Story and Photos by Harald Zoschke
The Fiery Festival... finally! (continued from Page 1)
The later the night, the more crowded it got at the festival. This picture was shot just shortly after midnight! It pays to hold siesta in the afternoon.
Every year, the festival offers a unique collection of art, presentations, science, satire, musical acts, folklore and much more. But with no doubt, the main attraction is the countless number of booths with food and nonfood stuff, most of it somehow related to the mighty pod, of course.
Even the drawing of a Smart (a cute sub-compact car made by Daimler Chrysler) was themed as "Lotteria del Peperoncino". The winner was announced late Sunday night. I didn't win the car. Too bad, I was so looking forward to driving home 1000 miles in that cutie ;-)
The municipal place was dominated by a giant inflatable chile pod, clearly visible from any distance, and sponsored by Italian (!) Dreher Brewery. Their beer actually tasted pretty good.
As last time, chile grower Massimo Biagi from the University of Pisa managed to have pods of more than 150 capsicum varieties from around the world all ripe at the same time, and that just in time for the show. An incredible feat.
For five days, Massimo and his friendly family folks sold the pods at their booth and patiently answered countless chile-related questions. Considering the ideal climate, it's not surprising that many Italians like to grow their own peppers.
Massimo's booth was a gathering point for all hardcore chiliheads, and he's doubtlessly one of them himself.
This time, various nurseries were present, too, offering an interesting selection of potted chile pepper plants. Quite a temptation if you traveled to Diamante by car...
More "hot" Products
As with the last Peperoncino Festival we went to, we found quite a few new "hot" products. Here's a selection...
An even greater variety of tasty cheeses was on display, for sampling and for sale. Cheeses, whatta selection! The minibar refrigerator in our hotel filled up quickly with delicacies like that one here - a kind of Pecorino, but made from cow's milk rather than sheep's milk. And of course kicked up with bits of peperoncino.
We also noticed an increase in spicy meat and sausage specialties - from air-dried peperoncino ham to salsiccia piccante to chile powder rubbed pancetta (cured and air-dried pork belly). To our delight, samples were plenty. And yes, we spent more money.
While on the subject of meat... The aphrodisiac properties of chile peppers are often pointed out rather graphically here. The hot pods are nicknamed "Víagra of the poor", and there's even a salsa by that name (above). We also found a capsicum concoction named "Afrodisaco naturale", available as a "Kamasutra Collection" with different positions on every jar. Gentlemen, get your peppers ready!
If all fails, a glass of Vinagra may help,
a red wine, kicked up with peperoncino.
For a softer approach, try the peperoncino chocolate, or peperoncino honey. Both really excellent, by the way. So, does it help? Hey, go find out yourself!
For yet more mood enhancement, hang some of those beautiful, chile-decorated Italian glass lamps. Many styles were available at a festival booth. I got the one to the right for our kitchen.
The organizers are always trying hard to bring entertaining and educating elements to their festival. This years' scientific-culinary presentation was themed Tartufi e Peperoncini ("Truffles and chiles"). We're talking wild mushrooms here, not the chocolates named after it. It is widely known that the forests in Calabria's Sila mountains are rich in porcini mushrooms, but those rare (and costly) black and white truffles can be found here as well. If you have a specially trained truffle sniffing dog, that is.
Powerpoint Presentation: University biologists explained the mysterious underground life of truffles - a complex symbiosis with forest tree roots.
Just like chiles, truffles are believed to have aphrodisiac power, and their fragrance is somewhat similar to musk.
And they're expensive - the plate to the right represents a little fortune. Those ugly dudes can easily cost you a couple hundred dollars a pound.
Truffles are scraped or grated onto food and into sauces and soups sparingly, just before eating. Slicers like the one pictured have been especially designed for this purpose.
The presentation's highlight was a free sampling of tasty truffle specialties, like black and white truffle paté, and sliced pork spiced with truffles and peperoncini. There was even great red wine, also free, from nearby Verbicaro, one of Calabria's famous wine areas.
Other places in Diamante were set up with screens and chairs to watch movies that fit in to the fiery fest. Elsewhere, an overhead projector was installed, and hobby cartoonists got their chance to compete with pros, cheered up by a large audience. Again we were amazed by the many unusual ideas to entertain festival visitors.
Chile Eating Championship: A New Record
We already reported here about the Campionato italiano mangiatori di peperoncino - the Italian Chile Eating Championship, one of the highlights at the annual Peperoncino Festival. This years' contest was quite similar to the last ones, but there were more contestants, about a dozen, who made it to the finals this year, and a new record was set.
Once again, famous local entertainer and comedian Gianni Pellegrino cheered up the contestants, and updated the audience on the progress. After exactly thirty minutes of nervewracking, nailbiting thrill and excitement, a clear winner emerged. Vincenzo Maiolino managed to consume 729 grams (about 25 oz.) of chopped, really, really hot chiles. Antonietta Career was one of the two female fire eaters and finshed second with respectable 459 grams (15.5 oz.). As last time, I had a chance to sample the contest chiles, and thank you, a spoonful was enough for me, despite my fiery eating habits.
Unexpected Author Honors
The annual peperoncino festival is organized by the Accademia Italiana del Peperoncino. To research the scientific and culinary aspects of Calabria's capsicums and to promote chile usage in general, the Italian Chile Pepper Academy was founded by Enzo Monaco in 1994 in Diamante. Originally a regional association, it already went national just two years later. Today there are subsidiaries in every region of the country, and thousands of Academy members spread all over Europe. When I wrote my extensive Eight-Part "Tasty Travel" Report about Calabria, Diamante and the Peperoncino Festival back in 2002, I had no contact with the Academy, but my reporting didn't go unnoticed. With little "warning", I was asked on stage during a celebration on Sunday night, and named an honorary member of the Accademia Italiana del Peperoncino.
First I received a peperoncino wreath, then the handsome and entertaining host of the show interviewed me. Arrgggh! Wish I had started that Italian language class a little sooner! Without a little help by our no less handsome friend Nunzia, I would have been in trouble...
Next, Accademia founder and president Enzo Monaco entered the stage, reached into his pocket, and soon my chile wreath was accompanied by the institution's heavy honor medal, sporting a Greek mask and a peperoncino.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Accademia Italiana del Peperoncino for this great and unexpected
honor - grazie mille!
That's all from Calabria for this year. Well, almost...
Wow, that was a nice surprise for ye olde author at the end of the festival. If you'd like to go there yourself next year, I do have some new recommendations for you - the great hotel we stayed at this time, and a literally "hot" restaurant we went to. So keep on reading here...