MY CALABRIAN ADVENTURE
When we decided to give away a trip to Calabria, Italy this summer, I knew it was an experience I couldn’t pass up. Mostly because Calabria is where my family is from and I knew I couldn’t miss a chance to get back to my roots.
It has been many years since I have been back to Calabria and when I have gone it is mostly to visit family in a different region of the province. I have never had a real Calabrian food experience which is why a trip like this has always been on my bucket list.
When we arrived for our 10 day foodie experience, I instantly felt at home. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, and although I never lived in Calabria myself, I felt a sense of familiarity. The countryside is beautiful. I mean literally breathtaking. Cliffs diving into the bluest ocean, warm sea air, bright blue skies and green trees all around. It’s magical.
Our tour was very much off the beaten path—away from the more popular tourist areas and bigger towns I have visited in the past. And we truly had a farm to fork experience. Everything we ate, I mean everything, was farmed from the land and served fresh to us. The charcuterie was from local pigs, vegetables, fruits and herbs were all grown on the land and the olive oil—unbelievable.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting our vendor—Sarafino’s—estate. The olive trees were unlike any olive trees I have seen before. They were massive. Some trees were dated over 1000 years old. The trunks were so big and the trees so tall. You could literally see the history—the generations who have harvested those trees before us. Olearia San Giorgio is one of my favourite olive oils that we carry because the oils are more medium bodied and so versatile. It was a true pleasure meeting the family and seeing the estate myself.
We spent many of our days visiting a local farm, harvesting their crop and sitting al fresco at a long harvest table stuffing ourselves full of some of the best food I have ever tasted. Charcuterie, cheese, pasta, fish, vegetables, wine—in abundance every single day. But all of it simply prepared highlighting the quality of the ingredients.
The farms we visited each day reminded me of our garden we grew in the summer time as a child. We grew tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, peas, zucchini, grapes. We even had chickens in our backyard. And in the summer we dined outside on a big long table, picking things from the garden, dressing them with olive oil and salt and pepper—the freshest you could find.
We ate lunch in a small town called Cortona one day in a small unassuming restaurant. We feasted on fusilli which we made ourselves, meatballs, the best cabbage dish I have ever tried. And after lunch, the restaurant surprised us with Calabrian dancers who played accordions and taught us the traditional dances of the region. Being a dancer myself, I just loved this. We were all laughing hysterically dancing barefoot around the restaurant. And the best part as it turns out was one of the dancers was from my cousins hometown and they actually knew each other. Just another subtle way I felt right at home there.
When our sweet Italian tour guide needed some help translating, I was one of the few people on the trip who spoke Italian—and also the only one who spoke Calabrese—a dialect of the region that I grew up speaking at home.
What were some of my major food highlights? So many!
Tropea where we began our trip is a beautiful beach town known for it’s onions. I guess because they are grown in the salty ocean air, they are the sweetest onions I have ever tasted. They put onions in everything, but my favourite was a beautiful onion jam which they spread on bread or eat with cheese.
Bergamot is also unique to the region of Calabria. And we ate Bergamot marmalade which is to die for. Cortonese cheese is local to the region. We ate a version that was infused with bergamot. Delicious.
I returned back to Toronto with so many new ideas for the stores. Now the fun begins working with our chefs and getting busy in the kitchen recreating some of the Calabrian magic I experienced. It was the trip of a lifetime. I was grateful to the whole group and especially to Linda Waks, our contest winner, who enjoyed every foodie moment as much as I did.