Yes, Honey!

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It seems like everyone is taking about honey these days– especially in my home region of northeastern Pennsylvania, where we are taking it by the pound to help with our early spring allergies!

While honey comes in a wide variety of types and flavors to appeal to every palate, it has been determined that some of the best honey in the world comes from Apicoltura Mattei, located in the town of Lapio in the Province of Avellino.

Owner Christian Mattei won the gold medal in the International Honey Competition (London Honey Awards) this past April for his blend of sunflower honey. This competition uses a blind method for testing products, without packaging and without any type of distinctive feature visible. Each product is given a code number to ensure their reliable traceability and the samples are evaluated by a jury. Each juror gives the honey sample a numerical rating based on a general sense of enjoyment (highest weight), as well as other criteria such as appearance, odor, texture, flavor, and mouth feel.

The honey products are evaluated based on their distinct and individual properties and do not compete with each other. Other gold medal winners include honey from New Zealand, Greece, and Switzerland. This year’s platinum winners included honey from Italy, Greece, and Saudi Arabia.

Apicoltura Mattei opened in Lapio in 2008 and is based off of the Mattei family’s love for the art of honey production dating back to the 1950s. The new production originally began as a hobby for the Mattei family, but then became a full-on brand known throughout Italy for its quality.

Today, the Mattei family has hives located not just in Lapio, but also throughout Irpinia. The main location in Lapio is open to the public at viale Prati, 47.

For more information on Apicoltura Matte, visit www.mielelapio.it.

Two Easter Traditions from Irpinia

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A slice of my mother’s amazing Pizza Chiena or Italian Easter Pizza.

Easter is tomorrow and while this year is not a traditional one in my household due to several unforeseen circumstances, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to write about two Easter culinary traditions that come directly from Irpinia.

Ever since I was a little girl, my mother has made Pizza Chiena (filled pizza), also known as Pizza Rustica or Italian Easter Pizza. The recipe for this amazing concoction was passed down through her family, with my Nonno Joe teaching her how to make it. She swears the secret for the crust is using butter-flavored Crisco!

My mother’s Pizza Chiena is stuffed with fresh, homemade ricotta cheese, sharp Provolone cheese, pepperoni, sausage, soppressata, and ham. She also puts fresh basil in the ricotta mixture– this is more of a household variation than a traditional thing as we both love the taste of basil!

While researching Irpinia over the course of my career, I have discovered that many Irpinians prepare different variations of Pizza Chiena, depending on their respective hometowns. Ours is, of course, Guardiese, but there are different versions throughout the area.

For a good recipe that is close to what we enjoy in our household, check out this Pizza Chiena by Italy Advisor.

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Fresh pastiera– can you smell the aroma? Photo from Cucina Fanpage.

The second Irpinian Easter culinary adventure I’d like to tell you about is “Pastiera.” This is more of a dessert or a breakfast treat and it is a pie made with fresh ricotta cheese, grano cotto or Aborio rice, and the zest of lemons and oranges. For an extra kick, you can throw in a dash of orange blossom water!

Pastiera is more of a Neapolitan treat that made its way inland to Irpinia. The legend surrounding Pastiera focuses on the siren Parthenope, who was the daughter of Achelous and Terpischore. Parthenope cast herself into the sea and drowned when her songs failed to entice Odysseus as he passed through area surrounding the Gulf of Naples and her body washed ashore near where Castel dell’Ovo is now located.

Every Spring, at the beginning of the season, Parthenope would sing a song to bring joy to the people who lived around the Gulf of Naples. One year, the people loved her song so much that they decided to pay homage to her with gifts from nature, such as the grain/rice, oranges, lemons, and ricotta.

Parthenope was so moved by these gifts that she presented them to the gods, who then mixed them all together, creating the first Pastiera. Legend has it that the flavor of the Pastiera was even more beautiful than Parthenope’s song itself!

Here is a recipe for Pastiera from Great Italian Chefs.

For more about the legend of Parthenope, visit Avellino Zon.

 

A Holy Week Tradition in Vallata

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On April 18 and 19 in the town of Vallata (AV), a Holy Week tradition will take place as it has done for nearly 500 years.

The Via Crucis, or Holy Procession, representing the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, is a popular commemoration of that fateful event throughout all of Southern Italy; however, the Good Friday procession that takes place in Vallata is considered one of the most evocative and most representative of what really happened.

According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, the procession dates back to 1541, when the Jewish community of Vallata converted to Christianity and began to hold this manifestation during Holy Week. Photos of the event date back to 1928 and little has changed over the event’s storied history. The Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata stresses that the procession is different from a traditional Via Crucis, as well as different from other processions that were similarly done in the Middle Ages, since there is no Stations of the Cross component to the procession.

