Salice Salentino Wine: Wines of Puglia region in South Eastern Italy

Salice Salentino Wine: Wines of Puglia in South Eastern Italy

‘Like I know my pockets’, is how you say it in Italian, to express the English-language concept of, ‘like the back of my hand’. That’s how I feel about Salice Salentino after picking, pressing, drinking and teaching it for the last 15 years. It’s what I put as ‘blood type’, should anyone be foolish enough to ask.


Salice Salentino Wine: Wines of Puglia in South Eastern Italy

Salice stands out for many reasons, as one of the world’s great wines. The first of which is where the grapes choose as ideal, in the land of prickly pears, olive trees and yellow broom, seemingly incongruent neighbours. As the Salento is one of the flattest parts of all of Europe, Salice Salentino also thrives without the hills that cause drainage, a trait that many snobbier grapes all but demand.

One of my favourite producers is also a friend, bordering on mentor and maybe even guru, Gianni Cantele.

Gianni Cantele - winemaker per passione, pilota di aereo mancato per fifa.

Broad Fava Beans
Many wrongly use the word ‘ironic’, when explaining the fact that broad (fava) beans are the chosen form of fertiliser for viticulture here in the Salento, as they also appear in the kitchen, as the thing you eat with Salice Salentino.

‘Tell me about alberello (head trained vines). Do you have a preference’, I ask him as we walk his family’s vineyard. ‘So much of wine here in Southern Italy is a yo-yo between centuries, where things like head training are coming back, as is fermenting in cement’.

He’s referring to the discipline of training grapes to grow as free standing ‘trees’, alberelli. It was how it was done in the past, before training them to grow onto metal wires. What doesn’t allow mechanical harvesting often actually produces better fruit, as the plants arrive at 3 or 4 kilos per plant and then stop growing others, concentrating the fruit with less intervention by humans.

Over lunch out we talk about the pink versions of Salice Salentino, and how the rest of Italy and the world seems to respond to them, which is anything but indifference. ‘Either they love them or they have never heard of them’, he says. The rosati of the Salento remain the oldest, most established pinks in all Italy, and in fact, mark the very first question I’m asked when I visit producers (few producers don’t fire questions themselves first at me when they hear the location of our school).

Salice Salentino Wine Tasting

Our new evening, The Mediterranean Diet Class is actually based on tasting three forms of Salice Salentino. Sure, of course we learn and cook together but it’s the wine tasting part that gets me most excited with each new arriving group. As I spin the metal spiral of the corkscrew into the fleshy cork of each bottle, I can’t help but feel that each somehow represents an old friend, something that gives me profound joy with each visit. Not so surprising, really: I’ve been in love for years.

We now have a Saturday night wine course, held just before the beginning of all of our castle courses.

They are, in essence, my upcoming television show, but held as a class. If you’re coming to one of our Castle Courses this year write us to book the Saturday night course. Limit 10 spots, includes dinner, tour and tasting 12 Southern Italian wines. (Please pin your name and hotel address to your shirt before you come. It’s that kind of night).


Silvestro as Juror at Salice Salentino at a region-wide wine festival

Here I am as a juror on the panel to determine the best version of Salice Salentino at a region-wide wine festival. If you would have told me that one day I’d be sitting at a table in Lecce’s main piazza- right over the she wolf, the symbol of the city herself- judging wine on behalf the region of Puglia…well… I would have started that blood type joke years earlier.


To our calendar To say ‘hello’ (simply ‘respond’).

To our FB wine group page.

PS.We were in 14 newspapers all across Australia last week. No, we haven’t seen the article either. Do you have a copy that we could frame?

Forward this email to a friend. It helps us tell the story of this part of the world, the part that we love most.

Etna Rosso Vineyards Italy

They usually change the subject when you ask. Akin to asking fishermen about those lost at sea or smokers about their own health, viners on Etna don’t like to talk about it. With the recent eruptions, it’s easy to understand why.

Mount Etna Wine Region

I’m up Etna several times a year and it remains my favourite wine region, anywhere in the world. Etna has it all: the hyper regional specialized soils of Burgundy, the dramatic, at times almost lunar landscape of a volcano, the Old World cuisine that informed the wine and several grapes unique to here.  And from a bicycling point of view, at least half of it is very easy to bicycle (the ‘down’ bit). 

