Monday, May 29, 2017

Ceramics and Chocolate, My Kind of Day

Heading farther East from Mandronova, we were going to stop in Caltagirone, a town famed for its ceramics.  I'm used to the highly glazed ceramics from Deruta in Umbria, but these ceramics are different, the glaze for tableware appeared to be more of a matte finish.  The staircase you see is completely constructed with ceramic tiles.
We had about 90 minutes to shop and grab a bit to eat before heading off to Modica for the chocolate demo.  Dr. C. and I went window shopping, and then heard singing in the cathedral, so we opened the door and stayed a while to hear the choir.

Since I'm not up on my church hierarchy, the gentleman with the mitre cap was probably a bishop, but when the hat was removed, he had on a red skull cap, which made us think he might have been a cardinal.  
The church was another plaster rather than marble church, it was light, bright and airy.  Quite unlike some of the other churches that we have seen that are dark and uninviting.  Here are a few more photos of the streets in Caltagirone and then we are off to Modica for chocolate.

We arrived in Modica and were met by our teacher Dr. Katia who runs a cooking school here.  She was going to show us how they make the famous chocolate from Modica, which is similar to the Mexican chocolate that we get in southern California.

Katia has a beautiful kitchen, and it is in her grandmother's old flat, what a joy to know she is carrying on tradition here

Pure cocoa

cocoa nibs

melting the chocolate over a bain marie slowly

Adding sugar and cinnamon, other flavors include vanilla and chili

flexible molds

The dull one on the right is ready, the others go into the fridge

Samples:  left: cocoa with beef in pastry like an empanada, center: chocolate with chili, almond cookies

In the winter they serve customers hot chocolate, in the summer, gelato--we were so glad we came in May!
Cathedral of Modica basso (lower town)

One of the oldest chocolate makers in Modica

Original chocolate makers used a lava stone over the fire to melt the chocolate

That's a lot of chocoalte

After our tour, and tasting, we were on the road to Siracusa, and Ortigia island.

Modica is a beautiful city of baroque architecture, and a UNESCO world heritage site.  Worth the trip, especially to taste the chocolate.  I'll have more from Siracusa soon.  Ciao for now.

In Which we Spend a Day in the Country and Meet an Italian Shamman

After a good night's sleep at Mandranova, we were up early to go to Sant'Angelo Muxaro a small village in the hills above Agrigento.  The town has lost a lot of its population since unemployment in Italy is high.  After the Second World War, many from this area immigrated to Northern Europe and the US to find work. Now, these people are returning to their family homes, to retire, but also use them as a respite from the cold in the North during the winter months.  Many of the houses here are vacant, and the town is working to improve its tourism with visits to the cheese maker, local bakery, the museum filled with artifacts from the surrounding area,  as well as to farms.  Our guide was Pierofillipo from the consortium of Val di Kam, click here to find out more about them.
Our first visit was with Olga, the diminutive local cheese-maker.  She had just finished the ricotta production, and our presentation was interrupted by the locals, buying their ricotta for the weekend. Olga's family owns 600 sheep and their pecorino cheeses are delicious.  We sampled the ricotta and the aged pecorino while we were there.  Using traditional methods handed down from 4 generations, her husband, and sons take care of the sheep in the fields, and she takes care of business.

Left to right:  Matteo, Pierfillipo, Olga

Where the ricotta is cooked

Aged pecorino

Fresh ricotta
Up the hill, we headed for the local bakery, where Angelo and his family have been baking bread for over 90 years.  This place has seen it all, war, immigration, and revival.  We sampled the bread coated in olive oil and dried oregano.  Here, the locals use ONLY dried oregano, they consider the fresh to be too strong..exactly the opposite of our thinking.  This simple bread, anointed with the local oil and oregano was awesome, warm, crunchy and topped with sesame seeds.  All the breads here in Sicily have been topped with sesame seeds, a nod to their ancient past when the conquerors would bring their own flavors to the island.  And, of course you can't leave a place like this without a sweet, we tasted their marmalade filled cookies, which reminded me of Christmas at my Sicilian aunts' house, warm, with a slightly bitter filling, surrounded by sweet dough.  Perfetto!


Today's bread 

semolina bread with oil, and oregano

Roasted vegetables

Marmalade Cookies

After this we climbed into a Land Rover, and were off to meet Aldo the local Shaman and herbalist. Climbing hills, driving down ruts between the fields, bumping along with the terrain, we finally arrived at his home in the hills.
Originally from Bologna, this 68 year old man lives in his home surrounded by his plants.  An expert on herbs, he makes potions for people, using the curative properties of the herbs, to help heal.  He's the essential oils guy for this area.  He served us a vegetarian lunch flavored with his edible plants, and then led us on a tour of his property, picking herbs and making each of the ladies a bouquet of the herbs.  The Land Rover had never smelled so good!

Roman caves

Aldo's well


Aldo has been a vegetarian for over 30 years

explaining how he uses the plants

Explaining his oils

Pistachios, harvested every 2 years


Tiny olives

And......a refrigerator in the middle of the yard, just because


Beautiful vistas wherever you look
After this adventure, it was another bone crushing ride up into the hills to find the sheep that had made the ricotta and pecorino we had tasted that morning.

No joke, this is the 'road'--this part was actually one of the better parts 😉

After a long bone chattering drive back to Sant'Angelo Muxaro, we were off to Mandronova for an olive oil tasting.  Mandranova makes 6 types of olive oil, 5 from single type olives and one blend.
Sylvia, the owner of the estate, guided us through the crushing of the olives, to the final product. Then we sat down to taste the oils, in a guided olive oil tasting.  The oils here in Sicily are quite spicy, probably due to the soil and the climate.

Our dinner that night was again family style, beginning with a zucchini soup made from the huge zucchini that we found in the markets in Palermo.  The pasta was a white ragu, so with meat and peas, but no tomato.  The main course was mackeral wrapper in lemon leaves with a potato-like risotto and capers.  Our dessert was what they call a chocolate salame, chocolate dough rolled with almonds then cut to look like salame.

All in all, a great day to be here in Sicily.  On to Siracusa tomorrow, with stops in Castagirone for ceramics, and Modica for a chocolate demo.  Ciao for now.

Author's Note:  The internet here in Sicily tends to be slow, I'm a bit behind on my posts, since there are so many photos to download.  I'll be up and running when we return to Spello.