To Puglia, With Gratitude

Pecorino Picnic

Yes, dear readers, I have returned from my cheese odyssey — with a confession. Although I carried my laptop across an ocean, I only opened it once. And though I planned to post about Puglia and the workshops that brought a number of you with me to Italy’s “boot heel,” well, what can I say? There were meadows to explore. And picnics to prepare. And sheep to milk.

I have returned from Puglia with dusty clothes and ricotta under my fingernails. With new friends in my address book. With memories of three-hour meals. Oh, the three-hour meals! I have never eaten so well for so many days, with so much laughter.

And I have never craved sleep so much since my return. Over the last few days, I have slept the sleep of milk-drunk lambs.

Pecorino collageIn my dreams, I keep revisiting the cheeses of Puglia (Pecorino, Caciocavallo, Ricotta Forte). And hearing the voice of Tonio, our exuberant host, and Santina, a local cheesemaker, who showed us how to make cheese in the wildest way: with fig branches instead of rennet.

The thing I love most about this odyssey is that it took us from the digital realm — this blog, and the broader internet — into the field. Walking in the hoofsteps of grazing ewes, we learned why the Pecorino around Matera and Altamura tasted so complex. The meadows were full of wild herbs and grains, from chamomile and red clover to wheat and oats.

Tonio in the fieldTonio Creanza, our host, made sure that we connected the food we ate to the land around us. His field lectures and his local contacts — from cheesemakers to shepherds — helped us not only to eat well but to see more deeply. Great meals begin with agriculture, and the emphasis is really on “culture.” When a region protects its landscape and values stewards of the land, the food culture thrives.

Having Pennsylvania cheesemaker, Sue Miller, along for the ride helped us understand the importance of this connection. There’s a reason why Italy champions “agritourism” and why people, like us, flock to it. Regional specialties, billboard-free landscapes, and knowledgeable locals who are eager to share their passions — these things enliven the senses and fulfill a longing for authenticity in a way no theme park can.

Yours truly with PA cheesemaker Sue Miller (right)

Yours truly with PA cheesemaker Sue Miller (right)

To everyone who took part in supporting this adventure — from the bakers to the butchers, from the participants to the co-organizers, and to you at your desk — Grazie! This odyssey never would have happened without curiosity and generosity.

Over the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing more stories and images. I hope they inspire more dairy dreamers to travel in search of new cheeses, to seek out pasture picnics, and to visit off-the-beaten-path parts of the world where live cultures thrive.

Bread collageTo learn more about our host, visit the website of Messors.

To discover more about the region, visit Puglia’s official site.


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8 Responses to “To Puglia, With Gratitude”
  1. Char Nolan says:

    I loved your trip and followed it on IG. With your having visited the land of my grandparents, it was charming to see so many foods of my childhood.



    • tdarlington says:

      Thanks for following along, Char! It was great seeing your input on Instagram. Puglia is a stunning place with an incredible food culture. I’ve never been any place like it.

  2. These photos just made me think I need to prepare a focaccia tonight :-).
    Amazing story of what seems have been a fantastic trip in Puglia. Looking forward to read more stories.

  3. It all looks incredible. You were so right to seize the moment and live it to the full rather than pour over your lap top. That said look forward to more posts to relive the memory with you – it looks divine.

  4. Lakisha says:

    Seriously awesome trip. Understandable that you didn’t open your laptop much and looking forward to your posts on the trip. Italy 2015 for me!

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