The Veneto region and Venice have a long history and connection with the Arctic cod, which began at the end of the 15th century, initiated by the Venetian merchant Pietro Querini.READ MORE
After suffering shipwreck on 1431 in the North Sea, Pietro Querini found himself and some of his crew stranded on the coasts of the Lofoten Islands. The accounts of his journey describe the drying of codfish in Røst Island, and it is assumed that he brought back stockfish to Italy, which might have been the start of the stockfish trade from Norway to Venice. Trade with the Venetian markets and an increase in consumption began in the 16th century, mainly following a demand of the large Venetian Jewish community, which used to cook the “baccalà”, “stoccafisso” “oro bianco (white gold)” days in advance to be eaten on Saturdays when cooking and lighting fires was forbidden due to religious reasons. Many of today’s recipes derived from the Jewish culinary traditions of the Venetian Ghetto and from the indications given by the Council of Trent (1454-1563) on how to eat lean following the Christian Calendar. Since then, the baccalà prepared in various different ways became a recognized regional dish and a symbol of the Veneto region. The baccalà, among other dishes, as Ulderico Bernardi points out, since the 16th century became one of the symbols of a particular food identity called “Mediterranean diet”, which does not refer only to the geographical area around the Mediterranean sea, but it is more concerned with the geographical history of communication, trading, travelling and multiculturalism from the East and other countries of selected foodstuff, a past which highly characterized Venice and the Venetians. In these terms, the codfish represents certain social behaviours and economic practices of the Venetian community.
Arctic cod is ingrained in Norwegian coastal history, its economy and culture. The fish grows up in the Barents Sea between Norway and Russia and migrates to the Vestfjord in Lofoten where it spawns between February and April every year. People who live here have fished this natural resource for over 10 000 years, and due to the seasonal abundance, the fish was dried.READ MORE
The Vikings took this dried cod – stockfish – on their journeys for survival. It enabled them to discover new parts of the world and to extend their reign. It might have been the necessity of exchange with other cultures or early expression of trade, this is unknown, but traces of Norwegian Arctic cod can be found in many Viking settlements throughout Europe.
Commercial trade of stockfish started in Vágar, the largest town in Northern Norway in Medieval times. The earliest trading records are from 1100 showing trade between Norway and the UK. The Hanseatic League opened trade from Lofoten to Bergen and to all parts of Europe. Stockfish was an important good for people from Russia to the Mediterranean. By 1700 the Italian market opened fully for stockfish and has continued till today. From 1850s the trade with klippfish started as the Norwegians learned to salt fish from the Dutch. They used this method of preservation, first drying, then salting, to extend the market. This allowed trade with Portugal and other European countries in more recent years.
Without stockfish, Lofoten and Norway would be a different place. It has brought economic wealth and power to a very poor, peripheral country. Because stockfish had such a value it was seen as too good to eat. Even today Arctic cod remains mainly an export good which is little consumed, except for some specific dishes which mark certain seasons or celebrations such as boknafisk, a half-dried cod or lutefisk which is served around Christmas time.
The communal gathering around Codfish
The Eno-gastronomy sector is characterized by the phenomenon of the Confraternities: a universe of associations, informal groups or organizations of solid tradition that, with their love for good food and good drink, contribute to maintaining the cultural roots that are an integral part of our local identities, often combining a pleasant and healthy goliardic spirit.READ MORE
Specifically of the Cod, in Italy and Portugal, there are several brotherhoods dedicated to the protection of traditional recipes, mostly divided into regional areas of competence. Here are some examples of confraternities, to mention the ones closest to the Skrei Convention project are the “Venerabile Confraternita of Bacalà alla Vicentina” , the “Dogale Confraternita del Baccalà Mantecato” , the “Confraria Gastronomica do Bacalhau”
Among the main activities of the Brotherhoods are the organization of festivals, publication of books or exhibitions, awards for chefs characterized by respect for traditional recipes. There is no lack of workshops, stages or cooking shows especially organized for students of technical hotel or restaurant institutes, as well as trips to other countries where common elements in cod consumption are present.
In order to favor the consolidation of an international network between Brotherhoods, on November 6th 2004 in Valencia a first groups of associations established the CEUCO – Conseil Européen des Confréries gourmandes, a formal European Oenogastronomic Brotherhood Council, based in Valencia. Every year Ceuco organizes its own European congress, during which the applications of new members are selected as well as are discussed the nominations for the various awards, including “Best European Restaurant”, “Best European Gastronomy Festival”, “Best European Winery” , “Best European gastronomic research project”, “Best European agri-food initiative”, “Best European Institution for Tourism and Gastronomy”.
In Italy, various associations, brotherhoods and academies on December 8th 2015 in Ancona signed a memorandum of understanding with which they committed themselves to promoting the “Via Italiana of the Stockfish”, whose goal is to collaborate to enhance this product on the Italian territory, also involving institutions in recognizing and promoting their work.
This road therefore fits into the more articulated project for the development of a new Cultural Route of the Council of Europe “Via Querinissima”.
