Last month, we were invited to Sardegna for a fantastic culinary competition and some touring on this gorgeous Italian island.
Here are some notes from our trip, by Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist:
On Thursday we arrived to fabulous Sardegna to participate in a culinary contest in the ancient Catalan town of Alghero. Nestled along the coastline in the northwest of the island near beautiful Capo Caccia and the other-worldly Grotta di Nettuno, Alghero is a popular resort on the Coral Riviera. Our accommodation was a cozy agriturismo, run by an excellent extra virgin olive oil producer, San Giuliano.
San Giuliano have been making top quality olive oil since 1916, and this year they launched a wonderful new food and wine tourism initiative in Northern Sardegna. The idea was to promote their oils, the various local artisan food products, the wine estates and this specific corner of Sardegna through a high profile culinary contest. So, we were delighted to take part of this epicurean weekend! The invitees included five grand chefs, five journalists and ten tour operators (including us, Cellar Tours).
For the contest, there were five teams, with a chef as the leader of each team: Lorenza Carmignani Gigli from Tuscany, Barbara Roncarolo from Cucina magazine, Giovanna Ruo Berchera from Piedmont, Valeria Vocaturo from Rome, and Marilena Bergamaschi from Milan. Our team was the “Monte Sixeri” team led by the very talented Giovanna Ruo Berchera, and journalist Fabio Cavallari.
The rules of the game were laid out for us. The contest included the following challenge: search out and buy the best local products of each village, within a 30 km distance from the olive oil estate in order to create a traditional “Sardo” (Sardinian) recipe which enhances the olive oils.
So on Friday we travelled to Porto Torres and the Romangia area, famous for its seafood, wines, bread, olives, pastries and vegetables. We had a lot of fun driving through the beautiful countryside, meeting local people willing to help us with the treasure hunt, and searching for goodies in local farmers markets and tiny little shops. We visited the hilltopped villages of Sennori and Sorso, tasting local delights. It´s a tough job, but hey!
The recipe our chef Giovanna decided on for the contest was “gnocchetti sardi con ragout di triglie, finocchietto e zafferano.” We picked the wild fennel ourselves from a nearby pasture and we found the equipment to make handmade gnocchetti (called a “ciuliri”).
We spent Saturday morning in the kitchen, admiring the skills and abilities of the five chefs as they chopped, diced and dazzled. While the gastronomic jury was deciding on the winner, on Saturday afternoon, we toured some more around Sardegna with our new friend Daniele, introduced to us by Giovanni Greco of the luxurious Hotel El Faro , a luxury 5 star hotel with outstanding views over the crystalline sea. Daniele is very passionate and passionate about his native Sardegna. He drove us to the protected marine area of Capo Caccia , where we even saw a wild boar running in front of us! Unfortunately it was drizzly and the sea was too tumultuous to visit the wonderful Grotte di Nettuno, so we went to the only natural lake in Sardinia – Baratz lake – surrounded by pine woods on sand dunes, so high it looks like gentle hills. From there we drove in his 4×4 to the Porto Conte bay to admire the spectacular sunset, smelling all the wild herbs (mirto, timo, origano, elicriso, acetosella, and finocchietto selvatico.)
We headed into beautiful Alghero next for an aperitif of Vermentino (one of the native grapes) at his restaurant and then he drove us back to the San Giuliano olive oil estate. Saturday night we enjoyed the awards event. Although our team didn’t win (we were in 3rd place), we had a fabulous time! We thought the quality of the food and wine was fantastic, and the hospitality of the people paired with the absolutely stunning scenery, have convinced us to offer new gastronomic tours in Sardegna.
Read about our culinary adventure (in Italian) in the local newspaper.