abruzzo cheese

Cheese with larvae? Yes, please!

Have you tried an Italian cheese with larvae?  When I tried marcetto for the first time in Abruzzo I kept looking for the little white wriggling creatures on my bread. However, to my disappointment, the man who served the food said the maggots are normally removed for aesthetic reasons.

Pecorino marcetto has become one of my favourite cheeses in Abruzzo. It is produced mainly in and around the mountain village of Castel del Monte, in the province of l’Aquila. Made from  sheep milk, it has creamy texture and a strong taste. It is a cheese that by normal standards started going bad because a cheese fly (Piophila casei) deposited its larvae inside a crack that was made specially for it. The little maggots feed on the cheese, breaking down its protein and making the inside of the wheel soft and creamy. When marcetto is ready, it is transferred to a terracotta or glass jar and ready to be enjoyed. It is for real slow food connoisseurs and certainly not for faint-hearted: the smell is penetrating and pungent, the taste is quite spicy and gets stronger after a few days in the fridge. It is normally eaten generously spread on bread. Locals devour it in winter accompanied by oven-baked potatoes. They say it is good for your health and even call a “natural Viagra”!

abruzzo food

You will not find pecorino marcetto in a supermarket, however it is on the menu in some restaurants around Abruzzo. But to get the real deal you should go to to the mountains of Gran Sasso.  It is made there in small amounts and can be bought in Castel del Monte from local producers. You can find two of them in the village on Via S. Donato, 2 and 56. Or simply ask a friendly local where to find marcetto and they will show you a shop or cheese factory.

marcetto cheese abruzzo

There are other similar types of “larvae” cheese in Friuli Venezia Giulia (called “saltarello”), Lombardy (”formai nis”) and Sardinia (”casu marzu”).

I can organise cheese tastings and visits to producers of marcetto in Castel del Monte for small groups. For more details contact me.

Gastronomic events in Abruzzo in March

March is proving to be an exciting month for foodies in Abruzzo. Here is my pick of some exciting delicious events that are happening in the coming weeks.

Citrus market, Rocca San Giovanni, March 13

Did you know that the Trabocchi Coast used to be covered in citrus groves from the 1600s up until a few decades ago? Now there are very few of them remain between Ortona and Fosacessia. A small local association of citrus growers organises a small annual citrus market called “La Vianova delle Arance” in Vallevò, a small district of Rocca San Giovanni where you can find local old varieties of lemons and oranges, citrus jams, lemon liqueurs and other local artisan produce. Please note, if it is raining, the market will be moved to March 20.

Photo by Comune di Rocca San Giovanni

Photo by Comune di Rocca San Giovanni

Panarda, Atri (TE), March 20

Panarda is a tradition that existed a long time ago: an abundant meal, consisting at least 20 dishes, was consumed at a long communal table for many hours. Absolutely not to be missed if you want to taste rare traditional dishes from the province of Teramo that have almost disappeared. Timballo alla Teramano (lasagne made with thin crepes), scripelle ‘mbusse (stuffed crepes in broth), cif e ciaf (less noble bits of fresh pork such as cheeks, bacon, ribs etc. fried with pepper, garlic and herbs), fracchiata (polenta made with a local type of chickpeas and anchovies) and many others, 11 dishes all together.

Starts at 12.30pm. Price €30 per person. Restaurant La Sorgente dei Sapori, Contrada Piane Sant’Andrea, Atri. Booking required. Tel.: 3938712496.tocci

Tocci Oppidum beer dinners, Tocco da Casauria (PE), March 11, 12, 13.

This lovely small artisan brewery will celebrate the national craft beer week with a special menu: everything cooked with their beer, from starters to desserts. Yummmm! I like their beer and the food served is always delicious (they even have a vegetarian option!). On Saturday there will be live music with a band called Spaghetti Rocchenroll.

Tocci Oppidum, via Tiburtina Valeria km 189,8, Tocco da Casauria.

 

 

 

 

Fragrant cakes of San Biagio, the first sign of spring

In Abruzzo they say “Per San Biagio, il Mitrato, il freddo è andato” meaning that for the feast of San Biagio, cold weather is finished and spring is around the corner. Apart from sunshine and birds chirping there is another sure sign of the fast approaching spring: ciambella di San Biagio, small traditional ring-shaped cakes that are baked in Abruzzo this time of year.

