In Rural Italy, A Wild Boar Festival


Photo by Faith Willinger

It's an annual appointment I simply can't miss. Peppe Zullo's Festa del Cinghiale--or Wild Boar Festival--a two-day event at his restaurants in Orsara di Puglia. Clients, friends, local dignitaries and restaurateurs make the schlep to this unknown area of Puglia, in the province of Foggia for a series of meals and workshops. Peppe, one of the most generous chefs I know, invites other restaurants to prepare a course for one of the important meals, Sunday lunch for the general public, Monday lunch for restaurateurs and food professionals.

I always meet interesting people, in and out of the food and wine world. Mago Zurli, legendary Italian magician and Andy Luotto, comedian turned chef in past years; this year singer Tony Sant'Agata. The theme for the workshops was "The Magic of the Host," about the role of the restaurant host as a custodian of gastronomic wealth and a cultural and economic animator. It's a profession not taught in schools, culinary or non, but Peppe performs it to perfection.

It's almost impossible to get the Italians on the workshop panel to stick to their time limits and discuss the topic of the day. None did.

I took a train to Naples, was met by my pal Vito Santoro and we arrived in Orsara on Sunday evening, in time for the simple dinner at the restaurant--we missed the opening workshop and lunch for 500 guests at Villa Jamele--huge reception hall and conference center flanked by Peppe's organic garden, vineyard, orchard of "forgotten" fruit, villa with rooms, and cooking school with wood-burning oven. A nearby stone mill is in the process of being restored so Peppe can grind his own wheat. Home-made salumi, rustic bread and vegetable soup, wild boar two ways, and, after dinner, my introduction to Tony Sant'Agata and his music.

Monday's activities always start late--it's not easy to assemble restaurateurs, chefs, wine makers, and food artisans--some attending, others presenting their specialties. And it's almost impossible to get the Italians on the workshop panel to stick to their time limits and discuss the topic of the day. None did. Chef Federico Valicenti and Peppe each prepared a wild boar dish--cavatelli with strips of wild boar with bay-flavored sauce, thin slices of wild boar "leaves" with chestnut honey, red wine, and mint.

Of course there was bread from Pane e Salute, a straw-burning oven from 1526--I was as happy to see owner Angelo di Bicceri as I was to taste his bread--and was gifted a loaf (4 kilo round) to take home, huge, bulky, but well worth the schlep. I met Luciano di Meo, who raises Casertano black pigs, transforms them into salumi, and has an agriturismo that's on my list of places I'd love to visit. An entire dining room was devoted to dessert, not my favorite course. I skipped pumpkin gelato but tried wheat berries with chopped chocolate and wine must. And promised Peppe I'd be back next year.

Presented by

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

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

From This Author

Just In