Expression of the cultural identity of these places, the culinary heritage of the Valle della Cupa owes its abundance to the temperate climate and the soil - which the hard work of the farmers transforms into quality agricultural products - and the artisans’ passion, who combine the products to create “poor” cooking but tasty. This food actually expresses the collective memory and the people’s gratitude to their own land but it can be considered as a gift for both residents and travellers as well.
From Lizzanello to San Pietro in Lama, this itinerary will make you discover and rediscover the typical products of this ancient land.
Let us start from the fine vincotto, the “cooked wine” of Lizzanello: it is derived from cooking the “musts” (or pulped grapes) of Negroamaro and Malvasia grapes previously left to wither on the vines. After a four-year period of ageing into oak barrels, the grape must becomes the spicy condiment that can be used for starters, meats, vegetables, fruits and desserts. The olive oil is another precious condiment, always considered as the velvety elixir of a land whose history is closely linked to the transformation of olives.
Now, let us move to the durum wheat or barley fresh pasta, the undisputed protagonist of every kitchen. Whatever its shape, you must taste it with tomato sauce, meat or fish: from orecchiette to the typical macaroni, also known as minchiareddhri, and sagne ‘ncannulate, whose name comes from its particular twisted shape.
Among the various products lying on the tables of every family, you cannot miss the local dairy products and cheeses (fiordilatte, giuncata, pecorino, cacioricotta, scamorza, ricotta marzotica leccese, salad ricotta and ricotta forte, etc.), the mushrooms (e.g. cardoncello, but also pleurotus and champignons) and vegetables and, in particular, meloncella of San Donato and Galugnano, a variety of melon widely used as the main ingredient of summer salads. Meloncella is the only traditional agricultural product peculiar to the Valle della Cupa.
Rustico is another local traditional product as well. It is a tasty puff pastry disc filled with béchamel sauce, tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepper and nutmeg.
The gastronomy history of this land – which is also famous for its distilleries - passes through the liqueurs and strong alcoholic drinks (such as lemon liqueur, herbal liqueur, myrtle liqueur and walnut liqueur), and the syrups, like the almond milk, widely used instead of sugar for sweetening iced coffee.
Undoubtedly, the gourmands will not resist tasting the several local pastries, starting from the traditional cupeta - an almond brittle, whose origins can be traced to the village of San Pietro in Lama, where the travelling “cupetari” still prepare this sweet manually, according to the ancient techniques they learnt from their forefathers. Dulcis in fundo, the famous pasticciotto, a shortcrust pastry filled with custard; the fruttone, a variant of the pasticciotto though filled with the almond pasta and quince marmalade (that is the classic version); the spumoni, a typical ice cream of Salento, and the mustazzoli, delicious unleavened chocolate biscuits.
The best is yet to come! According to the tradition, each season has got its speciality. For instance, at Christmas you will have the cartellate - fried puffy pastry swirls filled with walnuts, cinnamon, toasted almonds, chocolate, and coated with vincotto or honey- and the purceddhruzzi - small fried dumplings coated with honey as well. Instead, at Easter, you will taste the lamb-shaped pastry made of almond pasta, and the cuddhura, a ring-shaped cake with a hard-boiled egg on the surface.