A Guide to Irpinia
A trip through Irpinia cannot leave aside the flavours, colours and aromas of the region’s gastronomic delights, with their abundant cheeses, cured meats, desserts and age-old recipes, all complemented by the local wines.
Irpinia also boasts three DOCG wines, which have gained worldwide recognition while providing a boost to the local economy. The entire province of Avellino can be divided into two large areas: the first is made up of the hills along the River Calore, where the Aglianico grape is grown, which is made into the famous red wine Taurasi, while the other is comprised of the hills surrounding the River Sabato, where white grapes are grown and made into Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.
Taurasi (DOCG since 1993) is made from either 100% Aglianico grapes, or at least 70% with the addition of other red grape varietals. With a ruby-red colour and intense aroma, while full-bodied aromatic and robust on the palate, this wine is perfect to pair with red meat, game and hard cheeses.
The grape varietals used to make Taurasi are cultivated high up in the hills (350-500 metres above sea level) where vineyards are found near olive groves and chestnut trees. This wine is produced in 17 towns in the province of Avellino, with much of the production coming from the town of Taurasi itself. Here, during the five days around the Feast of the Assumption, celebrated on 15 August, the Fiera Enologica is celebrated, a festival dedicated to the local wine production.
This event gives people a chance to visit the local producers, taste wines made from indigenous grapes varietals and visit the castle (Palazzo Marchionale) located in the upper part of the medieval village. Today the castle is the seat of the Enoteca Regionale dei Vini d’Irpinia, a wine centre run by the regional government that promotes the area’s wines and boasts a special Sensory Path.
The other towns where Taurasi can be made according to government regulations are the following: Montefalcione, Montemiletto, Torre le Nocelle, Pietradefusi, Venticano, Bonito, Luogosano, Sant’Angelo all’Esca,Fontanarosa, Paternopoli, Castelfranci, Montemarano, Mirabella Eclano, Lapio, Castelvetere sul Calore and San Mango sul Calore.
Greco di Tufo (DOCG 2003) is obtained from an ancient Greek grape varietal known as Aminea Gemina. It has a strawyellow colour and is dry on the palate with an intense and pleasant bouquet with peach and almond notes. This wine is a perfect accompaniment for fish and shellfish dishes. It is produced in eight towns: Tufo, Prata Principato Ultra, Altavilla Irpina, Chianche, Petruro Irpino, Torrioni, Montefusco and Santa Paolina.
Fiano (DOCG in 2003) is a straw-coloured wine with a delicate bouquet, with hazelnut and floral notes including acacia and hawthorn. It is fresh and dry on the palate, but without being bitter. It is an ideal accompaniment to dishes that contain fish and shellfish,and makes a superb aperitif.
The itinerary for Fiano di Avellino goes through 26 towns: Avellino, Monteforte Irpino, Mercogliano, Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo, Summonte, Sant’Angelo a Scala, Capriglia Irpina, Montefredane, Grottolella, Aiello del Sabato, Forino, Contrada, Cesinali, S. Lucia di Serino, S. Michele di Serino, S.Stefano del Sole, Sorbo Serpico, Atripalda, Manocalzati, Pratola Serra, Montefalcione, Lapio, Candida, S. Potito Ultra, Parolise and Salza Irpina.
Irpinia’s cheeses and cured meats. Soppressata Irpina is a typical local cured meat, which is produced in large quantities in Mirabella Eclano and Torella dei Lombardi. It has spread throughout the entire territory where it is produced by farmers that smoke the salami over an oak fire leaving this delicacy with an unmistakable flavour. Another cured meat known as Nnoglia is also smoked using the same process. This salami is produced with the leftover parts of the pig (stomach and intestines), and is traditionally served in the area during Easter together with wild chicory soup.
Cheese and dairy production traditionally comes from the Terminio and Partenio areas, where cows and sheep are reared. The most famous cheeses include Pecorino Bagnolese, obtained from the milk of a specific breed of sheep known as Bagnolese, which is typical to the town of Bagnoli Irpino, where the fields are rich in plant species that enhance the aroma of the cheese. Pecorino di Lauticada is another sheep’s milk cheese obtained from the same breed. Pecorino Carmasciano is another wellknown cheese made from cow’s milk. Grainy and crumbly when cut, it has a slightly sharp taste with an aroma reminiscent of wild herbs that come from the local fields where the sheep graze, which are rich in phosphorus. This quality makes it impossible to duplicate and highly soughtafter. Today it is produced by four familyrun farms.
