Italy // Basilicata and Calabria //

Regional food and wine

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The cuisine of Basilicata, also known as the cucina lucana (Lucanian cuisine), derives from a poor tradition that depended heavily on preserving food, especially pork and fruit, which are dried, and vegetables, which are preserved in oil. Arab influence still pervades in the form of aubergines and desserts incorporating figs, almonds and honey. Basilicata is an important producer of durum wheat, which is used to make fresh pasta, rustic breads prepared in wood-fired ovens, and friselle, stale bread softened with water, oil and tomatoes. Strong cheeses, like matured or smoked ricotta and aged caciocavallo are favoured. A rare breed of cow, the mucca podolica, grazes around Matera, and the milk and meat they produce are wonderfully flavourful.

Calabria shares many culinary traditions with its neighbour. The trademark of Calabrian cuisine, however, is peperoncino, spicy chilli pepper, used liberally in many dishes, and thought to ward off illness and misfortune. Try the spicy sorpressata salami, ’Nduia, a hot peperoncino and pork fat spread. As in all southern cuisine, cheeses such as caciocavallo, mature provola and pecorino are ubiquitous. The cipolla rossa from Tropea is a sweet red onion used in rustic pies, meat dishes, and in sweet preserves called composte. For desserts, try mostazzolo, an almond cookie sweetened with honey or wine must, or anything containing bergamotto, a citrus fruit that grows along the south coast. Dried figs are a staple and can be found stuffed, dipped in chocolate, or simply arranged in braids or wheels.

Cirò is the success story of Calabrian wine-making. Made from the ancient gaglioppo grape, it has been given some modern touches and now shifts bottles outside its home territory. Not surprisingly, given its far-south position, Calabria also turns out sweet whites such as Greco di Bianco. The aglianico grape makes a star appearance in Basilicata: Aglianico del Vulture is the region’s only DOC; it’s been dubbed “the Barolo of the south” for its complexity, late ripening and long maturation. Other wines worth trying are the sweet, sparkling Malvasia and Moscato.

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