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.

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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.

 

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.

Discovering Prosciuttificio Vittorio Ciarcia

The town of Venticano in the Province of Avellino is the home of Vittorio Ciarcia, which since 1930 has created a wide variety of cured meats “Irpinia Style,” including prosciutto and culatello, among others.

According to their website, Vittorio’s great-grandfather, Nicola, who lived around the end of the nineteenth century, used to visit marketplaces throughout Irpinia and purchase pork that was raised by local farmers. Nicola would then salt and cure the pork he bought to produce prosciutto and other cured meats typical of the area.

Ciarcia now produces these typical regional meats for its customers, still using the same methods created by Nicola more than 100 years ago.

One of Ciarcia’s offerings includes “Culatello irpino.” Culatello is actually a specialty of the city of Zibello, located in the Province of Parma in the Emilia-Romagna Region, and it is made with the muscular part of the hind leg of pigs that were born, raised and slaughtered exclusively in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia. Ciarcia takes this tradition and puts its own Irpinian spin on it.

Praised by food critics, the “Goccia Irpina” comes from pigs raised traditionally in Irpinia. Produced in limited quantity, Goccia Irpina only uses Italian sea salt to cure it and the curing process takes 14 months. This melt-in-your-mouth meat is of a bright red color with streaks of white fat and the taste lingers on the palate.

While food from Northern and Central Italy often gets the most notice, perhaps it is time to try something different. While Ciarcia’s offerings may be difficult to find in the United States outside of Italian specialty stores, they are certainly worth a taste and deserving of their place among Italy’s finest foods.

The Best Panettone Comes From Irpinia

I have a confession to make… I cannot get enough of Panettone (the name loosely translates to “large bread”). We Americans have seen the brightly colored boxes with the string pop up all over during the holiday season. This year, I even discovered an incredible one imported to the US from the Milan region that had candied pumpkin, pumpkin cream and all sorts of delightful fall flavors. I tried it, loved it, and went back to Sam’s Club to buy three more. I love Panettone.

But even more than I love Panettone, I love Irpinia, so imagine my surprise when I saw an article from La Nostra Voce that claimed that the best traditional Panettone in all of Italy was deemed that created by Raffaele Romano of Pasticceria Fratelli Romano in Solofra, Avellino Province.

Oh, yes. This is a culinary dream come true. Just so you know, Milan is considered the “home” of traditional Panettone, so this was quite the coup for Signore Romano!

The competition was part of the Sweety of Milano Festival, part of which included Panettone Day. Signore Romano was one of 25 finalists in the competition and left victorious. Signore Romano’s Panettone was judged based off of how it looks, its color, quality of baking, how much it rose while baking, the quality of ingredients used, and… of course… taste.

Signore Romano was quoted by La Nostra Voce as saying, “I am very proud of this result. To take on an icon of Italian pastry such as the panettone is a great challenge for those of us in the baking profession. To see my creation reign supreme over more than 200 recipes in such a prestigious competition gives me enthusiasm to keep growing my skills and to take on new challenges.” (Translation by me)

Now for the month of October, Signore Romano and the other finalists were able to exhibit their creations in My Temporary Shop, a modern concept store in Corso Garibaldi in downtown Milano, similar to an American “pop up” store, where people had the opportunity to buy and taste the best Italian pastry creations.

For those of us who can’t fly over to Italy for Panettone, check out the Panettone Project by Weekend Bakery… and buon appetito!