Still think spaghetti carbonara is best made with bacon – or pancetta if you’re being authentic? One taste of the Buzzi brothers’ version at their A Galaia restaurant in Carloforte, Sardinia, and the piggy version will probably never cut it again. That’s because they make their carbonara with bottarga, the cured, air-dried roe of grey mullet (in Sicily they use tuna).
Thought to have been introduced by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago, bottarga (from the Arabic battarikh) is made in several places around the Med, but the variety made in the Cabras lagoon in the west of Sardinia, is regarded by many as the best.
It has started finding a market outside Italy, and Cabras producers are campaigning to get EU protected origin status (DOP) for their bottarga (which, as it happens, marries extremely well with one of Sardinia’s other DOP products, its intensely flavoured spiny artichoke).
Mouthfillingly savoury but with a hint of sweetness and a clean, almondy scent, rich amber-coloured Cabras bottarga is also wonderful served in thin slices drizzled with olive oil as an appetiser with drinks – or grated like cheese over a simple pasta with fresh tomato sauce.
Cabras’s climate and waters are just right for grey mullet, which are caught in September when they’re at their fattest. The pairs of egg sacs are extracted whole, steeped in salt and pressed. Three months or so of air and sunshine then do the job of drying it into the prized “Sardinian gold”.
Stock up at Bottarga e Affumicati, 64 Corso Italia just outside Cabras centre, then head off for a picnic among the wild beaches and farmland of the nearby Sinis peninsula. And if you’re in Sardinia in mid-August, don’t miss Cabras’s bottarga festival, with street stalls offering all manner of bottarga products to taste and buy.