The feast of San Biagio (or Saint Blaise) is celebrated on February 3 across Italy. The province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo has always had strong traditions connected to this saint with many chapels, churches and sanctuaries dedicated to him. In Lecce nei Marsi villagers have been bringing their baked ciambelle (“sciambelle” as they are called here) to be blessed in the local church of San Biagio on the day of the feast for many centuries. In old days, the blessed cakes were given to friends and family members as they were believed to protect the throat and cure goitre, the disease that used to be quite common in the province.

ciambella di San Biagio

Nowadays, you can buy ciambella di San Biagio in many bakeries and supermarkets across the region. The recipe has not changed much for centuries and calls for simple ingredients such as flour, butter, milk, yeast, sugar, eggs and anise or fennel seeds. You can see one in English here although I do not agree with their translation of the name “donuts” as ciambelle di San Biagio are harder and not fried but baked.

I love eating my ciambella accompanied with the most delicious dessert wine Moscatello made by Angelucci in Castiglione a Casauria.

If you happen to be in the province of L’Aquila these days, head to the artisan bakery Dolci Aveja in Cavalletto d’Ocre where you can see how the fragrant ciambelle di San Biagio are made. They are delicious straight from the oven!

 

what to do in abruzzo

Gastronomic events in Abruzzo in November

I have been busy visiting olive oil producers and tasting new season oil (a post about my favourite olive oil producers in Abruzzo is coming up in the next few days), so I am publishing my monthly round-up of gastronomic events with a slight delay. November is an exciting month for foodies as it is the time of olive harvest, new wine festivals and roasted chestnuts galore. Here is my pick of the best and most delicious events not to be missed in Abruzzo this month.

Pescara Vecchia Wine Festival, Pescara, November 11-15

On Piazza Garibaldi 16 regional wineries will offer free tastings of 70 wines. Make sure you try Pecorino from Cantina Ciavolich, Montepulciano D.O.P 110 from Cantina Nestore Bosco, Montepulciano DOC from Cantina Emidio Pepe that are among my favourite wines. There will also be stands selling such traditional foods and new season olive oil. Starts at 6pm.

what to do in abruzzo

Frantoi Aperti, San Vincenzo Valle Roveto (AQ), November 15, November 21

The festival takes place over three Saturdays during which you can taste the excellent new season extra virgin olive oil of the Roveto Valley, local pasta dishes, desserts, visit olive oil mills in the area and admire old wine cellars that will open for the event. More details here (in Italian).

Castrum di Vino, Casalbordino (CH), November 14-15

A great opportunity to find typical food from the area around the town of Casalbordino all in one place: pasta n’droccioloni, pasta pannochie e ceci, taralluccio casalese as well as new season wine and olive oil. While gorging on these delicacies you can also enjoy re-enactments of medieval battles in the historic centre of the town.agroalimenta

Agroalimenta Fair, Lanciano (CH), November 27-29

I have been to this trade show several times and every time I taste and learn about some great food artisans based in Abruzzo. Degustations of wine, honey and cheese are organised during the fair, all in Italian but they are easy enough to follow. Free admission on Friday, on Saturday and Sunday €5. For more details go to the Agroalimenta website.

 

 

Gastronomic Events in Abruzzo in October

My dear readers, forgive me the delay posting a monthly round-up of gastronomic events in Abruzzo. I am away in Val D’Aosta, enjoying hikes in the Alps and tasty local food, so have to squeeze work in whenever I get a moment. This month there will be some truly delicious events in the region that you, foodies, will certainly enjoy.

Sapori d’Autunno, Canistro Superiore (Aq), October 18

The “Falvours of the Autumn” is a big event for this ancient village with less than 1000 inhabitants. The festival celebrates the chestnut season as it has played an important role in local economy for centuries. Apart from roasted chestnuts you can gorge on arrosticini, polenta, grilled sausages while listening to folk music. Make sure you fill up a bottle with the local spring water as it is known for its healing qualities.chestnutsLungo Le Antiche Rue, Civitella Roveto (Aq), October 16-18

Another sagra in honour of the local chestnut called Roscetta, or Marrone della Valle Roveto. The old streets (called “rue” on the local dialect) of Civitella will be decorated with chestnuts and lined up with gastronomic stands selling caldarroste e vin brulè (roasted chestnuts with hot young wine), frittelle (traditional fritters) and other seasonal delicacies.

