Ciao tutti! Some of you may be asking yourself, “hey, isn’t this blog post a week late? Is Nick some kind of lazy spoilsport?” Well, forgive me, but I was recently quite far away from civilized life. How far away? Well…
Here I am in the mountains. And if you look at that very same mountain pass from this angle…
You will see that I was actually above the clouds. And you know what you can’t do above clouds? Update a blog.
But seriously, I was extraordinarily blessed to attend the Sagra di Funghi in the tiny Campanian mountain town of Cusano Mutri. “Sagra” is an Italian word meaning “festival”, and is similar to a harvest festival back home. Indeed it’s about this time that New England towns turn bright orange and decorate every corner and stoop with pumpkins. The difference is that sagre (the plural of “sagra”) are specified; Cusano Mutri was celebrating “funghi”, or mushrooms, though the neighboring town’s sagra di castagne (chestnuts) bled over and the whole thing was a riot of food and good times.
Now before I discus the sagra itself, I must devote an amount of time to the Apennines and their beauty.
We visited a deep, narrow canyon that had been carved out of the white limestone by a fast moving river. As can be seen in the first picture, the river had swelled and receded over the years, causing that beautiful natural arch in the background. The river was a light green due to the algae and the limestone silt, and ran over boulders and through old bridges. Truly a wonder of nature.
And since we gave Mother Nature her due, let’s visit Uncle Bacchus at the festival.
Cusano Mutri has a population of about 4,000 (just under 2 Holy Crosses), yet the whole town gets lit up for the sagra. Truly a quintessential Southern Italian mountain town, Cusano Mutri was built into the mountainside. Literally.
Notice how the gigantic rock structure actually looms over the main road. And, of course, one does not waste a perfectly good rock structure. Another quintessential Southernism is the year round Nativity set, or presepe.
The baby Christ is not on display at the moment, but give it a few months. Indeed, the Nativity set was invented in Italy by Saint Francis of Assisi, and Southern Italy is famous the world over for going all out come Christmas. And, evidently, early October as well.
But what made the town special was the food. Oh God, the food.
Here is a display of my childhood, and what I wish my childhood was like. Sfogliatelle (the grandfather of the lobster-claw pastry, but with custard instead of whipped cream) and babas (rum cake cupcakes) a plenty, and with some crazy inventions ranging from pistachio sfogliatelle, limoncello sfogliatelle, and even baba sfogliatelle (that is to say, a baba INSIDE a sfogliatella). I decided not to go too crazy and instead had a Baccio Chocolate sfogliatelle.
And speaking of chocolate, I saw how this flour and water,
Becomes this pizza dough,
Which becomes these guys! Pizze fritte with Nutella! The Italian answer to American funnel cakes.
But one does not live on pastry alone. Behold, arrosticini in the making!
These little guys are skewers of goat meat cooked over a long, thin, deep charcoal brazier (and I say brazier, as there is no grill grate, and therefore it is not a grill) and they are absolutely delicious. I have a big spot in my heart for grilled meat from the pastoral animals.
An interesting note: if you zoom in on the above picture, you can read the orange sign in the background that says “8 pieces for 5 euro”. This eventually changed to 10 pieces, as the guys down the street set up shop the day before and were priced the same. Not to be outdone, these guys bumped up the goat value.
And how can one go down South to Campania and not have pizza? And how can one go to a mushroom festival and not eat mushrooms. Ergo…
Porcini pizza that was absolutely fantastic! The pizza down South is much better than the pizza in Rome; culinary speaking, the crust tends to be breadier and more flexible in the South, whereas Roman pizza is too thin and cracks upon folding. What is pizza if it can not be folded?
Also, I visited a museum (it is, after all, STUDY abroad). Cusano Mutri has a famous paleontologist museum. Look at these dead fish!
Nicholas Guarracino '18