BERETTA, Cavallo & Vinitaly!
Story & photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet
The indomitable and intrepid Travelling Gourmet finds fine guns and tastes yummie horsemeat in sunny Italy…
MANY a Roman General followed the maxim: Si vis pacem, para bellum. It means: let him who desires peace, prepare for war. Beretta, the oldest gunmaker in the world with an annual turnover of 436 million Euros, owes a great deal of its success to those who follow this creed. I had been kindly invited by Ugo Gasalli Beretta, the 15th generation President to visit his Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta and Museum of Firearms. And so on a hot spring day with cloudless azure blue skies, these thoughts crossed my mind as I travelled to the small rustic town of Gardone val Trompia in northeast Italy. Surrounded by high mountain peaks, this picturesque town lies in the beautiful valley of Trompia. Iron ore mines in the hills plus water from the River Mella has made it a centuries old center for arms manufacturing.
After exploring the picturesque narrow cobblestoned streets I found the ancient Parish Church of San Marco. Inside, I admired the amazing paintings of artists from Brescia and Venice dating back to 600 AD.
Bright and early next morning after a good snooze in Beretta’s La Forestiere guest house, I strolled over to the titanic Beretta Castello/Mansion and factory. I was met and taken on a special VIP tour which began with the private Beretta Museum of Firearms. The magnificent displays showcase ancient rifles of the 17th Century like flintlock & percussion rifles ,to more modern 21st Century small arms immaculately kept in highly polished mahogany cabinets. The mind boggling diverse collection is astonishing! Did you know that Napoleon ordered muskets from Beretta for his Grand Armee in 1797? You can also see James Bond’s first pistol, the .25 caliber Beretta Model 418 mentioned in Ian Fleming’s book “Dr. No”. It has a grip safety like the Colt .45 M1911A. This was before 007 adopted the Walther PPK in 7.65mm.
Did you know that the “Kidon” or “Mivtazah Elohim” special action Mossad team that terminated with extreme prejudice the terrorists who masterminded the Munich Olympic massacre used Beretta autoloading pistols. Their weapon of choice for close work was the Beretta .22LR caliber Model 71. Loaded with subsonic ammunition, it did not need a sound suppressor. You can also view these cool pistols in the private Museum. Israel’s sky marshals also us the trusty Beretta Model 71.
007’s favourite pistol, the .25 Beretta Modele 418
Fascinating too were the covert walking stick guns & the WW2 era 9mm German Schmeisser Maschinen Pistole 38. Shades of 007, Commander Bond, James Bond. My guide, jovial Milani, who worked for Beretta for years…explained how Beretta began in 1526 by supplying 185 Arquebus barrels to the armies of the Doge of the Venetian Republic. These barrels are now in Venice.
Photos are prohibited in the state of the art factory, where the first thing that struck me was the comforting smell of gun oil and cold steel. I saw shotgun barrels being drilled out by yellow robots before final hand polishing by highly skilled Beretta technicians. It is a harmonious blend of modern high tech and old fashioned fine precision handwork. Semi-automatic shotgun aluminium receiver blanks and M9 aluminium pistol frames were everywhere in large containers. The pistols slides are made of steel. Yes, Beretta supplies M9 autoloading pistols to the US Armed Forces & to many other armies. To date, over 800,000 Beretta M9 pistols have been supplied to the US Armed Forces! The double action M9 pistol is one of my favourite handguns and fires the powerful 9mm round. Only the NAVY SEALS use Sig Sauer P226 in 9mm.
As The Travelling Gourmet says, “When you need a reliable amico, I prefer Beretta.”
The over 76,000 square meter production facilities includes firing ranges tunneled into the mountain. About 1,500 guns are produced daily including over & under shotguns, pistols, rifles and assault rifles. The factory operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!! Over 75% of the production is exported to over 100 countries around the world. Security is very, very strict with CCTV, armed guards and thorough X ray inspection of your bags.
Beretta 92F and Selective fire Beretta 93 Rafficca with extended magazine. Excellent when you need MORE firepower! The problem with fully automatic fire is that you run out of ammo very fast…
Horsemeat for dinner!
