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(F) Fish: trade and consumption

On the lakes with nets and on the rivers with traps, fishing once represented a significant economic resource.

While valuable varieties were a cheap source of sustenance for poorer citizens, eel, trout and pike ended up being served at the tables of the wealthy. Already in the Middle Ages, specific laws obliged men in lakeside and riverside villages to supply the markets of the largest towns with fish on the several “lean” days (such as Advent, Lent and fast days) which the Church imposed upon the faithful.

The most perishable of foodstuffs, fish was sold as quickly as possible by fishermen whose boats had just come in, on daily market stalls, or by itinerant fishmongers who made their way through the village with baskets containing the catch.

Nevertheless, a number of processing techniques made it possible to extend its storage life. Carpionatura, a preparation technique still commonly used today, uses the preservative properties of vinegar and keeps fish, previously fried and garnished with vegetables, edible for several days.

To this day, on Lake Como missultín, or missulitt, are still prepared: these are agone, salted, sun-dried and pressed in special barrels, arranged in layers interspersed with bay leaves. They are usually eaten after being heated on a grill, sprinkled with vinegar and accompanied by polenta.

A poorer-quality product was saraca, which was obtained by salting and drying the fish (usually the gardon galant) after splitting it.

Unfortunately, several factors have conspired to make the consumption of lake fish negligible today, at least as far as the Ticino region is concerned. Professional fishermen have virtually disappeared, and the most valuable varieties of fish are either in decline or have died out altogether, such as in the case of the bleak. In addition, few restaurateurs and individuals are willing to trust to the whims of a market susceptible to considerable daily fluctuations: most buyers prefer to purchase farmed fish products, the availability – although not the quality – of which is assured.

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