Peperoncino Festival 2007

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Story and Photos by Harald Zoschke

“What, it’s already

Peperoncino Festival again?”

Domenico, owner of the Diamante hot shop “Greenhouse” had beefed up his shop and himself – a sure fire sign that another year went by and the annual Pepreroncino Festival was close. “Quindici anni tutti piccanti” – fifteen totally hot & spicy years was this year’s motto, as the pepper fest was already in its 15th year. And it was bigger than ever. 

By the way, without his pepper “hair”, Domenico would  make a perfect double for rock legend Peter Gabriel.

Domenico of

Diamante Entry Sign

There are not too many other hot places with such a
sign! Show that to the mayor of Albuquerque, Dave 😉

Days before the festival, a brand new giant pepper pod erected on main street announced the big fifteenth.

The traffic sign at the bottom gives an idea of the pepper’s size. Too bad it wouldn’t fit into our car – this baby sure would look sharp in our backyard.

Meanwhile, city officials recognized Diamante’s tourist value as a focal point for capsicum heatseekers: the entrance sign says: City of murals (wall pictures) – and the peperoncino.” Peperoncino of course is Italian for hot peppers, as visualized on the sign by a hot pod that can’t be ignored.

Giant Pepper

A little Excursion before the Festival

Once more we arrived a few days early, as we also had various business appointments in Calabria to take care of. For example, we had a meeting with Dolci Pensieri di Calabria, chocolate manufacturing partners of our company, Suncoast Peppers. The factory is located in Rende, about one hour driving southeast from Diamante. Several ideas for  Pepperworld products that we discussed via phone and email needed to get finalized with real life samples. Creating and tasting samples of  chocolate propducts – hey, someone’s gotta do the dirty job. One of the projects included figs, chiles, and chocolate of course.

Cosenza Figs on Tree

There’s a special kind of figs growing in Calabria – “Fichi di Cosenza” – light colored inside, juicy and smaller than most other varieties we have seen and tasted so far. The mature fruit turn yellow like honey melons, and they’re as sweet and flavorful as such.

Ripened Cosenza Figs

Sun and sea breezes allow for air-drying figs in this area, a traditional method for preserving this fruit. But there’s another procedure as well, and that’s baking the fresh figs in the oven at 360 F (180 °C). In the oven, the fruit is going through an interesting “metamorphosis” – the sugar starts to caramelize, the fruits get a nice chewy consisteny and a great aroma.

For many years, Doli Pensieri have been producing those oven-baked figs, “natural” and covered in chocolate. Now our idea was to fill the figs with habanero-spiced dark chocolate cream before dipping them in chocolate; they’re making such a habanero choc cream for Pepperworld as a spread anyways.

From fresh Figs to finished Delicacy

“Metamorphosis” from fresh fruit to baked one
to the finished sweet treat from Southern Italy

Ovenload of freshly baked Figs

Dolci Pensieri di Calabria’s Antonio Rao with
an oven load of freshly baked Cosenza figs. 

After a few hours of interesting experiments, we finalized the prototype. In addition to the habanero-spiced dark chocolate, we decided to add a toasted almond to the filling for some extra crunch. The whole thing dipped in dark chocolate… heavenly. During the colder months, this sweet treat will be available online at our shop, but only within Europe.

News with Niní

Back in Diamante, we went to Café Niní, the gathering point on the Lungomare (seaside promenade). Cafe owner Nini Belcastro is known as the “Beethoven of the ice cream makers” — while the famous composer wrote many of his masterpieces without the ability to hear them, Nini can’t taste most of his ice cream creations because of his lactose intolerance! Yet the Calabria-born maestro comes up with cool new creations every year.

His ice cream is so famous here that Nini recently opened his first “subsidiary”, Cafe Nini Rome. Besides new ice cream creations, the inventive guy also comes up with new and ususual cocktails every year

His latest one is called “Metamorphos”. Ingredients include local beer (yes, Italians are brewing beer!), blueberry schnaps (!) and ground chiles.

Metamorphos Tasting

Cheers! Here’s chilehead Piet from northern Germany, tasting the metamorphic concoction. Piet and his girlfriend Irene came visiting Diamante after reading my previous reports about the event. Both Piet and I liked Nini’s fiery “Afro” cocktail better, also the exotic “DaiquiriPic”. Both Piet and I  agreed that Metamorphos needed a little more kick. Piet is also the guy who shot that “Peter Gabriel” picture at the top of this page.

When I get around to it, I’ll dedicate “Capsicum  Cocktails” a special article, complete with recipes. Prepare yourself by putting fresh ice cubes in the freezer!

