Meet The Producer: Armatore

19 February 2024, 12:00 PM
  • Sustainability, heritage and exceptional flavour and quality set this family-run business, founded in a beautiful Italian fishing village, apart
Meet The Producer: Armatore

Artisanal tinned fish can be heralded as one of the great (and most surprising) success stories of 2023. A social media craze, which swept the globe, breathed new life into the market. And food lovers, from London to LA, have become obsessed with creating grazing platters that put fish front and centre.

The trend spilled over onto the menus of upmarket bars and restaurants, and sees no sign of slowing, with growing consumer curiosity fuelling eateries and retailers to take the world of tinned fish much more seriously. It’s no longer an ‘emergency’ food, relegated to the back of the cupboard. Tins and jars of tuna, anchovies, mussels, octopus and sardines are taking pride of place in the finest of food stores, and on the shelves of the most discerning customers.

Shoppers are seeking the very very best quality, products that look stunning, and, importantly, fish that has been landed sustainably.

Meeting each of these criteria is Armatore, based in the beautiful village of Cetara on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. CEO Luigi Della Monica’s family has been fishing Bluefin tuna in the clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea for four generations, and he was at the forefront of the new wave of interest in tinned fish. “Five years ago I saw a gap in the market,” Luigi says. “You could never find canned products with Bluefin tuna, so I decided to start a company of my own based on the fishing and production of great products from our sea, including Bluefin tuna and anchovies, which are a speciality of my hometown of Cetara.”

As everything is fished and processed by the Armatore team, the brand has complete control over quality and sustainability. They only take what is needed from the sea, respecting the seasons and timings for each species, and using measures to protect their habitats, biodiversity, and long-term viability. This includes implementing selective techniques such as pesca a circuizione, using gentle netting systems such as MSC-approved purse seines, and sourcing responsibly from stocks that are not overfished.

“I don’t like to compare myself to others,” says Luigi, “but what I can tell you is that when you choose Armatore, you choose to be part of a large family that believes in sustainability. Sustainable fishing is the only fishing we know.” 

Due to Italian legislation, with government quotas in place for Bluefin since 2010, just 21 boats across the whole of the country are permitted to fish for the prized ‘king of tuna’. Armatore’s strong heritage, and understanding of the delicate balance of the sea, have led it to have some of the largest shares in these boats – something Luigi is incredibly proud of.

As well as beautiful fillets of prime Bluefin in olive oil, which bring a touch of magic to any dish, Armatore’s range includes two types of white-fleshed tuna – Tonno Palamita (Bonito), and Tonno Alalunga (Albacore), both, like Bluefin, rich with nutritional value, with particularly beneficial levels of Omega 3. Tombarello (Bullet tuna) is more akin to Bluefin, but with a paler flesh. 

Armatore’s collection doesn’t end at tinned fish. The brand has also garnered a reputation for the most exquisite bottarga – also known as Mediterranean caviar. Armatore’s bottarga is produced under the directives of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna. Bluefin eggs are pressed, salted, and dried slowly, creating an ingredient that is revered by chefs for its umami flavour.

The very best anchovies are another string to Armatore’s bow. “We fish anchovies in spring on the Amalfi Coast,” says Luigi. “Only the largest are selected to become fine anchovies in oil. The maturation process takes place in chestnut barrels for a period of more than eight months.”

This is a practice handed down from generation to generation. Once ripened, the anchovies are cleaned of salt, pinned, and preserved in jars, ready to be draped over bruschetta, or melted into a puttanesca sauce.

Anchovies are also at the heart of one of Armatore’s most precious ingredients - Colatura Di Alici – a liquid essence that takes them to another level. The fish are layered with sea salt in barrels, and matured for 24 to 30 months. “The result is an incredible extract that can be used to add flavour to any kind of dish, from meat tartare to vegetables,” says Luigi. “I love it with boiled potatoes, broccoli, and of course pasta. You can basically use it as a replacement for salt with anything, and it’s so much healthier as it’s rich in Omega 3.”

Artisan Italian wholesaler, Just Gourmet Foods, which works solely with distinctive, family-run producers, is proud to bring Armatore’s products to the UK market. “We were introduced to Armatore by a couple of brands that we work with who felt that we could also be a great fit to look after them in the UK,” says founder Gianfranco Perri. “As we did our due diligence, before sealing the relationship, we came to appreciate just how great a fit they were with our business, due to their artisanal positioning and shared ethos.”

Gianfranco says he felt their story had to be heard, and that customers would appreciate Armatore’s commitment to sustainability, tradition and quality. “The range is very new to the UK still, and we have work to do to communicate just how wonderful their products are, but we are on a journey together, and looking forward to sharing their story more.”

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