vino cotto abruzzo

Vino cotto from Abruzzo: cooked and fermented to perfection

The tradition of vino cotto (“cooked wine”) goes at least a thousand years back. Pliny the Elder mentioned it in his writings in the 1st century as one of the most sought-after drinks of the time. Nowadays, few people know what it is. Historians say that vino cotto was born from the need to preserve wine made from low quality grapes. The best of harvest went to the landowner and hard-working farmers were often left with small sour grapes. Cooking them reduced the volume but increased the sugar concentration, which meant the wine could be stored for longer periods. From late spring to November, when normal wine turned sour (no technology to extend its shelf life existed back then) farmers drank vino cotto until the next harvest. Le Marche and Abruzzo are the two regions where vino cotto became part of the local cuisine. For centuries, a glass of vino cotto and a slice of bread were symbols of a welcoming home.

vino cotto abruzzo

In Abruzzo, the area around Roccamontepiano is where the tradition is still alive. Pressed grapes are cooked slowly in a large copper pot (lu callare) on an open fire. In old days, a piece of iron chain covered with a terracotta plate was placed in the bottom of the pot to make sure that the wine doesn’t taste of metal. After hours of slow cooking, when the liquid is reduced by at least a half, it is left to cool down. Later, an equal quantity of fresh grape must is added and the blend is transferred small wooden barrels to ferment. One of the producers told me that in his family, every year, before going to the Christmas mass, a sip of vino cotto is poured for everyone, including little kids. His grandfather did it, as well as his father and he continues the ritual. For many centuries, locals have made a special barrel of vino cotto when a son is born in the family. It is left to age until the boy’s wedding day.

vino cotto abruzzo

It was impossible to buy a bottle of this ancient wine until a few years ago. Families made the brew for home consumption but were not allowed to sell it. Then a few local enthusiasts in Roccamontepiano got together, applied for funding to buy industrial equipment and opened a small production centre. Now they produce limited quantities of exquisite vino cotto aged for five, eight or 15 years. Although the wine is cooked in a steel tank in less than 30 minutes it is still delicious. Every year they also organise a festival of vino cotto with tastings and demonstrations of how the wine was cooked in old days.

vino cotto abruzzoIn Roccamontepiano, they say that the best cure for a cold is a small glass of hot vino cotto before bed. I love vino cotto with hot roasted chestnuts or almond biscotti dipped in it. Dark brown with an amber glow, the drink is rich without being too heavy. The dry fruit notes are rounded with a warm hint of wood and more than a thousand years of tradition.

Vino cotto is often confused with vin brulé and mosto cotto. What is the difference between them? Vin brulé is a hot spiced wine, like mulled wine. Mosto cotto is cooked reduced grape juice with must that is used for baking in Abruzzo.

You can buy vino cotto in the Centro di Produzione Vino Cotto, C.da Terranova, Roccamontepiano (CH).

Follow the Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo on Facebook here

Photos by Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo.

 

Dunk your tarallucci Abruzzo-style

It has been a busy season here. I have met so many wonderful people from all over the world on my food and wine tours in Abruzzo. Everyone loves the local cuisine and sings praise to the region’s wines and hearty dishes. But there is one experience on my Pescara food tour that everybody is crazy about: getting a small glass of wine at the Don Gennaro wine shop and dipping pieces of tarralucci al vino, ring-shaped biscuits, in it. In Italian it is called “inzupparli”. For most of my clients, it is a new culinary experience and they often look at me as if waiting for an approving nod before dunking their biscuit in the wine, the gesture that somehow feels naughty and unfamiliar nowadays. It is an old tradition that takes us back to the days when locals drank wine not only to be merry but relied on it for extra calories. Farmers would pack tarallucci al vino or some other humble carb and plenty of home-made wine to re-fuel during a quick break while working in the fields.

tarallucci al vino abruzzo

I learnt about the dunking tradition from a friend’s nonna, who said that it was the best way to eat tarallucci. And she was right. The slightly sweet dense dough combined with a no-nonsense table wine tastes rustic and good. It won’t work with a fancy wine from a bottle, you need “vino sfuso”, or bulk wine, sharp and strong, to fully immerse in this authentic taste of Abruzzo.

