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6 Staples of Calabrian Cuisine

Despite the fact that many people may trace their Italian ancestors to Calabria, Calabrian food is often overlooked. It's a pity, because the untamed, pristine southern Italian countryside is filled with surprises.

Here are six essentials of Calabrian cuisine that are also popular throughout the peninsula.

1. Licorice

Cultivated in Calabria for centuries, Calabrian licorice was first mentioned in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1928, which called it "the most popular in Great Britain." It's held PDO status since 2011, and it's available as a fresh or dried root and as an extract. Known for its anti-inflammatory, digestive, thirst-quenching, and aphrodisiac qualities, Calabrian licorice has even garnered a dedicated museum: the Giorgio Amarelli Museum in Rossano, a town in the northern part of the region near the Ionian coast.

2. Bergamot

This citrus fruit is around the size of an orange but looks more like a lemon. Bergamot's distinct flavor is both sharp and sour, and its appreciation extends far beyond Calabria, where it's been cultivated since 1750. Its essential oil is sought after by perfumers and pastry chefs from all over the world, who are drawn to its incredibly fresh aroma.

3. Caciocavallo Silano DOP

Produced with cow's milk and stretched curd, caciocavallo is a cheese found all around southern Italy, though the Silano version, whose name references the Sila mountain range where it's produced, is among the most renowned. Caciocavallo owes its name, which translates to “horse cheese,” to its method of conservation: the cheeses are tied in pairs to either end of a rope, which is then placed astride a beam to air dry – the manner in which the cheese dangles from the beam recalls how saddlebags dangle off the back of a horse. When the cheese is aged for around one month, it has more of a sweet flavor, which becomes spicier the longer it matures, which can be for up to one year. Caciocavallo Silano is great for grilling or frying.

4. 'Nduja

This soft, spreadable, spicy salami is one of Calabria's best-known products. ‘Nduja is prepared with the fatty parts of the pig and flavored with the local spicy chilli pepper. The salami is then stuffed and smoked. The finest version is the 'Nduja di Spilinga, which is made in the town it's named for in the province of Vibo Valentia, just south of Tropea. However, there are a lot of imitations in the market. If you're seeking a Spilinga version, having di Spilinga on the label isn't enough since the name isn't DOC- or PGI-protected – look for the address of the manufacturing plant to ensure it's from Spilinga. The town is also home to the annual ‘Nduja Festival, which has taken place every August 8 since 1975. Traditionally, ’nduja is spread atop toasted bread, though nowadays, its usage has extended into recipes. It's also used as a pizza topping or in sauces, pasta dishes, risotto, and more.

5. Red Onion of Tropea, PGI

Among Calabria's best known and most beloved products is the PGI-protected red onion from Tropea, a town located along the Tyrrhenian Sea, just above Italy's “toe.” It's recognized for its particular sweet flavor, a characteristic due to Tropea's climate.

6. Peperoncino

The Calabrian chili pepper is so famous that it's the focus of a themed festival in Diamante, a town on the Tyhrennian in the northern part of the region. It is eaten both fresh and dried and appears in most Calabrian recipes as well as being incorporated into classics like spaghetti aglio, olio, e peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, oil, and chili pepper).


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