2005 Peperoncino Festival in Calabria, Part 1 of 2

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Story and Photos by Harald Zoschke


Caf√© Nin√≠ has been a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, and they were also well-prepared for the festival. Their Tartufo Afrodisia – gelato dolcemente piccante is a classsic by now, rich milk ice cream with chile jelly and chunks of hot pods. But this year, Nini added a new “hot” ice cream creation, named Palla di Eros. The “love arrow” is a big scoop of chocolate ice ceam kicked up with a serious portion of hot chile.

Inflatable chile pepper on Diamante's Municipal Building

Calabria — that’s the southern tip of the Italian boot, and also in chile terms, that’s one of Europe’s hottest spots. As every year since 1992, chileheads gather here early September at the Peperoncino Festival in Diamante. Peperoncini is Italian for hot chiles.

Our comprehensive Calabria coverage reports in detail about Calabria, its chile peppers and the little town that hosts the fiery festival. Yet we discovered new “hot” stuff this year, so we thought you’d appreciate a 2005 Update. Enjoy!

 

Inflatable chile pepper on Diamante’s Municipal Building.

 

Hugging the giant pepperoncino

Since the giant peperoncino on display in previous years started to disintegrate, a new one was built, and of course the author had to greet it with a big hug.

A small town changing

As in previous years, Renate and I arrived early to check out what’s new before the festival crowds flood the town.

Remodeled Lungomare in Diamante

Diamante is one of those small towns in Southern Italy that realized it had to get creative and proactive to assure a healthy future. Remodeling the Lungomare, the promenade on Diamante’s fancy seaside, seems to be money well spent. With fancy pavement and newly planted palm trees, the Lungomare’s makeover adds to the town’s flair, in harmony¬† with the historical center. As opposed to those overdeveloped vacation spots further up north, Diamante is still looking refreshingly “non-touristy”.

Festival coming closer…

Festval Banner

 

Cornetti al peperoncino

Even without the huge banner announcing the Peperoncino Festival, many offers in town were a dead giveaway that the big pepper party was close. A pasticceria (pastry shop) on the Lungomare had the cornetti above for sale, a special version of the popular Italian pastry, kicked up with a vanilla filling mixed with hot red pepper bits, and a real, fiery peperoncino on top. My kind of breakfast ūüėČ

 Panificio (Bakery) in Diamante

Corn bread with Chiles and Olives - Yum!

The local panificio (bakery) was also busy delivering spicy stuff. The cornbread above had nice chunks of olives and hot chiles, a nice variation of the corn bread as we know it from visiting New Mexico. Baked with olive oil, it is more compact than the breads of the Southwest, but very tasty. Next time we bake corn bread at home, we’ll add olives and chiles, too.

The

Nini's fancy Pepper Ice Cream

And like in 2004, Nini wowed visitors with a monster chile ice cream creation in his see-through freezer!

From left: Harald, Niní and Renate

The one from last year is pictured in in our German 2006 Chile Pepper Calender. We gave a copy to cafe owner Antonio Belcastro a.k.a. Nini (center, between Harald & Renate), and he was thrilled enough to throw a round of coffee and ice cream. Of course we picked  Palla di Eros, and were thrilled by the sensation of fire and ice.

Every town should have at least one cafe like Nini’s, including such a nice and creative owner.

 

Another indicator that we were back to Pepperland was this
stylish ceiling lamp that we discovered at a Diamante pizzeria.


Finally…. The Festival

Finally, the Wednesday night ribbon cutting ceremony – the 2005 Peperoncino Festival was officially opened. Each night, thousands of chile-loving visitors flowed along the Lungomare, and also through the streets of Diamante. Meanwhile, the seaside promenade is running out of vendor and exhibitor space, so more hot & spicy booths could be found throughout Diamante, turning the whole town into one giant party.

Festival Crowd

Chiles & Beans – Two ancient Friends taking Center Stage

Chiles & Beans

Every year, the Peperoncino Festival in Diamante has a different culinary theme. This time, it was the friendship of chile peppers and beans (fagioli in Italian), which has been lasting for more than 10,000 years by now. Both belong to the oldest food ingredient known to man. Chile peppers have been collected more than 9000 years ago, and cultivation started very early as well. The same is true for beans, and after discovery by Columbus, both plants spread all over the world by trade ships. Although considered a typical Mexican or Southwestern specialty, traditional dishes combining chiles and beans can be found around the world.

Every Day a different Chiles & Beans Dish

The festival honored this by cooking and offering international chile & bean dishes from Tuscany, the Basilicata, Mexico, Peru and other places – every day different specialties. By all means – quite some beans!

Pasta e Fagioli - Pasta und Bohnen. Und Chilis, versteht sich

“Pasta e Fagioli”: A popular Italian way of using beans is their combination with pasta, and the local Ristorante Bersagio served a delish one-pot dish with pasta, chile and beans in tomato sauce at their booth.

One of the initiators of the “Chiles & Beans” theme is Massimo Biagi (below to the right, next to Harald), a University of Pisa professor and master chile breeder. Once more he managed to have pods of more than 150 different chile varieties from around the globe perfectly mature and colorful all at the same time and right in time for the festival, offering them for sale to the public.¬† This year, he also had 80 different international bean varieties on display!

