Local Food, Italian Style

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Photo Courtesy of www.mesali.org

In the local dialect of Irpinia, east of Naples in the region of Campania, mesali literally means "tablecloths," a sign of hospitality. It's also the name of a fantastic association of 10 area restaurants, all committed to native ingredients.

Traditions are individually interpreted; you might find new-wave cooking at one location and rustic dishes at another. Their motto is "gusto, prodotti, persone", to sum up the importance of their regional flavors, products and people. They're collaborating with Slow Food, serving presidium products from Campania like alici di menaica (special salted anchovies), colatura tradizionale di alici di Cetara (traditional run-off liquid produced by salted anchovies), and San Marzano tomatoes.

With the Mesali guidebook, travelers can easily arrange an itinerary, going from restaurant to restaurant with a guaranteed warm welcome and good meal at each stop.

I wrote an introduction for the Mesali guidebook and was invited to the presentation in Avellino. Restaurateur members spoke about their restaurants, Irpinia, and the importance of organizing, not a strong point in Italy. A buffet followed, with dishes from all restaurants, tastings of wonderful (and unheard of by me!) regional products like bread from Montecalvo, Gesualdo, Ospedaletto, and Vallesaccarda, Sturno prosciutto, Baronia ricottine, and a selection of regional wines--standouts were from A Casa, Terradora, and Di Meo.

The Mesali subtitle is "Gastronomic Transhumance in Irpinia", evoking the tradition of the shepherds' transfer of sheep from mountains to valleys. With the Mesali guidebook in hand, travelers can easily arrange an itinerary in the area (without the sheep), going from restaurant to restaurant with a guaranteed warm welcome and good meal at each stop. The guidebook has detailed information on each associated restaurant, listings of nearby lodging, wineries, food artisans and places of touristic note.

Meals cost from 15 to 50 euros, including service and cover charge but excluding wine; eat at all 10 establishments and get a free meal at your favorite. I'm wild about the Oasis, da Pietro, Valleverde, and the Locanda di Bu and can't wait to try all the others.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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