Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Day of Mozzarella, Wine and Olive Oil on the Cilento Coast

The curving roads always lead to flavors of joy in Italy

Gassing up the “Smart” during our “piccolo viaggio”

One of my favorite things to do is to get into the car and drive. It doesn’t matter where I go, as long as I’m soaking in all the sites and sounds. For me, that is the best way to see the countryside.
The other day I jumped into this little grey Smart Car and zipped around the curvy Amalfi Drive, over the mountainside, through the country roads and over to the the Cilento Coast.
The Cilento Coast is best known as the Amalfi Coast’s quiet neighbor. Not yet largely present on the tourist map, it is full of mozzarella farms and rolling hills covered in vineyards and olive trees. Cilento is like a little gem in Campania; I want to share it with the world but at the same time want to keep the secret all to myself. It is the land of the Mozzarella, where the best mozzarella in all of Italy is produced. We pass the mozzarella factories, or caseificio, driving through the rolling hills and through curving roads. Our destination is first a mozzarella factory and then a family owned Vineyard.
The Mozzarella here is made from the milk of water buffalo. Although perhaps Americans are not able to tell the difference, Italians can instantly tell you if the mozzarella cheese  you are eating is mozzarella di bufala (made from the milk of water buffalo), or fior di latte (made from cow’s milk). Regardless, this mozzarella di bufala factory shows us the long process of making the mozzarella- stiring and heating the curds, stretching the cheese and twisting the cheese to form a treccia, or braid. It is interesting to see a centuries old tradition mixed with modern techniques, creating one of the most sought after cheeses in the world.  We jump back into the Smart Car and leave the mozzarella factory with a bag of mozzarella in tow and head to the land of wine and olives.
I can see rows of grape vines in the distance, getting closer as we approach.
As we pull onto the long dirt driveway and drive under the canopy of pines I can hear dogs barking to greet us. They are in a little fenced area covered by two giant olive trees. Looking to my left are sloping acres of grapevines and up to my right are the olive groves.
As I get out of the car I squint my eyes from the sun and a smiling man with white hair and tanned skin welcomes me with two kisses. It is Mr. M and he has been expecting us.

My swimming pool of red wine
We shuffle into the old farmhouse and through a large door. The smell of wine instantly fills my nose. The room is full of large barrels and tanks of fermenting grapes and Mr. M is demonstrating the process of how the wines are made. He is filling a large barrel while red wine is being pushed through a large hose  attached to the tank. The barrel is rapidly filling with wine and I must admit that the thought crosses my mind to dive in and take a dip and a sip.
Next we head into the 25 acres of olive groves. The olives are harvested just as they begin to ripen and then pressed cold, creating the extra virgin olive oil. This region has been growing olives for thousands of years. Olive groves and oil production is in the blood of the people. They know what they are doing.

The olives

From the olive groves we meander into the farm house and over to the rustic tasting room. Bottles of Fiano, Aglianico and piedirosso are scattered about and  a plate mounting with focaccia and olive oil sits delicately in the center of the table.
The farm is also home to a group of cats, petite and patient, sitting outside the door looking in at us quizzically. I wonder what it’s like to be a cat living in this tasty jungle of olive groves and the grape vines.
Sitting at a large round table with Mr. and Mrs. M, we chat and the hours pass, until I glance at my watch (Mr. M informed us that he does not ever wear a watch. We should all try that for one full day). But it is time to head back home so we get back into the little grey Smart Car, with of course an extra bottle of wine in tow and head back over the mountains and along the curves until we get home, back to our lemon groves and salty sea air.

Valeria checking out the grapes!

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