It always interesting how Nini presents his creations:   
Above the ice cream counter, there was a film set with director “Pepper Chili” – the movie’s title is “La Palla di Eros” – the Love Arrow. That’s the name of his dark chocolate ice cream with a heavy dose of local hot chile.


Nini Belcastro

Nini Belcastro, Diamante shoreline in the background


Ice Cream Promo:

Pepper Pope and Pepper Puppets

Together with the northern German chileheads, we strolled “downtown” Diamante to see how local businesses had prepared for this year’s Pepper Fest. Here are some impressions.

Another Cafe displayed a pepper-decorated mannequin, which looked more Dutch than Italian to us, though…

Diamante Downtown Impressions

When a butcher shop has a chile pepper in its signage and ristras are dangling from the ceiling, chileheads are almost automatically drawn into the store. Here we purchased a salsiccia piccante, an airdried salami sausage spiced with chiles and fennel (a popular and tasty spice combination in Southern Italy).

Lamp Store

A quick trip to the village south of Diamante, Belvedere Marittimo. The lamp store there (above) is selling that incredible chile chandelier that I had already introduced in my 2005 Report. After reading this report, Irene fell in love with this lighting and was looking to take one of those back home to Hamburg. So we took her and her friend Piet there.

Fortunately, the lovely lamp was in stock, and Irene was able to take a close look from the stepladder. The glass chiles are mouthblown especially for this chandelier.. When the lights are switched on, the whole things looks quite impressive.

The shop owner did a great job turning everything into a compact package and we took it to Germany in our car, as the couple was traveling by train.

 Diamante Downtown Impressions

The Pope of Peppers?? This drugstore arranged
a book about Papal pal Paul with peppery pods. 

Diamante Downtown Impressions

Chile Chandelier

Mary had a little lamp

More in common than  just Flag Colors     

Not only do Italy and Mexico have the same flag colors – both countries have regions that are particularly popular for their peppers — Calabria for their peperoncini, and Yucatan for their habaneros.

A reknowned expert in the field of habanero peppers is  Dr. Tomas Gonzales from Yucatan – per invitation of the Accademia del Peperoncino, he came visiting Diamante together with a delegation of Yucatan habanero producers. The Mexicans had an info booth at the festival, and many Italians were in for a hot surprise when tasting powder from Yucatan habaneros: The delayed heat of the habs differs from the direct bite of their local chiles, and keeps building up…

Tomas Gonzales and Harald Zoschke

Tomas Gonzales from Yucatan (l.) with Harald

Tomas came well-prepared for a presentation of  his region’s signature peppers, as well as Yucatan culture in general. I was lucky that I brought my notebook PC, as I met Tomas at the hotel and he had his Powerpoint presentation on a memory stick. So I was honored to get a personal presentation and learned a lot about peppers and people from Yucatan. I was also happy to hear that Hurricane Dean, one of the major storms threatening the Yucatan island this summer, didn’t do much harm to his people and to the habanero plantations. 

Now for the Peperoncino Festival…

As every year, the Peperoncino Festival wouldn’t be complete without the Campionato italiano mangiatori di peperoncino, the Italian Chile-Eating Championship. The competition drew a bigger crowd than ever and was broadcasted on national TV. We already reported in detail about a previous contest (see here), and this year’s competition wasn’t much different. Last year’s champion Aurelio Schiavo participated again, and he was able to defend his title by munching 560 grams (about 20 oz.) of fiery-hot chopped chiles. Tomas Gonzales’ presentation was scheduled at the same time, so we watched that instead. But first some festival impressions. Because September is still warm during the day in Southern Italy and many of the foods offered are sensitive to heat, the festival starts at 7:00 pm, around sunset.

Peperoncino Festival

Hundreds of booths lined the seaside promenade, downtown, and spread even around the town, as they’re beginning to run out of space by now. Meanwhile we’re also seeing those offerings of generic jewelry, leather belts and toys made in China that are showing up on markets and festivals elsewehere as well, but the major part of the offerings are “prodotti tipici Calebresi”, genuine local products. 

Whether it is sausage, ham, cow or sheep cheese like pecorino — many food items are spiced up with a hefty portion of peperoncino here in the south. This is not just a matter of taste — especially in earlier times without refrigeration, the chiles helped preserving the products.

But plain hot peperoncini are popular as a condiment as well, either whole, in slices or chopped. Most of the time, they’re preserved “sott ‘olio”, in olive oil or sunflower oil. They’re stirred into pasta and spread on bruschetta, tasty toasted slices of wheat bread that serve as an appetizer.