Tarallucci al vino are easy and quick to make. It is one of those very old Abruzzese recipes that only calls for a few simple (vegan!) ingredients: flour, wine and olive oil. I added some sugar but in the past mosto cotto, or slowly cooked grape must, was a go-to sweetener. Use the ancient grain solina or wholegrain flour to achieve the slightly coarse, rustic texture. Tarallucci al vino can be made with white or red wine.

food and wine tours abruzzo

Tarallucci al vino

Makes 15-20 biscuits

Ingredients:

150 ml white wine (pecorino or trebbiano d’Abruzzo)

150g sugar

150ml EVOO

500g solina flour

Pinch of salt

Few pinches of fennel seeds

Preparation:

Mix the wine and olive oil with a fork in a bowl, add the sugar, then the flour, salt and fennel seeds mixing the ingredients thoroughly to create homogenous dough. If the dough is still too sticky, add more flour until it is elastic, soft and easy enough to handle with your hands. Do not overwork it or the biscuits will be too hard. Make a ball and leave the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.

Take small amounts of the cooled dough, roll them slightly to make short thick cords. Connect the ends to make a fat ring. Bake for 25-30 mins until golden. If your rings are thin, reduce the baking time to 20 minutes.

When they cool down, dunk away in a glass of simple Montepulciano d’Abruzzo!

 

ventricina del vastese abruzzo

Ventricina Del Vastese

Have you tried ventricina del Vastese from Abruzzo yet? It is famous across the region and, unlike many other cured meat artisan products, is never produced on industrial scale because of the costly meat cuts and labour-intensive preparation.

Large, between one and three kilos, round or pear-shaped pork salami with a strong intense flavour and bright orangey colour that comes from the ground red pepper has been produced in the southern part of the Chieti province since the 19th century. Lean noble meat parts (70%) are cut with knife into medium pieces, combined with fat pieces (30%) and, after a night’s rest, mixed with salt, black pepper, wild fennel seeds, garlic and red pepper (depending on the producer, it can be sweet or spicy). The salami has a natural casing, normally pig’s bladder. After being air-dried for 100 days, the ventricina is cleaned from the mould, dipped in lard and dried for another 3-5 months. In old days, ventricina del Vastese was cased in a pig’s stomach (hence the name, “ventre” = “stomach”) lining and each salami weighed up to 10 kg.

ventricina vastese abruzzo

In old days, ventricina was never cut but broken into chunks. It was kept for special occasions, such as a grape harvests, local saint’s festivals, baptisms. Often, farmers gave the precious salami as a payment to a doctor or lawyer.

The ventricina della Vastese has a rustic chewy, on the hard side, texture. Like with many local artisan products, its taste and flavours vary from one producer to another, so make sure you try different ones to find your favourite. Locals eat the ventricina in thick chunks hot pizza bianca (plain pizza base with no toppings) or traditional leavened bread, sliced tomatoes and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine.

ventricina vastese abruzzo

Every year, in July, Vasto hosts a Ventricina del Vastese Festival during which you can taste the famous salami from local producers, watch cooking demonstrations and go on walking tour of the city.

Where to find:         

Macelleria Di Nanno Paolo, Via Histoniense, 204, Vasto

Macelleria La Genuina, Via Provinciale, 8, Carunchio. Web: www.laventricina.it

Agriturismo Fattoria dell’Uliveto, Contrada Ragna, 59, Scerni. Web: www.ventricina.com

Agriturismo Villa Olmi, Contrada Santa Giusta, 1, Roccaspinalveti.

