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.

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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


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








The Best Among The Best: Sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni

On a grey wet afternoon, I arrived to Lama dei Peligni on a mission: to taste one of famous Abruzzo desserts the authentic local sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni, or “sfuiatell” in the local dialect. There are many imitations of this delicious pastry in Abruzzo, but to find the real deal you have to go to the village.

abruzzo dessertsTraditionally, sfogliatelle, shell-shaped pastries filled with cream, came from Napoli. However, at the end of the 19th century Donna Anna Guglielmo-Tabassi, the baroness of Lama dei Peligni, decided to adapt the famous pastry using only the ingredients from the area with spectacular results. However, the recipe was kept secret for a long time and only about 50 years ago it became public. I love the delicate crunchy shell of the pastry and the rich filling made with grape jam, amarena cherries, grape must, walnuts and cacao. It is not a treat for vegetarians, though, as before baking the dough is often smothered generously in lard. It gives the pastry a beautiful golden colour and, I reckon, makes it more addictive. Eating one just never seems enough!

lama-dei-peligniEvery year the village organises a sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni competition among the locals where the best among the best (“La più buona fra le buone”, as the festival’s posters declare) pastries is chosen and the winner gets a trophy, a silver sfogliatella.

There are a few bars, cafés and pasticcerie in the village and each of them makes their own version of the sfogliatella. I tried one in the bar Diamonds near the central piazza. It was generously dusted with icing sugar, tasty but sweeter than I expected. Then I bought another sfogliatella (one is never enough!) from a swanky pasticceria I Segreti di Donna Anna and it was perfect: crispy layered pastry, a delicious filling with a slightly sour note of the amarena cherries. Exactly the way I wanted it!

lama-dei-peligniRain didn’t stop the locals from celebrating the festival of sfogliatella: benches were lined up in the piazza, folk music was playing and a few men, well into their 80s, whirled a few young ladies around.

lama-dei-peligni4Where to buy sfogliatella di Lama dei Peligni:

I Segreti di Donna Anna, Via della Resistenza, 6

Pasticceria di Emilia Pasquale, Via Frentana, 120