NORTH AND CENTRAL PUGLIA
Our first visit to Puglia for Olive Oil purposes took place at Easter, a wonderful time of the year to travel in Italy – not too hot and an opportunity to take in the wonders of the local culture and seasonal rituals.
I’m always surprised to read people comparing Puglia to Tuscany – they are not that alike in my mind, the landscape in particular skirted by the beautiful crystalline blue sea is remarkably different, so much warmer, wilder, more southern feeling: giant fennel by the roadsides, white-washed villas and of course the unmistakable trulli scattering the countryside. And everywhere you look you see olive trees. Thanks to the climate it is the perfect natural home for fruit and vegetables – one massive ‘orto’ and the produce from spring onwards really is jammed full of flavour and goodness and this is reflected throughout the cuisine.
We were based firstly in the elegant seaside town of Trani a fabulous base from which to explore the Northern stretch of Puglia. North of Bari, perhaps people flying in to the region wouldn’t think to venture up this far but they would be missing an important part of the region. Seafood is off the scale (particularly this early in the season when the water is still cool) and the charm and elegance of the region meet in the crooked alleyways and hidden piazzas.
Exploring the Barese triangle for us was a great treat – this is serious Olive Oil country as the plateau stretches away from the port of Bari. Here the Ogliarola and Coratina cultivars are very much at home and produce decisive, generous oils that perfectly accompany the diverse vegetables of the region as well as the delicious seafood. Amongst the many visits we made to family owned Olive Oil producers, we had the pleasure of meeting Marina de Carlo and fell head over heals for their oils, respect for tradition and attitude to quality. It wasn’t that we didn’t find other great oils, we really did, but when we saw the commitment of the De Carlo family who has been tending their groves and making the very best olive oil since 1600 we just felt they were different. And we are here to support their guarantee of provenance and quality.
To explore the central part of Puglia, we chose to stay at a masseria not far from Ostuni. Of course Ostuni and Alberobello are essential stops on the tourist trail but we actually enjoyed Cisternino more, it was less obvious and we felt there was a more artisanal approach to life in general.
You would be forgiven for thinking that much of Italy still has its heart and soul in the Renaissance, so much of life here looks backwards fondly. Puglia struck us as a region however with an inspiring eye on the future. Young people have obviously travelled, studied and imbibed elsewhere and now returned full of energy to make this fantastic part of the world somewhere you want to visit again and again. There is a great, seasonal-centric food scene run by dynamic, innovative young locals. It’s worth a visit for anyone passionate about the Mediterranean diet.