Tasting Territories: Experiencing Local Communities through Food

Theme: Rural Cultural Food Tourism

by Ms. Ilenia Atzori
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Sardinia, Italy
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in Museum Studies, Leicester University

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Abstract:

Food is an integral part of a Country’s heritage: it depends on local resources, technical skills, people’s knowledge and creativity, cultural influences and other variables. Therefore, experiencing a territory through the making of its local food implies a learning-by-doing process that allows visitors making sense of the territory, the many foodscapes it produces and the culture behind a specific food.

Introduction:

Although Italy’s heritage is still the backbone of tourism in the country, food, wine and local traditions have increasingly become key pull factors for minor and rural destinations. This is especially true for Sardinia, which will be this article’s case study. Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.Located between Spain and mainland Italy, this area has historically been one of the strategic crossroads for cultural and commercial exchanges for different populations throughout history, allowing the intertwining of different cultures and all their associated implications in terms of materials, technical skills, views on the world and foods. However, more than its culture and heritage, Sardinia’s coasts have been one of the most renowned features of the island until recently.

Figure 1 Sardinia’s position in the Mediterranean Sea. Source: ©Google Maps

According to the 2018 survey[1] of the mainland Italian’s perception of Sardinia, conducted by Eurispes (an Italian private research institute) and sponsored by the Regione Sardegna (Sardinia’s Regional Government), the island is mostly perceived as a tourist destination for its coasts and crystal-clear sea, but also as a place with a great food-based identity. The most recurrent food in respondents’ words were pecorino cheese, pane carasau (a typical Sardinian flat bread), cannonauwine (typical red wine), seadas and nougats.

Besides these products, however, Sardinia has a long list of typical foods and the quality marked foods, for instance, the Agnello di Sardegna IGP (Sardinian’s lamb meat under the Protected Geographical Indication mark) and the Zafferano di Sardegna DOP (Saffron labelled under the Protected Designation of Origin mark). Therefore, in the last decade, there are different small businesses that have increasingly focused improving the food workshops for their guests to live a unique experience in the island.

Food as Cultural Identity

The anthropologist Alessandra Guigoni[2] pointed out that the food preferences are intimately connected with the self-identification social mechanisms. Moreover, he stated that food-related foreign words are linguistically included when their significance is collectively shared and acknowledged, therefore, ‘new’ foods are included when their ‘identity’ is collectively negotiated and acknowledged by a community. Thus, people generally think that their traditional food has a centuries-long story, whereas different foods have been generated and introduced along with multiple historical periods, for example, potatoes were originally looked upon with suspicion in the 16th century before becoming an integral part of the Mediterranean Diet about two centuries later[3]. And it is also thanks to a passive, unconscious and unorganized resistance to top-down enforced produce homogenization measures by the older farmers who are culturally more aware than the modern and ‘new’ farmers who are re-discovering a part of such traditions[4].

Nowadays, tourism literally feeds on typical food and wine[5]. Sardinia offers a wide range of such experiences. Visitors and locals may go to the local festivals visiting wineries or dairies; or to take one of tours to wine workshops, in the petting farms, tasting the local delicacies. Also, they can choose to try and learn how to produce various kinds of local pasta in an informal environment.

Latterly, it will be the case-study examined in this article. Among many available offers, I personally joined a few times to the cooking classes offered by “Sardinia To Do” – a small tourism service provider – and what follows is a record of my personal experience.

Cooking Classes: a Case Study

At their arrival in Sinnai, at the south of Sardinia, a small town is located near the island’s capital, guests are welcomed in a typical Campidanese-style house with mud-brick walls and an inner wooden roof. The house per se is already part of the experience as well as to be an opportunity for the hosts storytelling the story of rural communities’ lifestyle in Sardinia up to the mid-20th century, approximately the period when my parents were kids.

Waiting in the kitchen, there is the mother of one of our hosts, and the number of staff members, who may vary according to the guests’ number, to present the best service for everyone. In case of small groups (2-5 people), there are usually 3-4 staff members. On that occasion, the team was composed by Valerio, Isabella and Isabella’s mother, Rosanna (fig. 2).

Figure 2 The making of Malloreddus. Source: ©author

The experience begins with an introduction of what the guests are going to do and the ingredients they are going to use, which are almost all lined on the table: durum wheat, semolina, water, and boiled potatoes for the filling of Ravioli and Culurgiones. The missing ingredients can be eventually harvested directly from the garden (e.g.: sage or mint). After a short introduction on the types of fresh pasta that the guests are going to prepare and their relevance in Sardinia’s foodscape, Rosanna shows how to knead durum wheat, semolina and water to obtain a basic fresh pasta that will be later turned into Malloreddus, Culurgiones, regular Ravioli and Tagliatelle.

Malloreddus’ name is probably divided from the Sardinian diminutive name for bulls, Malloru. They are small dumplings, a mixture of durum wheat, semolina and water, to which sometimes can be added some saffron, both to enhance their taste and to give them a yellowish color. To prepare them, the pasta is kneaded into a snake-like shape, cut in small pieces (around 1 cm length) and each of them is delicately pressed and rolled over the inner side of a grater, inside a basket made with the dry culm of hay, or over a specific wooden tool[6] to give them a stripy pattern that would better retain the sauce.

In addition, Culurgiones are the most popular fresh stuffed pasta on the island. Culurgiones is the Sardinian name (with various local accents) for various shapes of Ravioli, such as semi-circular, squared or bag-shaped, closed either with the pressure of a fork, or the typical spiked closure of the Culurgiones with a filling of potatoes and cheese from Ogliastra, that have recently been labelled as an IGP food[7].

