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.





lampascioni puglia

What Are Those? Delicious Lampascioni, Or Wild Hyacinth Bulbs.

The other day at a local market I came across a basketful of small bulbs. Muddy and rather unprepossessing, they made my heart skip a bit with excitement. “Lampascioni!”, I exclaimed and the man selling them confirmed with a nod.

Lampascioni are the bulbs of wild tassel hyacinths, Muscari racemosum. Known since the times of ancient Greeks, in Puglia and in some parts of Abruzzo, these delicious bulbs are harvested in late winter and devoured as a delicacy. Their bitter taste goes with many traditional dishes: in Puglia lampascioni are served cooked with fava beans and chicory, sautéed with potatoes, with lamb or pork roast. In Abruzzo they are normally eaten as sott’olio preserves. Cleaning them requires a lot patience. When they are stripped of their dirty outer layers, the pink bulbs are soaked in water overnight to get rid of the excessive bitterness. Then they are boiled with white vinegar, piled in jars and drowned in olive oil. That way they can keep for at least six months. I love them served with generous amounts of lemon juice and fresh parsley. The hyacinth bulbs grow on you: the first time I ate lampascioni I was quite disappointed. Second time I thought they were interesting, now I am addicted to their mildly bitter taste, crunchy texture and a delicate pink hue. Here is a good Italian recipe for making lampascioni sott’olio and here is a great post with a recipe in English.

lampascioni recipe

I also found this recipe by the handsome Giorgio Locatelli of Locanda Locatelli in London that I can’t wait to try:

“Another fantastic way to use them is to boil some potatoes in their skins, bash them around a bit with a fork, then put in a bowl, add some cooked green beans and preserved lampascioni, before tossing in extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s a delicious salad to serve with sausages, and also makes a nice change to mashed potato – particularly so if your kids don’t eat green beans: you never know, this might tempt them”.