Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Parma di Prosciutto & Parmigiano Reggiano - The Real Deal

One of the many great aspects of living in a multicultural Australia is having access to an array of delicious cuisine and quality ingredients.

In Australia, however, the idea that a food can be protected and limited by a law according to where it originates, is a fairly unusual concept.

Unusual yet intriguing.

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) schemes, common throughout the European Union, are enforced to protect the reputation of the regional foods, eliminate unfair competition, promote rural and agricultural activity, help producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and prevent consumers being misled by non-genuine products.

Two such products available in Australia are Prosciutto di Parma ( or Parma Ham) and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Both products are steeped in tradition and use centuries-old natural production methods without the use of chemical preservatives or additives.

But many Aussies are being misled and are paying a premium for inauthentic products.

In late 2006, the first pallets of Parma ham landed in Australia. Back then “ Every man and his dog had a permit, but the majority were merchants, importing on price not quality. We saw a big variation in prosciutto and a lot of people were disappointed” small goods supplier Clayton Wright told the Sydney Morning Herald.

At a recent lunch hosted at Stefano Manfredi's Sydney restaurant Balla, award-winning Italian chef Luca Ciano told guests that a crowded marketplace of cured meats and lack of education on how to pick the best, has led to Australian’s missing out on the authentic product.


“ The strictest of guidelines are adhered to when producing Prosciutto di Parma to ensure consistently high quality ham. For example, the pig must be a specific breed from one of the northern Italian regions and must be fed a diet of grain, cereal and whey from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese ( authentic Parmesan) before it is even considered to become prosciutto di Parma” says Ciano.

The pale, sweet & creamy prosciutto is made of just four ingredients - pork, sea salt, air and time. Aged for 15 months ( Pictured) 

Today, there are approximately 15 producers authorised to import their product into Australia.

Mozzarella, Prosciutto di Parma & rocket @ Balla

“ Once you’ve tried Prosciutto di Parma you’ll know the difference as it will melt in your mouth” says Ciano.

The most amazing calamari & asparagus salad w/ crispy prosciutto di Parma @ Balla


Quality Inspection - Photo Source:Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium
Referred to as the ‘King of Cheeses’ , Parmigiano Reggiano is 100 per cent natural and every wheel is aged for a minimum of 12 months which is unlike other cheeses says Ciano. “ There are many other types of inauthentic Parmesan cheese on the market here in Australia - some are blends with other Italian cheeses and others use chemicals to mature and preserve the cheese”.

Parmesan production is confined to the area highlighted in pink. Production of Parma ham is restricted to Parma itself also seen on the map. 

 18 Month ( front) 24 Month Parmigiano Reggiano ( back)
“One thing most people don't realise about authentic Parmesan is just how versatile it is. It can be eaten as a food in small chunks, as a condiment grated on dishes or as an ingredient used in recipes” says Ciano.

Veal wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma @ Balla
Gabriele Taddeucci telling us about the dishes he created using the two prized ingredients

Ciano says that Australian’s are spoilt for choice when it comes to imported and local food products for sale at local delis, but there is a definite difference when it comes to premium products like Parma Ham and Parmigiano Reggiano. “ If consumers want a genuine product they have to ask for it and make sure they are getting it” he says.

Parmigiano Reggiano Risotto w/ 'Il Caratello' Balsamic @ Balla Restaurant, Sydney.
Photo Source: C. Chattaway
According to a recent IbisWorld report, Australian delicatessens have struggled over the last five years. However, a new shift in consumer demand for premium products has seen delicatessens at the high-end of the market perform well.

Olive oil mousse, marinated strawberries & Parmesan crisp @ Balla

Prosciutto di Parma - The quality of Prosciutto di Parma is guaranteed only when it has been fire-branded with the five point ducal crown, a stamp of authenticity.

Authentic Parma Ham. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Parmigiano Reggiano carries a pin dot stamp on the rind, and where appropriate, the Parmigiano Reggiano logo on the packet. 

Photo: Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium

The Food Mentalist dined at Balla as a guest for this event.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vino Paradiso Hits Sydney

Late last week, Vino Paradiso - Sydney’s newest International food and wine festival celebrated its upcoming launch at an intimate dinner at Salt Meats Cheese in Alexandria.