Saffron weekend “Raccogli, Conosci e Degusta”, San Pio delle Camere (Aq), October 24-25

The weekend’s programme includes degustation dinners in local restaurants (scroll down the page to see the menus of the seven participating restaurants) that will serve local dishes with saffron on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, everyone is invited to saffron fields to see the harvest. During the day, there will be tastings, and a small market with local produce.saffron1Truffle Hunting, Roccamontepiano (Ch)

The season of burgundy and white truffles has arrived and I am very excited to offer truffle hunts that you can book via Abruzzo With Gusto. You will be hunting for the precious tubers with a young local family and their three dogs. I will be posting more details shortly, in the meantime, feel free to contact me to book your truffle adventure.

Photos: Anna Lebedeva, ©bykofoto/ Dollar Photo Club

Osterie with slow food philosophy in Abruzzo

Seven osterie in Abruzzo have received the prestigious “snail” in the latest edition of the Slow Food publication “Osterie d’Italia 2016”.  The symbol always guarantees the quality of food served and means that the osterie share the Slow Food philosophy, preserve local culinary traditions and support small-scale farmers.

Although osterie in Italy have changed in the last decades with its emphasis moving towards food, most of the time the name means a simple eatery with a short menu of local specialties. The osterie in Abruzzo that received the prestigious snail in the Slow Food publication certainly demonstrate the essence of the region in the traditional dishes that they serve.

capra

Zenobi, Colonnella, Teramo

Part of a working farm that produces wine, olive oil, vegetables, Zenobi serves some rare dishes typical of the Val Vibrata area that are on a brink of extinction: ceppe pasta with porcini or meat sauce and goat stew Neretese style (capra alla Neretese).

Borgo Spoltino, Mosciano Sant’Angelo, Teramo

Although it is called a restaurant, the essence of Borgo Spoltino is that of an osteria that offers a small range of seasonal local dishes and has its own vegetable garden.

Sapori di Campagna, Ofena, L’Aquila

Farm, agriturismo and restaurant, Sapori di Campagna is the place to see and taste the best of Abruzzo. Try the lamb from the nearby pastures of the Gran Sasso, pasta chitarra with red Sulmona garlic and mousse with local ricotta cheese.

pastaFont’Artana, Picciano, Pescara

This osteria serves excellent gnocchi with nettle and pecorino cheese, as well as such rare dishes as cif’e ciaf’ and fracchiata.

Taverna de li Caldora, Pacentro, L’Aquila

This taverna has become a must-stop for foodies. Here you can enjoy such a rare dish as pecora al cotturo, pasta with local truffles and the traditional pizza dolce cake.

Taverna 58, Pescara

More sophisticated than your average simple osteria, Taverna 58 has been serving excellent traditional fare since 1980.

Vecchia Marina, Roseto degli Abruzzi, Teramo

Vecchia Marina (Lungomare Trento, 37 ) is part of a hotel but that doesn’t mean bad food as many would expect. In fact, it is known as one of the best fish restaurants in the region. Do not miss the local fish soup guazzetto alla rosetana.

Photos by Zenobi, Font’Artana

 

Gastronomic Events in Abruzzo in September

September is a great month for foodies looking for things to do in Abruzzo: this month chickpeas are threshed, grapes are harvested and many great food and drink festivals are celebrated across the region. Here is my round-up of this month’s tasty events that are worth visiting.

vendemmia abruzzoHistoric re-enactment of grape harvest, Città sant’Angelo (PE), September 19

In the old town centre during the “Rievocazione storica della vendemmia” a procession of women in traditional dresses will carry grapes in baskets with the help of donkeys. Visitors will see how the grapes used to be pressed in large barrels.

R…estate al Ceppo, Rocca Santa Maria (TE), September 12-13

This small sagra is for those who, like me, love wild mushrooms. It will open on Saturday at 4pm. There will stands selling local gastronomic delights, a cooking show, and, in the evening, a free degustation of local dishes cooked with mushrooms. On Sunday, you can join a guided forest walk in the area in search of wild funghi and porcini. I will be there!

what to do in abruzzo“Gust Art” Food and Beer, Chieti, September 12-13

On the main street of Chieti you can enjoy typical artisan foods from many Italian regions, artisan beer, music. It might be quite crowded but you will certainly find some excellent cheese and cured meats there.

And, of course, do not forget that I run weekly walking food tours in Pescara and Sulmona, organise cooking classes with locals, visits to wineries and cheese degustations all month of September!

