Chocolate Figs, the tradition to donate them

9.12.2019

Dried figs filled with chocolate in Calabria are donated to relatives and friends, or however tasted during the Christmas holidays, because they can be kept for months, if stored in tin boxes and covered – once dried – with sheets of baking paper.

Dried figs filled with chocolate are a must of the Calabrian Christmas gastronomy, a gift of Mediterranean civilization to South of Italy, to Italy and to the world (they are very appreciated in London, for example).

It is a healthy and delicious sweet to eat in just one mouthful. They can be covered either with dark chocolate or with white chocolate, depending on personal taste. For the filling it can be used both almonds and walnut kernels.

The traditional preparation period for this typical Calabrese dessert is September, a period of abundant figs. In this way, a delicious idea was devised to preserve and enjoy them throughout the year, even in the coldest months.

Furthermore, born as poors food, today it has become an elite product!

Figs as gift

GENERAL PREPARATION OF DRIED FIGS

The figs are cut in half, leaving them united in the narrowest part, that of the petiole. Hence the name crocette, that is the cross-shaped name they take after the filling and pressing. Figs are dried in the sun on special reeds.

A selection therefore takes place because the figs destined for the preparation must all be of the same size. After the selection the figs are stuffed according to tradition with a preparation of sugar and cinnamon, with the addition of walnuts or almonds and orange and lemon peel. They are then pressed manually so that the two open parts of the fig are perfectly matched.

Once the figs are stuffed they are baked and cooked at 200 °C, then the product is sterilized. Immediately after cooking, they are cooled in special rooms and then packaged. The dried fig crosses are packaged with three different preparations:

  • the first involves the use of almonds for the filling of figs,
  • the second the use of walnuts and
  • the third instead involves covering the product with dark chocolate.

SPECIAL RECIPES

Skewers of dried figs (“schiocche”)

The Schiocche are skewers and are made from dried figs baked in the oven, then skewered on two sticks alternating the fruits on the right and left so as to make a sort of pigtail.

“Schiocche” as collars of Figs

Figs stuffed with Walnuts

They are dried figs stuffed with walnut cooked in the oven, then skewered in sticks alternating the fruits on the right and left. This combination of dried figs and walnuts is excellent in terms of nutrition. In addition to the excellent energy and nutrient supply, thanks to the omega 3 contained in the nuts, the intake of this food product helps to reduce the bad LDL cholesterol and also thanks to the fiber content there is a better control of blood sugar levels.

Figs stuffed with Walnuts

Crocette“, Crosses of figs with Nuts

The largest pieces of figs are used for figs stuffed with dried fruit, spices and citrus fruits. In the Calabrian tradition we find the crosses, prepared with four figs. The fruit is opened in half leaving the part of the petiole joined, it is usually filled with walnuts, carnation, cinnamon and citrus peel, orange or lemon. Open figs are placed in a cross shape, two below and two above.

Stuffed Figs: Almond Crocette

The fruit is opened in half leaving the part of the petiole joined, it is usually filled with almonds, carnation, cinnamon and citrus peel, orange or lemon. Open figs are placed in a cross shape, two below and two above Figs, even if you think they have many calories, it is a fruit that can be consumed by adults and children, it has no dyes or preservatives, it has digestive properties. The Calabrian crosses can be consumed instead of a snack.

Stuffed Dried figs, covered with Chocolate

The chocolate-covered figs are real pleasures of gluttony. Serve as a dessert, they cannot be missing from the Calabrian table where figs are an ancient and traditional food. Figs can be processed in many different ways.

The figs are first cut in half and then filled with a filling:

  • of hazelnuts,
  • cocoa,
  • aromas including carnation, cinnamon and citrus fruit peel.

Everything is mixed with the cooked wine which gives it a unique and particular taste. Finally they are covered in chocolate and packed in 250g boxes.

