This is a land much more full of different vegetables, fruits, cheeses and olives than our usual stomping grounds near Parma, where it seems like all we eat are many slices of cured meats and great hunks of pork and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
We spent the morning at an agricultural research centre and learned how students from Mediterranean countries are learning how to deal with water shortages and use integrated pest management technology to deal with the fly, for example, that lays its eggs in olives, which then hatch into larva and burrow their way through the fruit, ruining it. The researchers are planting cover crops such as fava beans and mustards under the olive trees to see how they may discourage the presence of flies, and they are also breeding predator flies which lay their eggs in the larva of the olive fly to kill it off.
Lunch at the research centre was a highlight as they had prepared many different Pugliese specialities for us in a buffet. Marinated anchovies, a toothsome seafood salad, eggplant lasagna and fist-sized panzerotto pizzas, kind of like hot, fried pizza pockets stuffed with melting mozzarella. A spinach salad with a feta-like cheese and grilled baby octopus were also well-received.
After our tour and lunch we headed to a village called Alberobello, parts of which are totally covered with houses called Trulli, which are in the shapes of buildings that were once built by farmers in the fields to house their tools. Now this village is a world heritage sight and we had the time to wander up and down the narrow streets and marvel at the flat stone construction of the roofs, which actually kind of remind me of a Moroccan-style tagine used for cooking couscous. I should mention here that most of the photos taken on this blog posting come from my classmate Betsy Manning. Her camera is broken (and still being repaired) so I lent her my Canon SD700 IS to have fun with while I worked with my Canon EOS SLR to take old-fashioned film photos and concentrate on my radio recording, thanks Betsy! I will do a ‘Best of Puglia’ photo album at the end of our week here.
And I did do some radio work as we went to a butcher shop where they make a very special cured meat called Capocollo Martina Franca which is a Slow Food presidia product.
It was traditionally made from pork taken from free-range pigs which ate a lot of acorns from oak trees specific to that region of Puglia. After the practice nearly died out, butchers are now teaming up with farmers to produce this very tasty capocollo once again. The pigs are semi-free range, so they can still pick up the flavour of the acorns which makes the meat quite sweet. It is brined in a cooked wine marinade, then tempered with a light smoking.
This butcher has been practicing his trade for the past 40 years. He is the son of a farmer, but learned his trade from a butcher in town and is now trying to keep his traditions alive, however, he has no sons and his daughters have no interest in the trade. But there have been some new people coming in, and with the revived interest generated in the Slow Food presidia product, who knows?
Here the butcher is salting the fresh pork which comes from the neck of the pig and rubbing it with black pepper as well as a mixture of spices including juniper berries and allspice. After sitting for 15 days in a cooler it is put in a mixture of cooked wine and white wine for a day, then drained and wrapped in a cloth to undergo further aging.
Just one more photo before we go off to a cheese tasting today. We were treated to a very nice song and dance session of the tarantella and other Pugliese folk traditions last night before dinner. More photos and video to come!