 

Check out the video below to see how ventricina della vastese is made:

All photos are by Ventricina.com

 

sugared almonds from sulmona

Sugared almonds from Sulmona for Harry and Meghan

From Sulmona to Buckingham Palace, confetti Pelino will grace the tables at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next Saturday. The royal family seem to be fond of sugared almonds from Sulmona as this is not the first time they have chosen the sweets from Abruzzo for a special celebration. Before it was Charles and Diana’s wedding, then William and Kate’s and now Harry and Meghan’s grand event.

According lo the local press, the British Embassy contacted the factory and ordered a small bouquet in the colours of the national flag: blue, white and red with the bride and groom’s names written on the white petals as well as several types of confetti for the wedding feast.

sugared almonds from Sulmona

Confetti Pelino are renowned for their high quality. No flour or starch are added, only sugar and Avola almonds from Sicily. The classic recipe goes back to the 15th century when the production of confetti started in Sulmona. Centuries ago, local nuns from the Santa Chiara convent  wrapped the sweets with silk threads to make rosaries, flowers and elaborate artistic compositions. Today, the factories in Sulmona use coloured paper, organza and tulle fabrics to compose beautiful bunches of flowers, wedding favours, christenings and communions gifts.

sugared almonds from abruzzo

In the Pelino factory, that has been making the sugared treats since the 18th century, you can check out a fascinating museum telling the history of confetti production. There is a reconstruction of a confetti workshop with old confectionery machines, memorabilia, precious lace, porcelain, silver bonbonières used in the past.

Confetti are a great sweet gift to take home and you can stock up on all kinds, colours and shapes at the factory’s shop. I prefer the classic plain white confetti with almonds but there are also speckled, pink, blue, red ones, confetti with chocolate, hazelnuts, pistachio, coffee as well as confetti flowers and various artistic creations (bumble bees, ladybugs, grape clusters etc.).

Address:

Confetti Pelino

Via Stazione Introdacqua, 55
Sulmona
Tel. +39 0864 210047

Photos by Confetti Pelino/Facebook

easter recipes from abruzzo

Easter recipes from Abruzzo

Easter time is wonderful in Abruzzo. Shops fill up with chocolate bunnies and enormous Easter eggs, orders for selected lamb pieces are being placed in local butchers’, pasta makers are rolling and cutting fresh pasta all’uovo for loyal customers and nonnas prepare gargantuan feasts for their families. Easter has always a big celebration even in poor rural households. Nowadays, many city dwelling Abruzzesi go to shops to buy baked Easter goodies but dye-hard traditionalists make everything from scratch, several days before the families gather at the table. Over the years of living in Abruzzo, I have tried many Easter dishes and have my favourites. Here is a quick round-up of the Easter recipes from Abruzzo that I love. If you want to learn secrets of Abruzzese cuisine book our Cooking with locals classes.

easter recipe abruzzo

Fiadoni

The recipe arrived to Abruzzo from the aristocratic kitchens of Ferrara (some historians say it might have been the Medici court’s cooks who invented it) in the 1500s. Back then, these delicious cheese puffs were made with saffron harvested in the Navelli plains. As centuries passed, the precious spice was eliminated from the recipe and adapted to more humble kitchens. Today, to my delight, fiadoni can be found in many bakeries throughout the year.

Fiadoni abruzzesi recipe in English.

Soffioni abruzzesi

This sweet version of the traditional cheesy goodness calls for ricotta. It is light like a cloud, with a crumbly thin dough wrapped around a moist bright yellow filling. As with all traditional recipes, there are variations: il soffione can be one big cake or small muffin-likes creations called soffioni. Sometimes they are called fiadoni dolci but a savoury version also exists. Confusing, I know, but don’t try to figure out which one it is, if you see one, grab it and enjoy. As with most baked goodies in Abruzzo, the dough is made with olive oil, which makes it lighter. Check out this video below for a soffione cake recipe.


