Photo by Marco Leogrande/Wikimedia Commons
I've eaten a lot of taralli over all my years of traveling to Italy and tasting ten or so different brands every time I go to the Fancy Food Shows. If you aren't familiar with taralli--and most Americans, of course, aren't-they're little bagel-shaped (but much smaller) rings of dough that are kind of omnipresent in bakeries and at parties when you hit the right regions of Italy.
Saltines in the American South is the comparison that comes to mind for me, but I think that's probably over stating things a bit. Still, there are a lot of taralli in Italy. Having tasted probably 100 different bakeries' worth over the years, I can honestly say that most are exceptionally unremarkable. But when you hit the right ones, a terrific taralli is truly something to make time for.
Really good taralli are made with lots of really good extra virgin olive oil. As a result they're flakier and far fuller in flavor. Shocking, right?
The best I'd had up until this year were on a trip to Puglia down in Italy's southeastern corner (home of the Paesano bread recipe, and probably the origin of the taralli tradition!). The "secret," which is really no secret at all, the bakers told me then, is the quality and quantity of the olive oil you use to make the taralli with.
Imagine that. Really good taralli are made with lots of really good extra virgin olive oil. As a result they're flakier and far fuller in flavor. Shocking, right? (So-so taralli, it follows, are made with mediocre olive oil. Bad--which is by far the majority in my experience--taralli are made with some substandard olive oil blended with other less expensive seed oils.)
By contrast the taralli that we've just this year started to stock are pretty exceptionally good. They're coming from the Tenuta Cocevola in Puglia, which you'll find about half between the better-known town of Bari, and the bread baking cult capital of southern Italy, Altamura. If you're traveling that way, the estate has a lovely looking (I haven't been) hotel on the property.
More to my point here, their taralli are about a ten to my taste, or at least as close to that high level of achievement as any taralli has tasted to me in a good ten years. The flakiness I mentioned above is totally there. When you bite into one of these it's right there with eating a super flaky pie crust, or, I imagine what a croissant would be like if you could compress it down into a compact little disc.
The Cocevola taralli also have a bit of Pugliese white wine added to the mix to enrich them further still, and they're right there with those really good ones I got to taste in the region ten years ago. Really good with cheese, wine, a ham board, or just out of hand. Great little stocking stuffer if you're ready to think about the holidays, and a superior snack to eat while watching a football game if you're making eyes at the Maize 'n' Blue.