The area of the Park that is inhabited is characterized by the presence of ancient communities whose main aim is to preserve and pass on their culture and customs, made of dances and songs, languages and stories. Their culture also includes activities that have been molding the territory for centuries, such as sowing, grazing, breeding; they also work vegetables, milk, pork, all in order to produce foods that are typical of their tradition. It’s actually exactly this type of agri-food production that makes the area so peculiar, and therefore helps enhance tourists’ experience, making them fully bask into that harmony between man and nature that is the very heart of Pollino National Park. The Park makes it therefore its business to support and endorse this production, by carrying out projects that are aimed to improve quality, acting on helpful ideas, even reorganizing the whole supply & demand chain and connecting producers with tour operators. However, what makes this production so unique and extraordinary is, truth be told, the original combination of goodwill nature and local traditions. Nowadays, what consumers ask of the most is traceability, and that is exactly what producers that live and work in the Pollino National Park area can provide, without the slightest doubt. High quality, full transparency and reliability. These are the three cornerstones these producers base their work on.
Thanks to the improvement projects the Park has carried out, as of today, we find four main supply chains in the area:
• Fruits and vegetables;
• Cured meats;
• Bakery products.
Other local products are: Senise’s pepper, Rotonda’s red aubergine, Cerchiara’s bread, mischiglio, soppressata, honey, jams, liqueurs made out of fruits such as Saracena’s Muscat.
Goats and sheep that were bred in the wild or semi-wild have always fed on scented grass that grows spontaneously, and smelly fodder, and that is how production is kicked off. Starting from the most natural act that is animals eating, delicious milk and its precious by-products are made: they are worked following traditional techniques that combine art and practical skills that have been passed on from one generation to another; reliable structures and equipments serve to guarantee high quality standards. Amongst the fresh and aged cheeses that are produced in the area, a honorable mention goes to: hard pecorino, paddaccio, and baked ricotta.
Hard pecorino is obtained by working ovicaprine milk, mixed with whole and raw sheep milk: usually the latter one can go from 50 to 90% of the mix, but it can get even to 100% when it comes to hard sheep cheese.
Paddaccio is a type of cheese that is obtained by mixing together and working both sheep and goat milk; the production is seasonal and entirely manual, the cheese is not aged nor salted. Paddaccio is made in Rotonda, Viggianello and Terranova di Pollino; it has a slightly vinegary taste and a soft and creamy consistency.
Baked ricotta is produced in some small dairies in Calabria. It’s peculiar because it’s usually baked in a ceramic or terracotta container after having been subjected to dry salting. Aging may take a few weeks or six months in a cool environment. The taste is intense and persistent.
Fruits and vegetables
The absolute uniqueness of Pollino's fruits and vegetables provides the landscape with an original and extraordinary set of different shapes and colors. Amongst these, stand out the white bean, the red aubergine and Senise’s pepper. Types of white beans like ‘tondino’ or Rotonda’s ‘poverello bianco’, which are Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) products, are sowed mainly in the Mercure Valley in the first half of June, and harvested manually from September to October; they do not adapt to altitudes below 600 meters, but prefer places whose highest temperatures in summer don’t pass 30 degrees, which helps to enhance the sugary element.
Rotonda’s red aubergine, which is protected by Slow Food since 2002, is also a PDO product; its red and round shape makes it perfect as appetizer or side for meat dishes, combined with light red wines. It is preserved in oil and vinegar. Normally loved due to its peculiar spicy and exotic flavor, it has an intense and fruity aroma, and a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Senise’s pepper has been PGI since 1996. It is produced in Senise and in twelve other towns in the Sinni Valley. It stands out due to its thin pulp and scarce liquids, which makes it easier for it to dry in the sun, after having been “‘nsertati” in the classic necklaces. This particular pepper can be eaten fresh or dry once it’s been fried in plenty of olive oil.
“Nothing of the pig goes wasted.” This Italian saying testifies the great role pigs play in the local economy. Depending on where it’s made, it takes different names, but the main one is “soppressata”, which is due to the fact that it’s pressed, and it comes precisely from the Pollino area.
It’s usually bright red and has a compact consistency, which is affected by different factors, depending on where it’s produced: salt, pepper and sweet or spicy red pepper in Calabria; salt, black pepper, and white pepper in Basilicata. The sausage is produced with meat of the highest quality, dough that is mixed with wild fennel seeds and Senise’s pepper powder; all stuffed into pork bowel. The sausage, which may be eaten either fresh or seasoned, has a slightly spicy and delightfully fragrant taste.
The small bakeries around the Park still offer products that have an unmistakably genuine taste and smell. The most famous bakery product of the supply chain is Cerchiara’s bread, which remains fragrant and tasty even after ten days. This extraordinary quality is due to a few unique factors: yeast, which is 60% wheat flour, 40% bran; precise timing for leavening; mountain water; it’s cooked in a wooden oven. Locals usually enjoy a delicious tarallo at the end of a meal, often accompanied by a nice glass of wine. The fresa or fresella, which is a flat or donut-shaped, round or rectangular type of bread, is usually crispy, like some sort of biscuit. It can be dressed with oil and tomatoes that have been cut into small pieces.
Amongst the many biscuits and local sweets, a honorable mention goes to the "piccidat", which is an Easter bread that is typical of the whole area. Fresh and dried pasta is produced in many shapes and obtained by following traditional recipes, using semolina that comes from milling hard wheat that has been cultivated following the rules of the Park. One of the most traditional pastries is the mischiglio, which is made by using a particular type of flour that is the product of a mix that includes chickpeas, barley, hard wheat semolina, broad beans and oat; the two classic shapes are the ones called rascatieddi and tapparelle, which are delicious with cacioricotta and dried peppers in flakes.
Other local specialties
Amongst other specialties of the area, there are products of absolute excellence, including oil, honey, jams and liqueurs that can be enjoyed in the restaurants and farms around Pollino National Park. The great taste of Pollino’s oil comes from experience and tradition: locals are used to selecting and processing the precise olives that guarantee the best flavor and genuineness.
Honey, a simple and extraordinary food that may be produced in many different varieties, finds its greatest excellence in the millefiori one. Jams are an exclusive artisanal production, obtained from fresh fruits such as wild strawberries, wild blackberries and elderberries.
All these taste amazingly alongside spicy and aged cheeses. The liqueurs produced in the area maintain the intense aromas of the fruits used to make them: strawberry, fennel, bay leaf, blackberry, elderberry, and licorice. Combined with Pollino’s typical sweets and biscuits, they’re delightful. Saracena’s Muscat, which is protected by Slow Food since 2002, is a sweet nectar obtained from various types of grapes: Muscat, Guarnaccia, malmsey, and Odoacra, which is the most delightfully scented one. This particular liqueur is elegant and fine, discreetly persistent, well balanced with a pleasant bitter note. It can be served fresh or at room temperature in order to enhance its refined aroma. It combines well with traditional Pollino sweets and non-blue cheeses.