894072_585194214826074_1938448219_oTradition has it that young people dress up as Roman soldiers, wearing a breastplate and parading through the crowd as a test of initiation through physical performance. In addition to various symbols of Roman power that are carried through the streets, the so-called “Misteri,” which are symbolic objects exhibited by men wearing hoods, are also taken on procession. Eighteenth-century paintings representing the scenes from the life and death of Christ with phrases from the Gospel of Saint John are also carried on the procession.

About two hundred participants participate in the Venerdì Santo Vallata procession. Everyone’s pace is marked by the rhythm of a characteristic sound of trumpet and drum, which, according to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, helps to create an environment of moving reflection on the great mystery of Christ’s pain. This meditation is further solicited by some singers who sing the verses of the “Passion of Jesus Christ” by Pietro Metastasio. The verses have been handed down orally or through uncertain writings, for which they have taken a strong dialectal accent, resulting incomprehensible to the majority of bystanders. The procession is completed by the coffin of the dead Christ surrounded by the mayor and by the doctors of the town and the Sorrowful Mother surrounded by little girls with mourning flags.

According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, this tradition is so strongly felt by the Vallatese population that there is no need to work hard to hand it down generation by generation– it just happens naturally. It is a collective procession that unites the entire town and is a true representation of what it means to be “Vallatese.”

See below for a video of the procession and a further explanation of its history (in Italian):

My Grandfather, My Hero

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My Nonno Joe with my mother in 1952.

It’s a story I never get tired of telling.

My grandfather, Joseph Anthony Longo (Giuseppantonio Luongo in Italian) arrived in the United States in 1927. He was 11 years old. The only thing he ever really wanted to do was go home to his birthplace, Guardia dei Lombardi, Avellino Province. He never made it.

The first time I heard this story was when I was five years old. I can still vividly remember my mother, Ann Marie, his daughter, taking my tiny hands to trace the boot-shaped outline of Italy, proudly saying her “daddy” was from there.

At nearly 71 years old, my mother still calls her father, “daddy.” At nearly 71 years old, my mother has now outlived her father by 15 years.

April 1 marks the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing in 1973. As the oft-repeated story goes, he died eight years before I was born, but I have always felt closer to him than any of my other family members. I have always felt him loving me and protecting me from Heaven and, yes, I have always felt his loss deeply.

Yet, I never really did lose him. He’s still my grandfather, my Nonno Joe, my hero. If it was not for his life, I never would have gotten involved in Italian-American affairs. I never would have made it my mission, along with my mother, to return to Guardia on his behalf, making his dream come true. “I want to go to Guardia,” he would say to my mother. He did. I carried his picture and a cross that once belonged to him with me the day I first set foot in his town and have brought the same items every single time I returned.

I have never played an April Fool’s joke as far as I can remember, not even as a child, because I always knew that on April 1, my mother’s heart broke when her father died. Even though I wasn’t born yet, my heart broke, too. It may sound strange for an outsider to read this, but it is true– there is a deep void in my life because he is not here. We would have been close. In a way, we are, but I still wish I could have heard his laugh, seen his smile, and looked him in the eye to tell him how much I love him and that, above all, he is my hero. He always will be.

As I write tonight, on the eve of the anniversary of his passing, I am looking at a photo that I keep on my desk– it is of my grandparents’ wedding on May 15, 1940. My grandfather is in the middle, flanked by my Nonna Anna and my Aunt Jennie, with neighborhood children laughing from the porch behind them. As the three of them have been my life’s most profound influences, it only makes sense to have them keep vigil over me any time I write.

When someone dies, the love lives on, always.

Ti adoro, Nonno Joe. Ora e per sempre.

 

Say “Buongiorno” to Donatus

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“Principal Episodes in the Life of Christ” at Most Precious Blood Church. Photo originally published at Il Regno.

A new exhibit featuring the work of Solofra (AV) native Donatus Buongiorno is set to debut this April in New York City.

“The Art of Immigration” will be held from April 11 to May 11 at the Rectory Gallery of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, 263 Mulberry Street. The exhibit will feature Buongiorno’s works, including pieces from private collections and secular images. Buongiorno’s work can also be seen in the form of 38 murals depicting stories of spiritual salvation and immigrant life at the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood at 109 Mulberry Street– this is also the church where the National Shrine to St. Gennaro is housed. Most Precious Blood is also the Sister Church of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.

Donatus Buongiorno was born in 1865 in Solofra (AV), Italy, and studied at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Naples. He emigrated to the United States in 1892. Upon arrival, he worked on privately commissioned portraits while working by day as a designer in a wallpaper factory. By the early 1900s, Italian-American Catholic Churches throughout the United States began commissioning him to paint murals and other church decorations. His works also appear in Boston, Mass., Brattleboro, Vt., and in other New York locations. He returned to Solofra in 1908 to work on the restoration of La Collegiata di San Michele Arcangelo.