Etna's recent eruption seen from space

(Etna’s recent eruption seen from space)

Ciro Biondi

‘We don’t make wine here so much as we grow the grapes that make the wine’, says Ciro Biondi. It’s a common sentiment in much of the wine world, wine makers as shepherds rather than craftsmen.

Wine makers usually announce their stance early on. There are those that concentrate on raising the grapes and then do less to them (a natural philosophy really, considering that this is how most treat solid ingredients in the kitchen as well, Italian cooking in a nutshell). While others work to create ‘style’, showing their hand as technicians. 

‘It’s not really apt to think of Etna as ‘Sicilian’ wine’, says Ciro. ‘Etna is the island on the island and our wines are not particularly ‘Mediterranean’, per se. The elevation changes everything’. 


Etna Wine Tree Farm Vineyards

If you’re in the New World you will likely think of Etna as grapes versus place, and those grapes are the red nerello mascalese and the white carricante. I remain convinced that the first will soon be widely accepted as one of the world’s most impressive reds, especially for those that seek out transparent wines (wine that tastes of the place rather than its genes).

Carricante on the other hand will likely remain a nichè wine, for those that prefer minerals over fruit (I’m in this camp). If there is a better wine for crustaceans, I don’t know of it.

We all have that place that we return to over and over again and that place is Etna for me. I plan 8 days and stay 14. I plan two visits a year and end up going 4 times. In Lecce, my eyes fill with love when I stumble across a bottle in wine stores or on restaurant lists. And with each sip, I’m transported up a mountain, where Ciro awaits me with a corkscrew and the dogs greet up as I slowly, slowly pedal- huffing- up the craggy hill.

To our Saturday night wine class

To our Calendar

To have our Extra Virgin sent to your home

Wines of Marsala

Souther Italian Wines

You might think that I’m about to make the argument in favour of Marsala, but I’m not. Instead I’m going to sing the praises of the wines of Marsala. And if you think that you don’t understand the difference between the two- well then, great, you’re already ahead of the game.


Marsala- on the Western side of Sicily- and Mothya- or Mozia- the island that sits just off the coast- were first settled by the Phoenicians, about 5,000 years ago.

They planted grapes there and already noticed that the same African sun- much of Sicily is actually south of the northern tip of Africa- hyper ripened grapes, raising the alcohol content significantly.

And that the same wind that was strong and constant enough to allow them to reclaim salt from evaporating the sea water, also made the wines salty and pleasantly briny.

The 5,000 year long timeline of Marsala would look something like this:

______________________________________________________________________ _ _

Notice that there are three lines, a very long one and then two short ones. The first is what wine was like there for most of its history, the second is the arrival of the English and the third is our own era.

‘Line two’ represents John Woodhouse’s influence, the business man behind the exportation and promotion of Marsala in England in the late 1770’s, a market that fell ravenously onto the wine. It’s high alcohol quelled life’s pains, this the era before divorce or dentistry. And Marsala rode the coattails of other fortified wines from Southern Europe, such as Sherry and Port and Madeira. They were, unfortunately, very much in vogue.

Marsala WinesMarsala was a runaway success but over the course of about a hundred and fifty years, it slowly petered out, leaving Sicilian producers not sure what to do.

Marsala moved from the cellar to the kitchen in some parts of the world. It’s shelf stability and high sugar made it an ingredient in the absence of fresh ones, a staple that could produce restaurant fare when the market was out of everything else.

That’s not to say that there isn’t remarkable Marsala. There is. Marco De Bartoli (now sons) produce Marsalas that vibrate in your mouth, what Rothko paintings do for your eyes.

The ‘third line’ in Marsala’s timeline is our current era, where more and more producers are actually producing wine near Marsala the place, more in the style of ‘line 1’. These wines are dry, often single varietals but they still capture the spirit of the land, of the African sun and the fierce winds. The part of Europe that feels like the end of it.

52 Pignatello

Liberated from the perpetuum (soleras) system and the alcohol-adding in the fortification process, the wines of Marsala are now free to choose their less briddled path.