Guests were treated to a sneak peek of what to expect during the three-day event set to be held at Australian Technology Park from October 31.

The festival will be headed by a team of Tastemakers who will hold a series of masterclasses throughout the festival.  Some of the Tastemakers in attendance at last night’s event were Darren Robertson, one of Australia’s hottest chef’s of Three Blue Ducks fame and co-host of Network Ten’s Recipe to Riches; Oscar McMahon from craft brewery Young Henry’s; Grant Collins who is one of the world’s most recognised mixologists; Ian Rayner from Western Australia’s biodynamic cidery - Custard & Co.; Sarah Limacher sommelier from The Keystone Group and winemaker Tom Egan from Jed Wines and wine importer for Sydney’s Porteño restaurant.

Directors of the Vino Paradiso & Chef Darren Robertson
Directors of the festival, Keiran Tanner and Matt Williams wanted to “shake things up a little” and have spent the last few years traveling overseas researching hundreds of food, wine, music and lifestyle festivals in order to re-image what Australian’s are used to.

The evening began with a live cooking experience by Darren who whipped up a seasonal Kingfish, pear and white radish salad.

“ Vino Paradiso is new and on the front foot in regards to delivering engaging activity from progressive leaders who are crazy about wine, food, craft beer, cider and spirits and want to share their knowledge with other Sydney wine and food enthusiasts. I’m really looking forward to being part of the festival this Spring” said Darren.
As part of his role, Darren will host a series of interactive cooking demonstrations on how to prepare fresh seafood and seasonal produce.

Originally from New Zealand, sommelier Sarah Limacher greeted guests and spoke enthusiastically about her love of wine and food.

(From Left) Sarah Limacher, Ian Rayner, Oscar McMahon & Matt Williams
Together, Ian Rayner and Oscar McMahon spoke of their love of craft brewing and how they are both passionate about encouraging Australian’s to support and enjoy local craft beer and cider.

A great Aussie Cider by Custard & Co. in WA
Tom Egan spoke of Jed Wines and Porteño and his Argentinian wine making travels.

Cocktail Tastemaker, Grant Collins wrapped up the evening impressing guests with a cocktail demonstration that resulted in an impressive Affogato Martini served with rum and vanilla ice-cream and a side of edible soil.

The exclusive three-course dinner set the scene for the upcoming three-day festival that will provide a new experience, allowing Australian’s to get involved and engage with Australia’s best food, wine, spirit, craft beer and cider producers.

Promising to be different to festivals that have come before, Vino Paradiso will offer ticket holders a variety of fun and interactive activities that include pop-up bars and stalls, grape crushing, a live art installation, music, competitions and an Instagram photo booth.

WHEN: 31 October - 2 November 2014

WHERE: Australian Technology Park

HOW MUCH: Tickets are on sale now from $25

For more information head to

The Food Mentalist attended this event as a guest of Vino Paradiso.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Good without gluten - A review & recipe

Well known chefs Frederique Jules, Jennifer Lepoutre and Mitsuru Yanase have a reputation for creating delicious, gluten-free food at their Parisian restaurant and grocery store No Glu in Paris.  This cookbook showcases some of their creations using a range of flours and cereals to create gorgeous gluten free (and many dairy free) recipes.

The cookbook is divided into Entrees, Mains, Desserts, Basics, Breakfast, Tea and Nibbles & Breads and is the perfect cookbook for those following a gluten-free lifestyle. 

From a paleo perspective, the cookbook has only a handful of recipes that suit strict paleo eating but I find that there is much to learn from the way they combine non gluten flour with other ingredients to make delicious and moist breads, pastry and other treats. Most recipes can also be tweaked to make them paleo friendly and I now have new found excitement for experimenting with chestnut and other nut flours.

I love the focus given at the start of the book to the gluten free pantry with clear explanations, uses and benefits for each type of flour and ingredient used throughout the cookbook.

Favourites include the Pumpkin Soup w/ Chestnuts, Pineapple-Mango Crumble, Banana-Blueberry Rice (Almond) Milk Smoothie, Club Sandwich w/ Turkey & Blue Cheese and the NoGlu's Lasagne Bolognese.  