In addition to murals and portraits, throughout his life he made easel paintings that he sold out of his studios in New York and Naples. He also served as a dealer for other Italian artists whose works he imported into the US and sold in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere.

“We gaze upon these pictures from a distance, measured by the passage of time, and find ourselves mystically connected to the people of this disappeared world,” said Msgr. Donald Sakano, Pastor of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in a press release. “These fine paintings remind us of who we are and inspire us to see the world around ourselves as a beautiful place to live and work.”

For more information on the exhibit, go to www.donatusbuongiorno.com
or call Bill Russo, Producer at (347) 933-3337. For a full listing of events surrounding the “Art of Immigration” exhibit, click here. For more information on Donatus Buongiorno, visit http://www.donatusbuongiorno.com.

Hazelnuts from Irpinia May Be In Your Easter Candy

The Ferrero facility in Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi. This photo originally appeared on http://www.nuovairpinia.it

Known for iconic brands like Nutella, Tic Tac, and Ferrero Rocher, among others, Ferrero has a manufacturing facility in Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi (AV). Because Irpinia is known for its hazelnuts, Ferrero recently announced a new marketing initiative designed to celebrate the region by showcasing one of its best-tasting exports.

“Progetto Nocciola Italia” is the name of Ferrero’s mission to include only Italian hazelnuts in its products– the initiative has now landed in Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi, after having been successful in both Piedmont and Umbria. The initiative has proven popular across Italy, where a marked determination to highlight Italian-made products has been at the national forefront for quite some time. The phrase “Made in Italy” is meant to evoke high-quality items, either food or merchandise, that showcase Italian craftsmanship and expertise. Italian hazelnuts are deemed to be more flavorful than their non-Italian counterparts. In the regions where it operates, Ferrero is also purchasing land near its facilities for the purpose of cultivation and to help bring jobs to keep young people at home, versus needing to seek work elsewhere.

In Irpinia, the cultivation of hazelnuts is a major industry– to the point where it has been recognized by the government as a “Traditional Italian Agricultural Product.” In fact, hazelnuts are recognized in Irpinia as its second most popular “cultural treasure,” right after wine production!

To read more about Ferrero’s initiative, click here for a great article from La Nuova Irpinia.

A Scarf of Solidarity

53283405_10218384678113030_147508285254139904_oI have to admit, when it comes to knitting or crocheting, it is something I enjoy doing, but I am notorious for starting projects and taking months to finish them, thanks to a busy schedule.

I refused to let this be the case when I got a Facebook message from my friend Giuseppe Silvestri of Unpli Irpinia (Unione Nazionale Pro Loco d’Italia). He mentioned that for International Women’s Day on March 8, Irpinian women from around the world were asked to knit or crochet a pink scarf as a way to call attention to the fight against breast cancer. These scarves would then be linked together as a kind of virtual “hug” for those fighting the battle and they would then try to submit the entire project to the Guinness Book of World Records.

What my friend did not know at the time of his message was that 2018 marked the 60th anniversary of my grandmother, Anna Mascaro Longo’s, passing from that horrible disease. My mother was 10 years old and, because medical technology in 1958 was so different than that of today, she remembers that Nonna suffered terribly. I often talk about how proud I am of my Nonno Joe, Anna’s husband, but never really got the chance to show how proud I am of my Nonna for her bravery. It has been told to me by several people that when she knew she would die, her only concern was her children, my mother and her brother, Jay. As her granddaughter, how could I not be proud of Nonna’s strength of character and want to somehow honor her? I had wanted to run the Race for the Cure and participate in other breast cancer-related initiatives, but nothing ever felt “right.” Until now.

I pulled myself together and quickly crocheted a scarf for my Nonna. It’s not as long as I wanted it to be (I am a slow crocheter!), nor was it perfectly done (I am still learning!), but I wanted to make sure she was somehow a part of this beautiful initiative. Every woman who has fought or who is fighting this disease deserves to be a part of it and by the sheer length of the scarf, I truly believe each one was.

The overall length of the “Scarf of Solidarity” was roughly nine-and-a-half miles, which beat the previous World Record of 9 miles for a handmade scarf, which was set in India. The scarf was unveiled on March 8 in Lioni’s Piazza Vittoria as part of local activities for International Women’s Day. Besides the official World Record declaration, women that day wore pink in honor of women fighting breast cancer. A commemorative pink bench to raise awareness of violence against women was also unveiled at Avellino’s train station, where women were able to board a train to Lioni to see the scarf.

In case you were wondering what it looks like, here’s my scarf in honor of my Nonna Anna. It may not have arrived in Italy on time, but I am thankful that Nonna was still a part of this day!

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