Hypotrimma – Ancient Roman Sauce with Cheese


In the 1st book of De Re Coquinaria, there are recipes for beverages, preserves, sauces, and other preparations that we usually find in the ancient agronomy books. This week, we chose the recipe for hypotrimma, a term that refers to the fact that the ingredients are pounded in the mortar, equivalent to Latin moretum (here, you find the recipe from the Appendix Vergiliana; this one, instead, is selected from Columella’s De Re Rustica).
It is unclear how the final consistency of this dish should be, if solid like the recipes by Virgil and Columella or more liquid. In our book Ancient Roman Cooking, we decided on a solid texture; here, instead, we prepared a liquid sauce, spicy and sweet-and-sour, that we served with pork roast, olives, and artolaganon. Essentially, the final outcome depends on the ratio we choose among the ingredients.
Analyzing the recipe, we find out that there are four sweet ingredients (honey, dates, defritum, and raisins), in addition to sweet cheese, which is a cheese with low salt content, and for this reason, it is important to keep the quantities in check to prevent the sweetness from overpowering the other flavors.
Defritum is reduced grape must, boiled down until reduced by half of the original volume. The author recommends using either it or caroenum, which is reduced by one-third. You may substitute them with a bit more honey, mead, or raisin wine.
There are many possible interpretations for this recipe. In our version, we used a couple of pinches each of black pepper and lovage (which may be substituted with fennel or anise seeds according to Pliny and Dioscorides), one teaspoon each of honey, garum, defritum, and olive oil; one tablespoon each of wine and vinegar. Add a few raisins, one date, a few leaves of dry or fresh mint, about 40 grams of cheese (a fresh caciotta, for example), and 10 grams of pine nuts. Try the sauce and adjust it to your taste.
If you want to serve this sauce with fish, we recommend using more wine and vinegar; with cheese or vegetables, try a bit more sweet ingredients.
Garum may always be substituted with salt. Other possible substitutes are colatura di alici, ancient muria, or a South-East Asian fish sauce.

To know more about the historical ingredients used for this recipe, such as lovage, cheese, or defritum, check out our Patreon page, in which you find the translation of the first four books of De Re Coquinaria and other historical sources, in addition to several articles about ancient and medieval foods.
To know more about foods in ancient Rome, check out our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources (Italian edition here), available on Amazon in e-book and printed editions; to know more, instead, about medieval cuisine, we recommend reading our new book, with the translation (into English and Italian) and a commentary of the Registrum Coquine, written in the 15th century by Johannes Bockenheim.
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black pepper
dry mint
firm cheese
pine nuts
olive oil
white wine

Pound in the mortar the black pepper, lovage, and mint. Once they are ground, add the pine nuts, a few raisins, one date, and cheese. Mix with garum, olive oil, and honey and dilute with defritum, vinegar, and wine.

Original text
Hypotrimma: piper, ligusticum, mentam aridam, nucleos pineos, uvam passam, caryotam, caseum dulcem, mel, acetum, liquamen, oleum, vinum, defritum aut caroenum.

Hypotrimma: pepper, lovage, dry mint, pine nuts, raisins, date, sweet cheese, honey, vinegar, garum, oil, defritum or caroenum.

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Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-4
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first and second part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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