Pupa and cavallo cookies

In the 1800s, families of an engaged couple gave each other the cakes shaped as a doll and horse. Nowadays, the elaborately decorated cookies are made on Holy Thursday and given to kids: pupa dolls to girls, horses to boys. The most traditional versions always have an egg attached with two strips of dough. They are more difficult to find in shops but can be ordered in some local bakeries. The famous restaurant Brancaleone, for instance, takes orders a few weeks before Easter for their stunning pupa and cavallo and delivers the cakes to their café in Pescara.

easter recipes from abruzzo

Source: Ristorante Brancaleone/Facebook

Check out this simple pupa and cavallo abruzzesi recipe and unleash your inner Abruzzese child decorating them. Watch the video below for an easy to follow recipe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oreste, the deer of Villetta Barrea

Driving in a small village of Villetta Barrea in the Abruzzo National Park I saw a large deer standing beside the road and graciously accepting gentle strokes and pats from two adults and a child. I slowed down to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. The deer was real. As it turned  out, it was Oreste, the stag that frequents Villetta Barrea in search of rubs and treats. The first time he arrived to the village after a heavy snowfall in 2012. The deer liked the locals’ hospitality and continues to visit them on a regular basis.

Villetta barrea abruzzo

A few years back, Oreste caused some commotion in the village: he jumped on a police car and tried to chase someone. After the incident, he ran to the village park in hope to sit it out munching on juicy grass. However, local authorities, concerned about public safety, surrounded and apprehended the troublemaker. Oreste was placed in a fenced area nearby to make sure that nothing like that happened again. However, the locals immediately organised a protest: they painted a sign on the fence where the deer was kept that read “Oreste captured: he was only returning home”; a petition was signed by every villager demanding to let the animal go. They won, Oreste was returned to the woods in the mountains.

When the magnificent 200- kilos deer with a splendid rack of horns visits Villetta Barrea he strolls down the streets without fear. Locals think of him as the village mascot and an honorary citizen. A few times he stopped by the post office and everyone laughed joking that the deer came to pay the bills for the services rendered. The villagers say that seeing him walking around the village before Christmas makes the atmosphere especially magic.

However, he is not the only one who loves dropping by Villetta Barrea. The village is often called “the deer kingdom” because they are always wondering around here. Next time you visit the charming Villetta Barrea, take a walk in the areas where are the deer are often spotted: the Villa Comunale park, the pedestrian path along the Sangro River, the shores of the lake and local camping site.

Check out this short video of Oreste clopping on peacefully past cars in the village centre.

Featured photo by Guglielmo D’Arezzo.

best dishes abruzzo

Best traditional dishes to try in Abruzzo

On my food tours I am often asked “What are the must-try traditional dishes in Abruzzo?” I have been eating my way around the region for many years and came to realise that every single dish here is a history lesson on a plate. While most of them are delicious, some might be too alien to foreign palates. If you want to embrace Abruzzese culinary traditions I suggest that you look for the following typical dishes that you can find in most rural family-run restaurants.

Arrosticini

Synonymous with Abruzzo, arrosticini are small chunks of castrated mutton or young sheep alternated with pieces of fat cooked on wooden skewers over hot coals. Surprisingly, the dish’s origins go back less than 100 years. It is believed that peasants in the area around Civitella Casanova and Villa Ciliera started cutting tough old sheep meat into tiny cubes to make it easier to chew. The first photo of arrosticcini is dated to 1930 (see below). You can find arrosticcini in many traditional restaurants all year round. The moment the weather turns warmer, Abruzzese dust off their “fornacelle” (a long narrow metal barbecue) and grill arrosticini outside. Eating them with a fork is frowned upon as you are supposed to slide the meat off the skewer into your mouth using the teeth. A few bites of bread drizzled with olive oil, a generous sip of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and you will fall in love with the hearty simplicity of the local cuisine. Abruzzese men love bragging about the amount of arrosticini they consume in one sitting. I have met a few who say the can gobble down 100 skewers without blinking an eye.

best traditional dishes Abruzzo

Archivio AIS – Berna Paul Scheuermeir

Pasta alla chitarra

Another iconic staple, the square spaghetti are made using a special tool called “la chitarra” that reminds a guitar. Although the recipe is simple, rolling the dough over the chitarra requires some practice. Usually pasta alla chitarra is served with a rich tomato and meat sauce alla ragù.

