The tradition of hand- beating stockfish is here explored through the secret of the Zoratto family by Alessandro Marzo Magno.
Abstract from the article published in “Il Gazzettino”, 19 December 2019
Christian Zoratto is the owner of a 600-year-old water mill, the only one left to use the mallet to beat the Baccalà (or, as well-known for the rest of the world, the stockfish). The Zoratto mill in Codroipo, in the province of Udine, demonstrates how much tradition and quality combined can give added value. Of course, it takes love, a lot of love, to make wood and stone mechanisms work that every day – we repeat: every day – needs maintenance work (also because they have often been there for at least a hundred years).
The oldest core of the mill dates back to 1450, the part where work is now carried out is from the 19th century, the wheels with metal blades from 1850, built by an Austrian company with hand-beaten plates and joined by nails, there is not even a weld, the gears are made of cast iron wheels with wooden teeth, the stone millstones – five quintals each – in a single block and not of agglomeration, every year they must be dressed (even the words are from the past here: it means restore roughness on the grinding stones). Of course, not all stones are good for grinding everything: every mineral wants its cereal, therefore ferrous granite, green in color, is good for bakery grains, while red granite is used for corn.
The old mallets formerly used to beat hemp (one of the stones is from the 17th century) are now used to beat stockfish: three strokes per second, with a force of three hundred kilos per stroke, a couple of minutes for each fish. The effect of the wood beating on the stone is not to break the cod fibers and causes it to absorb more water in the softening phase and more gravy during cooking. To the touch, the fish is beautifully smooth, while, explains Christian, the stockfish passed between the rollers that you normally buy in shops, is immediately visible because it is wavy.
First-class “Ragno” stockfish is imported from Norway and these are also sold to those who come to pick them up, the vast majority at restaurants that look at the quality of the product. The beating takes place in a special room, separate from the one used to grind the flour .
In the middle flows the Sant’Odorico canal which takes water from the Tagliamento river, near Gemona village, and flows into the Stella river. The wheels that give movement to the machinery are placed there. Christian Zoratto produces 14 different types of flour, using cereals grown especially for his mill, in dedicated fields where farmers do not use pesticides.
Visiting the Zoratto mill is an experience of other times: a road through the fields to the buildings that make up the mill. A courtyard, the arches, and on the ground floor the small store with the machines that turn and grind next to it; on the first floor a large room perfectly restored with beams and a beautiful fireplace on the wall. “Once upon a time the mill,” explains Zoratto, “was the center of the village, they all came because everyone brought their grain to grind, leaving a fraction of flour to the miller. The same happened with cod, here was the force given by the water and the villagers used it. And then the carpenter came and did some repairs, the tinsmith came and welded what was to be welded, the boys and girls came, they knew each other and arranged weddings. Here, our next goal is to return to be an aggregation center”.