Celebrating the Solstice Italian Style in the Masserie of Puglia:
A couple of weeks ago I went to a presentation about Puglia held on the South Bank. Puglia has been on my bucket list for some time. This year, thanks to a soon to be released film, there’s some evidence that all of us are going to be writing home that #weareinpuglia. It’s a part of Italy that deserves to be better known – the ‘heel’ of the boot that is Italy. By default you are never far from the beach – and since it is one of the southernmost parts of the country, the weather is generally warm. This was not a beach trip though – and much as I would have liked to explore the coastline the purpose of our visit was to take part in a celebration for the Summer Solstice which has taken place in Puglia each year for the last four years. The joy of this particular event is that it celebrates what the Italians call the ‘didactic masseria’ – the teaching farm. And it does so in a way that is like one huge festival across the entire region for the night of the solstice.
Although it’s easy enough to reach Puglia these days with direct flights to Bari and Brindisi from London the area is relatively unknown. On our trip we were given the chance to explore some of the other Masserie in the region and, needless to say, to try a LOT of regional specialities. So although our own party was hosted at the Masseria Didattica Sciaiani Piccola, we had a chance to explore the diversity of offering in this region and get some understanding of the ‘Masserie Didattiche’ programme.
We arrived to find the swimming pool full of local children on an outing from their Sunday school. Swimming and then football (Italy’s match in the World Cup) led to a party atmosphere right from the start. Obviously a recipe for success especially when the sun is shining. Masseria Sciaini Piccola has a natural swimming pool which uses a filtration system of plant life and local stone to clean the pool without the need for chemicals.
Our first dinner at the Masseria Camarda, owned by former formula one racing driver Cesare Fiorio, set the pace. A wonderful meal that included the freshest burrata
And a typical pasta from the region, orrichiette, made with Senatore Cappelli flour. One of the Italian journalist explained for me
Mr Cappelli was a senator, he established some laws to improve the selection of grains. From the studies at the time, they developed one grain: Senatore Cappelli Unfortunately it is very tall (which gives it a problem with the wind), and it has a very low production per hectare, but a good property to make pasta and bread (as well as being good for conservation).
The next day, four farm visits. As we went round the various venues I got a hint of what the programme involved. Starting with Masseria Frantolio – a major producer of quality olive oil, we learnt about different types of olive oil production and tried some of the wonderful cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.
A visit to Masseria Madonna dell’Arco, involved finding out more about the rare breeds of animals on the farm and the variety of cheeses produced.
Our lunch included capocollo di martina franca – a local speciality of pressed meat produced from neck of pork.
Then on to meet the donkeys of San Martina – carefully reared on the Natural Park at the Masseria Russoli. The aim here is to preserve an ancient breed, perhaps no longer needed for farm work. The Masseria is being developed into an Adventure Park while still carefully managing the donkey breeding programme.
At Masseria Del Duca we learnt a little of the history of the area.
This particular Masseria, apart from producing it’s own branded oil and cheese and having a fascinating heritage of fighting local bandits and Ottoman invaders is also an eco-centre, with a carefully managed programme of energy generation which includes these space age biomass energy domes.
The party for the evening of Masserie Sotto Le Stelle was back at our temporary home of Masseria Sciaiani Piccola.
A quirky stage show in Italian with a slightly tongue in cheek look at what the Masserie Didattica programme is trying to achieve, a large outdoor grill and bar and then a late night feast complete with live entertainment.
A charming, rural Italian party where any visitor would feel instantly at home regardless of the language barrier and where everyone left well fed and full of the local wine and beer.
The next morning a brief trip to Masseria Agrimelillo introduced us to other regional specialities. Wine, almonds and honey here, with a production of around 100,00 bottles a year of wines made from predominantly local grapes – Malvasia, Primitivo, and Garganego together with Chardonnay for the white blends.
Finally our last Masseria – Montedoro, which dates back to the fifteenth century. Inside some of the rooms have been carefully laid out to show how they might have been used historically – the kitchen with it’s large open fire, sink and wash boards for example.
The ‘teaching’ element here includes traditional crafts like basket weaving along with nature and agriculture. And accomodation in this Masseria is for the Scout movement in ‘hostel’ style rooms.
I will be writing more about some of the unique history of Puglia and about the regional gastronomic specialities. This post is a simple introduction to my short trip and a thank you to my hosts at the Masserie. It was a joyful, exuberant taste of Puglia for me – a place where agricultural tradition and heritage are valued and where the importance of farming is ingrained in the education system. No need for Jamie Oliver here, my impression is that the children here are brought up to respect the land and to understand the provenance of the food they are eating. And the Masserie Didattiche Pugliesi are key components in that learning process.
With many thanks to Le masserie didattiche for hosting this trip