t’s no secret that London has gone through something of an Italian restaurant revolution in recent years, and the Big Mamma Group, with its larger-than-life personality and shamelessly OTT dishes, has most certainly been responsible for a large scoop of it. We’ve all found ourselves lost in mounds of cacio e pepe at Gloria Trattoria, taken selfies in the neon-lit loos of Ave Mario and feasted on one too many slices of truffle-drenched pizza at Circolo Popolare. Now the Italian stallion is about to tempt us even further with its most decadent venture to date: a four-storey ‘antique villa’ and ‘pleasure palace’ named Jacuzzi — yes, Jacuzzi — on Kensington High Street, serving all things luxurious to match its west London postcode. That utmost extravagance requires the very best ingredients, so we followed executive chef Filippo La Gattuta to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region to scope them out.
The first stop on our tour of the region was to 69-year-old producer Caseificio Gennari to taste test — okay, stuff our faces and suitcases — arguably the most indispensable Italian ingredient: Parmigiano Reggiano. You might be wondering what the difference between this, Grana Padano and ‘Italian hard cheese’ is, so here’s the low-down. Both of the Italian-language cheeses are DOPs (Protected Designation of Origin), meaning they are allowed to be produced only in certain areas under strict guidelines, while Italian hard cheese is a free-for-all. Generally speaking, Parmigiano Reggiano is considered the purer, superior product because it must be aged for longer (mini-mum 12 months compared with Grana Padano’s nine), is made using only naturally fermented whey and with milk from cows allowed to graze on just local hay and grass. Every so often a cheese whisperer — sorry, inspector — will visit the factory to knock on each wheel of cheese to see if it’s up to scratch. Taste wise, Parmigiano is considered more grainy and complex than its buttery cousin. At Caseificio Gennari, they make cheese from three different breeds of cow — the black-and-white Friesian, which boasts a sweet, creamy taste; the Brown cow, an ever creamier version; and the prized red cow, which produces the punchiest iteration. These can be aged up to 100 months, and at Jacuzzi you can expect to find the accessible, 22-month aged Friesian on pizzas, on spaghetti al tartufo, crumbled in salads and offered from a huge wedge to be grated tableside.
Next we zoomed up to Prosciuttificio San Nicola to devour the region’s most well-known speciality, Prosciutto di Parma DOP (aka Parma ham), and the lesser-known Culatello di Zibello DOP. This part of the world is said to produce sweet, impressive cured meats due to its geography, high in the mountains and not too far from the sea. Prosciutto di Parma is slathered in sea salt, then cured in multiple chambers at different temperature and humidity levels for at least a year. At Big Mamma, you’ll find slices of it on antipasti boards as well as the Culatello di Zibello served with hot, fried parcels of dough called gnocco fritto.
Thankfully, the final leg of our tour involved finding something to wash it all down, and the area’s delicately fizzy red and rosé Lambrusco DOP (no, not akin to the Lambrini you drank before school prom), designed to be served chilled, does just the trick. Organic vineyard Venturini Baldini’s frizzantes mainly utilise the native Sorbara, Grasparossa and Salamino grapes, and are fermented using a mix of the speedy ‘Charmat method’ and the ‘long Charmat method’, which is more similar to the champagne process, creating a more complex flavour. The result is a selection of rosés perfect for pairing with seafood, and light, elegant reds to complement meatier meals — which we can’t wait to devour at the ‘pleasure palace’, prontissimo.