They are salty, briny, often tasting of very fresh anchovy (and what is fresh anchovy, if not umami and salt)? They are profoundly minerally, wines that make the world of wine wider. They will never be a hit at anyone’s hen party. You will never be served one on a flight.

It’s unlikely they’ll ever be trendy again and for most of us, that’s a good thing. Especially for those that seek out wines that behave as terrestrial core samples, as liquid geology and anthropology. Wines that tell a story of a people and of a place.Nino Baracco - Wines maker near Marsala

My favourite producer is Nino Baracco, who makes many wines near Marsala and all of them from ‘line 3’. He labels most of his wines genetically and we’ve been friends since before he ever even had a winery, from the days when he moved wines through tubes by first sucking on them.

Nino is now a fixed stop every one of long-distance bicycle trips and will be one of the episodes of the upcoming show. Ask around for dry wines from the West coast of Sicily. You’re likely to just delight the person that sells you your wine.

To be a beta tester for our new television show about Southern Italian wine join this group.

To see our calendar.

To join one of our Saturday night wine classes, Send Mail“>send us an email.

To see last week’s wine article, on Salice Salentino

Beta tester for Italian Wine Television series

Salice Salentino Wines – Southern Italian Wine

Wines of Southern Italy

Wines of Southern Italy


NB: A Winter of Wine. This is the first of a 9 part series about the wines of Southern Italy. Much of the information that follows is taken from our upcoming television series on Southern Italian wine. If you’re interested in becoming a beta tester for the new series join our Southern Italian wine Facebook group. 

If you could taste only one wine from Southern Italy it should be a Salice Salentino. For me, it sums up the south better than any other. For one, it’s a blend, taking its name from the village rather than the grapes. This is the European tendency, especially in very old growing regions, to acknowledge the territory’s influence before any genetic one. And two, there’s a strong vein of bitterness that runs through it.

And if you think you don’t like bitter, think again.

Gianni CanteleSalice Salentino DOC Region ‘A lot of the rest of Italy sees us, as horse eaters’, says Gianni Cantele. He’s giving me a lesson on pruning but we stop often to talk about larger concepts. ‘But in the hinterland of the Salento- and even the coasts, to a large degree- the diet was based on legumes. Without them no one would be alive here today’.

Perhaps it’s because I teach our local food, but it seems that a historical local cuisine goes largely forgotten when it comes to discussing why a wine tastes the way it does. Some of the examples are world-famous- such as the aggressive tannins in Barolo and how it cuts through their fatty diet. Or astringent Chianti, as the antidote to all the significant animal fats in their cuisine. The thing about Salice Salentino though, is that it’s a wine to developed alongside one of the healthiest diets on the planet. Or put this way: there is a way of eating that has been scientifically proven year after year to make you not die until you’re really, really old. And the diet has a wine that has always gone with it, that’s part of it.

Green Vegetables of Puglia, Italy
It’s not that Salice Salentino doesn’t go well with fatty meats. It does. It’s just that it doesn’t need them. And where the wine shines brightest just so happens to be the way we all want to eat today. More green vegetables, more legumes, both doused with lots of high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Bitterness it turns out runs through many of our favourite foods. The black, seer marks on anything grilled. The crust of any, well-baked bread. Greens. Most winter vegetables. These are adult flavours, the ones that our taste buds orient to after we develop past the pathological quest for sweetness in our food. (Consider your own personal development and which food you’d choose to indicate your arrival in culinary adulthood. Does it have some bitterness to it?)

Way, way down at the bottom of Italy, here in the Salento, there is a dish called fae e fogghie, or fave e cicoria, a broad (fava) bean mash and boiled chicory. There is something both ancient and hyper modern about the dish. It’s inexpensive, exceedingly healthy, planetarily sustainable, satisfying and no one, ever, under any circumstances would ever, ever drink any other wine with it.

In Italy, if you really want to understand the wine, don’t forget the food that informs it. It’s likely that it will explain a lot.


To our Saturday night wine classes.

