The Food and Wine of Ciociaria | Wild Heart of Italy
The hidden food and wine region of Ciociaria in Central Italy (between Rome and Naples) traverses the Atina DOC and Piglio DOCG wine regions, and was a favourite foodie destination of the ancient Romans.
It is still to this day famed for its fresh produce; pecorino and ricotta sheep cheese, and buffalo mozzarella; wild forest truffles and porcini; porchetta, proscuitto and salumi; as well as chestnuts, honey, olives and olive oil – and also its myriad local food and wine festivals! The fennel-flavoured Ciambelle ring bread dates back to Roman times, and the Romans were fond of dipping little Ciambelline biscuits dusted in sugar into their wine (to add extra flavour, now it’s just fun).
Here’s a lovely overview of the best typical Ciociarian dishes, wine and produce, which outlines the popularity of goat, lamb and rabbit in many dishes, with a great introduction to the wines of the region and its specialty pastries and desserts.
FOOD SPECIALTIES AND SAGRAS
The Ciociaria region is renowned for its distinctive cuisine in the ‘cucina povera’ style, with many of the local ancient recipes and traditions dating back to Medieval, Roman and even Etruscan times.
Local villages hold dedicated Sagra (food festivals) annually to celebrate their local specialty or pasta dish. It’s often hard to know about these events unless you’re a local, and they are often hard to find (think small village on a mountaintop), but once you stumble across them WOW they are great fun! Joining in on a local Sagra is definitely part of the itinerary on our Wild Heart of Italy tours, and we take detours with our guests whenever we hear a local village is celebrating.
As for the wine, the Lazio wine region has been growing vines to supply vino to tables since the Roman times – and there’s actually evidence to suggest that there was a viticulture even prior to this during the Etruscan civilisation.
The Ciociaria region encompasses both the Atina DOC and Piglio DOCG wine growing regions within Lazio. Atina is best known for its cabernet, while Piglio is attracting more and more recognition for its antique Cesanese red grape variety which is making a resurgence in popularity. This is the wine believed to have been cherished by Roman Emperors, and would explain why Ciociaria was such a ‘hot’ food and wine destination even 2,000 years ago.
“Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, but Cesanese is poised to become one of the hottest rediscovered red grapes in central Italy.” – The Rise of Cesanese Wine and the Lazio Region. Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
White wine lovers will also be happy in Ciociaria, the region is also well-known for its Trebbiano, Malvasia and Passerina.
There’s a keen sense of revival within the Ciociaria region, with producers and vignerons returning to time-trusted biodynamic and organic farming methods. Many of the vineyards and farm gates we visit as part of our Wild Heart of Italy food and wine cultural experiences ascribe to this ethos. This includes a holistic organic vineyard on top of a mountain that’s making incredibly good Pampanaro del Frusinate, infused with minerals from the natural limestone and sandstone rock of the mountain and the wild fennel that grows naturally between the vines.
MORE ABOUT THE LAZIO WINE REGION
Lazio is home to roughly 30 DOC titles, and according to WineSearcher three white DOCs stand out in particular: Castelli Romani (apparently the most important), Frascati (the more renowned and traditional but enjoying a resurgence) and Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone (not widely known outside of Italy but hey, I’d go there and drink all their wines just for the name).
On that point, Est! Est!! Est!!! may be a strange name for a wine region, but it apparently relates back to the 12th century when a Bishop on his way to Rome sent a servant ahead of him to search out the best wine of each village so he knew where to stop for the day during his travels. Scrawling ‘Est’ – Latin for ‘It is (here)’ – on the doors of all the places with good wine, according to legend when the servant reached the inn at Montefiascone and tasted all the wines on tap he enthusiastically scribbled Est! Est!! Est!!! on its door.
There are six additional location-specific IGT titles in the Lazio IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), and three of these relate directly to the Ciociaria region within the region (it’s much like Chianti in Tuscany). These are: Anagni IGT, which covers the Frosinone province; Civitella d’Agliano IGT, which is exclusive to the Civitella d’Agliano parish just north-east of Montefiascone; and Frusinate IGT, which covers the Frosinone province.
The region is most well-known for its white wine varietals, in particular Trebbiano and Malvasia. Sangiovese and Montepulciano are the dominant reds of the region, although WineSearch (and Paolo!) recommend you seek out the local Cesanese as one of the region’s “most interesting” and indigenous red grape varieties, and Civitella D’Agliano has lent its name to the fabulous Aglianico red varietal so count us in for that too.
In an article titled ‘The Rise of Cesanese and Lazio Wine‘, Wine Enthusiast magazine has stated that while you may never have heard of Cesanese before it is “poised to become one of the hottest rediscovered red grapes in central Italy.
“Among the rare red wines of Lazio, Cesanese del Piglio is the most interesting,” says Rome-based wine historian Andrea Gabbrielli. “Today, the market wants wines with identity and personality and even though Cesanese is an antique variety, it represents an exciting new trend.”
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