Harald Zoschke (links) and Massimo Biagi

Bean Presenation (80 Varieties)

Of course I asked Massimo how in the world he came up with the idea of showcasing beans. “In June”, he said, “the University had to provide a public presentation in Pisa. At this time of the year, not even in our mild climate we have mature peppers. On the other hand, dried beans are available at any time of the year, and since beans are ancient food just like peppers, even traditionally used together, we started to collect and demonstrate their enormous variety of pepper’s old pals.”

In the 16th century, long before becoming a widespread ingredient, beans were considered royal food, and noblemen exchanged them as gifts at special occasions. Massimo showed off beans from around the world, but Italy itself has plenty of different varieties to offer, including some with trademarked area protection by the European Union (not only selected wines are getting IGP (Indicazione geografica protetta)¬† – some other food items like peppers, cheese or beans as well. One example are Fagioli di Sarconi (beans of Sarconi) — they’re grown in the sandy soil of the upper Val D’Agri in the Basilicata, whose climate is mild and cool. The beans of Sarconi are the main ingredient of soups or homemade pasta as well as various bean dishes. These beans that are particularly tasty and fast to cook were for sale in 1-pound bags at the festival by Sarconi producers.

Interestingly, the same area in the Basilicata is also home to a special kind of mild peppers that enjoy IGP status as well. These peppers, named Peperoni di Senise, will be the subject of a separate Tasty Travel article soon.

Visiting the Magnifici del Mezzogiorno Booth

Matching the theme, fiery-foods manufacturer¬† Magnifici del Mezzogiorno introduced a new product, named “Confettura Piccante di Fagioli“, a sweet and spicy bean spread. Framed by Harald and Renate on the picture above, that’s Giuseppe, sales manager at Magnifici del Mezzogiorno.

Confettura Piccante di Fagioli

Every year, the festival hosts podium scientific discussions and presentations on the theme’s subject. This time, Professor Bruno Amantea of the Universit√† Magna Grecia di Catanzaro and collegues discussed history, tradition and health benefits of beans. Afterwards there was a sampling of bean specialties.

Another podium of experts discussed whether Calabria should also seek area protction for their peppers. Probably not a bad idea, considering the popularity of this Italian region’s hot pods.


Taking a break at Cafe Nini, connecting with old and new pepper pals. From the right, that’s Mats from Sweden, Ricardo from Rome, and Marco from Recco in Liguria (Northern Italy). And of course ye olde German pepperheads. Before driving down to Calabria, we stopped by Marco’s place. He and his wife Valeria cooked a wonderful dinner for us, and Marco showed us his remarkable pepper garden. It’s so much fun how chile peppers connect people from different countries that otherwise would probably never meet.

Assorted Pepperheads


New “Hot” Products

Hard to believe, but every year, we still discover new products that are related to the hot pods — food and non-food.

Stylish Chile Chandelier

What do you give to the chilehead who got everything? How about some fancy lighting. This chile chandelier was for sale at the festival, tasteful¬† illumination for every self-respecting chile lover’s home.

To show off the luxurious lamp, the vendor set up a makeshift living room in his booth. Renate made herself comfortable.

“No way we gonna buy that lamp,” she insisted, though. Ooops. Too bad. I had envisioned it illuminating our library, which also holds my private little “chile pepper museum.”

Capsicum Incense

I comforted myself by purchasing a box of chile-shaped incense (“absolute novelty”) for my collection. Don’t smell any different from other incense, but they look really hot.

Renate

A new chile item was also availably by the Italian chile professor (see above). Right in time for the festval, he got his little book from the printer, titled¬† “Coltivare Peperoncino” (cultivating chile).

On about 60 pages with many illustrations, Massimo gives helpful instructions how to grow your own. Peppers, that is.

The book’s ISBN is 88-88948-21-X, and with 6 Euro (about $7.00), it shouldn’t be hard on hobby farmers’ budgets. Equipped with an Italian dictionary, it is helpful literature to learn or brush up Italian language.

And with getting about 150 different chile varieties to produce ripe pods for the festival every year, Massimo proves that he’s an expert on the subject.

Massimo Biagis Chile Book

Pecorino with Peperoncino

The Pecorinos to the right got a nice peperoncino rub.

Cheeses! Chiles everywhere! Calabria wouldn’t be Europe’s headquarter of heat if not even cheeses would be chile-infused. Take this Pecorino for example, kicked up with plenty of pepper pieces. This tasty cheese made from sheep’s milk is almost adddictive, and we took home a whole loaf.

Even down here, many vendors are equipped to vaccum-seal cheese and smoked meats for you, a great way to preserve it while you’re traveling. We loaded up our hotel room’s mini bar refrigerator and brought everything home perfectly fresh. (If you’re traveling from abroad, that’s a different story of course – food import restrictions may apply, especially when entering the U.S.)

Chile-dusted Pecorino

That’s All, Folks!

Just kiddin’! There’s more to come in Part 2 – keep reading!

 

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