When clients ask us where to go for an ultra-authentic cooking vacation in Italy, some place off the beaten path where they can experience authentic Italian life and flavors, one of our first answers is Molise! Molise, as we have noted elsewhere, is so little-traveled by tourist, and so unknown even by Italians from other reasons, that it is jokingly said “not to exist.” But it does exist, and it is a wonderful place to experience old time, authentic Italy.
Molise is a small region nestled between Puglia and Abruzzo on the eastern coast. Its topography includes coastline along the Adriatic Sea, but most of the country is mountainous. This is a land of shepherds and farmers, making it a region ripe for a culinary exploration.
Molise is divided into two provinces, Camppobasso and Isernia, and both have delicious culinary traditions based in the topography: mountains, hills, meadows, rivers, and seaside. You will therefore find a plethora of amazing charcuterie, cheese, pasta, vegetables, and legumes that you can taste on our cooking vacations in Molise!
The Campobasso province runs from the mountains to the Adriatic Sea, but it includes also the fertile valleys of its many rivers and streams, making it a prime growing area for olive tress, wheat, fruit orchards, and vineyards. It is here in fact that you will find the vines of the most prestigious Molisano DOC wine, called Biferno. The area is ideal also for the pasturing of sheep and goats. The most known products in the Campobasso province are the pastas, cheeses, lamb, fish, and fruit, as well as the wine.
The province of Isernia is found within the Matese, Mainarde, Meta, and Frentani mountains. Its wines, although less known than the Campobasso wines, are respectable, but the truffles, olive oil, and charcuterie are the real stars here. Isernia is peppered with ancient towns such as the eponymously named Isernia, Frosolone, and Agnone, home to the oldest bell foundry in the world.
What to Eat and Drink in Molise
This is the land of cucina povera, and the pastas here are usually made with only semolina flour and water, no egg, which is characteristic of a “richer” cuisine. Cavatelli and fusilli are two popular shapes that originated in Molise.
These you find as you head inland toward the Matese and Sannio mountain ranges, and include such popular varieties as:
- burrino: a strong cheese wrapped around butter (yes, butter)!
caciocavllo di Agnone: a local variety of the famed pear-shape cheese popular in most southern Italian regions
pecorino: sheep’s milk cheese from the mountainous ares
scamorza: a firm, mild cheese that is eaten grilled.
The meats you will want to try in Molise include:
- lamb – the meat of choice it is served in a variety of ways, including as a lamb ragù with fusilli pasta, and as abuotti and torcinelli, two lamb-based offal dishes
pampanella – one of the most known specialities of Molise, which is surprisingly not made with the more popular lamb but with pork. It is a distinctive, slow-cooked pork dish featuring sweet and hot ground red pepper, garlic, sea salt, and white wine vinegar
Each town seems to have its own special variety, and some of the most known are:
sagicciotto di Montenero di Bisaccia: a smoked-pork salami
ventricina: a salami seasoned with paprika and fennel, sometimes used in a sauce for pasta
salsicca di fegato: liver sausage
la Signora di Conca Casale: a sausage with a fabulous name, made from prime pork cuts
Fish and Seafood
Along the coast and in the charming town of Termoli you will find fish soups and stews as well as cuttlefish.
Some of Molise’s most distinctive fruits are the unique (and rare) sour “limoncelle” apples, and Acquaviva Collecroce and Montefalcone figs.
In addition to Biferno, the DOC wine produced along the shores of the Biferno river, you can also try Molise and Pentro d’Isernio DOC wines.
Finally, the perfect end to every meal: the liqueurs! The most known of these in Molise are Milk, an intriguing and mild liqueur made from milk of pasture-raised animals, alcohol, and sugar; poncio, made with citrus rinds and darkly caramelized sugar; and nocino, a walnut liqueur
As you can see, there are plenty of original and delicious things to try on a cooking vacation in Molise. Contact us to start planning your trip!
By Peg Kern
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