To our calendar

To our new Jewish Cooking class

To our new Southern Italian survey class


Salice Salentino Wines - Souther Italian Wine

Salice Salentino Wine - Wines of PugliaSilvestro Making Wines of Southern Italy

City of Matera, European Capital of Culture in 2019

Matera European Capital of Culture in 2019

Matera European Capital of Culture in 2019

Lately, it’s impossible to ignore, the sense that Southern Italy is not only about to have its moment, but that in many ways, it already is.

Half of Lecce is under restoration: our prettiest church, the column that used to mark the end of the Appian way. The old hospital. Scaffolding hides much of the city, the hammering starts at 8 am.

Parks are being replanted. Streets repaired. Websites are going up. There is a new bicycling sharing programme, one that might actually stick this time. People in the street are giddy.
Cooking Classes Matera (Basilicata) and Puglia

If you haven’t heard, the City of Matera was chosen as the capital of culture, for all of Europe. It’s a bit like the Olympics, but more prestigious and much more cerebral. Administratively, the city of Matera is no longer in the region of Puglia but it’s close enough that travel circuits have formed, with the same 8 or 9 cities receiving higher than average tourism, the increase decidedly out of season (Puglia has been the number one tourist destination domestically for the last 15 years, which remains primarily national, summer-based tourism).

Older than Jericho, Matera is the oldest continually inhabited site on earth, with honest-to-goodness cave people surviving well into the 20th century. That it’s old isn’t a surprise, but that it’s so new, is. The city has skipped printed brochures and telephone land lines. Chain stores never developed. The cultural spending budgets are enough to make even France appear stingy and underfunded.

The ancient city has skipped the middle stages and has taken its old bones right into the 21st century, with hashtags functioning as the new postcards and banks that no longer exchange cash.

Pessimists would argue that ‘tourists are now going to wreck the south’, although I’m not one of them. Italy has seen way too much tourism focused on way too few regions and cities. This new model of international tourism in Italy- in contrast- is now starting to resemble our national tourism here: go to each region for different reasons, the wealth of the country is in its historical diversity and independent histories and cuisines.


What does this mean for us at our Cooking School in Puglia? More day courses, fewer week long courses. In the shoulder months, we’re often now more often a component of a larger trip versus the anchor of it. More of the world is coming but it’s still the more traveled part, those that travel for cultural immersion versus those that just say they do.

Will next year be that ‘so crowded that no one comes there anymore’? I don’t think so, because the world is changing and international travelers in Italy are starting to diversify their interests.Matera, Italy Cooking School

My suggestion? Make it a point of going to new places next year, of sidestepping the cities your neighbors know and visiting places that are still themselves. Consider your own presence and the weight that it carries.

All of Southern Italy is scrambling right now in preparation. This winter, the scaffolding is coming down. The mayors of tiny villages are updating their neckties. Their daughters are repeating their English language tenses up in their rooms.

The best part of Italy can’t wait for you to visit. We’re ready.

Download my free guide to travelling southern Italy

A short film about tourism.

To come make our annual tomato sauce.

To have our extra virgin sent to your door. 

Italian Cooking School Classes Calendar 2019

Glass Jar Containing Slurry of Water & Green Tea Leaves

By now it’s something of a ritual, the glass jar containing the slurry of water and green tea leaves brewing in the sun of the school’s garden. It takes another day to actually chill that much volume, my tiny Italian refrigerator’s motor revving through the night.

Come early July each year, I spend a day sipping 5 liters of cold green tea, plotting and planing the following year’s School Calendar for Cooking Classes in 2019. I Google industry trends, I call friends that work for the Puglia tourist board. I ask those that have been to the school 5 or 10 times (the list of those that have been that many times continues to grow). I use all the resources, just shy of consulting a milky-eyed gypsy.

And as often as not, I’m completely wrong.

Take our week dedicated to making our annual tomato sauce course at the castle. What once had a 3 year waiting list now often gets sanded off the calendar by Christmas. Our new The Jewish Cooking of Southern Italy Course on the other hand moved from once to three times a year, the very first year. As has our ‘annual’, bicycle /food /wine class, which now runs 4 times a year.

Last year’s ‘Mindfulness in Food and Wine’, will likely morph into a Yoga Course, the healthiness of The Mediterranean Diet Course a great bedrock for both.