The great thing about this festival is that there’s stuff to taste everywhere. But it isn’t always easy to concentrate on the hot stuff on the plates… 😉

Peppery Products

Hot Stuff


When it comes to peperoncini, Southern Italians like to point out the red pods’ reputation as a poor man’s substitute for blue pills. I think this is perfectly visualized by the gentleman on the piucture to the left. But if chiles are “Viagra dei poveri” (Viagra for the poor), how come the cayenne is pointing south?

Maybe the products shown below coud help here 😉

Peppery Products

 Peppery Puppet on a String

The next day the guy had refined his presentation, turning his pepper assembly into a sort of puppet on a string. Good to see the folks down here have a good sense of humor.

Of course it is all a matter of taste. Quite tasty is the herb-filled pork roast that’s famous in this area. One needs to get used to the presentation including the pig’s head. The rest of the presentation is again a matter of taste…

Cool Pig

Festival Band

All night there were various excellent folk, jazz and rock bands on stage, entertaining the visitors for free. And visitors came plenty — every night after about 8:00pm, many places were packed to the max.

Besides food and beverages, each Peperoncino Festival also has a wide variety of cultural events, including movies, art and music.

Festival Band

Massimo Biagi with Visitors

We were glad to see our pepper pal Massimo Biagi was here again as well. The horticultural professor from the University of Pisa managed to have pods of more than 200 capsicum varieties from around the world all ripe concurrently, just in time for the show. An incredible feat. Here, our northern German chileheads are visiting is booth, overwhelmed by the pepper offerings. In fact, it is almost impossible to see pods of so many different capsicum varieties in one place.

Massimo looked a little stressed, for good reason. The festival organizers had placed his tent next to some act with continuous extremely loud disco music this time, making conversation almost impossible. Of course this did not keep hardcore chile fans from visiting the holy grail of pepperdom.

Local nurseries offered a broad range of peppers as well, altough not as many different ones as the professor from Pisa.

In honor of the Mexican guests, Massimo had created a fresh habanero salsa that was extremely  tasty, and extremely hot as well. Tomas Gonzales was quite pleased to find an Italian fixing such an authentic salsa.


Pepper Plates

Besides a lot of factory-made non-food chile-themed products, it was great to see original arts and crafts  as well, like these handpainted pepper plates.

Pepper Plates

Quite creative were these weird but loveable chile gnomes by Nuova Ceramica of Belvedere Marina.

Weird Chile Gnomes

Giuseppe Ateniese and his wife Daniela

In fact, we were so intrigued by the creativity of Giuseppe Ateniese and his wife Daniela that we visited their workshop after the show and finally decided to let them create the 3D clay version of our company maskot “Pepper Sam”, part of our “Sam’s Pepper Town®” brand.

Giuseppe worldiong on

We enjoyed watching Giuseppe creating the prototype to our specs. Look at the details, like the pepper colt and the pepper bullets on the belt…

Giuseppe worldiong on

Giuseppe worldiong on

Giuseppe worldiong on

Later on, the individually handcrafted pepper guys got hardened in the kiln (a special high-temp oven), then Daniela hand-painted them, also with a lot of attention to detail. Now they’re available at Pepperworld as a limited edition.

Giuseppe worldiong on

Pepper Pals

The best thing about the festival is that you get to meet many of those pepper pals that you normally only “talk” to via email, as they’re often located far away.

For the family photo album, here’s Tomas Gonzales from Mexico meeting with Harald from Germany and Claudio Dal Zovo from Verona, Italy. People who would have never met without the power of peppers.

Pepper Pals

Tomas Gonzales and Wife Rosa-Nidia


Another one for the album… Tomas Gonzales and his lovely wife Rosa-Nidia would have loved to take home this beautiful chile pepper christmas tree, but it was just a little too large for their luggage…

So instead, Rosa-Nidia had to settle for this neat pepper pendant.

Pepper Pendant


Calabria learns about Habaneros – first Hand 

Authentic music and dance performances set the audience’s mood for Mexico. Despite the Italian beer by the Dreher Brewery, Renate and I really felt like being “south of the border”.

Mexican Folklore

Habanero Presentation

Tomas explained the whole process, from seed to salsa, including various methods of cultivation. He also elaborated on typical Yucatan dishes, including those made with habanero peppers.

Our friend Nunzia Bruno (right) served as a live translator and had no problem translating the pepper professor’s English-language presentation to Italian.

Mexican Folklore

Then Tomas Gonzales gave insight into live and landscape of Yucatan, illustrated with many pictures of peppers and people. Tourists love the Mexican peninsula for its beautiful beaches and ancient Mayan ruins, but chileheads of course know this region as the home of the habanero. In fact, the pungent pods are an important economical factor in Yucatan, and there are even discussions to gather some sort of regional protection for Yucatan Habaneros, not unlike peppers in other countries, like Pimentón de la Vera in Spain or Piment d’Espelette in France.

