Barocco & Tonnare – South East Sicily
As the heat swells from the south, blurring the view of the Med with the Sahara sand, we realise we are at more than 700m above sea level, crossing the Monti Iblei on our way to visit Frantoi Cutrera on a very hot summer’s day. The altitude is something the local olive cultivar, Tonda Iblea really seems to appreciate – it’s cold and often misty in the winter, while the summer heat swells the fruit and gives it a stupendous lusciousness and importantly, there is typically a big day to night temperature range and this preserves the aromas in the fruit. All of this culminates in Primo, one of our benchmark oils from the Cutrera family.
Being at the heart of Sicilian olive oil production allows us to get an understanding of how geography has so profoundly shaped this, the biggest island in the Mediterranean. The highlands in the south east have huge crevices, where some of the jewels of baroque architecture have emerged – places like Ragusa and Modica, made famous by the recently deceased Sicilian author Camilleri’s most recognisable character, Montalbano. They emerge, unexpectedly, through the rock almost like a mirage, in all their grandeur, confounding the visitor, not expecting such wealth, after the harsh land surrounding it.
The coast is a far more gentile affair, with incredible cities, such as Siracusa and its magnificent island of Ortigia; Noto, another jewels of Baroque architecture, and going south, the charming old tonnare fishing towns, such as Marzamemi, from where they used to fish tuna, and then canned, jarred or air dried it, to be able to trade it across the distances. Now, they are alive with delicious restaurants, children chasing each other happily, music and beyond that, the intense and inviting sea.
As the productive landscape changes across Sicily, with the growing tourist economy and agriculture gaining sophistication, the juxtaposition of the old hard sea-life, as well as the harsh interior landscape with the magnificence and richness of the cities makes for a perennial contrast, and grows our admiration of this land. In the words of Camilleri: “Sicily has suffered 13 foreign dominations from which she has taken both the best and the worst. The sequence of different cultures has made Sicily a fascinating place, quite unlike any other.”
Places not to miss: Ortigia, Ragusa, Noto, Marzamemi, the beaches in the reserve of Vendicari
Places to eat: Ci Vulia, Avola; Liccamuciula, Marzamemi; La Loggia near Frantoi Cutrera; Il Veliero, Ortigia.
If you want to visit Frantoi Cutrera to see how the best olive oil in Sicily is made, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to facilitate it.