Please enjoy this recipe for No Glu's Pumpkin Soup w/ Chestnuts. I have adapted it slightly to fit a paleo lifestyle by omitting soy milk and using grass fed butter.

Pumpkin soup with chestnuts
Serves 6-8

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

200g French shallots, chopped

1 kg pumpkin, peeled and chopped into chunks

310 ml chicken stock

310 ml water

500 ml organic nut milk

50 g organic grass fed butter

100 g cooked and peeled chestnuts (sold in a jar or vacuum-packed), chopped

Chives and fresh herbs of choice, to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the shallots and cook for 4–5 minutes or until caramelised, then add the pumpkin and let it sweat for a few minutes.
Add the chicken stock and water and simmer for 20 minutes or until the chunks of pumpkin are tender. Remove from the heat and add the milk, butter and chestnuts. Purée until smooth. Return to the heat to warm through.

Tip: Set aside a few caramelised shallots and a few pieces of chestnut for a garnish. Serve with homemade gluten free bread.


This is definitely a cookbook which should feature prominently in the kitchens of those following a gluten free lifestyle or those who simply wish to cut back on grains and/or gluten and are looking for some inspiration in the kitchen.

Published by Murdoch Books 9781743363126 
RRP $29.99 

The Food Mentalist reviewed this cookbook compliments of Murdoch Books

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lucky Paleo Banana Bread

Hope you all had a lovely weekend. We had a bit of a hectic few days here. Firstly, Pete woke up early Saturday morning with food poisoning but the weird thing is we ate exactly the same foods the day before, yet I managed to escape unscathed. 

Anywho, Saturday was basically a complete wipe-out but I did manage to whip up a batch of this lucky paleo banana bread. 

I call this banana bread lucky because to be honest, I wasn't sure it would turn out. It was a complete fluke that it did. After recently purchasing some commercially prepared paleo banana bread (which was delicious by the way) I decided to try and make some myself as it cost us a whopping $12 a loaf and only yielded about 5 slices. 

This version is incredibly moist and delicious and the cacao nibs give it a nice subtle chocolate hit (not to mention added magnesium and antioxidants). I find toasting this one tends to dry it out a little too much but it keeps really well in the fridge or in an airtight container on the bench.  The egg content boosts the protein levels here making it the perfect breakfast or snack on the go. 

I served mine with The Paleo Kitchen's ahhmazing Maple Cinnamon Pecan Butter which I have also included below.

Lucky Paleo Banana Bread
Gluten, Grain, Dairy & Refined Sugar Free

1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
3/4 cup coconut flour
2 tbs tapioca flour
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp GF baking powder
1/4 cup cacao nibs ( optional)
1/4 cup chopped pecans or other nuts of your choice
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 bananas (mashed)
2 tbs maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence
pepitas to decorate ( optional)

Preheat oven to 160C. Line a loaf pan with baking paper and allow it to come up the sides a little. Next, combine dry ingredients, cacao nibs and nuts in a bowl and set aside. 

In a separate bowl whisk eggs and apple cider vinegar together with a fork. 

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients along with the mashed banana, maple syrup and vanilla and fold through until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and decorate with pepitas ( or extra nuts) if desired. 

Place into the oven for approximately 35 minutes or until golden brown and an inserted cake skewer comes out clean. 

Remove from oven an allow to cool.

Store in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can also freeze slices of this if you choose.

Spread with grass-fed butter or this delicious Maple Cinnamon Pecan Butter.

Maple Cinnamon Pecan Butter
Recipe adapted from The Paleo Kitchen

2 cups pecans ( raw)
2 tbs pure maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of sea salt

Simply place all the ingredients in a food processor or good high speed blender and whiz until smooth. Store in fridge in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

If you like it to be a little more runny just add about 1/4 cup of almond, walnut or macadamia oil before you whiz it up.

Spread it on my Lucky Paleo Banana Bread and enjoy x

Monday, September 1, 2014

Paleo Friendly Choc-Banana Pops

Eating a paleo friendly diet doesn't mean you have to go without the occasional indulgence.  I was a sugar slave and used to be heavily addicted to sweets. So much so, that years ago after one of my binges I was feeling so disgusted with myself that I booked in to see a hypnotherapist. He 'cured' me of my chocolate (and sweet) addiction and it worked for close to a year, during which time I didn't touch a single square of chocolate. 

