Over time tastes refined and the selection of spices available to Italian cooks expanded even if they did not become an affordable addition to the kitchen for many hundreds of years. In Medieval Europe Venice was a huge, seafaring and trading power and it was here, in the North that they held a monopoly on the spice trade. However other principalities in
Spices remained incredibly valuable during this period – nutmeg, for example, was worth more than gold. The idea that medieval and Renaissance cooks used spices to cover the taste of rotting meat is a myth – after all, to sprinkle on ruinously expensive and luxurious condiments simply to cover up the flavour of common cuts would be madness. Only the richest noblemen could afford spices for their kitchens, and these households could easily afford fresh produce for their cooks to work with.
Today Italians use spices throughout the year though there are huge regional variations. Coriander seeds are a common addition to pork dishes and use of pepper and nutmeg are widespread all over the country whereas ginger is rare except in the south. Whichever dish you choose to cook today, a few pennies will buy you a copious supply of spice except in the case of saffron, which has kept its allure and if not the hefty price tag of a bygone age, can still be considered a luxury. The precious golden threads are the world’s most expensive spice by weight. Saffron is still produced mostly in
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