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The Castelli Romani are a series of towns south of Rome within the Alban Hills. So-called ‘Roman castles,’ these towns provided an escape for the nobility of Rome during the hot summer months thanks to their cooler climate and volcanic lakes. Today, they provide plenty of small-town charm and fresh air, as well as offering visitors a rich culinary tradition. Once you’ve worked your way through the 16 essential foods you need to eat in Rome, take a stab at trying the regional specialties of the Castelli Romani while enjoying the natural scenery and laid-back pace of life.
The town of Ariccia is so famous for its porchetta, the two practically go hand-in-hand. This slow roasted pork is savory, fatty, moist and extremely flavorful. It is rolled with alternating layers of meat, fat and skin, and then stuffed with wild herbs including rosemary, garlic and fennel. Porchetta is a favorite food at sagre, or small town festivals, and is often served with bread as a porchetta sandwich. The celebratory dish originated in Ariccia and is enjoyed throughout Italy, with regional variations in Abruzzo and Umbria.
Pecorino Romano is a salty sheep’s cheese that began to be produced in the Lazio region 2000 years ago, making it one of the staples of the area’s cuisine. In fact, it plays an integral part of many of the region’s recipes. Cacio e pepe, gricia, and carbonara all incorporate Pecorino in their recipes (rather than Parmigiano Reggiano). The cheese is often accompanied by fresh fava beans in the springtime and pairs delightfully with the regions local wines.
The wine of Frascati is one of the better wines produced in the Lazio region and has been cultivated since 5BC. It is designated as a DOC wine, meaning producers adhere to strict regulations, guaranteeing the quality and authenticity of the wine. The wine is a mixture of various types of grapes Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia del Lazio, Grechetto, Bombino bianco and Trebbiano. You’ll also be able to find ciambelline di vino, baked biscuits with anise seeds that incorporate the wine, lending a subtle layer of flavor to the sweets.
Nemi is magical little town is famed for its strawberries, particularly the wild fragoline di bosco that grow in its vicinity. Each spring the town holds a strawberry festival to celebrate the harvest and the fruit is served in a variety of ways: mixed in risotto, incorporated in tarts, accompanied by a dollop of ice cream or simply sprinkled with lemon and sugar.
The bread prepared in Genzano is well known for being the perfect type of country bread. Flavorful, dense and great for porchetta sandwiches. It is made of soft wheat flour, natural yeast and salt, and is baked in a wood fire oven. The loaves are often large, with a dark and slightly bitter crust while the inside is soft, moist and sweeter. Genzano celebrates its bread tradition each September with a festival dedicated to these loaves and serves plenty of bruschetta to hungry visitors.
Olive oil is famous around the country but the conditions of the volcanic soil and presence of fresh water lakes infuse the oil from this region with delightful flavors and naturally occurring minerals. The olive varietals used in the olive oil are Frantoio, Rosciola and Leccino. The first two provide a fruity taste, while the Leccino is more bitter and intense. Together they create a balanced oil that is delicious served with bread from Genzano and drizzled on local produce from the region.