Cilento is an Italian geographical region of Campania in the central and southern part of the Province of Salerno and an important tourist area of southern Italy.
Cilento is known as one of the centers of Mediterranean diet.
The region is steeped in Greek mythology and legends, as in the names of some towns, which is also visible in the remains of the colonies of Velia (ancient Elea) and Paestum (ancient Poseidonia). Velia was also the seat of "Eleatics", a school of pre-Socratic philosophers as Parmenides, Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos.
Cilento comes by the Latin word Cis Alentum, meaning "On this side of the Alento", river that crosses the local lands.
In a great part of the territory of Cilento and Vallo di Diano there was instituted, on 1991, a national park, to better share Italy's best kept secret to the world and to encourage tourism of a high quality. In 1998 the park became a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.
The Cilentan Coast, or Costiera Cilentana in Italian, is a stretch of coastline situated in the gulfs of Salerno and Policastro, extending in 16 municipalities; from Capaccio-Paestum in the north-west to Sapri in the south-east.
It was at Pioppi, in the heart of the Cilento, that Ancel Keys, the father of the Mediterranean diet, once settled down and developed the guidelines of this now world famous nutritional model, which is based on a rich and generally healthier diet.
Bread, pasta, fresh vegetables and fruit, cheese, fish and olive oil are favoured over dairy products and meat. Wine with the meals is also a must-be.
Ancel Keys came to Italy for the first time in 1944, commissioned by the Pentagon to see to the diet of the 5th division of the US Army. In 1952, he returned to Italy and settled down in the small fishing village of Pioppi.
It was there that he started on his "Seven Countries Study", which continued for 20 years. Keys examined the nutritional habits of 12,000 persons between 40 and 60 years of age in Japan, the USA, Yugoslavia, Greece, Germany, Finland and Italy. He found out that most of the cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis and diabetes, are directly linked to nutritional habits. His book "Eat well and stay well, the Mediterranean Way" argues that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases the more you stray from a Mediterranean kind of diet.
Due to this study, the Dieta Mediterranea became a new lifestyle which was not based on cutting down meals, but on attaching value to a healthy diet. According to the Mediterranean diet cholesterol reduction may be improved by food such as cereals, vegetables, fruit, pulse, culinary and medicinal herbs, fish, meat (mainly poultry and rabbit), oil and wine, the latter always part of the meals. All these products are used in the Cilento cuisine, which has hardly changed since the 1950s, a time when the local population lived solely on farming.
Ingredients of the Mediterranean diet
As evergreen olive and chestnut groves are prominent all over the Cilento, the most widespread delicacies are olive and chestnut products. The mild olive oil meanwhile meets the top quality standard "D.O.C.", sometimes even organic quality standards. Taking part in autumn harvesting is possible.
Fruit and vegetable harvesting in the Cilento takes place four times a year; among them are citrus fruits (limoncello liqueur!), figs (covered with chocolate!), apples (apple tart!), nuts, mushrooms and on and on.
However, the most famous delicacy is the buffalo mozzarella. Various dairy products are made from cow´s, buffalo´s, sheep´s or goat´s milk. And dairies can be visited, too.
The introduction of the fig tree in Cilento seems to be prior to the 6th century BC. C. It is attributable to the Greek colonists who had founded several cities in this area. Famous authors of the Roman era have praised the characteristics of Cilento agricultural products including dried figs. In many documents, in fact, it is evident that dried fig is an identification of the Cilento area. Catone, and then Varrone, said that dried figs were commonly used in Cilento and Lucania as a food base for the labor employed in the field works. It is easy to understand how this millennial coexistence has strongly influenced the local culture, which shines through in idiomatic expressions, in stories, in fairy tales and in everything that is an expression of the human imagination. Still, in the mid-1400s, in the "Quaterno customs delle marine del Cilento" (1486), the existence of a thriving production and marketing of dried figs, started on the main Italian markets as a valuable food, is documented. The "Fico Bianco del Cilento" has therefore gradually evolved, from "bread for the poor", as it was once defined, to precious food to be consumed especially during the Christmas period. Figs, therefore, have always been a significant source of income but also a staple food for local populations in difficult historical periods, thanks to their abundance and the possibility of keeping them for the whole period of the year with the drying. It is in fact due to the age-old tenacity and ability of the Cilento producers if today we have a product of absolute quality. The fig trees for millennia have thus contributed to characterize the rural landscape of Cilento becoming, together with the olive tree, the icon of the local peasant civilization.
The protected geographical name "Fico bianco del Cilento" refers to the dried product of the "Dottato" cultivar, a prized variety of fig spread throughout the South. In particular, the protected product is that derived from a specific ecotype of the Dottato cultivar, which has gone on selecting and spreading in Cilento over the centuries: the "Bianco del Cilento".
Product with unique characteristics of absolute value, appreciated also abroad, the "Fico bianco del Cilento DOP” owes its name to the uniform light yellow color of the peel of the dried fruits, which becomes brownish for the fruits that have undergone a process of baking. The pulp is of a typically pasty consistency, with a very sweet taste, amber yellow in color, with mainly empty achenes and almost entirely full internal receptacle.
A traditional preparation still in use is that which sees "pickled" figs, that is inserted in two parallel wooden sticks to form the "spatulas" or "mustaccioli". The "Fico Bianco del Cilento DOP" is also marketed stuffed with almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, fennel seeds, citrus peels (ingredients from the same production area) or covered with chocolate, or even dipped in rum, with the aim to expand the range of the offer, especially during the Christmas period. The figs dried and then browned in the oven are also increasingly sought after, especially the stuffed ones. Precious, but increasingly rare for the high preparation costs, are the clean, skinless figs, with a very light color tending to pure white and with a delicious flavor. The valuable characteristics of the product as described are due, in addition to the intrinsic qualities of the Dottato variety, also to the environment of cultivation and fruit processing. In fact, the mitigating action of the sea and the barrier placed by the Apennine chain to the cold winter currents from the north-east, together with the good soil fertility and an optimal rainfall regime, represent the ideal pedo-climatic conditions for the production of figs in Cilento. The simplicity of cultivation and the resistance of the plant to phytopathological adversities, then, have allowed the crop to also gain the liking of the Cilento farmer who has always placed the fig in his own company, in specialized or affiliated cultivation. Furthermore, the function performed by this cultivation in maintaining the landscape and the rural space, from which it now appears almost inseparable, should not be forgotten.