But it didn't last...the cravings returned.

Craving sugar can be a powerful urge. Simple sugars reward us by releasing the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin. Couple that with the one of the many positive associations relating to sugar and we become trapped. You only have to think about the smell of freshly baked cookies to know what I mean. I have found that if you include it in your daily routine, it becomes harder to give it up. The cravings are definitely cyclical.

Since starting my paleo journey, I no longer crave sweet things after meals or throughout the day. Not once have I felt the need to reach for a piece of chocolate, pastry, biscuit or any other carb laden gloop. I am amazed at how quickly my palate has adjusted and become sensitive to the sweetness in foods. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I love looking at the gorgeous pictures and recipes of many of my food blogging friends and at the impressive creations of some of Sydney's talented bakeries and patisseries - but I no longer feel the urge to devour them. 

And, I am really happy about that, as I was a true addict. I would often plan my dessert before I would finish dinner and  pre paleo, could quite easily have eaten a large block of chocolate. *Gasp!*

I am now 6kg lighter than I was 8 weeks ago and I love the fact that I no longer launch into a sugar binge after a meal. 

These choc-banana pops are super easy to make, are guilt free and will satisfy any sweet craving.  If you have young kids at home, this is a great recipe to get them involved in as we head into the warmer months. 

paleo friendly choc-banana pops
makes 8

Photo: The Food Mentalist

4 bananas
½ cup moist shredded coconut or chopped nuts ( walnuts or macadamias work best)
½ cup coconut oil
⅓ cup cacao powder
¼ cup pure maple syrup, raw honey or coconut nectar 
8 paddle pop sticks or skewers

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a tray and set aside. 
Peel and cut bananas in half. Skewer and set aside. 
Melt coconut oil and add cacao powder and maple syrup ( or chosen natural sweetener). Dip each banana half into the chocolate mixture and then roll gently in coconut or chopped nuts and place on tray and place into the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Eat straight from the freezer.

Enjoy x 

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Paleo Choice

So it has taken me about 10 years to get to this point in my life where I finally feel like ' I get it'  with regard to food, health and nutrition. I don't purport to be an expert and I realise that everyone is different and our bodies react differently to food. 

Caveman Fast Food - Banksy
A friend of ours actually started on his Paleo journey early last year and I remember thinking he was crazy. "How can he give up gluten and all grain? He's not even a celiac! What about the wonders of wood fired pizza!!!" I said to Pete. Meanwhile, Dave was losing weight, getting fitter, feeling better and he had a certain glow and confidence about him that we all seemed to be lacking. 

It's very easy to be resistant to things we don't understand or choose to ignore.

my health history
My road to good health has been a fairly long one, and I'm still on it. But, for the first time in a very long time I feel good, I have more energy, am no longer hungry between meals and I'm losing (my baby) weight. 

As long as I can remember I have suffered with stomach pain, low platelets, and frequent and long lasting colds, flu & bronchitis.

The catalyst for change was a severe case of the flu where I literally couldn't get out of bed for several days. It was terrible. In the months ( and years) leading up to this point I had suffered through countless colds and my doctor could not offer any reason as to why I got them more than most. Not only did I get more colds than most but they lasted longer and often developed into secondary infections requiring antibiotics.  

the dietitian
In my early 20's I started seeing a prominent Sydney dietitian - who not only cost me a small fortune, but after a series of tests, had me on a diet plan packed full of fibre, soy, lean meats and dairy. A healthy Thai takeaway (no curry) was also promoted and I'd often grab a stir fry on my way home from work or uni. I was actually quite fit at the time and was going to the gym at least daily sometimes twice and wanted to make sure I was eating the best I could for my body. 

But my insides were struggling. 

I would get up each morning, consult my expensive diet plan and have my bowl of All-bran or wholemeal toast, some low fat dairy or protein and a big glass of low fat soy milk and I'd head off to work or the gym. And whilst I looked pretty good on the outside, my insides began to rebel. I often had stomach pain so bad I would be doubled over in pain convinced that my appendix or gall bladder had burst. 