Where to find: Most rural restaurants in Abruzzo make excellent pasta alla chitarra. In one of my favourite restaurants, Il Tholos, the chitarra is made by hand with solina heritage grain flour.

traditional dishes from abruzzo

Pallotte cacio e uova

Often called “the poor man’s meatballs”, the pallotte are made with cheese, eggs and breadcrumbs. The best cheese and egg balls have to be soft and melt in your mouth. Some old-fashioned deli shops sell them pre-made, all you have to do is just simmer the pallotte in a tomato sauce. You can learn how to make this dish in our Cooking with locals classes.

Where to find: Col di Gotte makes excellent pallotte and serves them as a starter. In Pescara, Taverna 58 does a good job.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Sagne e ceci

This pasta and chickpea soup is a winter dish. Easy and cheap to make, the recipe calls for short flat pasta (sagne), chickpeas (or beans) and an onion. This ancient dish is also common in Lazio, Campania and Puglia with slight variations in the recipe (e.g. in Rome anchovies are added).

Where to find: One of my favourite places to have pasta and ceci is in Trattoria La Tavernetta in Chieti. There the chef throws some toasted dry sagne pasta to the soup, which adds a lovely crunch to the texture.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Coratella

This ancient dish is made from finely chopped lamb lungs, kidneys, heart and liver. While in other regions coratella is cooked with artichokes (in Rome) or in a tomato sauce, in Abruzzo, the organ meats are simply pan fried with onions and, sometimes, with eggs. You are more likely to find it on the restaurant’s menus around Easter time as, traditionally, locals eat it for Easter breakfast with cheese bread (pizza di Pasqua), salami and hard-boiled eggs.

Where to find: Antica Taverna in Navelli has coratella on the menu all year round and it is delicious.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Pasta alla pecorara

Hard to find beyond the Teramo province, this ring-shaped pasta is one of my favourite. Thick chewy dough rings are simmered in a rich tomato and vegetable sauce and served with sheep’s milk ricotta. The area around Elice and Atri is where the pasta was born, so head there if you want to try the most authentic version of it.

Where to find: Hostaria Zedi in Atri makes good pasta alla pecorara, although, they are not very generous with the ricotta topping.

traditional dishes abruzzo

Brodetto alla Vastese

As the name suggests, it is a fish soup typical for the Vasto area. Historians trace the origins of this recipe back to the 19th century when fishermen traded with farmers some of their catch for vegetables. The soup has fewer ingredient than other similar ones cooked along the Adriatic coast: fish, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and local spicy red pepper. Traditionally, a local variety of tomato “mezzo tempo” was used, however, it has become hard to find in recent years, so often it is replaced with other varieties.  A good brodetto alla Vastese should have at least seven types of fish, which is always cooked whole in a large terracotta pot called “la tijella”. The soup is never stirred but slightly shaken during the cooking process to make sure that the fish does not break.

Where to find: The famous Trattoria Da Ferri is one of the best places to try the brodetto. It is always full and it is better to book in advance, although, you might still have to wait for your table. Trattoria Zì Albina also makes excellent brodetto since 1907.

best dishes from abruzzo

Scrippele

The Abruzzese version of crêpes is called scrippele. Thin and delicate, they are made without milk, just flour, eggs and water. Typical for the northern part of Abruzzo, the Teramo province, scrippele origins go back to the 19th century when the French ruled the region. A local cook while preparing a meal for French officers by accident put some crêpes in a bowl with chicken broth. The dish scrippele ‘mbusse was born: small crêpes sprinkled with cheese, rolled up and served in broth. They are also served stuffed with ricotta or as part of timballo (see below).

