Dr Michael Metcalfe, one of our expert tour guides and resident of Sicily explains why the food traditions of this glorious Mediterranean island is well worth the time to stop and savour.
I was strolling through the food market on Ortigia a few days ago when my attention was drawn to a huge block of golden-yellow cheese shaped like an over-sized house brick. The elderly owner of the cheese-stall explained that it was a “Caccio Cavallo” from the town of Ragusa that had been aged for a little over a year. He patiently answered my questions about the origins, flavour and consistency of the cheese before deciding that things had evidently gone too far for words alone to suffice. He rummaged around below his counter and emerged with a brightly painted and slightly chipped terracotta plate and then called over to a nearby vegetable-seller for a lemon and a head of garlic, which were promptly tossed across the aisle. He crushed a single clove on the plate with the flat side of an alarmingly large knife, split the lemon in two and drizzled it over the garlic, then picked up the block of cheese and deftly cut out six thin wedges which he laid artistically over the garlic and lemon juice. He finished the dish with a drizzle of freshly pressed olive oil, tore off a hunk of crusty bread from a loaf that had obviously been destined for his lunch, and passed the plate to me.
The dish was absolutely delicious: a surprisingly rich mixture of simple but strong flavours and textures that combined perfectly with one another. It could easily have been served as a rustic antipasto or, with a green salad, a light meal all by itself. As I ate, he explained that this was a recipe that he had plucked from the pages of the late 19th/early 20th century Sicilian author Luigi Pirandello, and that there was no better way to enjoy this cheese. Pirandello had described it as being so tasty that you would want to lick your fingers clean at the end, and it most certainly was.
This kind of experience – a stroll through a bustling market, a pleasant conversation, a disarming display of traditional generosity, a lively passion for local food, and the learning of a delectable and simple traditional recipe – is precisely why I devised our Sicily food tour with Marcelo Baglioni. Why don’t you join us for a week-long journey through a selection of our favourite gastronomic experiences in this beautiful part of Sicily that is our home?
Michael also leads our Exploring Sicily tour which provides an unforgettable encounter with the island’s long history and culture.