I’ve never been to Italy before, but I know a lot about Italian food, or so I thought…..
After all Italian food has taken over our western lifes, everywhere we look Italian food is present in some shape or form. We wouldn’t have to go far in any pub, restaurant or cafe before seeing Pasta, Pannini, Lasagne or Pizza.
Whole swathes of our supermarket shelves are bulging with Pasta sauces, Pasta of all shapes and sizes along with Olives and oils not forgetting cheeses like Mozzarella, Ricotta, Parmesan and Mascarpone then breads Foccacia, Ciabbata. Along with
meats Salami’s and Prosciutto (you get the point), these are names that we all recognise.
Well, the opportunity arose to take a trip to Italy with a local food bursary group “Taste local” organised by Ffres. The idea is to look at other food cultures at grass roots level, which are not too disimilar from our own, so we can meet the producers exchange ideas and methods, and forge links looking specifically at regional practices.These practices are deep rooted in heritage and may have an emphasis on historical values. I jumped at the chance,and with up to 80% of the cost funded by the scheme I didn’t need to be asked a second time. It was good to see that other Welsh businesses thought the same and 30 of us signed up to the initiative.
So out we flew from London Stanstead on a barmy sunny afternoon in late September on a 4 day excursion to Puglia. It was dark when we arrived in Bari at 8.55pm so we couldn’t appreciate the rugged beauty of the land at first.
I’m no historian but….
I love history, and although I’m by no means an authority on the region I was armed with guide books and a curiosity to delve deeper into this culturally rich land, its traditions, food and people.
Puglia, or Apulia, is in the far south east of Italy on the “heel of the boot” so to speak. With the Adriatic sea to the east, and the Ionian sea south east of the Salento peninsula; the area is divided up into five areas of Foggia in the north then Bari, Taranto, Brindisi and Lecce at the most southern tip. The region has archeological roots in Peucetian times and has been populated by a melting pot of people: Lucanians, Samnites, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, to name but a few, have interspersed this land. With civil wars, crusades and numerous uprisings from the east, it’s not hard to see and appreciate that this highly contested strip of land is a historians nightmare and Elysium/heaven rolled into one. What does all this mean today? You might ask.
Well I can tell you what it means to me..
When you’ve got pilgrims, merchants, crusaders, monks and all manor of war mongering nut jobs all fighting over the same patch of land it smashes down like a cultural sledgehammer creating a dent in ones heritage that’s forever present and on show for all to see. This is no ordinary dent it can’t be polished, T’cutted or removed easily. After all many have tried, and all have failed.
This rugged land chooses itself who stays and who goes, and at this present time it is home to the most generous, passionate, enduring and tolerant people I’ve ever come across. They have strong communal and cultural values with a strong family bond that bind them, add to that a deep understanding and respect for the land that feeds them and it’s easy to see why they’re such a friendly bunch.
They have an openness that is astonishing, they’re willing to share knowledge and tips that have served them well, they’ve got nothing to fear; they know they’re the best at what they do. Happy that you’re interested, and also share their passion and willingness to learn they are natural teachers. They see the knowledge that they posses as a living breathing entity, that must be practiced, must be honed and shared so it carry on living. This knowledge must not be locked away to gather dust and most of all it must not be forgotten.
This was an extremely rewarding experience on a trip to a country that has spread out across the globe and into our daily lives, like the Romans before them they’re present in modern living, sharing culture and values to us all they’re the true conquerors but with less blood shed!
I thought I knew about Italian food but it turns out I’ve barely scratched the surface….