After more tests including that for celiac disease - I was assured by my dietitian that I was on the right track and should continue on her plan. But things got worse. So much so that I ended up at the doctor one day crying in pain. An x-ray of my gut revealed a frightening image. My high fibre dietitian-endorsed diet was having the opposite effect. 

After realising my dietitian wasn't helping, I decided to save my money and try and work it out myself. For years I was convinced coffee was to blame for some of my problems and so I went through periods of not drinking it. It didn't work though, I still got pain.

I was so confused. 

Busy working shift work and studying, I just battled through it. 

Fast forward to 2011 and I went to my GP in tears and in pain begging for a solution. Blood tests revealed I had low platelets but nothing more and ultrasounds were all clear. He then sent me straight to an allergy and clinical immunology specialist. 

Finally, I was getting somewhere. 

After a series of specific food related tests I discovered I was allergic to soy and wheat products.  This was my aha moment. 

The specialist told me that most people have some level of wheat allergy mainly due to the highly processed grains we eat. She also told me that allergens can build up in our bodies for several days before symptoms present and therefore it can be hard to determine what is causing the problem without proper recording and testing. 

the trainer
I flashed back to years earlier when I trained with Steve Willis aka The Commando

Steve Willis - Image Source:
At the time, Steve told me that he avoided grain related carbs and instead preferred to get his carbs from vegetables and urged me to do the same.Whilst it wasn't referred to as Paleo back then, it is something which he strongly believed in - A good balance of protein, carbs from vegetables, healthy fats and some fruit. He also believed strongly in the success of the 80/20 rule - 80% comes down to what you eat and the remaining 20% relates to how you train and move. He also told me I should look at food as fuel for the body. I wish I had paid more attention to these principles back then.

I remember he told me that every now and again he would test his body - He told me of a time where he had dined out with his family at an Italian restaurant and had eaten pizza and pasta. He said it left him feeling heavy, bloated and depleted of energy for the next few days. I remember thinking that Steve was on to something but I was too young and busy (not disciplined) to really implement it. Instead I trained hard and ate some of the things Steve recommended and I lost weight and got pretty fit. I felt pretty good but still had pain and would get colds more frequently than most. I just put it down to shift work and being busy and kept going. 

the paleo lifestyle
Getting influenza fuelled my interest and research. Enough was enough. Following on from what I had discovered through allergy testing, I had a chat with our friend Dave who directed me to some great podcasts, websites and general Paleo principles

Photo Source: Robb Wolf

To get an idea of what these principles involve, Chef Pete Evans describes them in a recent article:

"In an (activated!) nutshell: the paleo way promotes the minimisation of sugary and starchy foods, moderation of protein intake, the liberal consumption of fibrous vegetables and greens (raw, lightly cooked and/or fermented/cultured), nuts, seeds, eggs (if tolerated) and as much dietary natural fat as needed to satisfy the appetite and support the brain and nervous system.

A small amount of seasonal fruit is optional.

The diet avoids grains, legumes, conventionally-raised meats, conventional dairy, non-organic produce, GMOs and processed foods.

We embrace 100 per cent organic, pasture-fed-and-finished meats, wild seafood from unpolluted waters, free-range poultry and pork (with no hormones or antibiotics), wild game (if available), organically-grown produce, nuts, seeds and healthy sources of natural fats" - Pete Evans.

Pete Evans is also about to launch The Paleo Way and here is a sneak peek - To view it just enter the Password - 'Paleo' 

I have been following these principles for a while now and feel the best I have ever felt. My choice to do so has been a means to heal my body from the inside. Once I started to investigate the the inflammatory effects grain and other foods can have on the body it all started to make sense. I am confident that this type of lifestyle best suits my body and I urge you to do your own research and hope you can join me.

a new direction
In light of this new lifestyle, I'm excited to announce a new direction for this blog. The Food Mentalist will now examine the role of food on our health and include recipe favourites without gluten, grains, refined sugars or dairy. This new focus is great for those that follow Gluten-Free, Paleo, and Primal lifestyles.  I hope this blog can help inspire you to get healthy and nourish your body. Even small changes can make a huge difference to our health and wellbeing. 

I also urge anyone who suspects they may suffer from any form of food intolerance,allergy, related pain or reaction to go see a specialist like I did. There really is no need to suffer through it.