Abruzzo food and wine tours – Italy’s Secret Cornucopia
by Marcelo Pinto October 12th 2012
Stretching from the steep, snow-capped peaks of the Appennines to the sandy Adriatic coast, Regione Abruzzo is one of Italy best-kept secrets. Indeed, until now, Abruzzo hardly featured on anyone’s Italian tourist agenda. But now, it’s become a hot-spot for travellers looking to go back in time and experience authentic, rural, medieval Italy, untouched by the excesses of modern development and tourism.
Abruzzo is an essential destination for lovers of food and wine. In fact, many renowned Italian chefs came to famous Abruzzese town of Villa Santa Maria to perfect their culinary crafts. Local food has harnessed the best of what the landscape has to offer, and it ranges from earthy, rustic mountain dishes to unique, fresh seafood cuisines.
But, undoubtedly the belle of the ball in Abruzzo is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. It has achieved worldwide renown for being flavoursome, versatile and very affordable. It is one of the most ubiquitous wines of the region, and is grown in all four provinces of l’Aquila, Teramo, Pescara and Chieti. It stands as a testament to the innovations that are happening in regional viticulture, which constantly yield fresh and interesting results.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is easy-to-drink, and can be enjoyed at a young age. It is smooth, low in acidity, and displays a luxurious ruby-to-purple colouring. It has soft and slightly syrupy tannins, which contribute to an all-round flavour of biting cherry underscored by earthy dryness. It can be served with all kinds of tomato-based dishes, such as the notable Abruzzese pasta speciality, maccheroni alla chitarra with spicy tomato sauce.
Abruzzo has held on to agricultural practices that originated in the Middle Ages. The rich, green pastures of the central highlands, in particular, have supported shepherding for centuries. This, in turn, has given rise to a culinary tradition rich in mutton and lamb dishes, the most famous of which is arrosticini.
Arrosticini are long skewers of rich mutton and exemplify the typically rustic country food of the mountainside. The meat, traditionally derived from castrated male sheep, is cut into small cubes and then pierced with a 25-30 cm long spit. Skewers are usually marinated in extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary, and then grilled until cooked.
The time-honoured method of grilling is conducted on an open- style barbecue, locally known as a rustillire or furnacella. The furnacella is designed to support rows upon rows of arrosticini, which can then be easily turned and grilled without falling into the fire. Locals use fattier mutton cuts, ensuring the meat stays juicy and full of flavour after cooking. These skewers are most delicious when eaten with the hands.
Things couldn’t be more different on the coast, where fishing dominates and is the livelihood of many local people. The coastlines of Chieti and Teramo, for instance, still practice some of the oldest fishing methods in the world. The trabocco is a significant example of this heritage.
A trabocco is an ancient Italian fishing apparatus that closely resembles a rickety pier and wooden shack. However, a closer inspection reveals an elaborate agglomeration of pulleys and levers that work together to capture large quantities of fish and shellfish. Long logs of weather-resistant Aleppo pine jut out of the shack at the end of the pier. These logs support large mesh nets that are lowered into the water to catch fish brought in by advantageous currents. Historians believe that this fishing system was first implemented by the Phoenicians.
Most trabocchi are often “pop up restaurants” that serve fresh catches of fish on a daily basis. The visitor can be sure of tasting only the best fish and calamari prepared in typical Abruzzo style. A typical dish is a brodetto, a delicious variation of French bouillabaisse. It is made of a rich rosa tomato broth, stewed with a variety of Adriatic seafoods, such as prawns, monkfish, rockfish and scallops.
Abruzzo is considered one of the wildest regions in Italy, with its vast natural spaces and expansive seascapes. This unique terrain has resulted in a distinctive food heritage that is steeped in centuries of tradition. Abruzzo provides visitors with the rare chance to experience a different side of Italy, and a way of life that has largely been forgotten.