But there are two other major sea changes for next year’s classes, one national and the other personal. Nearby Matera has been chosen as the capitol of European culture for a year long festival. It’s an enormous honour, perhaps larger and longer-lasting than even hosting the Olympics.

What was once the last 20 pages in a 300 page book on Italy, Southern Italy will be the known centre of European culture for an entire year.

But it’s the timing that is also remarkable, in an era that represents a sea change in international tourism itself, which now more closely mimics domestic tourism (enjoying each region for what it does best, as opposed to ‘pesto, pizza and risotto…. in Florence’, etc.). And Matera.

It’s hard to imagine a better example of a place so achingly ready for its spotlight. That it’s one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited communities only re-enforces the argument.

Italian Cooking School Classes Calendar 2019The other new element to a 15 year old business is that this year I had to write the Cooking Classes Calendar for 2019 around the shooting and editing schedule: I’m starting work on a feature film about wine.

After 11 annual, multi-monthed-long bicycle trips around Southern Italian wine country, I’m turning it into a feature-length film that I intend to enter in many of the world’s film festivals and then eventually sell to Netflix. If you’re on our list, you’ll see updates and links to our ‘the making of’, on our official YouTube Channel.

Like most things in life, the fact that I’m doing everything myself is both the benediction and the curse. ‘Curse’ in that I have to learn all of the elements of filmmaking, a one-man crew. But the ‘benediction’ is that I won’t have to pay more talented people to stand around waiting for me to learn how to get it right. I can shoot and reshoot as much as needed.
Cooking Vacations in Italy Calendar 2019

And again, the blessing and curse is that all my gear has to fit into my bicycle panniers, forcing me to rely on story rather than all the electronic toys you can be convinced to buy for filmmaking. I’ll also be editing the film throughout the year, so that it will be ready shortly after I finish the photography.

What I’ll drink while editing will likely be green tea as well, a trail on the way to the school’s bathroom, the glossy tile glaze, worn down to expose the fired red earth below.

To Emiluccia’s Facebook profile.

[mkdf_button size=”medium” type=”” hover_type=”” target=”_self” icon_pack=”” font_weight=”” text=”View our 2019 Calendar: Book now our 2019 Classes” link=”” custom_class=”” margin=”0px 0px 0px 0px”]

Feature Films: Southern Italy Wine Filmmaking

Puglia Apulia Films

Short Film about Italian Wines

Next October I’ll be up Etna, picking grapes. I get goose bumps every time I go to Sicily, just like you probably do when you come to Italy. 11 months after that I’ll be back in Puglia working the harvest here in Salice Salentino. And in those eleven months, I plan to write, shoot, mic, drone-pilot, edit and promote a feature film. Yes, the kind of film that you pay for a ticket and sit down in the dark with a bunch of people you don’t know to watch. If I actually knew how much I still have to learn about filmmaking I would be terrified. As it is though, I’m only excited, a lot like the dog that still doesn’t know that the car is actually pointed at the vet’s.
Italy Wine Movies, Italy Wine Films

Part of the reason that I’m not as scared as I should be is that I’ve made the trip from Sicily to Puglia by bicycle nine times now, visiting producers, tasting, researching and learning as much as I can about Southern Italian Wine. And I’ve been teaching wine now at our Cooking School in Italy for 15 years. And writing about it for the magazine too for nine. Content-wise, a lot of the heavy lifting was done years ago.

Southern Italy Wine Filmmaking That leaves the actual filmmaking. There are parts that are more difficult than others. Drone flying isn’t easy, or rather, it’s not that hard to fly one but very difficult if you expect anything usable in 4k (in my short films, three batteries of 45 minutes of flight time might produce 15 or 20 seconds of usable content). We’ve all underwhelmed with a camcorder in our hands. Now imagine that that the camcorder were flying. And rather than a dance recital, you’re trying to film yourself while dancing. That comes pretty close.

Sicily Short Films on Wine And audio. Moving from still to moving pictures is less of a transition than from video to audio. Sound is difficult because you can’t see it and playing it back, even with earphones in the field, it’s all easy to get home and realise that there was more wind that you thought, or that someone had too much spit in his mouth. Or that you didn’t notice the jet that passed. Or that you inexplicable used the wrong word and no one bothered to mention it at the time. That I’ll be recording myself primarily is an added level of complicity. And with my speech ticks- stammers, stutters and greased-uzi delivery, it’s unlikely that I’ll shake my ‘twenty-take Tony’ nickname anytime soon.

