You would be forgiven for assuming that the Italians would be the least likely nation to embrace a gluten-free approach, given that worshipping the holy trinity of pasta, bread and pizza is the draw for food pilgrimages in their millions every year. However, an iconic Italian brand is on a mission to prove this assumption to be entirely false, in the most delicious of ways.
A Rome which embraces gluten free wasn’t built in a day, but believe it or not, a recent trip revealed that the home of all things pasta and pizza is a beacon of inclusion for those who avoid the oft demonised gluten. Coeliacs in Italy receive a monthly allowance in order to purchase gluten-free products, but the widespread social phenomenon of gluten avoidance – elective or due to intolerance – has also started to play a role in shaping Italian restaurant menus and customs.
Senza glutine? No problemo, says legendary Italian beer Peroni Nastro Azzuro, which has just launched Peroni Gluten Free, a beer which claims to preserve all the attributes of the original despite the absence of the troublesome grain-based protein. As ‘free from’ items so often also fall into the ‘free from’ flavour category, living up to this claim would be a challenge.
Italians are passionate about two things – appearance and taste – and in this regard Peroni is a red blooded Roman. The epitome of slick Italian style, established in 1963 by Carlo Peroni, it is a testament to the Italian core principles of sourcing exceptional raw materials – be they ingredients with which to cook or cloth to cut garments from – and utilising them with skill, care and craftsmanship. From the eye-catching green bottle to elegant, designer-like draught taps, The House of Peroni is far from your run of the mill beer brand and it’s latest release is set to disprove the Italian stodge stereotype. With a Peroni gluten free in hand we set out to discover what a Rome without gluten could offer.
Italian culinary ethos dictates that every dish is usually hand-crafted in house, which translates to the ability to say with confidence that dishes contain no trace of gluten. If anything, this commitment to tradition and adulation of raw materials of the highest quality gives the Italians the killer advantage over other culinary cultures in the art of gluten free gastronomy. Peroni’s approach to crafting their gluten free beer would prove to be no different, as our Roman guide Simone Corporale, Peroni Master of Taste would demonstrate.
Our first port of call, Aroma, a slick penthouse eatery, should rank highly on any culinary traveler’s bucket list. As well as a claim to the best dining room view in Rome, Aroma is a Michelin starred property serving some of the city’s finest cuisine. The magnificent setting, with breathtaking views of the Colosseum could have been designed to distract attention from the missing ingredient, but instead we were treated to course after course composed with grace and without a trace of gluten with each dish chosen to accentuate the subtle flavour notes of Peroni Gluten Free.
Black truffle filled the air and generous shavings of the prized ingredient topped a first course of Ricotta and Asparagus Flan. As with our accompanying Peroni Gluten Free, there is no imitation here. Pillow-like soufflé alongside precision poached quail eggs served as a reminder that flavour must be accompanied by the right textures in order to achieve perfection.
In the case of Peroni Gluten Free, Simone explained, it is brewed blending the finest hops with two-row spring-planted barley and the essential addition of a quarter of Italian maize to achieve the perfect balance of bitterness and citrus notes. Fermentation is followed by the use of a natural enzyme to remove the gluten enzyme – fermentation gives the flavour. Peroni is all about taste, both in presentation and on the palate, and the commitment to preserving the fermentation process and the exact same ingredients as original Peroni to develop this is the key to the signature taste in its gluten free offering.
The addition of the all important – and top secret – enzyme is strategically timed after the slow fermentation of the original components, as adding it too soon in the brewing process results in the loss of the crisp mouth-feel as well as the distinct Peroni flavour. Simone speaks of the long process of experimentation endured to perfect Peroni Gluten Free, two years of trial and error to overcome the inadequacies of rival brands’ offering using Peroni’s signature ingredients. A well known competitor, he reveals, banked on rice being the holy grail of gluten free beer making, only to discover their brew fell completely flat upon pouring.
Knowing it has no place in beer, Peroni left rice to our second course of Saffron Risotto with Braised Beef and Powdered Black Olive. An unctuous risotto is the perfect example of naturally gluten-free Italian indulgence, with all the richness we associate with cuisine from the terra madre. Simple ingredients, handled with expert care, producing an end result more than the sum of its parts seemed to be the order of the day on both the food and drink front.
Next, perfectly caramelized scallops, deep fried artichokes and velvet fennel puree – a tri-colore of tantalizing flavours and textures, married beautifully with the citrus effervescence of Peroni. Bronte Sicilian pistachio Semifreddo rounded out a memorable lunch, a showcase of Italian emeralds and proof of the authentic gems that can be created senza glutine.
Having sampled how haute Italian cuisine lends itself to the gluten-free treatment, we had to question if the most quintessential Roman delicacy, an authentic plateful of pasta, could factor into a GF gastronomic tour. Learning the ropes of gluten-free Italian cookery with guidance from top Italian chefs Fabio Bongianni and Igor Ferraro gave me a new found respect for the commitment it takes to slow, purposeful work to create a product which is not just gluten-free, but imperceptibly so. After two years of intensive research, this is the essence of Peroni Gluten Free – the end result is not a compromise.
This masterclass mirrored the Peroni philosophy of using the finest raw materials, treating them with care and creating a product that isn’t just a a passable alternative but a plausible contender for the real thing. Spinach, lemons and ricotta, all sourced from the Market Square upstairs, embodied the Italian ethos. I can confirm, the finished cavatelli, bound in Amatriciana, would pass a blind test with flying colours. Crisp, dry Peroni Gluten Free was the perfect foil for the richness of ricotta stuffed ravioli and lashings of Parmaggiano – gluten who?
A whistle stop tour of the city – The Pantheon and the stunning Trevi Fountain (where we each tossed a coin, wishing our flights home to be cancelled indefinitely) revealed the inspiration behind Peroni’s creation and design. Rome’s classic elegance and rich cultural heritage, combined with the triumph of Italy’s SS Rex in the 1933 ‘Blue Riband’ sparked Carlo Peroni’s vision. The goal of honouring and celebrating superior Italian craftsmanship and skill with the creation of a premium Italian beer was achieved in 1963, and with the addition of Peroni Gluten Free, Italian excellence has once again been demonstrated by Peroni.
A feast for the eyes, the senses and the taste buds, our last supper in Casina Valadier was ushered in with a tantalizing take on Peroni Gluten Free – The Aperitivo Romana cocktail designed by Simone. The aperitivo acts as a bitter prelude to a meal to entice the tastebuds, and this concoction of Peroni Gluten Free, Italicus bergamot liquer, Drago Rosso Vermouth, Tuvé bitter and orange proved that Peroni’s Master of Taste has well and truly earned his title. I do hope to see this crave-worthy cocktail make its way to Dublin, perfectly paired with unrivalled views of Rome and a host of gluten-free antipasti.
The standout from Casina Valadier, a seamless Giancuale and Ricotta Pasta, encapsulated perfectly how traditional Italian cuisine is in no way dependent on gluten and can shine entirely without it. I would defy the most ardent connoisseur to identify it as an imposter for the real deal and we agreed the same rang true for Peroni Gluten Free. The stereotype of gluten-free being inferior was on its last legs and with this, fell like the Empire before it.
Rather than leaving Rome bloated, feeling the size of the colossal Victor Emanuel Monument, I left jubilant having celebrated the unification of Italian deliciousness with gluten free virtue. Peroni isn’t the first brand to attempt a beer without gluten, but true to its Italian heritage it is blazing a trail, employing excellence and crafting a world class product with no compromise. They say Italians do it better – and I for one cannot disagree.
For more information on Peroni Gluten Free click here.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about creating and discovering delicious things. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.