This blog post is part 2 of my recent travels around Italy. You can read the first part 'Food & Wine in Napoli & Pompei' here. But for now, let's start with the second half of my tour...
I take the train from Pompei to Salerno and change for the regional train heading south. Maria Sarnataro picks me up at the station at Vallo di Lucania. We arrive at her home just in time for dinner.
She has a surprise for me, a manteca.
It’s butter encased in caciocavallo cheese and it has a story. The people of Basilicata who take their Podolica breed of cattle to alpine pastures for the summer make caciocavallo which they mature until they descend to the valleys in autumn where they sell it. They make ricotta from the whey, but there’s too much for them to consume fresh. It can’t be kept for more than a few days and there's nowhere to sell it. So, by an ingenious and complex process of draining, heating and cooling, they extract the butterfat from the ricotta.
To conserve the butter without refrigeration they encase it in a thin layer of caciocavallo curd. Piero, Maria’s husband, is an agronomist. Part payment for his consultancy with these people was this manteca.
There are so many mozzarella dairies in Salerno Province that you could spend several weeks visiting all of them. There are two that I’ve heard excellent reports of and haven’t managed to visit: Barlotti and Vannulo. Vannulo is organic, only sells from their own shop at the dairy and often comes at the top on lists of the 10 best mozzarellas. Maria has booked lunch there. On the way we stop at Barlotti where she introduces me to brothers Enzo and Gaetano Barlotti.
We eagerly accept Enzo’s invitation to bring the participants on our mozzarella courses for a tasting. You taste so much bad mozzarella everywhere else that we need to educate our palates while here.
He presents us with samples of his bocconcini, ricotta and a new brie-style cheese, all made with the milk of their own buffalo herd. The mozzarella and ricotta are among the best I’ve tasted. The ‘brie’ is a little bitter and needs some work, but it’s exciting that they’re experimenting with new cheeses.
Many of the mozzarella dairies offer tastings in beautiful settings and some have a dining room where you can sit down to a multi-course lunch. Vannulo has perfected the tourist experience, which as you probably know by now, puts me right off. Maria is a friend of the owners, but they don’t welcome us when we arrive, and are nowhere to be seen. Maria tells me that it used to be different, but now it’s all hired staff, who display not an ounce (not even a gram) of passion for their products. Our vegetable salad from their organic garden is good, the mozzarella not outstanding. They’ve installed a leather workshop which sells their own handbags, etc, but they take no interest in us visitors. The museum of agricultural implements is marginally interesting, but I’ve been to better ones. If you come on the mozzarella course, you won’t be visiting Vannulo on our tasting afternoon.
Francesca Fiasco’s vineyard at Felitto couldn’t be further from a tourist experience. The only sign on the road is Francesca herself waiting to show Maria and me her vineyards and cantina (cellar). She exudes passion and authenticity and does virtually all the work herself right down to designing the labels.
She cultivates autochthonous varieties such as fiano, aglianico and piedirosso (the one I saw at Pompei) as well as varieties such as sangiovese and merlot, which arrived in the area so long ago that they are included in the DOC.
She produced her first wine in 2016 and is already being recognised by wine critics. She gave me a case of wine with a handwritten label. Sadly, I couldn’t carry it back to Lucca on the train. I know Maria will make good use of it. She not only teaches cheese courses, but also sommelier courses.
Just so you know my trip isn’t all hard work eating and drinking, this morning Maria takes me to her favourite secluded beach, fairly free of tourists (especially in these times of Covid-19).
You have to go a long way to find gelato as good as Mirko Tognetti's of the Cremeria Opera at Lucca. Here I am at Sapri in southern Campania enjoying Enzo Crivella’s latest creation which he’s describing animatedly.
They sound an unlikely combination, but it works. Try it! You have to make a perfectly balanced bread gelato. Maybe best to come on Mirko’s and my gelato course first! 😃
That marks the end of my tour. I'd love to welcome you onto one of our tours or courses soon. Take a look at our website to find out dates and details and get in touch with me to book your spot. I look forward to seeing you!
By Alison Goldberger
Every month there’s something happening at Sapori & Saperi – lots of interesting people visit and we take lots of photos of our tours and courses. We thought it was about time we shared some with you on a regular basis. Here’s our January round up, giving you an extra insight into the tours and courses with Italian artisans you could attend with us, as well as some snippets of life in Italy!
As the new year rang in Erica feasted on a New Year’s Eve meal, typical for the region she lives in. She ate cotechino with lentils. As they’re round, they symbolise money and will make you rich. We’re still waiting! Maybe next year. The good news is that you can learn how to make cotechino during the Advanced Salumi Course Tuscany!
During the first course of the year we welcomed the talented Sorravee ‘Gin’ Pratanavanich — find her on instagram. As a qualified pastry chef from the Culinary Arts Academy in Switzerland, she wanted to learn how to make delicious natural gelato — so naturally Sapori & Saperi and our artisan Mirko were there to help her.
Gin learned the true science of gelato too – and that’s not easy! How to balance the fat, sugar, milk solids and water to make sure the product not only tastes incredible but has the perfect texture too.
Friday on the Art & Science of Gelato course is always ‘crazy flavours day’, and Gin really went for it with her recipes. She created the incredible ‘Coffee B’ gelato made from coffee, caramelised walnuts and Baileys! She also took some inspiration from the Thai street food ‘garlic and pepper chicken’ and used soya, black pepper and crispy garlic in her gelato. A brave experiment. She learned it’s valuable to let your imagination run wild — whether you create something delicious, or you learn what doesn’t quite work!
We had an unusual first day on the Advanced Salumi Course Tuscany as Mirko joined in to learn how to make salami and sausage with our artisan norcino Massimo Bacci. Will Massimo learn how to make gelato next?
We had a great group taking part in the course – here you can see them intensely watching artisan norcino Ismaele Turri as he prepares Tuscan prosciutto. Check out our student, former chef to the Ambassador at the British Embassy Prague and now head of charcuterie at Amaso, Vojtech Kalasek, who posted lots of great images on instagram throughout the whole course.
During our tours and courses we like to slip in some surprise extra visits. This time we visited Pastificio Martelli which makes pasta in the Renaissance hilltop town of Lari, where our prosciutto specialist Simone Ceccotti has his butcher shop. We left wondering how many machines you can use and still be artisan. We decided that one important thing is that it's natural: only Italian durum wheat and water and dried very slowly for 50 hours. And just as important, that it tastes good and the slightly rough surface holds the sauce.
January also brought us a wonderful guest blog post from Lin Hobley, a weaver-artist and past participant on the Tastes & Textiles Woad & Wool tour. We published a review of the year, and Erica gave a run down of our different hotels and accommodation on Slow Travel Tours.
If you’d like to join us, check out our website. Can’t wait to see you!
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