Postcard from Massa Lubrense

Buongiorno, my friends !

Greetings from beautiful Italy where the sun is hot, the limoncello is cold and everyone listens to the Mamma… Today I am writing from a small agroturismo farm in the hills above Sorrento. Eugenio – a shy young man whose decent command of the English language is due exclusively to English classes taught nights at the local town hall – has picked us up at our hotel and has driven us to his parents’ farm for a guided tour. “One day I wish to travel to America,” he tells us, “but my English is not yet good enough.” For now, we are glad he is here to show us around. We meet some of the inhabitants: la Nonna (the grand-mother, sitting under a drooping wisteria), Caruso and Pavarotti (the two noisy roosters), Mario and Maria (the pigs). “They’re more work than they look,” he informs us. “My brother is in charge of them. He’s so keen for them to be fat enough, he’d nearly feed them pizza!”.

We meet his father in the orchard. He’s balancing barefoot on the bars of the wooden pergola built to shade the lemons from the sun. In a few snips of a pocket knife he shows us the different techniques for grafting lemon trees. He tells us that no lemon tree grown from lemon seeds will ever give sufficient fruit, so he grafts lemon branches onto orange or grapefruit tree trunks when they are about thumb thick. He holds up his thumb to show us.

Back on the terrace we join the Nonna under the wisteria and are offered slices of freshly cut lemon and grapefruit to try. “No need for sugar!” Eugenio’s mother hands out glasses and offers us a taste of her home-made limoncello. I think about how to ask her for more without seeming rude when Eugenio tops up my glass with a wink. “Everybody wants more limoncello,” he grins. Any chance of getting the recipe? “Non c’è problema!” I take notes. “But it will not be as good as when Mamma makes it. She is the best. And so are our lemons!” He’s probably right.

Benedetto, Eugenio’s best friend, sets up a little table in front of us like a card shark getting ready to do his three-card trick. In under 15 minutes he shows us how to turn milk into mozzarella (and how to braid it, knot it and twist it into a daisy), how to boil the leftover whey into ricotta and lets us taste his famous Provolone del Monaco. This is a small, but well-oiled enterprise and most of their products are stamped with PDO/PGI labels to certify their origin. We leave Eugenio and his family at the end of the day wearing happy smiles and carrying half a dozen bottles of lemon-scented olive oil and limoncello. Happiness in liquid form!

Wish you were here!

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