’That’s Italian!’ :: A (Delicious) Preview of Macerata, Italy

by Richard Frisbie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 2, 2010

I swear, if I lived in New York City I could go to a different event each night-some nights, two. They'd even be a few lunches to choose from as well... every day!

Living two hours outside of town means I try to be more discerning about the events I attend. If I'm going to make the drive, the promise of a free meal isn't enough; there needs to be nice people and a pretty solid promise of good food. (Of course the inclusion of a nice little gift bag doesn't hurt either... food, booze, clothes, I'm not picky!) I'm fortunate if I'm invited to one such event each month, and recently I scored.

On this night, I took the train into the city for a presentation by the Italian Government Tourist Board, accepting Director Riccardo Strano's gracious invitation to learn about the region of Italy from whence he hails.

And I'm glad I did; that night, I ate a fabulous meal and met some wonderful people.

Oh, and I got the greatest goody bag ever!

Macerata Honored

The event? The Province of Macerata, in the Marche Region, was honored for its culinary, historical and cultural achievements. It happens that the Province of Macerata - and the Marche Region as a whole - is recognized as embodying all of Italy.

When the President of the Marche Region, Franco Capponi, spoke of his homeland, he said "Of all the provinces, Macerata has everything: cuisine, scenery, the highest quality of living . . . it is all of Italy in just one region."

No matter how much I learn about Italy, the folks at the tourism office like to remind me that there is so much more to know. Besides the "meet & greet" and a few speeches, they showed videos of the Marche region: its food, scenery, history and cultural attractions. Who knew there were so many great reasons to visit!

Sferisterio Opera Festival

Probably the largest cultural attraction in Macerata is the 46 year old Sferisterio Opera Festival. Each summer they present a series of operas, following one theme, which are performed outdoors in a centuries old, 3000-seat amphitheater.

The theme for 2010? "To the greater glory of God". It commemorates the death 400 years ago of a Jesuit priest, native son Matteo Ricci, who was also a scientist and man of letters. Five operas (three by Verdi, one by Vivaldi and one by Monteverdi) will be presented beginning July 29th. The video showed highlights of past seasons and the top names in Italian Opera, who regularly grace their stage.

Chef Lucio Pompili’s Symposium

President Franco Capponi then introduced the owner of the Marche Region restaurant, Symposium, saying, "the role of the chef is to build a bridge to connect the original cooking of Italy to the future, while preserving the cuisine, which is the heart of Italy."

Imagine my surprise when Chef Lucio Pompili stood up; we had run into each other at the Bocuse d’Or competition just two days before! (The top chefs in the world were at that competition.)

In his brief speech, Chef Pompili told us that Macerata "is at the center of the new wave in cuisine." He was talking about the branch of Mediterranean cooking known as Adriatic Cuisine, the lighter, healthier cousin to the Mediterranean diet. I can’t wait to try it.

50th Anniversary Celebration

Chef Pompili was at the event in order to showcase the dishes of the Macerara, which were made with typical local products and the eight regional wines that Macerara is famous for. His restaurant, Symposium, is one of the best in Macerata, but Chef Pompili designed food tours and demos for each of the five provinces of Marche. His video focused on the food- and made me hungry just watching it. If I were in Macerata for the opera season I’d be sure to take one of his tours.

The President of Accademia Italiana della Cucina, Giovanni Ballarini, commented that "New York City is the core of Italian Cooking outside of Italy. Fifty years ago the Accademia Italiana della Cucina Delegation of New York was founded here."

The first Accademia to be created outside of Italy, the New York chapter - one of 40 such delegations around the world - is now celebrating its 50th Anniversary. Plans for more Accademia Italiana della Cucina delegations include Australia, New Zealand, and the far east, as Italian foods and preparations become recognized world-wide as "the universal cuisine."

The HORO WLE168 Turntable

We also got a brief intro to the TOMA Company and the diversity of chef’s wear they produce in the Marche region, and some information on the Cartechini Olive Oil Company. The final presentation was the most unusual of all- it focused on an artist who invented the ultimate record turntable- which can be tuned!

Called the HORO WLE168, this is nor ordinary record player; in fact, it looks like a beautiful sculpture. The inventor, Luigi Pasqualini, is - it turns out - an artist. Pasqualini used components of musical instruments to create the perfect turntable for the true vinyl aficionado.

The innovation in this piece lies in the fact that Pasqualini used the knowledge of musical instrument production in order to create an instrument for the reproduction of that kind of music. Rather than just a machine, his invention is instead essentially an instrument to play a record. It’s amazing to look at, and produces sound that gives the impression of listening to an instrument, not a recording!

Italian Food & Wine

After all this talk of Italian goods, I was getting hungry, and luckily I didn’t have to wait long to eat! Although it was a buffet, it was a fabulous Italian buffet, which makes all the difference.

I started with olive oil, drizzled over slices of bread, which I initially took simply to be polite- and I’m glad I did. No simple EVOO, this was Cartechini olive oil with blood orange, and it startled my mouth when I tasted it. It’s the perfect palate cleanser.

I found out that the rest of the meal came from The Amarone Restaurant, and it was delish: fried mozzarella balls, meatballs, fresh mozzarella balls, lasagna, little chunks of chicken and beef in a light sauce, a pork roulade and a salad. I went back for seconds.

The 142-year old Varnelli Distillery, located in Macerata, contributed the Amaro and anisette consumed after dinner. It was incredibly smooth... especially when the Amaro is served in chocolate cups!

Varnelli is famous for their fine liqueurs and bitters made with secret recipes from the herbs, roots, fruit, and honey of the region. In 1950 their dry anise liqueur was awarded the distinction of being "the best product of its kind." I sipped the sweet licorice flavor of the anise and imagined myself outside at the Sferisterio Opera Festival during the intermission of Faust.

The greatest goody bag

Thankfully, I don’t have to imagine it! In my goody bag - aside from the digital images and fascinating information on the region - I discovered a small bottle of Amarone and one of Anise from Varnelli; bottles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil from the Cartechini Oil Company; a stylish black chef’s apron from the TOMA Company (also of Macerata) commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Academy of Italian Cuisine; and an invitation to have dinner at Chef Lucio Pompili’s restaurant, Symposium, during my visit to Macerata.

Yes- my goody bag included an invitation to Italy! (Keep your eyes on the EDGE Travel section for that story, and perhaps a video of the opera when I get home.)

What a night that turned out to be. It certainly pays to go into New York City once in awhile!

Richard Frisbie is a bookseller and publisher in New York State whose food & wine travel articles appear in LGBTQ and regional periodicals, as-well-as at Gather.com, Globalfoodie.com and GoNomad.com. He accepts free copies of books for review, restaurant meals to critique, bottles of wine and liquor for tastings, and all-expense-paid trips in exchange for articles about the destinations. He is paid for these articles. Richard promotes informed, authentic information about food, wine and travel, and does not allow the financial arrangements and/or sponsorship to affect his judgment. You can email him at: [email protected]