‘“I would like you to go to Abruzzi,’ the priest said. The others were shouting. ‘There is good hunting. You would like the people and though it is cold it is clear and dry. You could stay with my family. My father is a famous hunter.’”
–A Farewell To Arms, Ernest Hemingway
“It’s a wild, untamed region, with 90% of it mountainous and wooded,” owner Francis Cretarola says. Cretarola, through years spent living in Abruzzo and his deep knowledge of Italian history, is the counterweight to Cicala: he’ll drop gems like how wool from Abruzzi sheep helped fund the renaissance while you’re still taken aback by your last bite.
While the feudal lords may have disappeared, the need for a massive communal feast that can fill piazzas persists, with celebrations that go from 35-60 courses, and, in the case of the longest running Panarda, well into the next day.
“They’re still a very much agrarian people,” Cicala says. “In many ways, much of Abruzzo is unchanged. Traditionally, meat was never a centerpiece of the diet as it is here. It was used, via charcuterie, as more of a condiment [think classic dishes like pasta all’amatriciana or alla gricia, both of which Cretarola argues as having originated with the Abruzzi] and the impact of that tradition hasn’t left,” despite an increase in prosperity in the last thirty years that has seen meat become as abundant as anywhere else in Italy. While the killing of a pig remains a cause for much celebration only in deeply rural areas, the region, Cicala says, retains the tradition of getting the most from the animal, from the sausage to the salumi.
A major highway didn’t reach the interior of Abruzzo until the 80’s—not that some of the highest points of the Apennines were ever going to be that welcoming. While this lack of access kept the area relatively impoverished, Cicala is quick to point out that it remains a country unto itself, a region unknown by most tourists, let alone fellow Italians—he guarantees no Italians outside of Abruzzo will say they’ve heard of La Panarda.
And, these La Panarda’s are being celebrated less and less Cretarola adds, with the event often tied to a civic occasion, such as the medieval joust in Sulmona and the Mastrogiurato Festival in Lanciano. And they’re generally not held in January anymore to coincide with the slaughter of animals—the most faithful of all Panardas, which occurs 16th-17th January in Villavallelonga, is an exception.
But that doesn’t mean the region has been completely pulled from the dark regions of any map.
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