Carmasciano is a gastronomic specialty of a small district in Upper Irpini that the cheese is named after. It consists of the towns of Rocca San Felice and Guardia dei Lombardi. These towns are located at about 750 metres above sea level at the base of Monte Forcuso, between the River Ufita valley, the Ansanto valley, the Ofanto valley and the Altopiano del Formicoso. Here, a few kilometres from Carmasciano, we find Mefite or Mofeta, a fumarole, or a depression in the land with a bubbling lake where mud and gas are vented due to volcanic activity. The Ansanto valley was described by Virgil in the Aeneid as the gateway to the afterlife.
Caciocavallo Irpino is another stretched curd cheese produced with the milk of Frisone and Brune breed cows, mainly in Upper Irpinia and around the River Ufita. Caciocavallo Podolico is obtained from cow’s milk exclusively from the Podolica breed, which are wild or semi-wild breeds. Caciocavallo Silano DOP, the most widely found in Irpinia, is different from Podolico as it is only partially made with milk from the Podolico breed.
Mozzarella and braided mozzarella cheese production is widespread in an area known as the Piana del Dragone, where the milk is of particularly high quality since the cows spend long periods of time grazing in the pastures. Along the roads leading from Montella to Bagnoli and then to the Altopiano del Laceno, it is easy to stumble upon white Podolico cows with long horns. Other specialties in Irpinia include a cheese known as formaggio "mbriaco", because it has been soaked in marc, the leftovers after the grapes are pressed in wine production. There is also cacioricotta, cacio "muscio", a cheese that is excellent when used with baked pasta dishes and Manteca or Mantecata cheese: a cow’s milk cheese with a wholemilk stretched curd exterior and a soft, creamy interior, both derived from the process to produce caciocavallo cheese.
Black truffles from Bagnoli are an important element in the local economy of Bagnoli Irpino. Each year in the month of October, a festival takes place in town where it is possible to taste dishes flavoured with truffles, including penne pasta with truffles and pancetta, cheeses and liquors infused with truffles and caciocavallo impiccato cheese and truffle-infused breads.
Another local gem is the Castagna di Montella, a highly-prized chestnut of the palommina variety, produced exclusively in the towns of Montella, Bagnoli Irpino, Cassano Irpino, Volturara Irpina, Nusco and Montemarano, at a high between 500 and 1,000 metres above sea level. This is the only fruit/vegetable product to obtain DOC recognition in 1987 and IGP recognition in 1996. During the Christmas holidays, "castagne del prete" are widely consumed, a type of chestnut in a shell that is dried using the heat from the fires lit with chestnut wood and then moistened with water and wine.
Another important chestnut variety is the Castagna di Serino DOP, an essential ingredient in the production of local baked goods, but also eaten boiled or roasted. Particularly suited to the low-altitude valleys of the area around Serino, where it is the commonly cultivated variety, since it is the most resistant to fog and cryptogams, this type of chestnut is widespread in the towns of Santa Lucia di Serino, Santo Stefano del Sole, Sorbo Serpico, Salza Irpina, Solofra, Montoro Inferiore and Superiore, Chiusano San Domenico, San Michele di Serino and Contrada.
Also in Lower Irpinia, we find vast areas cultivated with hazelnut trees. These areas include Vallo Lauro, the area around Baiano and the towns near the city of Avellino and at the base of Monte Partenio. The Mortarella variety is prevalent due to its fertility,hardiness and resistance to cold. There are many festivals and events dedicated to hazelnuts, during which visitors have the chance to taste what the locals call "ntrite": hazelnuts that are peeled, toasted in the oven and strung onto thin threads of white hemp. The hazelnut festival in Baiano in the month of September is particularly important. During this event, visitors have the chance to taste hazelnut-flavoured spaghetti, among other local specialties. The Festa della Frutta Secca, which celebrates the local hazelnuts and walnuts, takes place in Domicella during the first week in September.
