To view a slide show of Genoa's pesto showdown, click here.
Federico Ferro, a young pharmacist from Genoa's Sestri Levante, is the proud winner of this year's Campionato Mondiale del Pesto al Mortaio (World Championship of Mortar-Made Pesto). 100 semi-finalists, winners of regional contests held last year in many Italian cities, but also in other parts of the world—even LA—met under the ornate roof of the magnificent central hall in the second floor of the Palazzo Ducale, in Genoa. The intoxicating smell of garlic, basil, and cheese sneaked down the baroque staircase, reaching the ground floor entrance of the palace, inviting passersby to climb the stairs and witness the extraordinary event.
The contestants, 56 men and 44 women, were each given a small marble mortar with a wooden pestle. They were also given fresh garlic; even fresher basil (the particular Genoan DOP kind, of course); pine nuts; and Sardo cheese. These are the essential ingredients for the traditional sauce, plus coarse sea salt, which "keeps the basil leaves green, preventing oxidation," as one of the judges told me.
The participants were placed in four neat rows on the long tables set on both sides of the baroque hall. A few, especially the locals, brought their own somewhat larger and obviously well-seasoned mortars, but most used the brand new ones provided by the Associazione Palatifini, the organizers of the event. One must wonder about the competitive advantage provided by using a well seasoned mortar ...what if a contestant snuck in a Cuisinart-modified pestle!