Where to find: Not easy to find nowadays but some restaurants around Teramo still have scrippele ‘mbusse on the menu. La Cantina di Porta Romana is one of them. Want to make them at home? Watch this video on how to make scrippele ‘mbusse (in Italian but easy to follow).

Want to know more about traditional food in Abruzzo? Sign up to my food tours or book a foodie weekend.

abruzzo christmas soup

Christmas thistle soup

Christmas festivities in Abruzzo mean gargantuan feasts. However, there are some dishes that are meant to give you a break from the heavy meals. Thistle, or cardoon soup (zuppa di cardo) is one of them, although, as calorie count goes, it is still quite rich. In Abruzzo, thistle stalks are called “Christmas greens” and the soup is traditionally made for pranzo natalizio, on December 25.

Several Italian regions have a version of this soup. In Molise, it is made with in a capon broth. In Piedmont butter is added and in Apulia – tomatoes.

If you are wondering what cardoon is imagine a thistle-like plant with impressive large leaves that remind of an artichoke but with smaller flower buds. It is the stems that are cleaned, chopped and cooked in soups and pies. Small green grocers’ as well as bigger supermarkets sell pre-packed chopped cardoon. Although the real Italian mammas prefer buying fresh bunches of leaves and cleaning them at home. Many families add a personal touch to the recipe: the soup is served with toasted croutons, a sprinkle or nutmeg, squeeze of lemon juice or slices of omelette (frittata). Here is the basic recipe of Christmas thistle soup from Abruzzo most commonly.

traditional soup abruzzo

Ingredients:

500g cleaned and chopped cardoon

200g veal mince

2 egg

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

50g breadcrumbs

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped parsley

2 tbsp grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Put the cardoon in a pot with 2 litres of water and bring it to boil. In the meantime thoroughly mix the veal with one egg and breadcrumbs, make small meatballs (about 1cm in diameter). Brown them in a frying pan in olive oil, add garlic. Put the meatballs and garlic in the soup and cook for 30-35 minutes. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl, slowly pour it into the pot while swirling the soup with a spoon to get small strands of egg. Cook it for another minute. Cool it slightly. Season and serve with parsley, parmesan and olive oil.

If you prefer the cardoon to be soft rather than slightly crunchy, add 15 minutes to cooking time.

Buon appetito e Buon Natale!

 

 

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Al Metrò restaurant: a creative take on Abruzzese traditions

Hearty traditional dishes and exaggerated portions in rural family-run restaurants, – Abruzzo does these two very well. However, there is a fair share of sophisticated Michelin star eateries in the region as well. So when you feel like taking a break from the gargantuan pasta loads on your plate and long for something a bit more sophisticated yet still in line with local traditions, head to Al Metrò, one Michelin star restaurant in San Salvo. I’ve had lunch there recently and what a meal it was!

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Brothers Nicola and Antonio Fossaceca turned what used to be a pastry shop owned by their parents into a sleek restaurant with minimalistic décor and innovative menu. Nicola, the chef, creates exquisite dishes using local ingredients with a flair. In 2012, when he was only 29, Al Metrò received one Michelin star, a well-deserved recognition of the chef’s culinary talent.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Nicola is very fond of smaller, less popular fish rarely seen on the menu of gourmet restaurants. One of his signature dishes is Triglia in scapece espresso, deep-fried red mullet with a sweet-and-sour dressing of honey and vinegar. It is light, crispy and elegant, which you can hardly expect from “poor man’s” fish.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

