“In Offida we have good cucina, excellent organic wines and a unique product: handmade lace!” exclaimed Daniele Maurizio Citeroni, chef and host at Osteria Ophis, a top restaurant in this delightful village in the Marche, 25 kilometers from Ascoli Piceno. It’s here that we have our first experience of two of the zone’s pleasures of the table: maccheroncini in meat sauce with pecorino cheese from the Sibillini mountains and exquisite rabbit stew (coniglio in salmi). They are both Ophis specialties.
The next stop on our itinerary, a perfect destination for a spring weekend, is the beautiful, triangular Piazza del Popolo, the heart and meeting place of Offida. Palazzo Comunale and Teatro del Serpente Aureo dominate the square. A stroll down Via Roma takes you past the Merletto a Tombolo museum, dedicated to lace, and ends at the 14th century church of Santa Maria della Rocca. This building stands apart on a cliff with a romantic panoramic view. Inside is a crypt and a series of frescoes, both worth a visit. Stay at Catia Stracci’s Botte, a comfortable inn with homestyle food. The staff, all women, turn out delicious maccheroncini di Campofilone (a version of homemade egg tagliatelle) with lemon and prosciutto, and taccù (handmade whole grain flour and water pasta) with cherry tomatoes and crisp guanciale (cured pork cheek). Among the second courses is rabbit all’offidana (with white wine and local Ascolana olives) and the classic deep-fried lamb, olives and cremini (squares of custard) trio, all of it tasty and surprisingly light. Botte has no wine list, but offers Offida’s best local labels.
Devote the next morning to local wines and the three organic wineries of the Terroir Marche consortium. Our first stop is the panoramic terrace overlooking the vineyards of the modern PS winery belonging to Raffaele Paolini, ex-journalist and communicator, and Dwight Stanford, ex-surgeon from Kansas City. We asked how a doctor ended up in this vineyard. “After a financial crisis in the United States,” explained Dwight, “malpractice insurance costs rose as high as a thousand dollars a week. At a certain point, I couldn’t take it anymore. Meanwhile, I had gotten a degree in enology, pursuing a personal passion. So I decided to change my life and came to specialize in Italy.” Here he met Paolini while taking a master’s degree in Gastronomic Sciences. The two became friends and in 2007 bought six hectares of vineyard on a southeastern facing hill. Today, besides offering visits and tastings, they host wine tourists in a charming B&B in an ex-farm house, Nascondiglio di Bacco (Bacchus’ Hiding Place). We hear all this while tasting a glass of white Aurai, a Pecorino di Offida. It charms us with its fresh floral and citrusy aromas that lead into a powerful and decisive palate. Then we sampled Baccofino, a monovarietal Montepulciano aged in new oak barrels for a year, then two more in the bottle.
The next wineries we visited are among the pioneers of organic wine in Marche. Aurora chose that path in 1979. Among the six labels we tasted, Fiobbo is a Pecorino with floral aromas, a note of anise and plum jam, with good acidity. Barricadero is a Montepulciano, rich in ripe red fruit tones with hints of vanilla and licorice. The day continued at Valle del Sole, where we met the Di Nicolò family and tasted four wines. Among them was a red blend of montepulciano and cabernet sauvignon grapes and a white Pecorino with citrusy notes and noteworthy acidity.
In the center of Offida, in Piazza del Popolo, Cantina Ciù Ciù, one of the new players on the Piceno zone wine scene, has its tasting headquarters. It serves wines paired with traditional products of the territory, cheeses and cured meats above all. Here we tried two reds that the Bartolomei family recommends for traditional Easter dishes. One is Esperanto, a blend of Montepulciano and Cabernet that spends a year in barrique and another one in the bottle, giving it a slight international feel. The young Bacchus is a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. Before dinner we stop to shop at the butcher’s, Emilio and Valentino Aleandri. We buy ciauscolo, a soft salami, sausages made with pork and liver, and some capocollo from the Fattoria del Ciafone. Our evening ends happily at La Mattra, run by two sisters-in-law, Simona and Paola. They serve typical Marche dishes and pizza baked in a wood-burning oven. We eat crisp fried potatoes with rosemary and olives, a dish of taccù pasta with pancetta and lime, and then a mixed deep fry, all’Ascolana. The next morning after a breakfast typical of Nascondiglio di Bacco, Sunday began with a stop at the lace museum, Museo del Merletto a Tombolo. Don’t dismiss it as an old lady thing. Lacemaking is an ancient and honored craft, and two thousand people are employed doing it in a town of 5,000. Each home in Offida turns out works of lace.