A special place among the numerous traditional desserts in Irpinia is reserved for torrone (nougat), called copeto in the local dialect. In the town of Grottaminarda, a new organisation to protect the production of torrone has been established. However, the town with the oldest tradition in the production of this local delicacy is Dentacane.
This small hamlet of Pietradefusi is set amidst groves of hazelnut trees and lush forests, which produce hazelnuts and aromatic honey used to make torrone. Dentecane was the first place where this delicacy was filled with sponge cake soaked in Strega liquor or limoncello and with chocolate. The traditional production of torrone was exported to the town of Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo at the base of Monte Partenio from Dentacane. This town is a destination for many pilgrims who come to visit the Madonna di Montevergine. Here, in the Piazza Mercato, a permanent exhibition has been set up where year-round it is possible to buy typical local produce such as Castagne del Prete chestnuts, "ntrite" and local biscuits known as "muzzetti".
In Irpinia, the tradition of homemade pasta and bread is widespread. A special bread in the region is Pane di Montecalvo, from the town of Montecalvo, a town with a rich history of popular legends and beliefs. Visitors have the chance to taste this delicious bread during one of the oldest festivals in Campania, which is held on August 15: the ‘Sagra dei Cicatielli e del Pane di Montecalvo’. Other well-known breads from Irpinia include Pane di Calitri and Pane Jurmano, from the Upper River Calore valley, which is made with the addition of rye flour to the dough. San Michele di Serino is also famous for its typical production of bread cooked in a wood-fired oven according to methods that date back to the 16th century.
Moving to the plains in the area around Montoro, the economy of Irpinia is focussed mainly on vegetable cultivation. Tomatoes, aubergines, artichokes, potatoes, are all grown, and the most important produce is the artichoke and the cipolla ramata, a local copper-coloured variety of onion. It is cultivated mainly in the towns of San Michele di Serino, Montoro Superiore, Montoro Inferiore, Cesinali, Solofra and Santa Lucia di Serino. Every year in the month of April, the hamlet of Preturo puts on an artichoke festival known as the ‘Sagra del Carciofo’, where visitors can taste grilled artichokes, as well as numerous artichoke-based dishes.
An abundant variety of fresh fruits are produced all over Irpinia, with an outstanding variety of cherries known as Maiatica di Taurasi, typical in the Valley of the Campagne Taurasine. The Melella and San Pasquale varieties are widespread in the countryside of Ariano Irpino. In the countryside outside of the town of Serino and the neighbouring areas, at the base of the Monti Picentini, a prized variety of cherry known as the Ciliegia di Serino is widely grown. Midway through June, in the town of Santo Stefano del Sole, an event dedicated to the cherry, known as the ‘Festa della Ciliegia’, is organised in Piazza Oscar Brini. Here, the warm summer air is cooled by the fountain in the square, surrounded by stands serving cherry-based desserts.
There are also a wide variety of apples cultivated in the region: the Capodiciuccio type is typical to the interior areas of the province of Avellino. The Chianella variety is grown on the hillsides of Irpinia, the Chicchedda variety is cultivated in the Upper Calore and Ofanto valleys, while the Limoncella variety is used to produce cider. The most highly-prized apple variety is the Mela Annurca, which is picked when it is green and left to ripen on beds of hay. Finally, there is also the Mela San Giovanni variety, which owes its name to the fact that it ripens in the month of June. It is mainly grown in the Ufita valley in the area between Grottaminarda and Ariano Irpino.
Another local delicacy is a variety of fig known as the fico di San Mango sul Calore. It is cultivated in the town that it is named after, as well as Castelfranci, Paternopoli,Caposele and Fontanarosa. The fig festival takes place in San Mango in the month of July.
Irpinia is also known worldwide for its outstanding olive oils, obtained from the Ravece variety around Ariano Irpino in the Ufita valley and the Middle Calore valley. Irpinia Colline dell’Ufita DOP oil is the result of a perfect harmony between the environment and tradition.
In the towns of Calabritto and Senerchia, a unique type of pepper is cultivated, which gets its name from a town specialised in its production: Quaglietta. One variety of the so-called Quaglietta peppers is the "papaiola" or "papazzo", which is red in colour. The larger peppers of this variety are pickled and used to prepare stuffed peppers, while the spungulicchio variety, with its rounded top, is a very spicy variety.