spain.

It is a species that loves company: during the day live in a pack, a strategy to confuse and ward off predators. Fishing, imbued by the romanticism of the Mediterranean tradition, takes place strictly at night, on days without moon at dusk: it is only in these cases that the flocks break up, giving the opportunity for a fishing boat to search for more fishes flocks. Through the use of a system of artificial lights designed to reproduce the sunlight, the flocks are bunched under the boat to then be caught.

Passano sotto le reti, che asciugano sul muro
e in mare c'è una fortuna che viene dall'oriente,
che tutti l'hanno vista e nessuno la prende

(Fabrizio De Andrè - Le acciughe fanno il pallone)

It's normal to be surprised that the most important industries of the anchovy market are based here, in Parma, away from the sea. In fact, the first factories of anchovy processing are not born in the ducal city, but along a path that, retracing the paths of anchovy (in Genoese dialect, anciuiè) of the Maira Valley, linked the port of Genoa to the cities of Turin and Milan. At the time, the farmers, finished the summer work in the fields, were engaged in the sale of anchovies and more generally of the fish. Purchased the finished product in Liguria (processed and stored) and loaded on carts, it started a long journey between villages and trails, with destination the Po valley, in which the product, great demand, was sold.

The first transition between the world of fish and parmesan industrial fabric is recorded as far back as 1871.

"On the origins of this phenomenon we have been put forward several hypotheses, drawn from the stories of popular culture. At that time, the transport of the goods took place along the streets of Salt. The salt was a precious resource on which the customs duty was imposed. Legends say that some ingenious people had the idea of filling the barrels of salt, only covering the top with a layer of anchovies in order to evade controls. Only later they realized that the anchovy business was more profitable and less risky in comparison with the salt sale. "

The first transition between the world of fish and parmesan industrial fabric is recorded as far back as 1871, when the Tosi family of Busseto and the Rizzoli family in Turin founded the company Tosi and Rizzoli, based in Turin, specializes in processing the Alice (from Liguria) and marketing of products from the the Po valley, including canned tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

The twentieth century was the most flourishing period for the parmesan fishing industry, with the birth of three leading companies in the domestic market: the commercial union Rizzoli-Emanuelli, Zarotti, and finally Delicius Rizzoli.

A long journey for the anchovy: from the seabed lightened by fishing lights to the the food valley of Parma finishing on our tables, to charm the palates recalling the scent of the sea.



Eggplant rolls with mozzarella cheese and salted anchovies gratin

For 4 people

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Summer dish

Difficulty: Easy


A long medium sized eggplant, 2 pieces of bocconcini, two slices of white sandwich bread, parsley, a pinch of garlic, 10 fillets of salted anchovies, an handful of Parmesan cheese, 5oo ml of seed oil, flour, salt and pepper to taste


Put on the fire to heat the oil. Then peel and cut the eggplant into thin slices with salt and pepper, meanwhile whisk sliced bread in a mix with the garlic and parsley and Parmesan until a breading like sand. When the oil is ready dry well the eggplant, with a cloth flour and fry until reaching a golden brown color; drain on a sheet of parchment paper and place them in a row to make it cool; put in the center the mozzarella and the rolled anchovies and place in a baking dish sprinkle with flavored bread and bake at 200 g for 10 minutes and serv

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