Arriving at the international airport of Rome Fiumicino was a bit hazy at first ( Sadly I didn’t get a glimpse of the mud volcano that recently popped up). Watching the sun rise and fall again in the space of 10 hours made for some time dilation, yet the minute the plane touched down from our connection in Frankfurt the differences of Italy began to immediately become apparent.
In eyes of my traveling companion, Italian speaker and wine specialist Joanie Karapetian could I see the excitement building like bubbles behind a cork. Though we had been confined to tiny spaces – flanked by unhappy babies and less than pungent neighbors, Joanie immediately kicked into top gear with flowing Italian and high energy, dragging me along snapping photos like a tourist. We enjoyed our first espresso flanked by men wearing elegant scarves, wrist jewelry, fine boots, and elegant gloves.
We could not have been more fortunate to find a guide and driver in Rocco Masciarelli. With fluid language he described every commune we flew past at blinding speed – here is where Madonna is from, here is where Berlusconi had a prostitute, etc.. Rocco was to take us from Rome to the Castello di Semivicoli, in the commune of Casacanditella, the province of Chieti, Abruzzo. As we quickly found out (and it was later reinforced by several others) Rocco knows everything about Abruzzo. He told us that he could drive the autostrada with his eyes closed, as he had completed the trip more times than he could remember.
At this point of the trip, due to my uncharacteristic inability to sleep on the plane I had been awake for the span of 24 hours and began fading in and out of consciousness. I desperately attempted to capture the picturesque snow capped Appinene mountains and impossible mountain towns that streamed by as we weaved through endless tunnels at 140kph.
I was roused by the smell of a rich pervasive perfume that began lacing the air, cold smoke with a thick hint of sulfur is something not confined to a wine drinker’s appreciation. I was immediately reminded of the Porchetta that I had first tasted at Sotto, in Los Angeles – I mentioned that I smelled smoke and pork to Rocco, which almost immediately roused him to an instant fervor.
A dear friend to the late Gianni Masciarelli, Rocco lit up when I mentioned that I enjoyed Porchetta – a Southern Italian roasted pork specialty. Rocco insisted that we stop to try his favorite roadside spot. What was to follow was something I will be dreaming about for some time to come.
At the base of a towering mountain we found a small roadside cafe impregnated into the rock base with a charismatic contessa. She swelled with pride as she handed us samples of her homemade pork and liver based sausages, rich and piquant with just the right amount of aging and chew. Wrapped in nothing more than a womb of warm soft olive oil bread the steaming cuts of rich fatty pork was both salty and juicy.
Rocco has a life I can dream about, he waxed poetic (with Joanie translating beautifully) about the 9 styles of truffles that he often finds with his truffle dog, as well as his true passion in wild boar hunting (which we were told could be found all over the region as well as in the roads).
After this experience, I needed a nap and a glass of wine. Rocco suggested a beer, but we had to continue on our winding trip up the mountainside through Chieti till we reached the Castello di Semivicoli.
Check back for more on wine, the castle, and Abruzzo!