As I mentioned at the top of Part 1, a big reason for wanting to make this trip was to explore the land where my maternal ancestors hailed from. My mother had told me when I was young that her parents had emigrated to the US from Palermo, and that earlier ancestors had been dukes and duchesses in the Italian royal court.
Prior to leaving for our trip, I researched the family name (Librizzi) in ancestry.com and also did a general search for the name in the Palermo area. I found the Ellis Island immigration records, but little else. I was disappointed but decided I would ask our trip leader once we got to Palermo to see if he could help. More about this later.
First, I have to tell you about the rest stops/gas stations in Sicily! You might think this is a strange entry, but these are not like US highway rest stops. No, no. Most of them have fabulous espresso and wonderful pastry, like the light & delicious vanilla creme stuffed bomboloni (doughnut) pictured above. And no matter what kind of coffee you order (cappuccino, caffe macchiato, or Americano), it is served in a real cup, no paper cups for my Italian brethren. Just another custom we should adopt in the US (IMHO).
|Pannettone with Oro di Manna|
It made sense that our next stop was the Pellegrino Winery , a company specializing in Marsala wine. Like me, you probably associate Marsala wine with the very sweet, almost syrupy types we have in the US. Read on.
As a quick primer on this subject, Marsala actually means “port of Allah,” Mars (port) and Ala (Allah). Marsala wine is “fortified,” which means that more alcohol is added at the end of the fermentation process, when the appropriate amount of residual sugar is reached. The English invented this process in the 1700s because they wanted to transport the wine home and it had to be stabilized for shipping. They had experience doing this with other wines such as port and Madeira, so this was a natural extension.
We sampled four different Marsala wines during our tour (the company produces twelve in all). The wines age at least one year in oak. Wines older than ten years are considered “aged,” and interestingly, only older Marsala wines have the year on the bottle. We tasted a 1980 vintage (19% alcohol) that had been aged 25 years - it was delicious - very dry, and similar to cognac or sherry.
Before the next tasting, our host offered us “tarralles,” a hybrid cookie-cracker that I’ve enjoyed in the US. I think I might have to try to make these at home to use at aperitivo time (which my Italian friends have got down to a science).
The last tasting was their “Rubino,” a dessert wine with 18% alcohol and goes wonderfully with dark chocolate (a specialty of the Modica region which we also visited).
Pellegrino Winery, founded in 1880, is the largest family owned company in Sicily.
In this general area, we next visited the salt flats of Trapani. This was a fascinating tour, discovering the process for extracting the delicate “fiore del sale,” which hasn’t changed much in centuries. We visited after harvest season, but a short video provided insight into the backbreaking work done by generations of men. As you approach the flats, you start to see what look like small mountains of snow, of course this is salt. An ancient windmill, no longer used, was built approximately 500 years ago to grind the salt. Inside the windmill, you can see the complicated machinery (including an Archimedes screw, which would drive the grinding stone).
|Salt flats of Trapani|
We spent the night at the gorgeous Agriturismo Vecchia Masseria in Piazza Amerina. This was my favorite hotel of the entire trip, sadly we only spent one night here. Definitely off the beaten path, but if you are in this area, I highly recommend staying here. The property has been lovingly restored and it is absolutely beautiful. Besides nice rooms (some with kitchens), there is a wonderful tavern and restaurant (the property owner and his son are the chefs). A lovely pool area is available for warm days, or you could visit the resident goats and horses, accompanied by “Frank,” the adorable and very friendly, Rottie, who we fell in love with.
We had a wonderful dinner at the hotel that evening, consisting of ravioli with fresh mushrooms, and veal in Sicilian orange sauce, accompanied by plenty of fabulous wine. We slept very well.
Tomorrow, we’re off to amazing Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples - spectacular!
|Agrigento - Temple to Hercules|