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Seeking Sun, Fat, and Red Wine in Puglia

In her latest Postcards from Parma column, Graceanne LaCombe travels to experience winter in Puglia.

Graceanne LaCombe sungazing in the Puglian village of Cisternino.

Graceanne LaCombe sungazing in the Puglian village of Cisternino.

Recently, I was invited to travel down to the south of Italy to experience the Pugliese winter, a winter that still has lingering golden sentiments even in the bluer months. Cacti adorn every doorstep. Withered rays of sunshine stretch far into the narrow streets. The cool air can still leave salty residue on your lips, reminiscent of warmer, longer days.

The purpose of the week-long trip was to travel far enough south that we forgot about the gruesome frost and fog of the north, to take in the scenery, eat some of the region’s fatty delicacies (bombette, panzerotti, taralli), and drink the region’s bold wines (primitivo was our table staple).

Graceanne LaCombe enjoying one of Puglia's bold wines.
Graceanne LaCombe enjoying one of Puglia's bold wines.

If you have read any of my previous Postcards from Parma stories, you may know that my trips tend to be food-centric, and you can probably assume that we were successful in the aforementioned endeavors.

After an 8-hour road trip, where my job was to occupy the aux cord and try not to wiggle impatiently in the passenger seat, I stepped out of the car and followed the savory scent that greeted us, like Bugs Bunny on the hunt for a carrot (except—spoiler alert—I wasn’t led to carrots, or anything remotely healthy).

The scent led us to a pizzeria where I ordered a panzerotto (a golden pocket of cheese, sauce, and all the good things) that was the size of my head, ultimately setting the tone for a fairly indulgent trip.

A panzerotto in Puglia.
A panzerotto in Puglia.

We leaned into the indulgence and observed that Pugliesi lean similarly during this season. Aside from the few fishermen dotted along the pier, others seemed to occupy their day sitting in restaurants, sharing bombette (cheese-stuffed pork rolls) and taralli (simply put, olive oil disguised as a cracker) while drinking carafes of red table wine.

It was inherently understood that this was one of the best ways to spend a winter day, intoxicated at an abundant table with salted lips and visions of golden streets.

Graceanne LaCombe wandering the streets of Polignano del Mare in Puglia.
Graceanne LaCombe wandering the streets of Polignano del Mare in Puglia.

On one of our last lunches, after we sat down at another taralli-embellished table in a trattoria and opened the wine menu, a Pugliese man interrupted us to give unprompted advice — advice that penetrated our conversation and ultimately influenced the rest of our trip.

Through red-stained teeth (a description that I find I give to my most favorite people), he suggested that the only way to pass the bluer months is in fact by consuming fatty food and red wine, because that’s where you find the sun, fossilized in the olive oil and wine grapes.

It became quite philosophical for me, thinking about how the Pugliesi are a kind of sun people, finding the sun’s warmth even when it's physically lacking, and inviting others to partake in its gifts. Perhaps that’s the excuse I gave myself while experiencing, yet again, one of these highly indulgent trips.

Back in the car again, with bottles of fossilized sun stacked in the trunk and taralli filling all of the car’s crevices, we felt ready to head back home and brave the now not-so-gruesome frost and fog of the north.

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