In Salento there is a potato that is different from all the others. It is the sweet potato, pink outside, orange inside and with the flavor and texture of pumpkin. In short, a special product, with which you can really do everything, even the first beer with potatoes that has ever been made in Italy.
Short presentation of the sweet potato
Like almost all potatoes, sweet potato also has origins American. It has been grown in Salento for years, particularly in the municipalities of Salento Greece such as Calimera, Sternatia, Corigliano, but also Surbo, Trepuzzi or Frigole, where in the summer they hold a festival in his honor. In short, the sweet potato has fully entered the territory products, so much so that every country claims to belong to it. After all, how to blame them, given its countless uniqueness, such as color: pink outside and inside with different shades ranging fromOrange to yellow, depending on the variety, which have increased over time as a result of crossings and grafts. Then the flavor and consistency: with closed eyes it is easily confused with pumpkin, such is the similarity; it is not by chance that it is also called sugar potato. For all these characteristics, the Salento sweet potato has great versatility in the kitchen, even (and above all) starting from breakfast.
The sweet potato in the kitchen
Batata is present in the kitchen all year round, but is consumed mostly in autumn and winter, especially during the Christmas period. For the people of Salento it is linked more than anything else to a moment: the one that has passed in front of the fire to roast baby potatoes in aluminum foil, to be consumed both as a meal and as a dessert; the same ones that you can also eat for breakfast, perfect with bread and jam. In this regard, another use of the yam is in the jams, also as a basic ingredient for the preparation of many desserts. Alternatively, it also lends itself to more classic recipes, such as the mashed potato of sweet potato, cooking al sauce of tomato or, again, the timeless batatina fried: in this case the important thing is to cut it thick (keeping the peel) and then cover it with salt or sugar depending on the note you want to accentuate. But it's actually great on its own too, because the sweet potato doesn't need anything. In America, on the other hand, it seems to be very common in the stuffing of turkey during the Thanksgiving holiday. And finally, there are also those who had the brilliant intuition to make the most of it by making us the first potato beer that has ever been produced in Italy. It is Francesco Caprioli, one of the most passionate and expert on beer in Puglia.
From celiac disease to the idea of a beer with potatoes
Francesco Caprioli, a native of Brindisi, has lived for years in Lecce where he works as a computer scientist and produces beer for passion. It all began more than 20 years ago, when fermentation kits were in fashion and Francesco started organizing home brewing contests with colleagues. From there a series of right encounters. First with Luigi Serpe, then brewer of the Maltovivo brewery with whom they gave life to Noscia, one of the first American Pale Ple in Italy. Then with Bruno Petrosillo, with whom he founded the Birsiòp di Lecce, the first beer shop in Salento and the only shop in Puglia specializing in craft beers, including Birra Salento. Then it was time for the Slow (e) Motion project which attracted the interest of Teo Musso, with whom three beers produced in the Baladin brewery (Beggia, Pizzica and Taranta) were born. In 2009 Francesco founded together with Roy Paci I Birrogastrofonici, an itinerant sensory laboratory, with the aim of making cooking and sound interact in a neosyncretic way. But it doesn't stop there. Francesco, being celiac, he had always had a fixed thought: to produce a beer with the lowest possible gluten content. So, after the best millet beer, the idea of a potato with potatoes was born and the consequent collaboration with microbrewery of the Masseria Ospitale, the right place for those who love to research and experiment in small quantities in this field.
Like Batata Juice, the first beer with potatoes produced in Italy
The idea was born one day while Francesco is cooking the potatoes in the oven. During cooking, he smells aromas similar to those of malt and senses that it could be a product that is right for him, ideal for his purposes. "In fact, the potato favors the abatement, and not the zeroing, of gluten". Thus begins a series of experiments, first treating it as a raw cereal, then completely changing the method, up to the (secret) one that gave birth to the Batata Juice of the Masseria Ospitale, produced only with organic ingredients at the Gruit brewery in Brindisi (under the supervision of the master brewer Carlo Ancona) and released for the first time in full lockdown, in April 2020. "I think no one has thought of it before because it is extremely difficult to produce a beer with potatoes. This is why we want our recipe to remain secret, because to get to our goal there was really a very long job behind it ". The success, however, was immediate: a balanced, fresh, light beer with a dry cut, where the potato is recognizable, but not too much, and above all only for those who already know it. In short, a beer that does not fear combinations and that for this reason has also thrilled the great expert Maurizio Maestrelli: «In autumn, when I was a kid and the television was black and white for only two channels and certainly not for 24 hours, I used to eat sweet potatoes and drink wine must, which was very good as long as you didn't overdo it. Now Francesco brings me this creation of his, the Batata Juice, which contains precisely those potatoes that we called “American”. Removed the saudade effect and a certain reluctance as an elderly drinker, I can say that I was really impressed. The scent reminds me of the tuber in question and the sweet tendency is quite evident, but the saison yeast with its typical spiciness and that gentle peppery touch, avoids any crush. Finally, the word juice must not mislead because it is beer, and not fruit juice. In two words: liked it very much! .
Meanwhile, at the microbrewery of Masseria Ospitale, together with Oronzo Trio, experiments continue with other beers, such as the one with a symbol of Salento present everywhere, namely the prickly pear, always with a view to making the most of all that the Salento area offers. And that is no small feat, indeed: we are only at the beginning.