That evening, I went to try the specialities of the area in “Al Falconiere” which serves regional cuisine. This cozy restaurant has a warm and welcoming ambience with statues of falcons as one might expect from its name. One must-try is Cavallo (horsemeat) which should be enjoyed “tartare” (raw) to relish its full bodied gamey flavour with a touch of sweetness. I also sampled the Sesame Crusted Lamb and Vitello (veal). For dessert, Fragole con Balsamico (strawberries with aged Balsamic vinegar)! There are also special butchers here that specialise in horsemeat cuts.
Beretta also owns 3 wineries and the one nearest Gardone val Trompia is Lo Sparviere which means the sparrowhawk. The other two are in Toscana and Abruzzo. Lo Spaviere winery is housed in a 16th Century villa and produces sparkling wine. The Lo Sparviere Franciacorta Brut Saten DOCG with its creamy elegance plus clean finish went well with the meal. Made with 100% Chardonnay, it is aged on the lees for 24 to 36 months. Franciaciorta is Italy’s answer to Spain”s Cava.They also make Terre di Franciacorta Rosso DOC. This red wine with 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Nebbiolo and 5% Barbera has complex flavours of prunes, forest fruits & spice. Perfect with gamey horsemeat!
There are those that complain that their burgers contain horsemeat??? I wonder why…
Trattoria “Al Falconiere”
Via Marconi, 20/A
25063 Gardone val Trompia
Tel: 030 89 60 013
I attended the largest wine exhibition in the world which is Vinitaly in Verona. Romantic Verona is where Shakespeare set his immortal play “Romeo & Juliet”. From April 7 to 11, 2011, over 156,000 visitors visited the 45th Vinitaly where there were 4,000 exhibitors in 95,000sqm of show area.
Prosecco & Brittany oysters!
At the Bisol stand, I savoured titanic oysters from Brittany in France matched with Bisol’s new Prosecco Pas Dose’ Extra Brut. A balanced sparkling wine with a rich, intoxicating bouquet and super-dry at only 2g/l of residual sugar. There is NO dosage for this wine. With the succulent oysters au naturel it brought out the savoury ocean sweetness of the shellfish. Yummy!! My good friend, cheerful and dynamic Gianluca Bisol, CEO of Bisol, commented gleefully, “E ottimo! (it’s excellent)” I could not help but agree.
At the Distelleria Bottega stand, I tasted peppery Alexander Grappa di Pinot Noir with my bubbly friend Sandro, CEO of Bottega. Sipping the spirit, I was blown away by the world’s largest bottle of Grappa certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. It is 5cm thick, 2m high and took 8 months of preparation and 6 Venetian glassblowers to create!
The biggest Grappa bottle in the world!
One cool moonlit evening I attended the prestigious Grandi Vini Gala Dinner in the imposing and historic Palazzo della Ragione. Gourmet Chinese, Japanese & Indian cuisine matched with the finest Italian wines was the order of the day. I was very pleased to run into my good friend, Chef Vinod Sookar. His Lamb Curry with Basmati Rice plus Chick Peas was fabulous paired with macho, full bodied Allegrini Amarone 2007. Chef Vinod has a 1 Michelin star restaurant in Puglia with his lovely wife, Chef Antonella Ricci. I always remember adorable Antonella teaching me how to make that Pugliese pasta speciality called “Orecchiette” which means ‘little ears’ in Italian. Yes, I have many friends…in high and low places…If you upset me, you may meet some of them…and it may not be pleasant for you…capisch…
Vinod is on my right and Antonella on my left
Al Fornello da Ricci (1 Michelin Star/Stelle)
If you love wine and food I strongly recommend that you visit Italy and Vinitaly on your next vacation. You will learn so much about food and wine and have fun too!
How to get there:
Turkish Airlines flies to Milan from Singapore via Istanbul.
The food and service on Turkish airlines is always exemplary unlike Air France and Quantas where the service from old, fat, ugly and rude flight attendants is simply awful.
From Milan Central take the train to Verona. Many excellent inter-city trains are available.
Nemo me impune lacessit (from the ancient Latin language of Imperial Rome: No man molests me with impunity)