The Best Food in Southeast Italy? Especially Puglia

It’s long been known that what Americans think of as olive oil is hardly the same liquid gold that Italians know and love. In fact, in 2012 a study conducted by the University of California found that nearly 70 percent of the extra virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. was not pure and some were even rancid.
Michele Iadarola, the founder of “Especially Puglia” wants to educate our taste buds one olive tree at a time. Iadarola may call New York City home these days, but every fall he takes a small group—usually around six people— to accompany him on a farm stay tour of the region.

Starting in Bari, the group heads to the Lucera area where they will bed down at a Masseria (a local organic farm) set at the foot of the Dauni Mountains. “We taste local wines and have a typical Pugliese meal at a nearby castle,” Iadarola explains. “We visit the olive groves, and the guests can participate in the harvest if they want to do that. We stay at two different Masseria’s that are surrounded by olive groves.”

Visitors can then see how the olives are washed and experience the process of how the ripe olives are pressed into oil.
“At the end of the day we have this fantastic lunch at the mill, and you can taste the freshly pressed olive oil,” he adds.

There are cooking classes, one with a professional chef and one how to create local favorites with Michele’s mom Maria. “That’s always the most popular,” he laughs.
Of course, in addition to the great food and drink, there is also the beautiful local landscape to explore

Iadarola believes that whereas other regions of Italy have become overly touristy and trendy, Puglia is a region that ’s just coming into its own as a destination and is where a traveler can still find an authentic experience.
Located near the heel of the Italian boot, Puglia is a land of rustic countryside, fantastic architecture and borders the crystal waters of the Adriatic and the Ionian seas.
Don’t miss the baroque Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce, the ancient fortress in Lucera, the old city walls in Otranto or the fantastic collection of  Greek, Roman and Puglian art at the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto.

Iadarola’s Especially Puglia tour costs approximately $3200 per person and also includes a visit to the small town of Troia and Gargano National Park and its Slow Food Presidium—an initiative to support quality food producing methods that are facing extinction.
In addition to his FarmShare and Farm Stay programs, he has created the Adopt an Olive Tree program where fine extra virgin olive oils from the region can be sent to your home to help support the mostly family-run farms in the area.

Iadarola is looking to expand his business to include spring tours where travelers can be a part of the cheese making process—from the moment the cows return from grazing in the pristine mountains to the local production of cheeses and the festivals that mark the change in the season.

“We want to help preserve a way of life here,” he says. “We want to bring people closer to nature and change their relationship with food and every time someone visits we feel we do just that.”


For futher information about booking your own Puglia farm stay, go to: www.especiallypuglia.com

A shop not to be missed on your trip is Salumi Giannelli in Troia. This small family-owned Salumeria is amazing for its hand made, nitrate-free, organic salami. It is a treat to find out what salami is supposed to taste like!

If you want to spend a few extra days wondering around Troia, there is a great local tour agency can help you arrange accommodation. Find out more at; Svegliarsi Nei Borghi.

Story: Lisa Arcella | Photography: Daniela Stallinger

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