puglia

Tatyana Leonov dis­cov­ers the true mean­ing of slow food while ex­plor­ing Puglia with Back-Roads tour­ing.

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A cheese-lover’s delight in Italy.

the for­mag­giaio stretches the moz­zarella fur­ther than i thought pos­si­ble, twist­ing and turn­ing the pli­able, creamy cheese into var­i­ous shapes. first he pro­duces a plaited morsel, then an elab­o­rate Christ­mas tree; a few sec­onds later he’s cre­ated a star.

By now all the din­ers at Ca­seifi­cio olanda, a lo­cal cheese pro­ducer lo­cated in the agri­cul­tural town of an­dria, have as­sem­bled around to watch and are ea­gerly await­ing the next party trick. although his moz­zarella-mould­ing skills are im­pres­sive, i’m here to learn about bur­rata… and eat it too. of all the cheeses in the world, bur­rata is my favourite, and ob­serv­ing this tal­ented

ar­ti­san skil­fully cre­ate what could well be the tasti­est treat of the day is a won­der­ful start to the Back-Roads tour­ing Slow food tour of Puglia.

af­ter the demon­stra­tion we sit down to a lunch of pre­dom­i­nantly cheese. we’re served an en­trée of creamy bur­rata and moz­zarella with a few cherry toma­toes scat­tered around the plate for dec­o­ra­tion. then we devour al dente orec­chi­ette pasta, another Pugliese spe­cialty, with cheese­cake for dessert.

Puglia’s slow food gains mo­men­tum

the ital­ians take food very se­ri­ously and tra­di­tion­ally meals are lengthy sit-down af­fairs. it’s an op­por­tune time for fam­i­lies and friends to spend qual­ity time to­gether and savour what­ever is fresh, sea­sonal and de­li­cious.

the slow food ide­ol­ogy be­gan in italy in the mid-1980s and the move­ment was of­fi­cially es­tab­lished in 1989. the con­cept is sim­ple: sea­sonal and high­qual­ity food that is thought­fully grown or pro­duced and pre­pared. in Puglia this cus­tom is even more pro­nounced – and if you’re trav­el­ling to italy to eat, this pocket of culi­nary par­adise should be your num­ber one des­ti­na­tion.

although eating is an im­per­a­tive part of the tour, the itin­er­ary also in­cludes plenty of sight­see­ing stops – the UneSCo world her­itage-listed Cas­tel del Monte and the trulli homes of al­ber­o­bello, with their white walls and con­i­cal roofs, both high­lights.

Spe­cial­ties of an an­cient re­gion

af­ter our cheese-heavy lunch at Ca­seifi­cio olanda we stop at Matera, known as the City of Stones. although tech­ni­cally lo­cated just out­side of Puglia in the re­gion of Basil­i­cata, it’s a marvel that can’t be missed.

we in­dulge our­selves for a cou­ple of hours, weav­ing our way on foot through the an­cient troglodyte set­tle­ment of Matera’s pre­his­toric Sassi, gap­ing at the cav­erns cling­ing to the top of a ravine, known as la Grav­ina. Later that evening we all agree the walk was much needed.

our wel­come din­ner is one of the most in­cred­i­ble feasts of the week. we check into the Re­lais Villa San Martino, a beau­ti­ful re­fur­bished masse­ria coun­try house sit­u­ated on the out­skirts of Martina franca.

there are 21 rooms and suites, each draped in beau­ti­ful silks and damasks; mine is an im­mense space adorned with colour­ful paint­ings and an­tique fur­nish­ings. although the huge bath is call­ing to me, i choose to ex­plore the lush gar­dens on a pre-din­ner stroll.

in the ho­tel’s restau­rant, Duca di Martina, we’re treated to a feast of re­gional spe­cial­ties pre­pared ex­clu­sively for us. the orec­chi­ette to start comes pep­pered with salty, smoked ba­con sliv­ers in a rich egg­plant and tomato sauce. for the main we devour fork­ten­der ox cheek slow cooked in a ne­gra­maro wine sauce and served along­side sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and but­tery mash. Mer­ci­fully, dessert errs on the light side – a tum­bler of fresh fruit slices capped with a dol­lop of cit­rusin­fused Chan­tilly cream.

hands-on cui­sine

and so the days and nights turn into one long feast. there are mam­moth spreads of lo­cal foods, or­ganic wines matched with lav­ish meals, wine and cheese

“We laugh, talk and eat, and the balmy au­tumn day be­comes soaked in a magnificent slow­ness”

pair­ings, strolls through fish mar­kets and more. Con­ver­sa­tions be­come cen­tred on what we ate, what we might eat, what we should try to eat…

Mid-way through the tour we are treated to a lunch at Masse­ria ferri, a charm­ing 15th-cen­tury farm­house lo­cated in the ostuni hill­side. owner and cook ex­traor­di­naire Rosa is a bub­ble of en­ergy who wants to show us ev­ery­thing and any­thing.

when Rosa and her col­league teach us how to make orec­chi­ette, it’s all hands on deck. we awk­wardly form the wheat flour into the tiny ear shapes that gives the pasta its name.

thank­fully, come lunch, we’re served Rosa’s own deftly hand­made pasta, crowned with a light tomato and ri­cotta sauce. there’s more food – gutsy cheese pie, crusty mini bagels topped with chunky cap­sicum chut­ney, juicy pork mince meat­balls and tape­nade en­cased in rib­bons of pli­able moz­zarella.

and while we are feast­ing, the ev­ersmil­ing Rosa dashes around of­fer­ing huge spoon­fuls of sec­onds to any­one who can fit it in.

we take our time graz­ing, want­ing to savour ev­ery mouth­ful. we sip our wine slowly, swirling it in our glasses. we laugh, talk and eat, and the balmy au­tumn day be­comes soaked in a magnificent slow­ness.

even­tu­ally we’re drawn back to re­al­ity as one of the group re­marks that it’s now early evening. it’s at that mo­ment i re­alise that time flies past when you ex­pe­ri­ence life’s plea­sures slowly.

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01 a stop in Polig­nano a Mare 02 the trulli houses of al­ber­o­bello 03 freshly made bur­rata 04 Strolling through al­ber­o­bello 05 Lo­cals mak­ing orec­chi­ette 06 Served with broccoli 05 Sea urchins 06 the rugged Pugliese coast 06 fresh es­chalots and chilli 04

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