Story and Photos By Harald Zoschke
Calabria is not only the southernmost tip of the Italian boot, it is also one of the hotbeds of European chilehead culture. So it’s no wonder that — besides plenty of “hot” dishes and products — a peperoncino museum opened doors here in the summer of 2002. It claims to be the only one of its kind in the world, but it is most likely the highest-located one.
Although there is absolutely no reason for this new museum to hide, it is not too easy to find. About 5 miles northeast of Diamante, home of the annnual Festival de Peperoncino, the picturesque village Maierá is situated on top of a mountain.
The lanes between the houses are even narrower than in Diamante, interconnected by a maze of countless stairs — you are well advised to park your car outside the village limits and take a walk.
It is hard to believe that this remote place is home to a couple of hundred people, but strolling the streets we discovered a post office, a pharmacy, a bar, two restaurants and – at the very top of the village – a church.
If you made it that far to the top, signs point out the way to the recently remodeled Duke’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), now a truly prestigious home for an art gallery and for the Peperoncino Museum.
But until you reach the halls of flame, some more stairs need to be climbed. Then you can’t miss the museum, as the stairs to the entrance are lined by chile pepper plants from all over the world in terracotta pots.
The exhibit includes silverware with chile handles and other kitchen accessories, a stylish wall clock with pepper hands, a chile doormat, pottery, ceramics and many cute little things we haven’t even discovered in New Mexico.
Chile-themed ads include the full-page Italian newspaper ad for a supermarket chain – the seahorse peppers are a real attention-grabber.
The entrance fee is just 1 Euro (about 1 US Dollar), and although the Peperoncino Museum had opened just about two months before we came visiting, it already had a lot to show.
The walls are covered with historical prints, enlarged book illustrations and diagrams, documenting the history of the capsicum species back to the PreColumbian age. And of course the distribution of the hot pods around the globe after Columbus’ discovery.
On the picture to the left, the background shows a hot sauce collection with quite a few well-known products like Dave’s Insanity und Crazy Jerry’s Brain Damage (the only sauce with a plastic brain on top of the bottle).
Of course our little report can only show a small selection of what’s on display at the Peperoncino Museum. But if you happen to travel to Calabria, this peppered place is well worth the trip.
During the summer, the museum opens late afternoon and stays open until midnight. It was already dark when we left, and Maierá was beautifully illuminated by old-fashioned street lights, inviting to further explore this lovely village.
June 1 to September 30: 5:00 pm – midnight
Otherwise Saturday/Sunday 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
and 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Groups also by appointment.
Walking up and down Maierá’s many stairs will most likely make you hungry. When leaving, it comes in handy that just outside the village a cozy little restaurant named Da Leda is on your way. For just 4 Euro (about 4 US$), you get a wonderful crusty pizza, homemade from scratch. When asking for peperoncini on the side to kick up the heat, we didn’t just get hot chiles in oil, but local fresh pods as well! And those were really hot! As at any Calabrian restaurant we went to, the service was very friendly and helpful. In off-season it is recommended to call ahead before braving the winding road up the mountain.
Da Leda Ristorante – Pizzeria – Bar, Via Ortaglie 13, Maierá, Tel. 0985-889-227
In our final part of this 8-part series, we will introduce recipes for a complete Calabrian meal, including appetizers (antipasti), main dishes and sides (primi/secondi piatti) as well as dessert (dolci.)