That leaves two elements that I suspect that I’ll never overcome: colour grading and editing for pace. I’m certain I’ll need external help on both.

I’m actually relieved to be doing it all alone, as no one will be standing around waiting for me to get it right, or called back each time I need to film retakes. My glaring errors will be recorded over, no one the wiser.

And then, a few years from now you’ll see the film on Netflix and see why I love Southern Italian Wine so much, the faces, the landscape, the history, the intimate story told digitally, the painfully-extracted fruit of 10,000 hours.

Filmmaking Wine Destinations in Southern Italy

Kitchen Knives

Kitchen Knives_Italy Cooking School

Kitchen Knives_Italy Cooking School

I have a friend that received a full scholarship to Oxford for correctly crediting as at that time, yet-to-be-authenticated Carvaggio. How did she do it when even all her professors were wrong?

‘It was simpler than his earlier works. Maturity seeks simplicity’, she said.

That’s exactly my stance on kitchen knives. For me, the more I cook, the less the knives I use seem to matter.
Henkel Kitchen Knive

But this wasn’t always the case.

The very first knife I ever feel in love with was this Henkel, or one just like it. I had saved up and bought it as a student when money was so tight that I actually remember staying home an entire winter in order to be able to afford it (and this in Italy, when wine out is always inexpensive). Like a lot of early love stories, it was doomed relationship, as it was also the knife with which I learned to sharpen knives (the equivalent of learning to drive a manual transmission… on a Formula One). And then a few years later when it was but a wisp of metal, a house guest decided to force open a wooden wine case with it and we all know what happened next. In half. I felt it in my shoulders and spine even before I heard the snap.

Money earned from tutoring was slightly easier to come by and I bought a second one that is still pristine 20 years later. For me, it is the perfect French knife, even though I find myself reaching for it less and less.

Lamson knives

I was actually born in the States but it wasn’t until a visit there in my late 20’s that it occurred to me that I didn’t really have anything to show for it: over the years I had worn out all my clothing, updated all my books and molted and shed all my electronics, 11o for 22o. I asked everyone for suggestions of products that America did particularly well. With all the shifts in global manufacturing there was little still made there so it came down to either a motorcycle (no thanks) or Lamson knives, which I bought and still love. With each visit I bought more and more until I had the complete set, or at least the knives that I’ll likely use in my lifetime.

French Knives at our Cooking School in Puglia

These here are three of the nine French knives I bought for our Cooking School in Puglia, two weeks before we first opened back in 2003. They are Italian, heavy and although we regularly receive lots of compliments on them, the only sense of ownership I have for them is that I bought them, and I have used them for 15 years when I’ve been tired to reach for the knives I really love. All knives are tools but these to me feel like look anonymous, long-term leases. They work. They cut. They don’t fill my heart with joy though.

What does fill my heart are these Berti knives. Hideously, almost comically expensive, the famous family called me to announce my new knives arrival, the adult daughter’s voice so heavy with the hissy ‘h’ of a northern Tuscan accent as to seem affected and cartoonish.

Coltelli (knives) Italy

‘Hotelli’, she called my ‘coltelli’ [knives]’, her ‘c’s coming out as ‘h’s. Their boxwood handles are satisfying in the hand, their blades cut beautifully, but only if you keep them loved.

Yesterday I had espresso with our cooking school’s knife sharpener, Gigi. I had asked him about the patron saint of knife sharpeners so that I could search out an icon for our new wall of knives at our cooking school in Puglia. Cutlery and Kitchen KnivesIt turns out that patron saint selection is very open to interpretation and the art comes from the selection of which characteristics you hope to protect. Is the patron saint of knives the same as butchers? Or metalsmiths? Or should we choose someone that was flayed alive (the church had a knack for it). Gigi just looked at me over his coffee. ‘Cambia’, he asked, (‘does it change anything’?), this from a man with 4 shrines in a space barely large enough to pivot it.

