Some towns in Italy have no charm at all, quite a statement for Italy but when we went down to Puglia we stayed outside the town of Fasano – it was in the rather ordinary category, but we headed for a stunning resort –Masseria San Domenico, a former farmhouse, the Italians in this part of Italy call it a Masseria. We had a car so we could still go into nearby Fasano for shopping and to visit its Enoteca.
This trip is where I discovered Italy does have massive shopping malls like we have in the suburbs. We call them shopping centres in Australia, whereas they are ‘malls’ in America. We pulled into one between Fasano and our resort to check it out and see if there are any differences. We came away with a motorised copper polenta cooking pot. I report here that I have used it many times since and do not regret the purchase. It was fun to see what different types of kitchen equipment you could buy in the equivalent to a K Mart. I know it is more romantic to buy from small shops run by locals but if I was living in Italy I would not hesitate to take a trip to one to set up my home.
If you don’t want the extravagance and expense of the above Masseria, you can also stay in the Trulli houses, the whitewashed dome houses that are typical of this region.
The spires on top of the houses have various meanings, some are primitive holy symbols and some are magic symbols that represent zodiac signs. The local jewellers here reproduce the symbols into jewellery and trinkets ranging from the small souvenir to expensive precious metal jewellery.
Be prepared for restaurants that do not print a menu, they just offer what is fresh that day. Like Sicily here they make the delicious latte di mandorla, a non alcoholic drink made from almond milk and iced water. The local sweet dessert wine for dipping your almond biscuits is Moscato di Trani. Having tasted a special ricotta based cake at the Salon del gusto, the Slow Food extravaganza of a food fair, we tracked down the maker and had a tour of the bakery. We were then taken to a relative’s pizza bakery, one that is making pizza’s for export around the world.
The food speciality here is orecchiette, a wholewheat pasta. Of course fish is popular and the taralli (doughnut shaped dry biscuit) are sold everywhere and great for a snack when you are travelling in the car around Italy. The bread of Puglia is worth a return trip, inside it is light cornmeal yellow in colour and has the most amazing texture. I have a memory of eating the bread immediately like a child, taking out chunks before it reached home. Whenever I see Pane Pugliese bread on the list at bakeries I have to laugh to myself, they have no idea what real bread from Puglia tastes like.
When we were in this area we drove past a communal olive press. The people inside immediately invited us in to see the production. Puglia produced 43% of Italy’s output and that is 14% of the world’s total. They have over 45 million olive trees that are on 360,000 cultivated hectares. Its low pollution and sunny climate with the right amount of rain, together with a mineral rich lime tufa soil make this an ideal growing area. The sea breezes are complimentary as they are to growing grape vines.
For wine buffs, here are some local wineries recommended by Masseria San Domenico.
Cantine Calo Michele e Figli, Via Masseria Vecchia, 1, 73058 Trulie (Le)
Leone De Castris, Via Senatore De Castris, 50, 73015 Salice Salentino (Le)
Cantine Fatalone, Vicinale Spino Marino, 291, 70023 Gioia del Colle (Ba)
Cantine Taurino, Strada Statale 605, 73010 Guagnano (Le)
Enoteca Sileno in Melbourne specialise in hard to get wines from all over Italy and they also will stock the olive oil of Puglia.
I will have to go back to Puglia soon for another fix of the Pane Pugliese. Roz