A few weeks ago Ettore and I were tired of being house bums and decided to get back into our old routine of going for a Sunday drive to a town within two hours of Genzano for a walk and lunch. We decided we would go to a little mountain town called Piglio which is located in the hills of Frosinone, which is a province of Latium. Piglio is “famous” for a native laziale varietal called Cesanese and Cesanese del Piglio has the excited new designation of a DOCG wine, which is the first in the region of Latium.
After the fall of Rome is 476 C.E. Rome experienced huge changes, which were a population drain and a brain drain. When the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from the city of Rome to Constantinople, many of the skilled crafts people left, as well as scholars. Rome’s population in the 5th c. dropped to about 10,000, although some estimates say 20,000 people. With the collapse of Rome in the west, Italy was especially plagued by constant evasions by the so-called Barbarians. Without a central power securing the city of Rome, many people fled the area and moved into the hills of Latium where they built these amazing medieval towns out of stone totally isolated from anyone else, but also protected from invasions. Piglio is a great example of this. In the Middle Ages, Italy was primarily made up of hundreds of little city states, all at odds with each other. What happened is really what defines Italy today, a country of extreme diversity in culture, language and kitchen. Many people went back to their roots, to the villages of their ancestors before they were romanized. The Hernici once ruled this region. The Pigliesi retained their cooking and wine making skills for centuries without interruption, many of these traditions were brought from classical Rome. When one drinks the native varietals of Latium, one drinks the wine of the Classical Romans.
It is a very exciting time in terms of wine production in Latium, with native varietals being rediscovered and wine producers realizing they have gold in their hands, and instead of relying on the international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, they are places their bets on what seems natural, and what will thrive in the region.
So on this cloudy day, we decided to give ourselves a few hours break from our sick puppies, and took a drive into the real backwater countryside of Latium for a small taste of what the town offered. After a very pleasant one hour drive from Genzano on the Autostrada, We encountered this town built of whatever stones were in the area. I would have hated to be the peasant who had to transport goods from the fields to the town!
Due to recent rains (I should say never ending rains!) the countryside of Piglio was very green, and even though the vines of Cesanese were lifeless at the moment, the had an air of nobility and age that no New World wine countryside can compete with.
When we got to town it was still too early for lunch, so we decided to have a walk in what seemed like an ancient ghost town, but surprisingly we came across people just minding their own business. This lady seemed to be taking laundry from the well to hang to dry. The people of these sorts of town are very interesting. It is rare to see young people, and the older people really hang on to their traditions as if glued to them. Ettore enjoyed hearing their dialect. He couldn’t understand. That is what centuries of isolation created!!
When it was finally lunchtime, we found a real hole in the wall, down a stone alley, with the smallest door. The only reason we knew it was open for lunch because of the delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. It was cold, and we could smell minestrone and polenta, cold weather foods that appealed to our cold bodies.
The restaurant is called La Cantinetta. They weren’t quite ready to serve lunch, but they welcomed us anyway, and we got our table and ordered the house wine, which was made by the owners Uncle, a lovely Cesanese del Piglio.
For lunch I ordered the Polenta di Porcini which was more of a creamy polenta with fresh mountain porcini, most likely found in the forest behind the town. I can tell you it was delicious, but not very good looking, which is why I didn’t take a close-up photo.
Ettore ordered the Penne di carciofi, the pasta with artichoke. It was also delicious, and not as bitter as many artichoke dishes are which was great in terms of being able to taste the wine. Sometimes the bitter metallic property of artichoke interferes with wine. It is notoriously hard to pair with wine.
All the food was extremely fresh; the kitchen aromas were enough to appeal even the pickiest eater. We had a lovely day trip, and the best part of it was the cost. Our meal, which was two antipasti, two primi, two desserts, house wine, and caffe, was only 30 euro for both of us.
Simple country food, that was satisfying in is simplicity, but also in its soul and heartiness. I can’t wait to get there in the summer, when everyone is boiling in Rome; I will be enjoying the cool mountain breeze of Piglio, sipping on a local wine. We saw that there are great hiking paths in the area and want to make a backpacking trip in the area. Hiking all day, eating local cuisine at night. Our favorite kind of vacation! This is really a great day trip from Rome. Discovering the cultural and culinary treasures of Lazio is my biggest passion.