The mountains around our agriturismo, which had been covered in clouds the afternoon before, revealed themselves on a cloudless morning. After exercises in the beautiful garden (the local kitten looked very perplexed by our activity), we backtracked to Assergi and then took off on the road to Castel del Monte. Access to Campo Imperatore itself is not possible because of snow, but the narrow road winds through the bare plains between cliffs still draped in snow. In some places, the landscape reminded me of the highlands in Scotland, completely devoid of trees with the occasional small lake.
In fact, we passed through several snowbanks on the way. Finally, at a small intersection, we came upon Macelleria Giuliani, a butchery/bistro run by two ladies. They had just opened and our original idea of a sandwich soon transformed into a full-blown lunch with wine and arrosticini – lamb skewers from local sheep grilled over charcoal, which one of them promptly fired up with a blowtorch.
We were surrounded by hills, there is not a cloud in the sky, the air was crisp and clean and it felt like paradise.
The red box wine was horrible, so we succumbed to a bottle of white – a wise choice given that the barbecuing of the lamb took an hour to actually begin. In between times, we basked in the sun and enjoyed a plate of local cheese and salami, chatting a bit with the other visitors. There were moments when I wasn’t sure if it was real.
Finally, the skewers were brought out and we were given instructions on the DIY process of roasting them over the coals in a narrow metal trough. A shake of salt, turn them over, 5 minutes and into my mouth they went. I wonder what it’s like in high season when there are crowds of visitors and all four grilling troughs are filled end-to-end with skewers?!
I am not a big fan of lamb, but these were delicious! It would be easy to eat a dozen of those little skewers, but we stuck to three each… after all, our next resting place for the night was a working farm producing its own cheese, meat and wool – which probably means that arrosticini would be on the menu.
The drive down from Campo Imperatore was not easy, rather resembling the hike down the mountain the day before. Back and forth, one hairpin turn after another, from 1800 m to 250 m. But it wasn’t over yet! Scanno, a clifftop village near our destination, took us back up through a narrow gorge to 1600 m!! My vertigo is truly getting a workout these days, and most of the time I keep my eyes glued to the road just ahead, and don’t look into the precipice barely a few feet to my side.
The farm, nestled in Valle Scanese among green hills and snow-capped mountains, is a family affair and we were looking forward to dinner. After all, if they had the local priest in for lunch, the food must be good!
After working most of the afternoon (on this here blog), we were presented with a dinner selection. They didn’t really have a menu, but told us what was available. We first had a platter of cheeses and salamis, all made at the farm and ranging from super fresh sheep ricotta to a very aged pecorino and all sorts in between, including a ripened sheep cheese that looked very strange but tasted just like Roquefort. What they presented as a portion for one person (as requested) was enough to feed at least 4. Little did we know what was coming. Under the innocent name of “raviolono” (the i’s and o’s make a lot of difference here) was a MASSIVE half-moon shaped noodle filled with ricotta and smothered in tomato sauce. Admittedly, all the components were absolutely delicious, especially the tomato sauce. Unfortunately, unfamiliar with the i’s and o’s, we ordered two of these things.
I won, but my fellow traveler gave up the battle halfway through, primarily due to the fact that we had (rashly) ordered a second (third?) course – which turned out to be a terribly overcooked T-bone steak and a large dish of… melted cheese. The potatoes we had ordered had apparently been charred (more than the steak) and were therefore not brought to the table, with apologies. Thank goodness. I actually cut off a large, very dry and very tough part of the steak and gave it to the dogs when taking a short walk after the meal.
Sadly, this did not prevent them from barking and howling through the entire night. Combined with the overloaded tummy, this did not make for a restful sleep. Not even counting sheep (of which I have seen… well, none…) helped. In the morning, I barely touched breakfast (consisting of all kinds of shockingly dense breads and MORE cheese and salami) and vowed to fast for at least a day. Or at least until we reached Campania, the motherland of mozzarella.