Most of the time lately though I reach for one of these. Small, simple, far from impressive, I’ve nearly abandoned cutting boards and French knives in exchange for cutting against my thumb, over a bowl, just like about everyone else does here in Southern Italy. We cut, we make food.

Food preparation is always aspirational. Do you need surgical steel to make your feel that your time in the kitchen is well-spent? Is that your goal? Or is it to cook for those you love?  To care for them?

Take a moment and think about the food that has meant the most to you over the years. Food that has fed more than your body.

Now, do you see what I mean?



‘Respond’, to send us an email

To our Italian Cookery Courses Description 

Kitchen Knife Collection at Cooking School Puglia

Cooking with Copper

Cooking with Copper Cookery Courses Puglia, Italy
‘Don’t ever do that… again’, said Quentin Bacon.

One of the world’s greatest food photographers was standing in front of our gleaming copper pots and pans, his disappointment as palpable as if someone had just cut his hair with a pocketknife. The pans glowed orange, seemingly shining from within, as if polished by Medieval illuminators. We usually let them tarnish to the colour of cinnamon but on a whim I asked the staff to polish them for Quentin’s visit, only to watch his smile fade as he looked at them. That’s the thing with copper pots though: what they represent are always larger concepts than just pots and pans.

Copper Cookware at Cookery School Puglia I can remember when each individual pot, pan and roasting tray that has come into my life, the length of each their idiosyncratic histories as obvious as the choice of metal used to line the vessel. Those that are lined with stainless steel are modern and were astonishingly expensive. Bought in France, Spain or Italy but always produced in Normandy, they are Ferraris of pots and pans, the ones that every cook would prefer if price were no object. Quick to heat and cool, their thick, dynamic 3mm thick copper shell is protected by a stainless steel interior. And save for a moment of profound foolishness-mainly, leaving them empty on a flame until their bonded metals separate from one another- there is no reason to expect them not to last for hundreds of years.

No one picks one up without making a comment on their weight. Most groan. Many even expect help, like you would carrying an overpacked suitcase up the stairs. The largest one we have cost 680 Euro, 750 Euro if you count shipping but it’s a workhorse and an good bet that if there are students in the building of our cooking school in Italy, that that pot is over a flame. If our Italian cookery school had a heart- that muscle that never stops working- it would be this pot.Copper Pans - Italy Cooking School

We have a few oversized but shallow pots that have no lining metal, the raw copper exposed in ways that concern me. Several of them, I’ve never even used for this reason, in spite of the fact that they are sold as ‘preserve pots’, the sugar thought to protect the pan from leaching copper into the human blood-stream (Copper is toxic to our livers). My university roommate used unlined copper for his twice-daily polenta for 5 years, as did his mother and all of her neighbors up on the Austrian border. They seemed fine.

Research-based medicine tells us that the barrier of sugar protects the fruit from absorbing copper and thus is safe, providing that the sugar goes into the pot first, and that the jelly/jam/marmalade is removed when still hot. And polenta’s low acid seems to protect us as well.

Copper Pots and Copper Pans Utensils at Awaiting Table Cookery School The lion’s share of our pots and pans though, are lined with tin, each pan’s history, long and winding, involving multiple generations of owners, countries, cities and kitchens. Bought from auctions, flea markets and antique stores while traveling through various cities of France and Spain many are engraved with the names of the dead. Even the few that I bought in Italy have the initials of non-Italians, their family initials in letters that don’t appear in the Italian alphabet. Several pieces were born in the mid 1800’s, each likely now retinned more times than years that I have been alive.

The same year we opened our cookery course in Italy I learned that most tin is worn away not over a flame but in the sink, that scrubbing is the biggest culprit. Now each time I hire a new assistant for Anna, I put these two chairs nearly touching each other and I have the conversation. ‘Do you see this pan? It is very expensive and the each time the pan is retinned costs me between one hundred and one hundred and fifty Euro, plus the time it takes to drive to Specchia, back and forth, twice. (To my knowledge, there is only one tinner left in the entire Salento, a population of 1.5 million).

