It’s market day in Martina Franca, but first we walk the perimeter of the old city. The markets are huge and dominated by clothing and other assorted “fashion” items, so if you are looking for the farmers markets head right through to the far side from the central Piazza.
We picked up some delicious local cheeses– Marzicota, Galbari Gorgonzola, and Burrata of course.
There are farmer’s markets every day in at least one of the local towns, so you won’t have to travel more than twenty minutes to find at least one market. We checked the markets on Thursday at Alberobello, and they were smaller overall, but still worth a visit. For me the markets is the best way to see firsthand what the local artisans are producing, how the cheeses differ, what’s in season, and best of all, if you don’t access to visitations to the farms you can usually try their produce at the market.
After a lunchtime, with a spread of the goodies from the market, we washed it all down with a glass of local Bambina Bianca and headed out on a trulli excellent adventure.
The trulli, the characteristic cone-roofed houses of Alberobello, make up one of the 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.
A trullo is a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof constructed with the abundant limestone from the plateau of Apu. Their style of construction is specific to the Itria Valley, in the Murghe area of the Italian region of Apulia. Trulli were generally constructed as temporary field shelters and storehouses or as permanent dwellings by small proprietors or agricultural labourers. In the town of Alberobello, in the province of Bari, whole districts are packed with trulli. The golden age of trulli was the 19th century, especially its final decades marked by the development of wine growing.
Moving on to Noci, yet another town with a beautiful piazza inside the old walled centre, we enjoyed more exploring before traveling to meet another local food expert in Gioia del Colle, for a lesson in local history, dairy products and where to find the best local cuisine.
Gioia del Colle is a little town in the heart of Puglia, strategically located halfway between the Ionian and Adriatic seas to the east and west, and between the cities of Bari and Taranto to the north and south.
Typical foods from the area include mozzarella cheese, extra virgin olive oil, orechiette (small pasta shapes resembling little ears) and, believe it or not, pan-fried olives, which have a taste not unlike aubergines! Gioia is justly famous for producing some of the best tasting varieties of red and white wines that you will find.
Gioia is also the birthplace of the increasingly popular Primitivo wine. Local history records a 17th century Benedictine monk finding the first vines in the gardens of his monastery. Today, a host of small family owned businesses harvest, bottle and sell their own excellent private Primitivo labels, many producing no more than 15,000 bottles a year.
Gioia also shares in the Puglian tradition of producing what is acknowledged to be some of the best olive oil in Italy. Its quality attributed to the unique iron-rich soil of the land, the particular climate which sees dry summers and wet winters, and the long tradition of producing a product that unites advanced technology and equipment to centuries-old traditional methods of workmanship.
Late in the day, we found time to accompany our host to one of the local cheese specialty shops, Masseria Cevello, and came away with the most amazing selection of Burrata’s, spicy provolone, mozzarella, mozzarella stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella rolls, hard cheese scamorza, and other delights– some of the best cheeses I have tasted! We are definitely coming back.
We drive back to Martina Franca, feeling more like a local, and knowing our way around and through the most beautiful hilltop towns that dominate this wonderful region of Italy.
About the author: Since 1999, Bruce White has been traveling Italy, returning every year to a different region with pre-planned wine and food experiences. Some have been with food and wine tour operators in small groups, some planned directly with local specialists to ensure something very local and very special. With this network of contacts and a desire to return as often as possible, Bruce launched Wine and Food Traveller to share experiences with those who share the same passion for the Italian Lifestyle.