Alberobello, Mozzarella artisan cheese picturesque trulli-ville
Some years ago we toured the Southern Italy on our holidays from NZ. When living in the UK, our first venture into Europe was a typical Phileas Fogg Grand Tour – squeezing as much into a small timeframe as possible. The Italian section covered cities such as Venice, Pisa, Florence, Rome, and even a quick dash south to include Naples... before motoring onto a different country.
It was so frenetic then, to cover all that we could in Europe in the time we had. Even when friends visited us, their trips to Italy were to the north or central Italy. Very seldom was there a mention of the southern provinces. A wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant here in Auckland, over the coffee we browsed a travel book featuring the southern region of Puglia. Wow, look what we missed. I'd been on the case with Murray that we should visit there sooner than later. Valle d'Itria, one of Puglia's most popular and attractive areas. In particular, Alberobello and Locorotondo.
Alberobello – beautifully quaint, even the name had a lovely quality about it. The town has picture-book charm like no other. In the region of Puglia in southern Italy, Alberobello is an unusual and picturesque destination which is becoming an important fixture on the travel itineraries.
A UNESCO World Heritage site for its unusual districts of … trulli? Trulli is the name given to white-washed, conical-roofed houses of the area. Alberobello at one time only had trulli houses. Today, one side of the main street are trulli, and the other side a mish-mash of trulli and normal houses. Perhaps it's old town, new town?
There are bars, pizzerias, ice-cream parlours, souvenir shops, shops selling grocery... all trulli. The buildings have very thick stone walls, constructed without mortar. We had a chance of viewing the shops on the main cobbled alleyway through this 'trulli-land'. We inched inside after climbing steep, vertical steps and found ourselves in very twee, picture postcard-ish space. It was a grocery-cum-postcards-cum-everything shop, i.e. the general store. All squeezed into a very tiny conical-topped building. We bought a few postcards and moved on to explore the area full of really quaint architecture.
Later, we climbed huge steps (vertically, the residents must have real storms in inclement weather to need such high elevation from the alleyway), into another shop. Buying a few drinks, we sat upstairs watching the world go past. I did wonder whether I could make it up the stairs without falling and bruising my knees and shin (see: stroke), as they were very narrow. Once upstairs, we could look out over the sea of trulli.
It was just amazing, no wonder UNESCO stamped it as a World Heritage Site, protected thanks to its outstanding universal value. “An exceptional example of a form of building construction deriving from prehistoric construction techniques that have survived intact and functioning into the modern world." By the way, I can vouch that the walls are super-thick in each trulli, as we stayed a few nights in our own trulli. Lovely.
Close to Alberobello is Locorotondo which is one of Puglia's prettiest towns with a proudly conserved, easily-walkable centre and a calm, laid-back atmosphere. It has a tiny historic centre on a hill with lovely views over the Valle d'Itria, a green landscape dotted with white trulli. We were looking forward to the visit. But, as with most Italian towns there was no parking to be found anywhere during the day.... we ended up driving up and down winding alleyways through this picturesque town on the hilltop.
We also had to avoid the typical Italian micro-vans (ApeCar) delivering goods at pace, zipping past and scraping the buildings' wall on one side of the narrow alleys, in such a hurry to reach their next destination. The video clip to the right shows they don't hang around for anything or anyone. We beat a retreat as we needed to have somewhere close by to park to cater for my 'gait' – so, we visited another town, and came back that night.
Our hotel manager had earlier recommended a restaurant in Locorotondo, and that was our plan for dinner that night. The hotel map for Locotorondo was basic, but we found the restaurant although parking was still an issue around 7pm, so the search for a spot found us on the opposite side of the town centre, so we'd have to navigate through the middle. The day had quietened down and the populace having their meal at home.
What a surprise – all the alleyways and historical buildings in the centre of Locorotondo were lit up... after taking a few photos, we sort of got lost, and Murray asked a passer-by where the restaurant was (in Spanish!)... and the local replied in English, “I'm going there myself, you can follow me”. How is this possible?
The dinner at the trattoria was delicious, and the freshest mozzarella made by the owners. Ohhhh, to have that in NZ....
A few weekends ago, we dropped in one of the branches of Farro in Auckland, a unique one stop fresh food market to see a cheese making demo of: you guessed right: how to make mozzarella cheese at home. We made sure to get in super early in case it got mobbed out before we could get a good position. Even the demonstrator wasn't there yet. Soon, the seats of the demo kitchen began to fill with expectant shoppers and then he arrived, a real Italian by the name of Massimiliano.
The co-founder of Il Casaro, and master Italian cheese maker, he learned to make cheese in his hometown in Puglia, in the hillside town near Alberobello, the capital of cow-milk mozzarella in Italy. We didn't know that - cool! We talked for a time, asking questions and he was very knowledgeable and humorous. Then, he started his demo: NZ produce, Italian time-honoured tradition. The milk, measurements, temperature, the starter, mixing and cutting in long strokes of the now-mixed cheese to whey and curd; he had handfuls curd to squeeze out excess whey. It was all extremely interesting.
Massimiliano let us taste the curd at the half-ready stage. Then water boiling, he showed that it was possible to have your hand in the cheese mixture but not get burnt by the very hot water. He folded the cheese and stretched, folded and stretched and before long, he could wring it, it seemed. The cheese drew out in long whorls, and there the magic happened. The mozzarella was so malleable, so pliable, that Massimiliano could make interesting shapes, like pig and elephants for teaching the younger groups to distract where possible kids from eating junk food/candies and so good for snacks. Not to mention the amazing variety of fresh cheeses, each with its own signature plait or intricate tie, almost without effort, the fluidity of motion, which he demonstrated with ease. It's little wonder he has won acclaim from the New Zealand Champions of Cheese awards including two golds.
Il Casaro is primarily a cheese factory located in the Wairau Valley, although it also has a well-stocked shop that is very popular. Beautiful cloud-like balls of mozzarella made by a master Italian cheese maker, an artisan cheese producer.
Fresh cheese, soft and a smooth taste of fresh milk at the palate, it is ideal for snacks and as a main ingredient in many fresh-cheese made recipes. With only one usable hand instead of two, Massimiliano assures me that I could make cheese too, at his Wairau Valley cheese school. Now that is one challenge I really am up for.