agosto 24, 2012
I tend to lose things lately, especially my notebooks, which are currently among the most precious things I have because of my poor memory, worsened by the summer tiredness and this year unbearable heat. Before leaving for Ceglie Messapica (Brindisi, Puglia) to attend to the Ceglie FoodCamp I bought a Moleskine notebook, covered with soft black leather, with a rubber band to hold the ruled pages. I am snobbish when it comes to notes, let’s face it. On the way back I threw the bag upside down, I searched for it among taralli and friselle, but there was no sign of my reporter notebook (*) …
At first I freaked out, because I wanted to make a detailed report of these two interesting days. Then I calmed down, I sat and I started browsing through the photos. Everything came back to memory: the white light, the sea of olive trees, the trulli and farms, the smell of almond, the abundance and the generous hospitality. Apulia wins your heart, there is nothing you can do!
So why was I in Puglia when my book is due in just a few weeks and I’m still floating among scribbled notes and recipes to test for the very last time?
There was a very good reason. The City of Ceglie organized a FoodCamp to promote the excellence of their products, all labelled as km 0. This is the Italian translation of a concept based on the miles a certain food has to travel to reach the final consumer. And zero food mile we ate, when in the morning we enjoyed a tour of the historic town centre, eating our way through the tiny back alleys to savour every traditional food. Lucky protagonists of this experience were travel and food bloggers.
Comfortable shoes for walking, camera around our neck, iPhone with Instagram in one hand and a notebook in the other (sigh), we began a journey that led us from door to door, in taverns, bakeries and renowned restaurants, through a dream scenario where the white houses stood out on a bright clear blue sky.
Ceglie Messapica carries in its name the memory of ancient times, of a never defeated and proud people, the Messapi, mighty valiant men able to stand even the Romans. The historic center of Ceglie has medieval origins, it is excavated in the rock, silent and steel, except for some legendary Piaggio Ape 50, that pass suddenly through a back lane in the quiet white, a burst of life and vitality.
Ceglie is a reference for the zero mile food and wine system, is a town where you do not invent a restaurant from scratch, they are inherited and live through the generations. Antonella Millarte, food and wine journalist who accompanied us during the tour, revealing secrets and traditions, said something that set the note for the whole experience: in Ceglie the products have a name and a surname, you know where they come from, how they are produced and who makes them, thus ensuring the quality of what you’re going to eat. But more about that later.
The first stop was in the Sisina bakery. As we walked inside we were hit by a fragrant smell of taralli and friselle, baked in a huge oven fueled by almond shells, one of the core products of the local food system. We got crazy taking pictures of every detail, from the open wood oven – breathing an unbearable heat but not for that less attractive – to the baskets crammed with friselle, in which I would have stuck my hand just like Amélie Poulain in the seed bin at the market.
I brought home a bag of friselle and another one of taralli: it is impossible to stop once you open the pack and refrain yourself from shove it into your mouth, one after the other, crumbly and with a subtle scent of black pepper. Guess what I am munching on right now? yep, you got it!
After the bakery, it was time to visit a few restaurants. The first one was Botrus, one of the most renowned ones in Ceglie. They take the usual excellent ingredients, match them according to the tradition but give them a new shape and freshness, creating dishes inspired by a modern sensibility. Incredible flavours.
Then we climbed a few steps, explored some other alleys until we got to Cibus. Cibus is more than a restaurant. Lillino Silibello, like his father, considers food to be not only a source of great pleasure but also an insight into the culture and history particular to a province or a country. Through food the soul of a region can be discovered.
Yellow and red vine tomatoes are hanging on the wall for the winter. The salami and capocollo are cured just above the diners tables, the best decoration you can imagine for a restaurant close to the origin of the products.
Lillino is one of the leading experts on cheese: his passion ranges from the just curdled and extremely fresh pampanella to the old caciocavalli, preserved up to eight years. The cheese cellar is a lifetime sensory experience: your eyes are lost in the dim light, but this enhances all the other perceptions and entangles you with the heady smell of cheese, aged just with the help of time and patience.