Habanero Presentation

We also learned from Tomas that the Yucatecos call really, really hot habanero salsa “xni-pec”  (pronounced “shnee pek”). Xni is the ancient Mayan word for “dog”, pec for “nose” – typically moist, just like a human’s nose after consuming the fiery condiment.

Back to the Italian Peperoncini…


Gianni Pellegrino with Pellegrino Pepper

A completely different chile is  Pellegrino – this new Italian variety, developed by Mario Dadomo in Parma (see here) is based on a peperoncino variety from Calabria. The prolific plants produce countless tiny slim pods with a nice bite.

Mario named the chile after Southern Italian entertainer and comedian Gianni Pellegrino. The popular artist is also the host of the annual Italian Chile-Eating Championship.  “Gianni is rather small but quite vivid, and he has a tongue sharp like hot chile, so the naming makes a perfect fit!” Mario told me when visiting him at his research station.

Since we grew a nice Pellegrino plant in our Pepperworld test garden, I took some pods with me, and when I had a chance to meet Gianni, I gave a pod to him from that plant named in his honor.

Gianni had not seen the new variety named after him, so he was quite thrilled. Here he is posing with the tiny pod, as well as one of his legendary pepper outfits. For European readers: Pellegrino seeds are available online at the Pepperworld Hot Shop.

Our 2007 Restaurant Recommendation

Still excellent in food and service is Palmino Raffo’s “Sabbia d’Oro” restaurant, see here. This year’s new discovery is close to Palmino’s place, just a few hunded meters up the coast – “Ristorante Al Rudere”. While officially part of Belvedere Marittimo, it is physically located at the southern end of Diamante, at State Street 18 (SS18). 

Pasta at

The absolute highlights are their delicious seafood dishes (especially off the grill), but also their pasta dishes (optionally “piccante”, of course, and served in a “boat”) are wonderful. Reservations recommeded. Phone (+39) 0985-808876.

Living in Style in Diamante

Diamante Villas

Diamante Villa

Meanwhile the real estate business seems to have discovered Diamante as well. The beaches around the town are being spared  massive development so far,  though. Instead, rather elegant communities are popping up a little further up in the hills along the coast line, like this one here (see arrow). Of course we were curious enough to walk up and have a look at the almost completed dream homes. Renate had to problem at all to pick one. Just imagine the view from the pool while sipping on a glass of Nero d’Avola.

Tasty Stopover on the long Way Home

OK, time to stop dreaming and to drive back home. Visitors like from Germany who came to the southernmost tip of Italy by car are facing quite a ride. Highways and most other main travel routes are in excellent condition, but the sheer distance calls for a stopover. Ours was in Perugia this time, in the region called Umbria. On Pepperworld I’ve reported about Perugia and this city’s connection to chocolate – see my article here (German language). Still we were surprised to find a chocolate-themed hotel here, the “Etruscan Chocohotel”. For chocoholics like us, this was of course the hotel of choice.

Etruscian Chocohotel

Already from the outside the hotel is colored in chocolaty brown tones. In the lobby, guests are greeted by a bathtub filled with massive chocolate chunks. This is the kind of stuff that normally would only appear in your dreams.

Nice touch: With your room keys you get a nice big chocolate bar. The hotel floors are named like “Dark Chocolate”, “Milk Chocolate” etc., and while walking the hallway to our room, we noticed that each one not only had a number on the door but also a sign made from real chocolate wrapping paper from around the world.

Of course the Chocohotel also has a chocolate store. In addition to high-end chocolate, we found interesting products like cacao hair shampoo (dark and light, depending on your hair type), as well as chocolate-hazelnut bathfoam.

Many dishes on the in-house restaurant have chocolate as an ingredient. And with items like choc-filled cornetti, chocolate cake and chocolate muffins, we loved the breakfast buffet. Each table was decorated with dried cacao fruit and cacao beans.

Hotel Info:

Choc Bath

My Idea of a nice Bath

Each room has a uniqie “Chocodesk” – ours had a nice collection of hot chocolate mugs underneath a glass desktop.

Choc Shampoos

Grooming Products for Chocoholics

Okay, that’s it for now…

After such a breakfast, we went on in good spirits.

While we started this report with Diamante’s entry sign, here’s the one you see when leaving. We hope you enjoyed our trip to the European headquarters of heat. Ciao, until next time. Arrivederci, goodbye, aufwiedersehen, and hasta la vista, baby – we’ll be baaaack…

–Harald & Renate

.Diamante Exit Sign


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  Story and Photos by Harald Zoschke

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