Before leaving the town we have a snack and do some shopping at Fior di Farina, a pasta shop with kitchen run by Nora and Sonia, partners for 18 years. On the counter we see the classics: Offidani taccù pasta from water and whole grain white flour; maccheroncini di Campofilone; chichi, pizza filled with tuna, capers, anchovies, pickled vegetables and green olives. Offida funghetti are Deco brand biscotti from water, flour, sugar and anise. Brunch served at the tables is a hymn to the territory: cremini (fried custardy rectangles), fried olives all’Ascolana (stuffed with meat), and a glass of Offida Pecorino DOCG!
Pillow lace. Il Merletto a tombolo
Merletto a tombolo is lace made with threads of linen (or hemp, silk, cotton, gold or silver) worked on bobbins, a rigid cardboard pricked with the design, and a ‘tombolo’, a cylindrical pillow set on a support. The patterns most commonly used are: punto Rinascimento, punto Venezia and punto antico.
Offida’s lace museum, which also houses the museums of archeology and popular traditions, began its life in 1950 with a first exhibition of “craft, industry and commerce.” First shown in the Town Hall, it then moved to various spaces in the ex-convent of San Agostino, soon becoming an important showcase for this extraordinary product of local artisans. Right from the start, modern works were placed side by side with antique ones, a witness to centuries of patient labor. The exhibit always showed different types of work, with lacemakers demonstrating specific patterns and different uses for lace. Antique and modern objects have always been shown together, to underline continuity and transformation in an art that is ancient and so widely known that its origins are difficult to trace.
by Massimiliano Rella
Where to eat
2 gamberi - Osteria Ophis | c.so Serpente Aureo, 54b | Offida (Ap) | tel 0736 889920 | www.osteriaophis.com|
1 gambero - La Botte | via Borgo Miriam, 51 | Offida (Ap) | tel 0736 889299 | www.hotellabotte.com|
La Mattra | p.zza Fratelli Cervi, 10 | | Offida (Ap) | tel. 0736 889787 | www.ristorantepizzerialamattra.it|
What to see
Museo Del Merletto a Tombolo | Palazzo De Castellotti-Pagnanelli | via Roma, 17 | Offida (AP) | tel.0736 88871 - 0736 888609 | www.turismoffida.com
Associazione Il Merletto di Offida | c.so Serpente Aureo, 2 | Offida (AP) | tel. 329 704 3979 | www.ilmerlettodioffida.it
Where to stay
Albergo La Botte | via Borgo Miriam, 51 | Offida (Ap) | tel. 0736 889299 | www.hotellabotte.com|
Il Nascondiglio di Bacco| c.da Ciafone, 97 | Offida (Ap) | tel. 0736 889537 | www.nascondigliodibacco.it|
Valle del Sole| c.da San Lazzaro 46 | Offida (Ap) | tel. 0736 889658 | www.lavalledelsoleoffida.com|
Fior di Farina | via Roma 6/a | Offida (Ap) | tel. 0736 880711 | www.fiordifarina.altervista.org|
La Fattoria nel Ciafone | via S. Lazzaro, 118 | Offida (Ap) | tel. 0736 880544 | www.lafattorianelciafone.it
Ciù Ciù | c.da Ciafone, 106 | Offida (AP) | tel. 0736 810001 | www.ciuciuvini.it
La Valle del Sole | c.da San Lazzaro, 46 | Offida (Ap) | tel. 0736 889658 | www.lavalledelsoleoffida.com
PS Winery | c.da Ciafone, 97 | Offida (Ap) |tel. 0736 889537 – 347 1983 306 | www.pswinery.it
Vini Aurora | Contrada Ciafone 98, zona Santa Maria in Carro | Offida (Ap) | tel0736.810007 | http://viniaurora.it