Continuing his exploration of Sicilian food, DonQui Oaty turns his attention to olives, the second most important staple of Sicilian cuisine (after wine!).
The olive trees at Casa di Latomie near Castelvetranto on the west of the island, are rooted in the limestone of an ancient Greek quarry. They derive much of their flavour and nutrients from it. They are picked by hand from in order to ensure the careful selection of high quality olives.
DonQui is introduced to the great-grandfather of the olive trees. 1200 years old, this tree was a sapling when the Arabs took Sicily from the East Romans and grew into maturity when the Normans came. It is still producing fruit.
The olives, the oil and tapenade that DonQui samples are utterly delicious. The tapenade is served on crusty rustic bread made from tumminia flour. This ancient grain has a delectable nutty taste and is unique to Sicily.
Meat does not feature much in Sicilian cuisine. Milk and butter are noticeable only by their absence. Olive groves and vineyards dominate the landscape and, apart from a few sheep and and the odd cow or two, DonQui does not see any animals in the fields.
Livestock is mostly important for cheese. At La Masseria dairy, near Ragusa, DonQui encounters a whole menagerie including a distant Sicilian cousin.
At the dairy DonQui learns how caciocavallo is made. This a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese is quite mild. Sicilians prefer to use it rather than northern Italian parmesan on their pasta.
DonQui finds it pleasant enough but a bit too bland to get excited about.
He does rather like the fresh version which has not been aged and is served with olive oil and herbs. It is a bit like mozzarella but slightly firmer
The curds are made into a delicious ricotta. The taste is vastly superior to any ricotta DonQui has tasted at home in England.
Sweetened ricotta is the filling for cannoli. These ones also have a few chocolate chips in them and they taste fabulous.