When Valerio and Isabella give an overview on these types of pasta, they usually introduce the Sardinian linguistic expressions and especially its Campidanese variety that is so common and used as a local conversation language in the South of the island. They particularly explain that whilst in the local accent, Ravioli are called in a similar way than Culurgiones (in my hometown, for instance, they are called Cugurgiones), they usually refer to Ravioli filled with Ricotta cheese and chards, while the word Culurgiones is used it only to refer to the ones filled with potatoes and cheese. During their cooking class, guests usually prepare Culurgiones adding a little garlic and mint to the filling and learn how to realize the typical spike closure. Besides verbal communication, Valerio and Isa usually rely on videos and pictures to show their guests more about the island and its culture, and to tell them more about the many existing types of pasta and bread in Sardinia.

Figure 3 Appetizers prior to taste the outcomes of the cooking class. Source: ©author

After they have prepared their pasta, the guests are offered some local appetizers in the garden while the table is set, and the outcome of the cooking class is cooked. The lunch (or dinner, depending on the time of day on which the class is scheduled) is always accompanied by either red or white wine, or both. Again, to help their guests choosing which wine to pair with the meal, Valerio shows up with two or three bottles, telling the characteristics of each one, as well as a short story about their producers.

Having had the opportunity to talk to several guests during different classes, I have noted that most guests agree that such an experience helps them understand the island’s culture more than just a guided tour to a city or an archaeological site. The friendly and informal environment allows them to feel comfortable and at ease, and their learning is mediated by the experience of kneading the pasta supervised by Valerio, Isabella and Rosanna. In their reviews, some of the guests find that the presence of Rosanna adds more value to their experience, because she shares with them her knowledge and expertise.

Conclusions

In conclusion, these kinds of experiences perfectly fit the experiential learning model proposed by P. Race[8], starting with a will to learn by the guests, who voluntarily book their cooking class. Follows the doing stage, in which they learn which ingredients will be used and why, and which types of pasta are going to be prepared. Guests then pass to the digesting and feedback stage, when they thoroughly follow their supervisors’ instructions in order to learn when their pasta is ready to be kneaded into the different types they are going to realize, how to press and roll the small pieces to obtain perfect Malloreddus and how to spike-close their Culurgiones.

This learning-by-doing process allows the guests to make sense of the territory, the many foodscapes, it produces and the culture behind a specific food. In this context, territory refers to the expression of human resourcefulness and as such subject to not only cultural but also anthropological manipulation, in its broadest sense[9].

At the end of the day, the guests will also receive the recipe for the pasta and the Culurgiones’ filling, as well as the wooden tool they used to create Malloreddus, so that they could practice at home and remember their experience (whilst reinforcing their learning). Therefore, focusing more on such experiential workshops represents a strategic trump card to allow guests to live memorable experiences that last in their memories through time on the one hand, while on the other hand offering them an overview on Sardinia’s culture that will not be easily forgotten thanks to the learning through their active engagement.

[1] “Come viene percepita la Sardegna dal resto degli italiani: “Identità unica e forte”” Today.it, 04 May 2018. 29 July 2019. «www.today.it/cronaca/indagine-eurispes-sardegna.html».

[2, 3] Guigoni, A. (2006). L’alimentazione mediterranea tra locale e globale, tra passato e presente. in A. Guigoni, R. B. Amara (Ed.), Saperi e Sapori del Mediterraneo (pp. 81-92). Cagliari: AM&D edizioni.

[4, 5] Guigoni, A. (2015). Giacimento enogastronomico del territorio: cibo, territorio, ambiente e turismo. in Agenzia Laore Sardegna (Ed.), Progetto Oltrebambpè: Tutti insieme a tavola – Riflessioni sul valore del cibo, sull’alimentazione responsabile e senza sprechi, attenta alle produzioni locali (pp. 15-21).

[6,7] Guigoni A. (2016). Il mio World Pasta Day: Paste di Sardegna. Etnografia.it. 25 October 2016. 31 July 2019. «www.etnografia.it/?p=437».

[8] “Phil Race”. University of Leicester. Accessed on 31 July 2019. «www2.le.ac.uk/departments/doctoralcollege/training/eresources/teaching/theories/race».

[9] Guigoni, A. (2015). Giacimento enogastronomico del territorio: cibo, territorio, ambiente e turismo. in Agenzia Laore Sardegna (Ed.), Progetto Oltrebambpè: Tutti insieme a tavola – Riflessioni sul valore del cibo, sull’alimentazione responsabile e senza sprechi, attenta alle produzioni locali (pp. 15-21).

Bibliography

  • Guigoni, A. (2006). L’alimentazione mediterranea tra locale e globale, tra passato e presente. in A. Guigoni, R. B. Amara (Ed.), Saperi e Sapori del Mediterraneo (pp. 81-92). Cagliari: AM&D edizioni.
  • Guigoni, A. (2015). Giacimento enogastronomico del territorio: cibo, territorio, ambiente e turismo. in Agenzia Laore Sardegna (Ed.), Progetto Oltrebambpè: Tutti insieme a tavola – Riflessioni sul valore del cibo, sull’alimentazione responsabile e senza sprechi, attenta alle produzioni locali (pp. 15-21).
  • Guigoni A. (2016). Il mio World Pasta Day: Paste di Sardegna. Etnografia.it. 25 October 2016. 31 July 2019. «www.etnografia.it/?p=437».
  • “Come viene percepita la Sardegna dal resto degli italiani: “Identità unica e forte”” Today.it, 04 May 2018. 29 July 2019. «www.today.it/cronaca/indagine-eurispes-sardegna.html».
  • “Phil Race”. University of Leicester. Accessed on 31 July 2019. «www2.le.ac.uk/departments/doctoralcollege/training/eresources/teaching/theories/race».

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