The stockfish at time of Pietro Querini
For many decades, Captain Pietro Querini’s diary has been read and re-read, published in various ways, in comics or fictionalised.
The introduction of the word stockfish in Italy is attributed to this diary, which became very famous in Veneto and Norway. Even if there are documents that prove, or at least cast doubt on, the fact that the knowledge of dried fish in Italy dates back to the time before Pietro Querini’s shipwreck, it is absolutely indisputable that the credit for the spread of stockfish in Veneto, and therefore in Italy, goes to the Venetian captain.
The shipwreck that his ship suffered is of great tragedy. The sailors have little wine and a good supply of ham, cheese and galette, but they face a dilemma: eating these dry and salty foods makes them thirsty and they have no water. Some therefore avoid eating, others drink the sea water and quickly meet their death.
The survivors, who have run out of supplies, are content to drink their own urine. The crew, shrunk to 16 men, miraculously survives. Shortly before New Year’s Day, they moor on a rock 200 km beyond the Arctic Circle.
A Norwegian boy who was looking in a boat for some cattle that had been lost some time before is attracted by the smoke of the squeaker that the castaways burn to keep warm.
They are lovingly welcomed, also thanks to the laws spread by Emperor Frederick II that pay the greatest respect to those who have suffered misfortune at sea.
In his diary, Querini wrote down the work of the stocfisi for the first time. Querini says that on this island they have nothing to do but spend their lives fishing because nothing is born in these extreme areas.
For three months of the year, June, July and August, the sun never sets; in the other months it is almost always dark. They catch vast quantities of fish, only two kinds: one is called stocfisi, these dry in the wind and sun, without salt, and because they are low-fat fish, they become hard like wood. When they want to eat them, they beat them with the backhand of the mannara, which makes them sinewy like tendons, and cook them with butter and spices to give them flavour.
The Stockfish today
Let’s start with the freshly caught fish: the wild Atlantic cod, also known as Skrei, caught only in the sea of the Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle.
Every year in spring, the Skrei leaves the Barents Sea to spawn in the Lofoten Islands. It is at this time that the fishermen in the same day catch the cod, clean them and remove their heads.
The fish are then tied two by two around the tail and hung on racks. Nature does the rest.
The combination of wind, sun, cold but not freezing temperatures, rain and snow give the stockfish a unique quality, taste and colour.
Skrei is a muscular, low-fat fish with a firm texture, and is therefore perfectly suited for drying.
100% Natural – How Lofoten PGI stockfish is dried and harvested.
It contains no additives or preservatives, and is the result of a long and natural drying and curing process according to the same method used by the Vikings 1000 years ago. The nature and climatic conditions of the Lofoten Islands have been perfect for drying stockfish for more than a millennium.
The fish hangs on racks for several months, until May/June. The producers assess and decide the appropriate time to harvest the stockfish from the racks based on their profound knowledge and long experience, just like wine growers with their vineyards.
Seasoning and selection: to get the right flavour, stockfish matures in storage for several months, just like wine and cheese.
Each season is its own, so the taste will never be the same because stockfish is affected by air and temperature and bad weather in a very natural way. A bad season in drying is like a bad season in vineyards.
Each stockfish, after the drying period, is classified according to quality, weight, length, colour, smell and appearance. The expert quality grader, the so-called ‘Vrakeren’, classifies the stockfish into 20 different quality groups. Only the highest quality product is named Lofoten Stockfish PGI.