What I really like about Nicola’s dishes is the way he skilfully mixes seafood with meat, showcasing “mare” and “montagna” of the region. The menu features such masterpieces as seaweed gnocchi and lupine beans (Gnocchi Verdi di Lattuga di Mare e Lupini), mantis shrimps with chicory (Cicoria e Cicale di Mare), cold soup with ricotta, celery and oysters (Zuppa Fredda di Ricotta Ostrica e Sedano). The risotto with green beans, pear and baby squid that I had was another great example of his mastery. The rice topped with crispy squid, streaks of pancetta and sprinkled with sea lettuce. The pieces of pear added a wonderful sweet note while sharp herby olive oil rounded off this unusual ensemble. Despite the elaborate looks, the underlying philosophy of Nicola’s dishes is simplicity.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

Antonio Fossaceca is the sommelier and he knows exactly what wine to recommend to complement the best flavours of Nicola’s creations. He served a bottle of exquisite Pecorino from Azienda Agricola Faraone (head to their website, they sell wine online!), which was a wonderful discovery and became one of my favourite local wines since.

michelin star restaurants abruzzo

The sweet offering was Il Nostro Parozzo Abruzzese, a chef’s take on the traditional dessert. Delicate sweetened ricotta sprinkled with chocolate shavings was a great final chord for this special meal.

Prices at Al Metrò are kind on the pocket. They range from €16 to €30 (for the most expensive dish, the brodetto fish soup). If you are in a small group, you can order a 6- or 8-course menu for €60 and €80 respectively.

 

Braiding Red Garlic of Sulmona

Red Sulmona garlic (Aglio rosso di Sulmona) is one of Abruzzo’s treasures that is waiting to be discovered by the world. Its outside skin looks just like that of any other garlic, but the inside shell is a lovely purplish-red. Its this colour and a great mild sweet flavour that make Sulmona’s garlic so special.

Although it has been cultivated since the 18th century, just a few connoisseurs and those who have relatives in Abruzzo know about it. It grows in a small area around the city of Sulmona (hence the name) and its production has been steadily increasing in the last few years. Although, there is some machinery involved in garlic cultivation, a lot of work is manual. Many families have been growing aglio rosso for generations and everyone has their own little tricks and secrets on how to do it better.

garlic sulmona

In June garlic scapes are picked and I have written about this divine traditional delicacy. The garlic itself is harvested at the start of July and left to dry for 10-15 days. After that, the bulbs are sorted by size and, as the old local tradition dictates, garlic braids are made. Unlike many other types of garlic, aglio rosso di Sulmona is never treated chemically after the harvest. For centuries, the only way to store it was in braids hung in a cool dry place. This method allows better air circulation and the garlic can last for up to 10 months.

garlic sulmona

I went to the house of Filippo Centofanti and Franca Allegra to see how garlic braids are made. Filippo proudly showed me the prize he has won: Mister Aglio Rosso. The local jury of experts picked his garlic as the best in the area. “They evaluate the shape, colour, uniformity and size, as well as the taste”, explained Filippo. “My garlic is pungent but not too much, with a hint of sweetness, just the way aglio rosso di Sulmona should be”. And he is certainly an expert: his grandfather and father cultivated the garlic and taught him a thing or two.

red garlic sulmona

Franca and her son Alberto sat down to braid the bulbs. They didn’t talk much, and when I asked what is the key to making a good braid, Franca smiled and said: “A lot of practice”. This year Filippo, Franca and Alberto harvested 2 tons (weight after drying) of garlic, so they had a lot of practice with their braid-making. A braid of Sulmona red garlic is normally double, with 40-50 bulbs and weighs up to 3 kg. To see whether it was made by an expert, you have to look on the inside: the leaves are tightly wrapped in a neat even pattern.

red garlic sulmona

Later, when I got home, my kitchen filled with the smell of fresh garlic that I brought back from Sulmona. The temptation was unbearable: I cut a thick slice of local bread, rubbed it with a few cloves, added a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled it with sea salt. Life is good in Abruzzo!