Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tasting Sicily in a Dish and a Glass: An Enogastronomic tour of Menfi

Sicily has many hidden places to discover its unique culture, food and wine. Menfi is one of those. Located in the western part of the island, it is home to the largest wine cooperative in Italy: Cantina Settesoli, which at the end of August organised an important event: the Mandrarossa vineyard tour. A mix of wine tastings, a running event among the vineyards, tours on the boat and many other activities were created to invite tourists from around the world.

What grapes do they grow in this area? It's a mix of international varieties (viognier, chardonnay, chenin blanc, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon) and local grapes (grillo, nero d'avola, inzolia, carricante, zibibbo, frappato, nerello mascalese and perricone, which is used by Settesoli to make a quite easy-drinking and fresh rose').

I took part of the organised 8km breathtaking run among the vineyards and I tried some local delicacies at the arrival near the sea, including fresh sardines and onions. The second day, at the vineyards, I met one of the grape growers, Salvatore Lombardo, who actually owns a farm called Azienda Agricola Fratelli Lombardo, where he grows organic produce and manages agritourism.

With my family, we decided to visit Lombardo's farm and have dinner there. We were greeted by the whole family (which includes a charming dog) and were had a KM0 dinner with products from the farm, including a fresh extravirgin olive oil. The wines were, of course, from Cantina Settesoli and they were well paired with the food. The main highlights of the night were the incredibly flavoured olives from the farm and the pasta with aubergines and fresh tomatoes.

I enjoyed taking a tour of the farm before dinner. We learnt that here organic is really a mindset, the certification is simply a marketing tool, as Lombardo tells us. The controls are not strict enough and it is more paperwork and money than actual work in the farm that leads one to the organic certification. This is why he might leave the certification soon.

The organic management he does in the fields does not lead him to gain more money from the winery. However, there are some pros. For instance, the good immune system of the organic tomato plants allowed them to be resistant against flies. Indeed, Salvatore was one of the very few producers who were able to grow tomatoes this year since the growers practicing conventional lost most of the crops due to the flies.

Here at Lombardo they practice rotation of crops, which ensures that the soil is always healthy. We are told that using natural insecticides (made of of extracts of natural plants) is much more expensive but the results pay off at the end. Also, there are three types of soils in the farm (clay, sandy and loam) which are used for different grape varieties and crops.

What I loved the most, though, was to see Lombardo's passion for the land and local produce. By acting locally, he hopes to create change within the system and maintain a healthy relationship with the land. We need more people like him in today's food system, in which the taste of a tomato tends to be the same everywhere, but at places like Fattoria Lombardo you can actually enjoy it.

Location: 92013 Menfi AG, Italy