Photos: © Alfaguarilla/ Dollar Photo Club, ©puchan/ Dollar Photo Club

 

 

 

Tasty gastronomic events in Abruzzo in August

August is upon us, which means it will be easy to decide what to do in Abruzzo as there are many gastronomic events are taking place around the region. Here is my round-up of the tastiest and most interesting of them.

Oleante festival in Tocco da Casauria (PE), August 1-2

For two evenings in the old town centre you can taste the local olive oil made with the Toccolana olive variety and typical dishes made with it, cheeses, salami, listen to a jazz band and see traditional dances.

From 6.30pm to midnight

Sagra del Timballo, Floriano di Campli (TE), July 29-August 4

The festival has been organised for 37 years to celebrate the delicious traditional dish “timballo di scrippelle”, a type of lasagne made with “scrippelle” thin pancakes and layered with meat and vegetables. There will be many food stands selling local specialties and timballo, traditional music and cooking shows.

From 7pm to 11pm

altino

Festival del Peperone Dolce di Altino, Altino (CH), August 21-22

Restaurants and food stands in the village of Altino will be serving various dishes made with the local sweet red pepper. There is also an annual competition among where the local districts cook traditional food with the spice and a jury picks the best of them. Traditional costumes, music, dances and great food!

abruzzo food

Sagra della Mazzarella, Caprafico (TE), August 7-9

No, not a festival of mozzarella the cheese but a celebration of a very rare delicious dish made in the province of Teramo called “mazzarella”. It is made with lamb heart, liver and intestines wrapped in lattice leaves cooked in wine.

Photos by: Peperonedolcedialtino.it, Maurizio Anselmi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cala Lenta: Summer Fish and Seafood Bonanza

Every summer seafood lovers of Abruzzo rejoice at Cala Lenta, a wonderful event organised by Slow Food Lanciano. The fish and seafood bonanza takes place along the Costa dei Trabocchi, the stretch of the Adriatic famous for its traditional fishing machines called trabocchi. This year July 10-12 there will be many thematic dinners in restaurants, from Francavilla al Mare to San Salvo, and on five trabocchi, cooking demonstrations and a food market in San Vito Chietino where you can sample some of the best products from the province of Chieti.

fish soup

The participating restaurants will be serving set menus that cost from €28 to €55 euro and will include some delicious traditional and innovative dishes. In Al Vecchio Teatro in Ortona, for instance, you can gorge on red mullet marinated in grape must and trinciatelli pasta made with the ancient grain of solina. Ristorante Essenza, San Vito Chietino, will serve pasta chitarrina with crabs and grilled mullet with local peppers. Are you drooling yet? Check out the menus and the Cala Lenta full programme here.

For a more authentic experience you can book a dinner on a participating trabocco. You can see the locations of the five of them on the graphic below. The fishermen will take their guests for a guided tour of the fishing machine and explain how they use them. Places on the trabocchi are limited, so hurry up to book for this weekend.

trabocchi

 

A Little-Known Wonder: Tortarello Abruzzese

The first time I saw tortarello abruzzese (“la turtarelle” in local dialect) at a local market a few years ago I could not understand whether it was a skinny courgette or an anaemic cucumber. The old lady who was selling it said that it was “tortarello” and it was “molto buono” in a salad. I bought four of them and got hooked since then.

Yard-long cucumber, or snake cucumber is a long (45-80cm) pale green vegetable from the gourd family, a little-known relative of cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkin. Cultivated mainly in the province of Chieti, around Vasto and the valley of the Trigno river. It has a slightly more dense flesh and a sweeter taste than cucumbers. I tried to grow tortarello in my vegetable garden unsuccessfully: it needs a lot of space to spread its long branches and I try to cram too many things on the tiny patch of land that I have.tortarello1Every year, in June, I impatiently check the small green grocer’s nearby and farmer’s markets to see whether they have the delicious weird looking veg. There are never too many to choose from and the price is higher than that of your ordinary prosaic cucumber or courgette but it is worth every cent! Farmers grow tortarello abruzzese in very small quantities and it is somewhat of an endangered vegetable at risk of extinction. I have met people who have lived in Abruzzo all their lives and never seen or tasted this wonderful cucumber.

There are similar varieties of the yard-long cucumber in that grow in Molise, Apulia and Sicily.

I love eating tortarello, just like locals, peeled and chopped in salads with tomatoes, onions, a few oregano leaves and dressed with olive oil.

Featured image by Orticolando.it