Calabria, Part 4: The Peperoncino Festival

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Story and Photos by Harald Zoschke

“10 Anni tutti piccanti” – Ten spicy-hot Years

Festival Poster

This poster announces great news for all chile lovers – the annual Peperoncino Festival in Diamante, Calabria (southern Italy) is close.

In 1992 it had been 500 years that Columbus did not only discover a new continent but also the hot pods we all love, and which he mistook for pepper. Hence the names chile pepper and peperoncino.

That year of 1992 was reason enough for Calabria, Italy’s most important chile-growing region, to start a Peperoncino Festival in early September, very much like the wine festivals in winemaking regions, around harvest time. The very first event was already a great success, and the festival became an ongoing event, recurring for the tenth time this year. Dieci anni tutti piccante – ten spicy-hot years. And it is still growing: While the show program had 12 pages in 2000, it had 84 pages (including advertising) this year.

For chile fans from all over Italy, Diamante, a small fishermen’s village, became a sort of Mecca. Chileheads travel here to enjoy a unique mixture of a chile vendor market, music, movies, satire, art, folklore and samplings from local restaurants.

The festival runs for four days, and most attractions don’t start before 8:00pm each night. (That’s why most of the photos were shot in the dark). The action goes on until well after midnight. All events and attractions are free of charge, by the way.

The festival starts with a parade on September 4, at the tiny neighbor village of Cirella. To set the festive mood, there’s a side show with specialties, mostly beverages (aperitivos). At one aperitivo stand, a chile guy twists my arm for a glass of La Bomba. He wouldn’t tell me about the ingredients, but I figured it was sort of a sangria, with wine, melon and a hefty serving of hot peperoncini. Feeling alive again!

A Night at the Festival

One of about 120 Booths along the Lungomare

The main festival in Diamante starts the next night.

About 120 vendors have stands along the Lungomare (seaside promenade), offering anything related to peperoncini (see also unusual “hot” peperoncino products).

Despite the late hours, this is a family event, and kids stay up late, too.

Best of all, there’s great food to sample everywhere, and of course you can buy a lot of cool, uhm, hot peperoncino products. Many local restaurants have set up booths and serve trial portions of their specialties. Often a glass of wine is included, sometimes even at no charge. The mood couldn’t be better than at this festival.

Right: Grilling Salsiccia, a lean pork sausage spiced with fennel seed and in this region also with peperoncini. Some places put the grilled sausage into a crispy ciabatta bun, accompanied by roasted peppers – the Calabrian version of the good old hot dog.

Grilling Salsiccia

Granita - a refreshimg water ice, also with chile

Italians love ice cream, so it’s no wonder that some kicked-up versions of the cold classic were offered at the festival.

Granita, for example (left) – a refreshing, slushy water ice, either with lime or with peperoncini. And a smooth vanilla-peperoncino ice cream, topped with chopped chiles for an interesting fire & ice experience.

Peperoncino Ice Cream

 

 

The peperoncino product
choices were almost endless!

Peperoncino Specialties - Choices, Choices!

Chili Choc Liquor from Castel dell Elce

Left: Castel dell Elce presents a Calabrian peperoncino chocolate liquor, named “Crema di cacao al peperoncino.” We were very pleased that it was available for sampling ūüôā

Right: The friendly ladies at Ricca had pungent peperoncino pasta products to offer. Even their sign was made of small cherry peppers.

Peperoncino Pasta Girls

Chile Art

Right under the visitors’ feet, a gifted artist created this chile-framed painting of the omnipresent Padre Pio (1887-1968). The mysterious monk became famous as the priest of the stigmata. Allegedly he bore the wounds of Jesus on his hands, feet and side for fifty years. It is said that several days before he died, all evidence of the wounds disappeared. According to Catholic sources, amazing wonders have been granted to Padre Pio, including the gift of prophecy and the ability to effect miraculous cures. Also, the Padre means business worldwide, as can be seen at discountcatholicstore.com or catholicshopper.com

The absolute highlight for any chilehead was the large booth of Massimo Biagi from Pisa, proof that the city has more to offer than the Leaning Tower. Being a hardcore chilehead himself, Massimo presented pods of more than 130 different chile varieties. They were all for sale, but were also great conversation pieces for the chile community always gathered around the display. It is an amazing feat to have that many varieties mature in time and all at the same time. Rightfully, Massimo’s colorful booth was voted Best of the Festival.