The pampanella is a local cheese with an ancient tradition, the first curdling of the cow milk. The vegetable rennet is obtained from the fig leaf, on which the cheese is traditionally placed or even wrapped, to become a classic beach street food. As a crossroads of cultures, I noticed that the pampanella is similar to our raviggiolo, a cheese of the Tuscan tradition, usually obtained from the curdling of sheep milk, left to drain on mats or baskets, then placed on vine leaves or ferns.
Then we tasted the biscotti di Ceglie, very typical almond cookies, the protagonists of the tour and of my midnight snacks once returned to the farm… These are ancient cookies with a modern appeal, since they are naturally gluten-free, therefore suitable for those who suffer from intolerance. A scroll through the list of the ingredients and you see why the products have a name.
The cookies are made primarily of almonds, but not any almonds. These almonds are named Tondino Cegliese, typical of the area, rediscovered and protected with pride. The cherry and grapes jam is made of local varieties. Then you have sugar, eggs, citrus liqueur, grated lemon peel and honey, obviously a millefiori from the local countryside flowers. More on the Biscotto di Ceglie from the Slow Food web site:
U’ piscquett’l (the name in dialect) is closely associated with the town of Ceglie Messapica. A soft fragrant biscuit, it contains roasted ground almonds, eggs, honey, lemon peel and citrus liqueur. It is sometimes filled with cherry or grape jam, or covered with a light frosting of sugar and cocoa. In the Brindisi area there are over 40 varieties of almond and the ones used for Ceglie biscuits are all local: mainly the cegliese almond, but also smaller quantities of mingunna, gianfrida, zia pasqua, spappacarnale, etc. The same applies for the cherries and grapes. At one time this biscuit would have been made for large festivals. It now survives through the efforts of a few pastry cooks; its lemon, cherry and almond flavours reflect a land which has been occupied by the Greeks, Byzantines, Romans and Arabs.
The tour moved on to Masseria Montedoro, where we were supposed to have a light lunch. Well, listen to me: forget the words light and quick when you have to deal with Apulian food: it will be generous, lavish and rich, even though they will declare it just a quick lunch. It was glorious: stewed vegetables, different kinds of focaccia, olive bread, meatballs, pasta, cheese and salami, peaches in wine and plump figs were coming relentlessly, until we raised the white flag, exhausted but happy. This food galore, though, did not stop me from having a second serving of onion, black olive, caper and tomato focaccia… believe me or not, it was scientific interest.
The tour ended at Tre Trulli where we met Giovanni Bellanova, pastry chef in the national Italian team. Now you already can expect what follows: we were greeted by a blaze of almonds shining in the sun. There was a crunchy caramel almond croccante, dried figs stuffed with almonds, two different kinds of biscotti di Ceglie, a simple one and a more traditional cookie, covered in a light cocoa glaze. Impossible to tell which one was better, I decided to play it safe and tried both of them, twice. Ok, three time.
After the food tour, we gathered in the Castle for the BarCamp: the main theme was the zero mile food. We listened to many interesting speeches that opened up new horizons and made us reflect on the concept of waste. I also appreciated the effort not to exaggerate the food mile concept: it is better to live it with awareness and critical thinking. My speech was about the food blogger responsibility in promoting the local producers: I am committed to put on a blog page that will contain suggestions to shop locally in my area, which I hope will be useful both for those who live here and for the tourists who are passing by.
A final thanks to the City of Ceglie for the FoodCamp and the chance they gave us to learn and experience their beautiful town and food.
Thank you to Masseria Beneficio who hosted us and became our home away from home for two days: generous people and a stunning swimming pool!
Thank you to al Fornello da Ricci, the restaurant that welcomed us in Ceglie Messapica, setting the mood for the weekend.
A cheerful thanks to all the other food and travel bloggers, I loved sharing the experience and the food with you: Assaggi di Viaggio, Eleonora and Francesca from Il Turista Informato, Marzia Keller, Gnammo, Fooding Social Club, Francesca and Pietro from SingerFood, PugliaEvents, La Cucina Imperfetta, Daniela and Letizia from Spizzica in Salento, Non Solo Turisti, InfoTurismiamoci, Anna The Nice, Gnammm!, Simona from Speziando and Tour Nel Sud.
(*) while I was writing the post my notebooks have been found and are now on the way back. They wanted to enjoy two more days in Apulia for sure!