Slow Food Tour of Puglia
Slow Food Tour of Puglia
Enjoying an extravagant dinner the day before my slow food tour of Puglia wasn’t the brightest idea. However, it’s hard to keep away when the culinary offerings are so plentiful. Plus, the seafood selections in the coastal town of Bari – where the tour commences – are top notch.
Puglia is one of 20 regions in Italy – and according to the masses, it’s one of the best in terms of gastronomic finds.
Slow food is essentially a conceptthat embraces mindfulness – mindfulness in how we eat, where the food comes from, and how the food is produced and grown. There’s an emphasis on seasonality and wholesomeness, and traditional food production methods are cherished.
There really is no better place than Puglia to learn about (and indulge in) slow food. After all, some of Italy’s most renowned food products – such as burrata cheese and orecchiette pasta – originate from Puglia.
I meet the group, our lovely guide Susanna and charming driver Giuseppe, the next day and it quickly becomes evident that we will all get along just me. Perhaps we mesh well because there are only 12 of us, so it’s easy to get to know each other. Reasonable starting times each day help too. We never meet before 9am and all relish having the mornings to ourselves – to wander around whatever picturesque town we have overnighted in, to peruse local papers, or to taste local delights (one morning, for example, I try the most delicious Puglian custard- filled pastry called a bocconotto).
Although eating is an important aspect of the tour, sightseeing is a big factor too. Our first stop, the UNESCO-listed Castel del Monte, sets the bar high. We spend an hour wandering through the octagonal-shaped castle and the grounds, taking full advantage of the spectacular weather and snapping as many photos as we can of the clean lines of the castle against the indigo backdrop.
Clearly the stroll has whetted our appetites... and lunch delivers. Located in the agricultural town of Andria, Casei cio Olanda is a cheese-producing company managed by the Olanda family. A meal here is not limited to simply tasting the many cheeses on offer (burrata is one of Puglia’s most recognised food products and the Olanda family craft some of the best in the country). Guests can also learn about the history of the farm and the cheese-making procedures.
Learning about the cheese is fascinating. We watch two of the brothers skilfullytwist and turn buffalo curd into a variety of mozzarella shapes. Then, they get to the burrata. They dip their hands in and out
of the hot water, kneading the curd into patches of mozzarella as they go, which they then fill with velvety stracciatella and fasten up.
Lunch is astounding. First I plunge my fork into a burrata globule and the creamy stracciatella seeps out perfectly. Then,we feast on another Puglian specialty – orecchiette pasta. Dessert is cheesecake... of course.
Day two is chock full of sights and topped with a luscious dinner. We traverse the underground realm of Castellana Caves in the morning. Come lunchtime we explore the charming township of Alberobello, famous for its 14th century built trullis (distinctive cone-shaped dwellings made
out of limestone). By the afternoon we’re sampling local drops at I Pastini as the sun sets on another day.
Dinner that night is a memorableand lavish and affair at the Michelin- recommended Duca di Martina, located onsite at our hotel, the historic Relais Villa San Martino.
First we demolish eggplant and tomato- based orecchiette pasta topped with smoked bacon fragments. Then we devour tender ox cheek slow cooked in a Negramaro wine. We even manage to t in dessert... because after all, this is a culinary tour.
The 12 of us quickly get used to the ow of the tour. We marvel at the sights, we eat splendidly, we sip local wine, and we natter over long lush meals or whenever Giuseppe drives us from one highlight to another.
Matera, dubbed the City of Stones,is one of those pinnacle highlights I’ll be talking about for years to come. The group of us admire the hundreds of sassi (stone homes carved out of the cliffs and caves) while our enthusiastic local guide Martha shares her knowledge about this fascinating mostly-intact troglodyte settlement.
Of course the food and wine keeps coming. Half way through the trip we are treated to a delightful lunch at Masseria Ferri, located close to one of Puglia’s most pretty towns – the whitewashed Ostuni.
Charismatic cook and owner Rosa presents us with delightful snacks and teaches us how to make orecchiette pasta before feeding us (in true Italian style) way too much – tomato and ricotta orecchiette, pork mince rissoles, mozzarella-coated tapenade... we eat slowly so that we can’t it all in.
Our final dinner in the shing town of Gallipoli is bitter sweet. An immense storm cloaks the city and we race along the cobblestones streets to the seaside restaurant.
Seated inside we sample local sea urchin and fresh-caught fish while winds howland waves crash outside. Cosy and happy, we eat, drink, laugh and reminisce. We’ve formed a bond over food and wine – so it’s a fitting way to farewell each other.