The Taste of Italy in a Jar

Working out of a tiny apartment kitchen, Neal McTighe, better known as Nello, has been garnering alot of attention lately for his homemade tomato sauce, Nello’s Sauce.

The inspiration for Nello’s Sauce came from his love of Italy (he has a PhD in Italian language and literature from UNC),  his many travels to Italy and his Italian grandmother who came to the United States in 1918

Just this month, Nello’s Sauce made the pages of Chapel Hill Magazine and North Carolina’s newest magazine, SavorNC (Which if you haven’t picked up a copy, you should).

I had the pleasure of chatting with Nello a few weeks ago over coffee at Parker and Otis, here’s what he had to say:

An interview with Nello, from Nello’s Sauce

Where are you from? I was born and raised in central New Jersey, went to college in Pennsylvania, then began my years of going back and forth between the United States and Italy. Deep down I’m a Jersey boy.

What brought you to Durham? I moved to Chapel Hill in 2004 to attend graduate school for Italian. I earned my PhD in December 2007 and decided to make the area my home. I now live in Raleigh but work in downtown Durham. I love it here.

What is your profession by day? I am an assistant managing editor in the books division at Duke University Press.

Do you have a professional culinary background? No, I don’t, but I have been surrounded by gourmet food all my life, starting at my mother’s table through my experiences in Italy at some of the world’s finest restaurants.

Where did the idea for Nello’s Sauce come from? Is it a family recipe?My great grandmother, born in Italy in 1901, cooked her tomato sauce for the entire family so often that she wore out the linoleum in front of the stove. While she passed away at the age of 95 when I was only 5, I still remember her well and also remember how delicious her sauce was. Upon a return to Italy to discover my roots, I stumbled upon a tiny restaurant in my family’s remote village of Carife. I asked for the cook to prepare a simple pasta dish for me. What he brought to me was, no doubt, my great grandmother’s dish. I could tell that instant that the recipe she cooked for so many years she had learned to make in Carife. She merely carried it with her across the ocean in 1919. Nello’s Sauce is my attempt to recreate her sauce, though I’m certain hers will always remain the best.

How would you describe the flavor of Nello’s Sauce? Tomato-centric. I love the flavor of tomatoes and focus on them, not on the garlic or the pepper, though they are essential flavors, too. In my sauce I use premium Italian whole peeled plum tomatoes in a light tomato puree, with fresh basil, salt, and citric acid; thick green Italian extra virgin olive oil; Sicilian sea salt; basil; garlic; and fine black pepper. I blend the ingredients so that the flavors are balanced  and the sauce sticks well to pasta.

How do you suggest people use Nello’s Sauce? The traditional pasta from my family’s region in Italy is Cavatelli–I recommend serving Nello’s Sauce over that. Cavatelli is hard to find (though A Southern Season has some), so I suggest using ravioli, too. And I must say, it’s fantastic on pizza! It can also be used with chicken or eggplant, in a meatball sub, in lasagna, or just for dipping. It’s versatile.

What is your favorite way to use Nello’s Sauce? Over fresh cavatelli pasta with some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

Where do you source your ingredients? My ingredients are imported from Italy. I will, however, be offering Nello’s “Blue Label” sauce using only local tomatoes and basil. That will be offered this coming tomato season.

Do you grow your own vegetables for the sauce? Are they organic? No.

What made you want to produce it for the public? I am a lover of all things Italian. Nello’s Sauce is an extension of Nello’s Italy, my website dedicated to Italy. Essentially, I’ve taken the entire country of Italy and put it in a jar.

Where are the production facilities for Nello’s Sauce? My home.

In today’s economy, how hard has it been for you to get started with production, sales, marketing, etc.. It has taken quite some time to jump through all the loops, but NC State’s Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences program is an invaluable resource, as are the many branches of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. I recommend that anyone interested in making and selling a food product begin at NC State. In total, governmental fees have been significant, but manageable.

“The Cookery,” Durham’s new kitchen incubator is set to open in April, will you take advantage of the tools that will be available? Kitchen rental, marketing, design help? Yes! I’m on the mailing list for updates already. Thanks to—well—you, Johanna!

How do you plan to grow the Nello’s Sauce brand? I am working hard, day and night, contacting people in order to spread the word. Social media has been an excellent venue for this. I will further my marketing plan as I grow . . . one tomato at a time. Getting into stores is the most crucial step for me now, as my sauce is currently only available online.

Do you have any other products? No.

Do you have plans for any other products? In a year I plan to offer two additional sauces, my “Blue Label” sauce using only local tomatoes and basil, and also my Arrabbiata sauce, a simple spicy tomato sauce. 

Is Nello’s Sauce available for purchase at any local stores? Nello’s is currently only available online (www.nellositaly.com). I am in talks with some local stores. Anyone interested in selling Nello’s?

 Do you have any one who distributes for you? No, not yet. Any takers? I’m actively looking for a local distributor!

Thank you Nello, for your time and for the jars of Nello’s Sauce you gave me to try and to give away at the last Triangle Foodie Tweetup at Four Square.

You can find Nello’s Sauce on facebook, twitter and vimeo. To order Nello’s Sauce you can visit Nello’s Italy.

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