Bacoli mussels, the black gold of the Phlegraean area

by Chiara Sarracino

Who would have thought that a mussel can be beautiful? The ancient inhabitants of Bacoli, Baia and Miseno considered them so beautiful that they even put them as symbol on the coins of the time. We are talking about 2500 years ago and the ancients Cumaean settlers they had seen very well: the Bacoli mussels they are still today absolute excellence, recognized as typical product of the Campania Region.

Even today it is not uncommon to cross paths around Miliscola stalls of seafood vendors, just as a nice meal can never be missing on the plates of summer meals peppered with mussels or a seafood risotto. All strictly with products caught in the surroundings, perhaps accompanied by a strategic one falanghina.

Actually the mussel crops are frequent throughout the Campania coast: we also find them in the parts of Castellammare di Stabia and Ercolano. The “original” mussels, however, are born right between the lake of Licola and that of Fusaro and already around 730 BC. they were certainly fished in the area by Oschi, an indigenous people. Then, as the cumane coins of the same period, they became an important element of the local economy: only two are known and are found in the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London.

There peculiarities of the Fusaro mussels however, it is linked to the particular water quality in which they grow: being right in the heart of the Campi Flegrei, a detail is created mix between salt water and thermal waters.

Le monete con le cozze di Bacoli
Coins with mussels

Bacoli mussels and ancient recipes

Mussels speak Greek, oysters answer in Latin. It is not a joke, but a comparison between the culinary traditions of the ancient peoples who occupied the territory of Miseno millennia ago.

If in the recipes of Magna Graecia it turns out that black-shelled mussels were quite popular, Apicius, the most famous cook of the ancient age, tells us that mussels were not particularly popular with the Latins, who instead went crazy for oysters, always collected from the parts of Miseno. The Romans also knew the recipe of mussel soup, done their way.

Here she is Apicius recipe:

-1/3 of leek
-Santoreggia fresh or dried
-A spoonful of garum (no one knows how precisely it is made, it is one fish-based salty sauce, probably similar to the anchovy sauce from Cetara)
-Dry white wine

The cooking process is practically equal to that of mussel soup, with the addition of smells and flavors of ancient Rome.

Casina vanvitelliana di notte
The Casina Vanvitelliana on Lake Fusaro

Royal mussels

If already at the time of Charles of Anjou news of mussel cultivation from the parts of Capo Miseno arrives, we have to wait Charles of Bourbon to have more concrete numbers: in the export balances of the Kingdom, it can be noted that Naples exported about 600,000 Fusaro mussels around the middle of the 18th century.
Then Ferdinand IV, who was famously a king gluttonous, he decided to completely overturn the traditions and destined the Fusaro Lake to oyster crops, with a production that lasted until the time of Fascism, when finally Bacoli mussels returned to lake farms. In the rest of the Gulf of Pozzuoli, however, production never stopped.

However, we must not imagine Ferdinand of Bourbon as an enemy of seafood: according to tradition, it seems that it was he who imposed the Bacoli mussel soup as a recipe of Holy thursday.

Cozze, ostriche e limoni
Mussels, oysters and lemons, the work of Gennaro Bottiglieri

A heritage to be protected

The 1973 cholera epidemic did not stop the Bacoli mussel farming activities, but the companies were hit by a collapse of the demand for Campania fish products, which forced many establishments to closure. With bitter irony, it must be remembered that cholera came to the city due to a lot of infected mussels from Tunisia.
The new millennium did not start very well for the fish establishments: in 2015 Bacoli's seafood was banned from the fish markets for risk of hepatitis (subsequent analyzes showed that the risks were completely unfounded).

Bacoli, however, has shown that he is able to withstand many other challenges and will protect the black gold of the territory. And so the Bacolese have inaugurated a festival dedicated to seafood: the Municipality, in fact, organizes one every year Festival of the Mussel.

-Chiara Sarracino


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