Italy Culinary School - The Awaiting Table Cookery School Tin’s peculiar colour and odd shininess causes many unfamiliar with the mental to scrub and scrub in what turns out to be an ever-escalating use of scouring pads, chemicals and feverish fervency of ‘Signora shine’ (elbow grease). I now look each new signora in the face, I speak slowly, our knees so close together as almost touching. ‘These pans are special. They are not like the ones you know. They will never shine like a mirror but when they are clean they will glow like the inside of an oyster shell.

Cleaning the outside of all copper is easy, and vinegar and salt do better than even the most expensive of potions, polishes and powders. We make our own vinegar at the school and undiluted, it cleans an order of magnitude faster than commercially-prepared vinegar.

My absolute favorite state for our copper is cleaned but tarnished, that is with no burned on stains but with the low-watt glow of a warm, tarnished patina. It is, upon reflection, what Quentin wanted to find, that Old World sense of lived-in, well-worn tradition. 15 years into this job, it is precisely what our Cooking School does, tugging the two equators for our students, until the New World and the Old almost touch.

To our calendar

To our course description

Or simply ‘respond’ to write us.

Preserving (in) Puglia

Cooking School in Italy: Preserving the Preservation of Puglia

Cooking School in Italy: Preserving the Preservation of Puglia

I’ve never darned or mended anything in my life, with the exception of the odd button. I don’t see the value in changing my own motor oil. Anything beyond a spent light bulb at our Cooking School in Italy awaits Mauro our electrician. Even climbing onto a horse seems unnecessary nowadays, especially with car keys jingling in my pocket. But then there is home canning/preserving, which keeps me awake at night, reading books and ordering more jars, lids and rubber gaskets. Friends all over Puglia invite me when they gather around dented and steaming chaldrons, knowing full well that I’ll show up to help. And oddly, now that I think about it, almost never arriving by horse.

‘Why would you want to to preserve anything when it’s already for sale, made by someone else’, younger people often ask. And my answer is always three.

1) Because there is something extra special about the homemade version.

2) that it was in learning to preserve food and drink that the ancients sent us- through hundreds and thousands of years of time- some of the greatest pleasures in life. And…

3) that traditions can morph from active habits into sad nostalgia, without any audible hiss. 

Preserving /canning /putting up- whatever your cultural calls it- doesn’t just preserve food, it alters it through a few seemingly low-brow techniques. That they were learned before microscopes or the development of the Scientific Method  certainly puts them among the most costly lessons humanity ever learned. For most of its history, much of it was certainly indistinguishable from witchcraft. One village might notice that it had more dead children than another. Grandparents too. It’s sobering, how much of the heavy limiting was done by those that lived so long ago.

The principles, while very knowable today, can be complex, especially since there are often multiple processes in play.  Boil something

1)- a remarkable technique, as the bubbles also behave as a thermometer, telling you the precise temperature- and you can kill off everything living. And before anything begins to grow again, 

2) you can create a sterile vacuum, such as with our tomato sauce (Come first week of September). 


You can encourage one sort of bacterial growth to block another, such as in cheese and salumi. Batter to beer. Juice to wine. Milk to cheese. You can raise the sugar level until the sugar itself becomes the preservative. Acid. Salt. Heat. Dehydration. Vacuum. Each of these can be the entire process or only an element in a more complex system. And here in Puglia, all of it was figured out so long ago that no one bothers to write it down. 

But it’s also that these are the techniques that are falling away from daily use in the average family home in Southern Italy. The empty glass bottles in the cellar gather another year of dust, next to the rusty roller-skates that no longer fit anyone’s feet. As in much of the industrialized world, more and more comes home from the hypermarchè, imported in cargo containers  Only here, few seem to realize that it’s slipping through our fingers, that defining cultural characteristics are fading, leaving behind only questions of identity. 

For the last 15 years our cookery course in Italy has been a mirror that reflects back to the community. Raising international interest in local traditions is the best way we know to keep them alive: when Salentini see that people are coming from all over the world to play an active role, the bottles in the cellar get a good cleaning. And another generation has the time to decide if there is something in this worth keeping.

For us at the school, there is. Next time you’re considering a cooking school in Italy, take a look at our new canning/putting up course, the Preserving the Preservation of Puglia. We’d love your help in keeping a tradition alive. 

To our calendar

To our course description

To our youtube channel