These aren’t just any mussels. These are cozze tarantine, Taranto mussels. Unlike any other we have tasted. Taranto’s mussels benefit from the unique conditions of the bay in which they are cultivated.
Mussels from the city of Taranto, located in southern Italy, are known for their sweet and delicate flavour. This is due to a combination of factors, including the location of the mussel beds, the species of mussel, and the local farming and harvesting practices.
The mussels from Taranto are raised in the Gulf of Taranto’s ‘Mar Piccolo’, a large, protected bay located on the Ionian Sea. The bay is characterized by its clean and clear waters, and it has a unique microclimate that is ideal for mussel cultivation. The region receives a moderate temperature, high humidity, and a high concentration of phytoplankton, which is the main food source of mussels. Rapidly moving underwater freshwater springs – ‘citri’ – oxygenate the waters favoring the development of plankton.
This creates ideal conditions for the growth of the mussels and contribute to the sweet flavor of them.
The mussels from Taranto are typically the “Mytilus galloprovincialis” species. This species of mussel is known for its sweet and delicate taste, which is due to its high protein and low fat content.
Finally, the local farming and harvesting practices also play a role in the flavour of the mussels. The mussel farmers of Taranto have developed a traditional technique for cultivating the mussels in suspended rafts, which allows them to grow in a clean and well-aerated environment. The mussels are also harvested by hand, which ensures that they are carefully selected and handled, which helps to preserve their sweet and delicate flavour.
Plump and juicy
All these factors combined make mussels from Taranto some of the most delicious and sought-after mussels in Italy. The local tradition of consuming them is also quite special. They are typically served steamed with a little bit of garlic, olive oil, and white wine, sometimes with tomatoes and herbs. But they are also eaten raw, plump and juicy.
Mussels from Taranto: The Signature Recipe
Take your pick. Spaghetti, vermicelli or linguine alla tarantina. The original recipe includes local black mussels, tomato puree or fresh tomatoes, garlic, parsley and pepper. No salt and no chilli.
Another important detail. The Taranto mussels must be strictly opened “a freddo”, when they are still raw, preserving and filtering some of their water.
With a few shelled mussels, the sauté is then prepared together with the garlic and parsley, the tomato is added and finally the remaining shelled mussels and a little of their water; at most, a few mussels in their shells can remain for aesthetic reasons. For the final touch, add a generous grind of black pepper and handful of chopped parsley.
Our favourite Taranto restaurants
The piers of Taranto’s old port are lined with fishing boats. Every morning fresh mussels are sold on the quays along with the freshly landed catch of the day.
Local restaurants buy their fish and seafood from the fishermen. You can follow the drips of seawater from boat to restaurant. Here is where we go to eat them when we’re not cooking at home.
Ristorante Al Canale | fish and seafood restaurant popular with the business community. Bright and airy, overlooking the channel between la Città Vecchia and downtown Taranto. A flawless lemon scented insalata di mare served hot in a lemon brodo impressed us.
Ristò Fratelli Pesce | a busy fish and seafood restaurant at the northwestern end of the old town island, not too far from the Porta Napoli bridge. Seafood pasta dishes are highly recommended, as is booking. Via Porto, 18 (+39 339 818 2010).
La ringhiera pizzeria Di Michele Ruggiero | opposite Ristò Fratelli Pesce. We walked in when we couldn’t get a table at Fratelli Pesce, and were pleased we did. Recommended for raw and cooked plates of seafood. Piazza Sant’Eligio, 12 (+39 320 710 6301).
Gente di Mare Trattoria | Cucina di Pesce a Taranto – fish and seafood restaurant. What can we say. Excellent, and popular with locals. It was full for Sunday lunch, always a good sign. Via Garibaldi, 254. (They also have a restaurant at the other end of the borgo antico which we haven’t tried).