[ October 18, 2004 ]
| Calabria: a true
of Italy, between Basilicata and Sicily
2 million inhabitants
Surface area: 15,080 km2
The region of Calabria
is composed of 5 provinces: Catanzaro, Cosenza, Crotone,
Reggio Calabria, Vibo Valenzia
Among Italy’s many jewels, Calabria is one that
still needs some polishing, awaiting to reveal its beauty and treasures
at some later time. Compare it to a precious stone one discovers in a rock—a
stone that is rather crude but appears beautiful and rich in promise to
the eye of a connoisseur. It is a region that once attracted and captured
the hearts of the world’s greatest civilisations but appears to be
in a momentary state of slumber—an authentic and untouched corner
of the world.
Emerald forests, aqua-marine sea and sky, topaz or diamond
sands and iridescent snowy peaks—truly nature at its luxurious best!
800 km of beaches along the pure crystal waters of the Ionian and Tyrian
seas; the Mélèzes—age-old mountains with picturesque
gorges; a luxurious nature; traces of great history in abundance; lively
traditions; a gastronomy at once simple and savoury … there is something
for everyone to do, see and taste in Calabria.
A land which opened its arms to the Greek civilization, Calabria was—in
antiquity— one of Magna Grecia’s showplaces, as is witnessed
by the Bronzes of Riace (preserved at the National Museum of Reggio Calabria)
and cities such as Locri or Sibari where one can admire incredible relics
of days past. But the Greeks are not the only ones who had a hand in sculpting
this region—the Romans, the Goths-Lombards, the Byzantines, the Normans,
the Swabs, the Angevins, the Aragonese, all the way through to the Bourbons
left their architectural mark of deeply cultural and artistic value.
Calabria has always been a meeting place for the different cultures that
have been part of it. Today, it is still inhabited by the ethnic minorities
of yesteryear such as the Greeks and the Albanians, who have preserved their
languages and their traditions—traditions that nourish a rich folklore
that is deeply religious and still very much alive. It is precisely this
blend of history, traditions and landscapes that make Calabria the jewel
that it is.
Culinary delights… all fired up!
One cannot help but notice how important a role “His Majesty The Pepper”
(peperoncino in Italian; pipi vruscente, pipazzu
or pipariellu in Calabrian!) plays in various Calabrian recipes.
In fact, in 1994, the Italian Pepper Academy was established in Calabria—homeland
of the pepper—and set its objective as that of expanding the “pepper”
culture in Italy. Visit the Web site of this fascinating movement at: www.peperoncino.org!
But, over and above peperoncino, Calabrian cuisine also celebrates
a multitude of fragrances: notably those of spices and herbs (cumin, bay,
fennel, pepper, garlic…), which stem from the influence and invasions
of both the Mediterranean and the Orient, which marked this region and hub
of the peninsula. As such, many of the region’s dishes boast delightful
sweet-and-sour flavours. And let’s not forget the ancestral culture
of the bergamot orange from the region of Reggio Calabria, used notably
in making refined perfumes and in flavouring a variety of culinary treats
such as jams, jellies, teas and candies.
On the seafood side of things, fish—in sauce, grilled or fried—is
a much-loved dish in Calabria, where swordfish, tuna and sardines are included
among the fishermen’s bounty. From the hills, the undeniable king
in this corner of Italy is pork. Cold cuts such as capocollo, ndugliea
o ndugghie (sausage), soppressate (soubressade),
prosciutti salati e affumicati (salted and smoked ham) are abundant.
And, of course, there is one of Calabria’s most celebrated dishes—murseddu,
also called mursiellu or suffrittu, pork tripe cooked
with tomatoes, peperoncino, oregano and red wine.
In the Calabrian vegetable world there are many popular varieties, but the
undisputable star of the show is eggplant. For this particular vegetable,
Calabria boasts a particularly inviting soil and a climate that is ideal
for its growth. It is prepared with care and imagination in countless ways—fried,
stuffed, with oil, with vinegar, sweet-and-sour flavoured, Parmigiana style,
Reggitana style (from the region of Reggio-Calabria), and so much more.
Citrus fruits such as mandarins and oranges are often used in salads as
well as desserts, and lemons are often candied. Olives—pressed for
their renowned and sought-after oil—are also enjoyed dried, stuffed
or prepared in brine.
Cheeses are a perfect reflection of the land. On the high plateau of the
Sila, cheese is produced with richness and diversity as a result of the
still archaic fabrication methods that are used. Once can therefore enjoy
furmaggiu du quagghiu, an aged ewe cheese, and the renowned Butirro,
made from cow’s milk and boasting the consistency of butter, Musulupu,
a cheese of Greco-Albanian origin that combines cow’s milk and goat’s
milk and which is often enjoyed in celebration of Easter, Pecorino di
Crotone, a firm cheese made with cow’s and goat’s milk
and flavoured with peppercorns and, last but not least, Caciocavallo
Silano (DOP), semi-firm cow’s milk cheese, are among the most
Many of these cheeses are used in preparing various Calabrian desserts such
as chinulille, ricotta-stuffed ravioli. Of course, the desserts
of this region also include a variety of sweeter selections—cannariculi,
small Christmas cakes that are fried and dipped in honey; crucette,
oven-baked figs stuffed in a variety of ways; dried fruit, notably Grisolia
peaches; mandorlati, almond paste cookies; mostaccioli,
small animal-shaped cakes; pistilli, oven-roasted chestnuts…
the list is rather long, and proves the extent to which Calabrians enjoy
preparing delicious meals inspired by the region’s magnificent nature.
Bacchus did not forget how perfectly this region grows the Gaglioppo, a
dominant red variety that is partial to its soil’s dryness and the
region’s strong sun. This variety is at the heart of the Cirò,
one of Italy’s most ancient wines and one which represents close to
85% of the production of all appellation contrôlée
wines. Calabria is also known for its whites and rosés—the
Greco di Bianco appellation, a mild white wine made with raisined grapes
and enjoyed as an aperitif or with dessert. The Calabrian vineyard boasts
a total of 12 DOC wines (Donnici, Pollino, San Vito di Luzzi, Verbicaro,
Cirò, Melissa, Sant’Anna di Isola Capo Rizzuto, Savuto, Scavigna,
Lamezia, Bivongi and Greco di Bianco) and 13 IGT wines.
off one’s trip to Calabria… in Montréal!
With everything it has to offer, Calabria certainly is not for lack of attractions
that make for a highly sought-after tourist destination. A little tidbit
for those who are contemplating making Calabria their next vacation destination—did
you know that many of the Italians who settled in Québec starting
at the end of the XIXth century are of Calabrian origin? What better reason
to start discovering this culture in your own home and preparing for a wonderful
trip to this region!