Massimo Biagi's Chile Booth

Chili-Freaks: Mats und Patricia Petterrson, Renate Zoschke, Massimo Biagi

Top: Our Swedish chilehead friends Mats and Patricia Pettersson
(left), Renate Zoschke and master chile grower Massimo Biagi (right)

Left: The fresh pods from around the globe stirred up enormous interest.

Something pepper related was going on everywhere in Diamante. In a dark alley, hot & spicy themed movies were shown on large projection screens every night.

Musical and folkloristic performances gave a glimpse of the rich cultural tradition of Calabria.

Right: A peperoncino podium with leading Italian medical experts and scientists discussing healing and health aspects of the pungent pods and addressing questions from the audience.

Scientific-medical Pepperoncino Podium

Top: Renate (right) found these cheerful “chili girls.”

Right: Never too young for the fiery-foods biz – smart kids got their share by selling pebbles with peperoncino paintings.

Chile Kids

Wherever you go you run into this special breed of people – chileheads. Despite the language barrier, lively discussions start around the hot pods. There’s no secret handshake, but pockets full of pods, some crazy chile t-shirt, or a Peppers of the World book worn-out by heavy studying are dead giveaways of those fiery fans. Little gifts are swapped spontaneously. At the festival we also met our Swedish friend Mats and his Brazilian wife Patricia – both are extreme chileheads, cultivating countless chile varieties on their balcony in Stockholm. Pepper love is international – it’s a Pepperworld.

Unusual “hot” Products at the Peperoncino Festival

  • Crema di Cacao al Peperoncino – Spicy chile-chocolate liquor with 17% alcohol.

  • Grappa al Peperoncino di Calabria – The famous Italian grape brandy in a kicked-up version with chiles floating in the bottle.

  • U Viagru Calabrisa – An oil-based sort of salsa with hot peperoncini (C. frutescens), eggplant, artichokes und wild mushrooms. May sound strange, but this is a great spread on¬† bruschetta (toasted Italian bread).

  • Piccantella – another peperoncino spread, with a packaging design reminiscent of a popular hazelnut chocolate spread.

  • Olio Santo (“holy oil”) – Bright red chile-infused olive oil in decorative bottles.

  • A multitude of Italian cheese and meat specialties, but in kicked-up versions with peperoncino.

  • Alici al peperoncino – a Calabrian specialty – freshly hatched sardines, densely packed¬† with peperoncini and some salt.

  • Pasta Piccante – Various pasta products spiced up with peperoncinco, some of them actually quite spicy.

  • Baci di Casanova – Excellent dark chocolates with a creamy-smooth chile-spiced center.

Hot marzipan loaves

   Hot marzipan loaves

  Kicked-up Grappa

   Kicked-up Grappa

  • Eropic (Liquore al Peperoncino) – an artificially colored bright red chile liquor.

  • Panetti di mandorla al peperoncino – marzipan loaves.

  Chile cheeses & meats

     Chile cheeses & meats

¬†¬†¬†¬†“Piccantella” – A spicy spread

Casanova's Kisses: Chile Chocolates

¬†Casanova’s Kisses: Chile Chocolates

When calling it a night around 11:30 pm, there are still more cars entering the parking lot than leaving. Temperatures are still mild at night here in September – what a great time for a festival. We’d love to stay, but our stomachs are full, our heads are spinning and our feet hurt. We’ll be back tomorrow night. Because we don’t want to miss the …

National Italian Chile-Eating Contest

The Campionato italiano mangiatori di peperoncino is one of the highlights at the Peperoncino Festival. That’s the National Italian Chile-Eating Contest. Tomorrow night is the grand finale, and in our next report, we’re going to share this¬† unique, highly entertaining event with you.

 

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  Story and Photos by Harald Zoschke

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