The flat, sun-soaked landscape of Puglia, Italy, is a highly productive agricultural region known for its iron-rich soil and ideal growing climate. Located in Southern Italy (as the heel of the boot shape that is Italy), Puglia is responsible for much of the country’s pasta, wine-making grapes and olives—the heart of Italian cuisine, of course!
Some might say Puglia is the best when it comes to traditional Italian cuisine. It’s true that this Southern Italian region is home to many of the most beloved Italian foods: pasta and bread, for starters. Puglia’s lush soil and hot, dry landscape make it one of the largest producers of durum wheat in the country. Because of this, it is often referred to as Tavioliere, or “Breadbasket” of Italy. Because of this, bread and pasta are a staple of the Apulian diet. The most famous pasta made in Puglia is orecchiette (meaning “little ears” in Italian because of its concave disc-like shape), which is still made fresh daily by the local elders. Orecchiette is most commonly served with broccoli rabe, or Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, and a Bari-style ragù (a rich veal sauce). Other pasta shapes, like troccoli, curti and cavatelli—are native to Puglia and much harder to find elsewhere. Interesting to note that most pasta here is made without eggs, since it is a wheat-growing region. Eggs were by special occasion only.
Besides its pasta haul, Puglia is famous for its bread. If you didn’t know, bread is a staple at the Italian table—and it’s not just for cleaning the plate of pasta sauce (though we highly recommend this). Village ovens for community bread-baking are used daily—especially in the northwest town of Altamura, where its local bread has earned D.O.P. status. Made simply from durum wheat, yeast, water and sea salt, this dark, crusty loaf was once created to feed local farmers and shepherds of the region. What’s interesting about the bread is more about how its made, as it undergoes many stages of kneading and is baked over an open oak-wood fire. Altamura’s bread is now famous all throughout Italy.
The interior area of Puglia is more mountainous. This is where livestock, including sheep and goats, are bred for their meat and their milk. Because of this, Puglia is known for some incredible cheeses; some are fresh and made to be eaten right away, while others are aged to create more pungent and lively characteristics. While the goats, sheep and buffalo create many noteworthy cheeses, cows still make up the bulk of Puglia’s cheese production. One of the most popular is burrata: a super fresh cow’s milk mozzarella stuffed with cream. Other cheeses include Cacioricotta (a seasonal ricotta), canestrato, Fallone di Gravina, Boscaiola del Gargano and Caciofiore—just to name a few.
In Puglia, lamb is the meat of choice, though seafood plays a much larger role in Puglia due to its 500 miles of coastline. Oysters, tuna, cuttle fish, sea bass and octopus are common local fare and appear in everything from pasta to stew and soups. A few specialty Puglian dishes include Tarantello, or cured tuna belly, and Risotto ai Fruitti di Mare, or Seafood Risotto.
What would a traditional Italian meal be without the wine? Puglia is Italy’s more prolific wine producer, outputting an estimated 159 million gallons of wine per year. That’s a lot of grapes! The Mediterranean breezes from surrounding water moderate vineyard temperature making it ideal for grape growing. Most wine from Puglia is red and made with local grapes like Primitivo (much like the Californinan Zinfandel grape variety), Negroamaro and Bombino Nero. These wines are fruity, full-bodied and easily paired with a wide variety of foods. A couple of the most popular Puglian wines include Brindisi (red, velvety and deep with a pleasantly bitter finish), Primitivo and Salice Salentino (fruity red Chardonnay-based wine with a bold, intense aroma).
If pasta, bread and seafood weren’t enough to convince you that Puglia rocks the Italian food world, just know that Puglia is also an olive-producing rock star with somewhere between 50 to 60 million olive trees. The region produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil with four D.O.P. certified oils recognized by the European Union: Collina di Brindisi D.O.P., Dauno D.O.P., Terra D’Otranto D.O.P. and Terra di Bari D.O.P.
With a reported estimate of 300 days of sunshine a year, 500 miles of coastline and a vast variety of traditional Italian foods and food culture to explore, Puglia is an incredible Italian destination. You are sure to never go hungry or thirsty!