Worcestershire Sauce. The most Italian English sauce I know.
by Chef Lippe
I find it funny how the many chefs I know pronounce the name of this sauce “woosher” “woshter” and worse. It is quite easy if you try. Repeat after me. Wor – ces - ter – shire. Worcestershire sauce is a modern version of “Garum” a fermented anchovy condiment widely used in Greco-Roman cuisine. Cited by Pliny The Elder in his Historia Naturalis, and Apicius in his fourth-century culinary recipes.
The most widely spread story of the origins of Worcestershire sauce relates that Lord Marcus Sandys, ex-Governor of Bengal, upon his return to England in 1835, brought with him a sauce he enjoyed during his time in India with the East India Company. He commissioned two apothecaries in Worcester to reproduce it. The sauce, based on anchovy and tamarind reproduced by John Wheely Lea and William Perrins, of 63 Broad Street was a total disaster. Totally inedible. Lord Sandys abandoned the project, and the barrel full of sauce was placed to be forgotten in the company’s basement. A few years later, during cleanup, and before tossing the barrel, they tasted the sauce, and lo and behold! It was not only edible but unique. Time and fermentation had worked magic.
So the story goes. I propose a parallel tale, far more adventurous and interesting I have found during my travels to Italy.
I found a story, in the city of Urbino site of the Duchy of Urbino, in Romagna, in the Marche region, about a recipe known as “Salso del Duca d’Urbino” (sauce of the Duke of Urbino) that during the 1500s was kept under lock and key at the Duke’s castle, its preparation a well-guarded secret, rendering fat profits from the sauce’s sales.
In 1517 Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, conquered the castle, reclaiming his throne from the papal forces of Pope Leo X that had deposed him. The Pope quickly reacted and hired 10,000 Saxon mercenary troops that attacked the castle under command of Lorenzo II de Medici.
The tale goes, that the Saxon mercenaries pillaged the Italian castle, from where the precious recipe went missing. The recipe made its way to England, ending up in the hands of Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester. The recipe was manufactured under the name Worcestershire Sauce, or Sauce of the County of Worcester, becoming local patrimony.
I do not know which story is true. If anything, I find it ironic that England’s most notorious sauce was created by the hands of an Italian nonna.