It is still unclear when to set the beginning of cod fishing by the Portuguese. It is known that by the earlies 1500´s Portugal already discovered most of the Northwest Atlantic through the expeditions of the explorers João Álvares Fagundes, João Fernandes Lavrador and the Corte-Real brothers. Until the second half of the 16th century, the Crown did not show a clear interest in these newly discovered lands, and the attempt to colonize Newfoundland failed (was later colonized by France and England). From there on, the State took an interest in the cod fishing and trade and Portugal became the first of the many main states to send fleets to Newfoundland and Labrador to fish cod, an activity that we affectionately call the “great fishery”. The ships were mainly from Aveiro, Viana do Castelo and Porto.
By 1578, just before we lost independence to Spain, there were more Portuguese fishing in the banks than Spanish, English and French. However, due to the damage caused by the English and French corsairs, the silting up of the ports of Aveiro and Viana do Castelo, and a certain negligence of the State, who seemed more interested in the trade of the Indies and the sugar of Brazil, amongst other events of political and economic essence, led to the suspension of fishing by the Portuguese ships until the 19th century. Cod fishing was relaunched in 1835 at the initiative of the Lisbon Mercantile Association using English crews and ships with a new fishing technique that included the use of one-man dories with longline and lead Portugal to return in 1866 to the Newfoundland banks.
During the 20th century, the cod industries went throught 3 different and important stages. The first was the State reorganization of supply and production, in which after the 1933 Constitution, Salazar’s regime focused on the reorganization of the cod fishing industry, presenting it to the people as the emblem of the national resurgence. The second was the apogee of the ’50s and ’60s, based on State credit and other protective measures provided by corporative organizations, in which the State gives credits and subsidies to shipowners, to expand and modernize their fleet. The third was the decline of the fishing industry, during the last quarter of the century, associated with the dismantling of the fisheries oligarchy in 1974 and the changes to the Law of the Sea which created new property rights and put the traditional fishing zones under Canada’s jurisdiction.
Every year the North Atlantic cod, or skrei, leaves its normal habitat in the Barents Sea and swims about 1000 kilometres southwards to the Lofoten region to spawn. This natural phenomenon has throughout history been the most important reason to live in the Lofoten islands. When the cod comes to Lofoten in the period from January to March it is time for the great Lofoten fishery.READ MORE
The fish spawn in great numbers close to land and therefore it has been possible for people to catch the fish with small boats and simple tools for thousands of years. In Lofoten we have found traces of fishermen from about 10.000 years ago. We have reason to believe that the Vikings in the Lofoten area were good fishermen and that they also dried the cod for preservation and could bring the stockfish on their journeys. In our Medieval period, in the 1100s, we know for sure that the cod was caught and dried in such large quantities that it was not only food for the locals, but a commodity. The commercial trade with stockfish had begun.
Ever since the stockfish trade have been of great importance both locally and nationally in Norway. The trade has taken different forms and routes throughout the centuries, but it has always been one of the major export articles from Norway. For some periods of time it was up to 80 % of the total annual Norwegian export.
An interesting characteristic of the Lofoten fishery is that it has been a very conservative system. The catch has been performed in small boats, traditionally not far from land. The fishermen have used the handline for centuries and the conservation method still preferred is to let the cod dry naturally in the Lofoten wind.
In earlier times the fishery was naturally sustainable. The fishermen with traditional handlines, even though they were numerous, were not able to overfish. There was enough for everybody. And of course, no use of gas, engines or plastic materials. Today we have more efficient fishing methods like automated longlines and nets and the fishing can be intensive. We now have strict quotas based on research to ensure that the skrei can come back to our coasts year after year.
The increase of cod consumption and its trade is attributed to the Council of Trent, the 19th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church which was held in the city of Trento, Italy, between 1545 and 1963.READ MORE
In 1545 Pope Paolo III convened the Council to oppose Martin Luther’s protestant reformation. Trent was chosen for its strategic position because it was considered a city-bridge between the papacy’s territories and the emperor ones. In this city, the Catholic Church had strong political and religious power and for this reason, it became one of the main Catholic European city.
During the Council of Trent were issued some precepts which regulated how to live a faithful life: according to the Catholic Church meat consumption had to be reduced in favour of fish, if believers did not respect these rules they risked to be condemned to eternal damnation.
The Council regulations, issued in 1545, imposed to eat fish on Wednesdays, Fridays and during Lent and Advent. During these days, eggs, cheese and dairy products were also banned. Here, the uses of cod begun to flourish and many cod and stockfish recipes were introduced, at first in convents and monasteries, and then in the noblest houses. Fresh cod was preferred amongst the nobility, whilst stockfish was eaten in poorer households. During the time of the Council of Trento, also the Archbishop of Uppsala, Olaus Magnus, played an important role in increasing cod consumption. In 1555 he wrote Description of the Northern People (Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus) and this opera was important because it gave information about cod and its trade in Northern Europe. In particular, Olaus described cod fishing techniques and methods of cod conservation. He also provided information about stockfish in Bergen and the business relationship between Venice and the Northern people.
It can be said because of the Council of Trent, there was a major increase in cod consumption, and, thanks to its versatile recipes and its nutritional properties, it was considered the King amongst the fishes.