Skill and Savours of the Land of Abruzzo

Calascio, production of pecorino cheese
Calascio, production of pecorino cheese – Photo ©

On one hand, there is the evolution of shepherding and farming recipes, those prepared by the “poor” folk of the mountain and foothill areas, a cuisine of simple yet tasty mutton dishes, soups and broths, cheeses and herbs, and on the other the “refined bourgeois” menus of Teramo, which enhances basic flavors to achieve more complex results like “timballo di scrippelle”, “mazzarelle” and “virtù”.

Then there is coastal cuisine, less evocative of Abruzzo – perceived as a region of mountains and protected areas – but no less important as there are 133km of shoreline that offer a selection of seafood in uncomplicated, tasty recipes, combined with the range of vegetables grown on the hillsides shielding the Adriatic.

Festival of red garlic in Sulmona
Festival of red garlic in Sulmona – Photo ©

Nonetheless, Abruzzo cuisine is not merely tradition: there is a well-known and feisty army of innovators who – from their kitchens – are taking creative, measured steps in the direction of modernity without sacrificing its true identity, the “truth” of its flavours and tradition The password? Quality: in the raw materials of a generous and varied territory; quality in the milieus and welcome offered to clients and tourists. Last, but not least, “pocket-friendly” prices both in restaurants and hotels. The rich selection of raw materials are, therefore, the secret of the cuisine that is appreciated in Italy and abroad thanks to the ranks of “globetrotter” chefs graduating from the prestigious school of Villa Santa Maria. Prime meat from the mountains, above all mutton, and prized dairy products: Pecorino and goat cheeses that include “Canestrato di Castel del Monte” and “Pecorino di Farindola”, both Slow Food Presidia. The deep-rooted pork butchering tradition produces two types of “ventricina”: the spreadable Teramo version and the Vasto version with its chunkier texture. The hills provide the seasoning and flavours of the earth: first of all, extra virgin olive oil (the Loreto Aprutino-Pescara area being the most renowned), followed by vegetables, greens, pulses and cereals whose simplicity enhances Abruzzo cuisine in its entirety, alongside the precious Crocus Sativus stigma used for L’Aquila’s PDO saffron. Then there is the wine, with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (made from the region’s flagship grape and 15,000,000 bottles sold in 2008) in the front line and followed closely by its “white brother” Trebbiano and new niche products: Cerasuolo, well to the fore; rediscovered and a successful new entry – Pecorino.

Truffle production
Truffle production – Photo ©

Abruzzo cuisine has many facets simply because of its varied territory and local cultures: there are the traditional dishes of the shepherds, up on the mountains; peasant cuisine, on the hills and in the valleys; the cultured, middle-class enclave of Teramo’s culinary traditions; fish recipes on the coast. A wide variety of wisdom and tastes rooted in the region’s huge patchwork of landscapes and environments.

There are plenty of gastrotours available, from those in the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Parco del Gran Sasso-Laga or Majella national parks to those along the hills dotted with hospitable wine and olive oil producers, and agritourism enterprises for sampling and buying not only wine and oil, but also a huge assortment of other good, natural products: honey, preserves, pickles, pulses and cereals.

Saffron processing
Saffron processing – Photo ©

Gourmet food and wine events abound, so just to mention the most famous there are: “Cantine aperte” with over fifty participating wineries (May); the day dedicated to the “Virtù”, Teramo’s iconic dish (May 1); “Carciofesta” dedicated to the Cupello artichoke (April/May); the month dedicated to “Brodetto di pesce alla vastese” chowder (June); “Trabocchi” Coast recipes during the “Cala lenta” (July); “Festa del tartufo” to celebrate Campovalano di Campli truffles (July); “Calici di stelle” for Ortona wines (August); the “Mediterranea” fair of typical Abruzzo products (July/August); “Buon gusto – Rassegna formaggi d’Abruzzo” a review of Abruzzo cheeses at Gessopalena (September); celebration of local lentils at Santo Stefano di Sessanio (September); “Frantoi aperti” when oil presses open their doors (October/November).