Saturday, 13 October 2012


Moretum is a cheese, garlic, and herb spread mentioned in a wonderful little poem, also called Moretum, by the poet Virgil.  The poem tells us about the farmer Symilus and his morning meal.  Waking up early he  lights his lamp and works his way to his grain stores.  He gathers his grain, mills it down into flour, and makes a bread not unlike the one we made before.  The farmer notices that he has no meat, and worries that the bread might not be tasty enough on its own, so he sets about making some moretum to go with it.  Seeing as our bread could use a little lift, I'm going to follow this Roman farmer's example and make some of this cheese spread.  The whole poem, which really is worth a read, can be found by clicking here.  It's too long to post in full, so I've summarised the important bits here:
  • Symilus gathers four heads of garlic (!), celery, parsley, rue, and coriander seeds.
  • He grinds the garlic in his mortar and pestle, and adds salt and cheese.
  • He then adds the celery, rue, parsley, and coriander seeds.  He also grabs his crotch for extra leverage with the mortar and pestle, or so Virgil says.
  • The smell is so strong that it makes his eyes water!
  • He adds some olive oil, finishes off the mixture, and slaps some on his freshly baked bread.
So, what to make of this?  Well for one there is far too much garlic; Symilus might have been able to work alone in his field without his breath offending anyone, but most of us don't have that luxury.  I'll have to tone it down a bit to prevent garlic overpowering the other ingredients.  Secondly, Virgil mentions a herb called 'rue'.  Rue is a bitter plant used to flavour lots of Roman dishes, and it grows quite freely here.  However, it is also poisonous.  Until I find a good supplier and understand it a bit better, I'll be leaving out the rue.  Finally, crotch grabbing whilst cooking is unhygienic, so I'll be leaving that bit out too.

Symilus with his packed lunch.

Virgil's Moretum


  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • 1/2 of a Celery Stick (with its leaves)
  • A Small Bunch of Flat-Leaf Parsley
  • 1 tbsp of Coriander Seeds
  • A Pinch of Salt
  • Some Cheese (I used Feta as it was easy to work with.  With the benefit of hindsight, I would choose a milder cheese)
  • 1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • A Splash of Vinegar


  • Peel the garlic, add to the mortar, and give it hell.
  • Add the salt, the cheese, and the celery to the mortar and mash them up too.  Really make sure to mix them well with the garlic from earlier.

  • To this paste, add the coriander seeds, parsley, oil, and vinegar.  I find that it is helpful to add the parsley in batches and break it down bit by bit rather than trying to do it all at once and making a mess.  Test for flavour - if it is too garlicky, add more parsley.
  • Break off a lump of bread, spread some of the moretum on, and enjoy!


Moretum was a great accompaniment for my Roman bread - its creaminess complimented the 'rough' texture of the bread, and the strong flavours drew attention away from the overly wheaty taste of the bread.  In fact I'd go so far as to say that the wheaty after-taste provided by the bread was the perfect follow-on flavour for this cheese spread.  However, even though I used just one garlic clove, this spread was verging on being too strong, something not helped by the saltiness of the feta either.  Thankfully, a bit of extra parsley stopped that being so.  Despite the inadequacies of this first attempt at moretum, it is a spread which I recommend you try, and one which I am looking forward to making again.


  1. Discovered your blog via rogue classicism.

    I'm a Roman recreationist, with a focus in Roman foods. I've made the ham, and I've made Chicken Fronto, this moretum and a passel of other things. I've found the thread of bitter in Roman food to be one of the important flavors. Modern palates, especially American (where I am), don't seem to like it as much.

    I've worked with rue, though, and I want to say that you are perfectly safe using it in food as a light season. Don't eat it like cabbage or anything, but a sprinkle in your moretum isn't going to affect you unless you have some specific medical conditions.

    Any women who are pregnant or lactating should avoid rue, as should individuals with kidney problems or taking low blood pressure meds. Just as people on blood thinners shouldn't eat spinach.

    If you can find an alternative herb to give that hint of bitter to your moretum (perhaps asofoetida?), I heartily recommend it.

    Thank you for this blog. I'm enjoying it very much.

  2. A good substitute for rue would be a pinch of pepper and rosemary