The young custodians of Lucanian flavors

31 August 2023

Today we’re at an altitude of 800 meters, specifically in the southern Apennines, between the Sirino and Volturino mountains. In the heart of the Alta Val d’Agri, surrounded by the green hills of Marsicane, stands the Vignola agritourism farm, created from the ancient rural dwelling of the Vignola family, whose first stones were laid towards the end of the 1800s. Here there are 10 hectares of cultivated fields, vineyards, olive groves, and woods. And still, the slow rhythms of nature, warm bread on the table, horses running free in vast, fragrant meadows. In the midst of this landscape lives and works Manila Bruno. She is the young guardian of Lucanian flavors.

In this idyllic setting we meet a young girl with a passion for her family business, authentic Lucanian traditions – reimagined with a modern touch – as well as the right-hand in her father Giuseppe’s kitchen.

Four generations of the Vignola family

The Vignola family and Bruno.

Manila attended the Umberto Di Pasca hospitality school in Potenza. “I was born and raised on the farm, and since I was a child, I’ve always helped my great-grandmother Linuccia in the kitchen, who is now 103 years old. She’s the one who taught me how to make pasta by hand.”

After graduating, Manila took charge of the agritourism’s menu, indulging in the reinterpretation of some dishes and methodologies, preparation techniques, and processes. “Since my parents didn’t attend culinary school, my contribution was the first true professional input to our agritourism’s kitchen. I’ve been working here for about 5 years now.”

The agritourism is a former farmhouse, a legacy from Linuccia, the grandmother of Manila’s mother. It’s thanks to Manila’s parents, Giuseppe and Maria Antonietta, that the agritourism came to life. Before that, the farm (run by Grandma Linuccia and her son Biagio, Antonietta’s father) was solely engaged in pastoral activities with limited production. On September 21, 1994, the Vignola agritourism officially opened its doors. “My mother owns the property, my father is the chef. He and I work side by side, bringing the products of our own farm to the table.”

Taste Workshop: Recipes from the pastures of the Lucanian Apennines

Basilicata is one of the greenest regions in Italy, as evidenced by two emblematic products: mountain honey from Pollino and wild aromatic herbs from the Lucanian Apennines. During the Taste Workshop, we’ll taste glazed lamb with Pollino mountain honey, coated with ancient grain bread crust and aromatic herbs from the Apennines—an interpretation of the typical arraganato lamb dish, with oregano and stale bread. Legume and grain soup on a crostino made with ancient grain bread, flavored with Pollino mountain honey and aromatic herbs from the Apennines.

A family project

“While I was attending hotel school, I had the desire to continue my studies, pursue professional training, and gain experience elsewhere. The years of Covid were decisive – they made everything clearer for me. I understood that I wanted to stay and help grow my family’s business. Today, I’m fully convinced of it, and I’m very happy and satisfied with my choice.”

Francesco at work

Manila isn’t the only one among Giuseppe and Maria Antonietta’s children who have decided to join the family project. “Francesco is the eldest, my older brother. He mainly takes care of the agricultural part, tending to our lands, crops, and livestock. He helps us in the restaurant, on the floor. Then there’s Simona, my older sister. She attended a school for food technology, control, and safety in Reggio Emilia, but she contributes from afar with ideas and support. Biagio is the youngest, 18 years old and attending an agricultural institute. Despite still being in school, he’s a constant presence.”

The immaculate flavors of the land

Through the agritourism, the Vignola family aims to uphold certain principles. The choice is always for genuine products: “Our main goal is to make our guests appreciate the true taste of our raw materials, without distortion. For this reason, we serve simple and traditional preparations. Although I’ve introduced some reinterpretations, we always try to maintain the authentic flavor of the products we highlight through our dishes.”

Their philosophy is rooted in a pristine product, from the land to the table, favoring local, organic ingredients, with minimal elaboration, to offer the true taste of Basilicata. Pasta and bread, prepared by hand from the cereals grown in their fields, meat from native breeds and fresh garden vegetables are always present on their tables.

Lucianian flavors

The Vignola farm

“We have over 100 head of livestock on the farm, including sheep and goats; we also raise calves, horses, and poultry, including for eggs. Our animals eat forage provided by Francesco, mainly hay from our fields and organically grown grains.” Manila continues, “In addition to leaving some fields intentionally uncultivated, we have 10 hectares of fields that we rotate with cereals, legumes, and alfalfa. We obtain wood from our forests to fuel the bread oven. We also grow various types of vegetables, including peppers, red eggplants; berries; legumes, such as black chickpeas and Sarconi beans. We try to produce everything we can ourselves, including wine, jams, and preserves.”

In fact, there are very few raw materials that they don’t produce themselves: “The companies we’ve chosen as our main suppliers are all local, within the agritourism’s vicinity, almost all from Basilicata. For cured meats, sometimes our production alone can’t meet the demand, so we rely on a local company. In terms of dairy products, we don’t produce them in-house but work with nearby Caseificio Petruzzi.”

Lucanian fields

Manila concludes: “My future perspective is to innovate the cuisine of our agritourism. There’s nothing that makes me prouder and more satisfied. We want to improve every day, both in our restaurant and in hospitality. We’d like to expand our services to make all the people who visit us feel at home and provide them with a truly immersive experience, in the tranquility of our agritourism, and the genuine flavors of our land.”

Manila awaits us at Cheese, along with her sister Simona, to delight us with the flavors of her Lucanian homeland.

by Cecilia Cacre, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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