The region of Puglia, which forms the heel of the Italian boot, has a rich farming and shepherding culture. Most of the olive oil in the country comes from here, and the bread made from locally grown durum wheat is known as Italy's best. So what do you look for when you're traveling in Puglia? Take note of these culinary highlights:
This rustic bread, mostly produced in the town of Altamura, is known throughout Italy for its thick crust – allowing it to last one to two weeks. Likely for that reason, the poet Horace wrote about the bread's delicious taste and desirability for travelers to tote it about on their journeys. Altamura bread is a Denomination of Protected Origin (D.O.P.) in Europe, which means it must be made exclusively from the durum wheat found on the Apulian plateau (known as the Murgia) and the hills of Matera. In addition, the baker must use local water, natural yeast, and ensure the bread has a thick crust (averaging between 3–5 mm).
Where to get it: Nearly any bakery in Altamura produces the bread. The best ones have stone ovens, like the Forno Antico S. Caterina on Via del Giudice.
Another food item that uses the durum semolina flour is orecchiete (the local ear-shaped pasta). Shaped by women in shops and on street-side tables, the motion is mesmerizing: roll, cut, fold, toss. Beginning from a thin roll of pasta dough, a small piece is cut, folded with the thumb or finger, and tossed into a pile with the others. The tiny ears need to be made just right: small and curled, with a rough texture on the outside to soak up sauce. The women make it seem easy, but try it when you get home and see what you think.
Where to get it: Head to the "Quartiere delle Orecchiete" in Bari; the two alleys are lined with women sitting outside their homes making the pasta. Want to eat it without bothering to cook it yourself? Head to Alberosole on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, where you can taste the fresh pasta, as well as amazing seafood dishes.
While sheep cheese in Puglia is heavenly, there's one cheese that is revered in Puglia (and beyond), and it's made from cow's milk. Farmers first invented burrata as a way to reclaim unused curds. Gently cut your fork through the smooth, soft cheese and a slow ooze of cheesy cream slides out. Everyone has a favorite way to serve it – in its natural state, with a drizzle of olive oil, or a quick grind of black pepper to top it off. You'll have to taste a few different varieties to see which is your favorite. Such a sacrifice.
Where to get it: Head to Il Cantuccio on Via delle Beccherie in the picturesque town of Matera to try a variety of cheeses with your meal. Or, do what I did and make your entire meal up of antipasti. It's hard to beat the trattoria's specialties of vegetables, cheese, pasta, and bread.
Complete Culinary Workshops
Put it all together, plus get a deep understanding at how the local cuisine fits so perfectly with the Puglia landscape and people, with a culinary workshop. GoVoluntouring and Messors offer culinary and shepherding programs that take participants from landscape to table and is held at the Masseria La Selva in the Puglia countryside, as well as dairies, farms, restaurants, bakeries, and wineries that maintain regional culinary traditions.
Have you ever been to Puglia? Ever tried any of these regional delicacies?