The Puglia region has a wonderful jewel-case that cherishes a nearly complete collection of every marvellous thing of this area: the Gargano National Park.
What immediately attracts the visitor to Gargano is the flora featuring the olive-trees that fill the plains of the coastal area like in Macchia and Mattinata, the altitudes south of Lake Lesina, the valley bottoms in the area at the feet of the mountains and the terraces along the coast. The plants are often secular and are placed in orderly rows, but they differ because of the shapes given by different pruning techniques, handed down from one generation to the other and differing from one area to another. The olive-trees are alternated with almond trees and the whole creates a fascinating ensemble. Certainly a jewel of these lands is its exceptional oil, still obtained by the squeezing of olives in ancient oil mills. A few of them can be visited and purchase from them the green nectar that holds the scent and the flavour of these places.
The northern coast, that runs from Rodi to Vieste, is a continuous sequence of verdant hills where orange gardens bloom and perfume the valleys. The gardens are surrounded by dry walls built for the protection of the plants against cold winds. The production of citrus fruits is very ancient and started with the bitter orange-tree since the sweet one arrived from Portugal at the end of the 17th century. Oranges and lemons were the object of an intense trade between the towns of Gargano and Venetian merchants. Then at the end of the 18th century, oranges started being exported to Dalmatia and afterwards, in 1870, Isidore Tomas promoted the first meetings between Gargano and the United States of America. Some of these citrus fruits, and particularly the Blonde Orange of Gargano and the Femminello Lemon of Gargano, are waiting for registration among Pig (Protected Geographical Indication) products. This dry land, thanks to the toil of the peasants, has wrought from the ridges, by terracing and other techniques, pieces of terrain where, for generations, they have grown pear trees, medlar trees and cherry trees. There are also the vineyards that produce moscato, already famous at the time of the Bourbons.
Between Monte Sant'Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo one can observe, on the northern versant of the Carbonara valley and in the Falcare locality (on the western versant of the valley that from Foresta Umbra reaches Carpino), the chestnut groves that colour the landscape with white flowers in June and with fire-red leaves in autumn. Other typical products of this land are the Indian fig and the simple fig, often dried and stuffed with almonds, a special treat at Christmas time.
This land offers not only the beauty and the flavour of its fruits, for on the first spurs of the Gargano promontory graze wild Podolic breed cows, typical of this area. Quite understandably, this harmonious nature produces a breed of cows the meat of which contains greater than usual quantities of conjugated linoleic acids that have anti-cancer properties. The presence of these healthy acids seems to be due to the natural diet and the Gargano herbs on which these native animals feed. In Gargano, the visitor will enjoy the local cuisine which, even if frugal, is complete and has unforgettable flavours; it is based upon starchy foods and cereals, oil, fresh vegetables cultivated in the gardens grown everywhere, dry vegetables, meat and fish. The table is laid with bread, in the shape of round loaves of six-seven kilos each that already represent a savoury food by itself. Then the classical house keeper will offer the host home-made pasta, such as orecchiette and tagliatelle, seasoned with beef, sheep or pork meat sauce or with small chops stuffed with garlic, pepper and Pecorino cheese. As a second dish there are bruschette (baked bread slices) accompanied by the land's produce kept under oil and by provolette, scamorze, burrate, plaits and Ricotta.
Puglia people often exalt their fish, like for example bass, sea bream, gilthead, cuttle-fish, red mullet and shellfish by cooking it in a simple manner without covering the flavour of the fish meat. At the table one can also find the sweets of the earth: dried figs, almonds and chestnuts. The advice of the culinary art experts is to accompany this sumptuous dinner with wines of the area. One can choose between a moscato, a San. Severo white, rosé Cacc'è e Mmitte or a red from the neighbouring town of Cerignola.
While visiting this land one gets the impression of new scents and of tasting food with a familiar name, but with flavours that cannot be found elsewhere, the whole framed by a various but at the same time homogeneous nature, apparently poor and at the same time so rich. Nature here is conditioned by the climate and the quality of the terrain and never influenced, not even by the stubbornness of the peasants of Gargano. The Park is gaining in notoriety and aims at enhancing all of the characteristics of the area. For this reason the Park has created its own identification label for agricultural and food products, but also for handicraft products and tourist services. The purpose of this initiative is the creation of the conditions necessary to make the products and the services of the area become, thanks to their own qualities, a symbol of the genuineness and specificity of the Park itself. Furthermore, the assignment of the label represents a stimulus both for the producers, that they might continue to produce goods and services consistent with the environment, and for the commercialisation of typical products, reinforced on the market by the guarantee that a national entity can give to consumers. Such a label is an icon of the genuineness of the products, but more generally is the icon of sustainable development.