Crosses of Figs

Variously stuffed Figs

In the Calabrian tradition we also find the flavored figs, prepared with the fruit that is opened in half leaving the part of the petiole joined, it is usually stuffed and flavored with:

  • nuts,
  • carnation,
  • cinnamon
  • citrus peel (orange or lemon).

Almond flavored figs

In the Calabrian tradition we also find the flavored figs, prepared with the fruit that is opened in half leaving the part of the petiole joined, it is usually stuffed and flavored with:

  • almonds,
  • carnation,
  • cinnamon,
  • citrus peel (orange or lemon).
Variously stuffed

Figs stuffed with Almonds

They are dried figs stuffed with almonds cooked in the oven, then skewered in sticks alternating the fruits on the right and left. This combination of dried figs and almonds is excellent in terms of nutrition. In addition to the excellent supply of energy and nutrients, thanks to the omega 3 contained in the almonds, the intake of this food product contributes to reducing the bad LDL cholesterol and also thanks to the fiber content there is a mile control of blood sugar levels.

HISTORY

Li Ficu siccati” (the dried figs) are one of the most famous sweets in Calabria.

Introduced at the time of Magna Graecia, fig cultivation has been documented in the province of Cosenza since the 1500s. The Figs of Cosenza Dop are a fascinating and historically significant production in Calabria. The denomination “Fichi di Cosenza“, as stated in the production disciplinary, refers exclusively to the dried fruits of domestic fig “Ficus carica sativa” (domestic L.), belonging to the “Dottato” variety. In the Cosentino area, and especially in the Valle del Crati, the Dottati varieties have found an ideal habitat, in a moderately ventilated hilly environment, not arid but not too rainy.

Fico di Cosenza” (Ficus carica sativa )

For the rest, the great Mediterranean culture and civilization has given to Calabria and the world an ancient plant: the fig has evidence of its cultivation dating back to the first agricultural civilizations of Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt, from which it subsequently spread throughout the basin of the Mediterranean Sea.

If by definition it is called “Fico Mediterraneo“, it is also considered historically a native and common of the Caucasian regions, and of the Black Sea. In Italy the Fico existed before the foundation of Rome (it is in the shadow of this plant that Romulus would have been suckled and Oar).

Despite its ancient and noble origins, fig is now considered a “minor fruit”, as it is classified in modern fruit-growing treaties. After having played a leading role, today it has remained more tied to the memory than to the reality of Mediterranean agricultural productions such as the olive tree and the vine.

The fig tree arrived in Calabria in an uncertain period, probably at the time of the Greco-Roman civilization by the Phoenician travelers who used it as barter goods or who, in the dry version, used it as a reserve of calories for the labors of the crew. From then on its cultivation quickly took hold, particularly in the province of Cosenza, thanks to an ideal pedoclimatic situation.

FICO DI COSENZA, PROTECTED BY THE QUALITY MARK “DOP”

The peculiarities of the “fico di Cosenza” have been recognized in 2010 with the quality label “DOP” (In Italian: “Denomination of Protected Origin”). The typicality is related to the Valle del Crati (CS), where a hilly environment with a temperate climate has created the right conditions for optimal vegetation.

The Fichi di Cosenza PDO are of an elongated drop shape, sometimes slightly flattened at the apex. The peduncle is always present, short and thin. They are fruits with a very sweet taste of small size, with elastic skin, soft pulp and very small seeds. They are marketed after being dried in the sun on “cannizzi” (reeds) or wooden boards or even in the oven. With the typical golden color, dried figs have a higher yield than other varieties and are full, fleshy, mellow, soft, plastic, very white, highly sugary and easy to preserve.

The production, processing and packaging area of Fichi di Cosenza PDO includes several municipalities considered in their entirety or only in part of the province of Cosenza, located between the mountainous area of Pollino and the Sila Plateau, in the Calabria region.

Crosses of Figs stuffed with Almond

Drying and processing of dried figs in Cosenza is a tradition, handed down from father to son in the south: the heat is used to eliminate the humidity inside the fruit and to obtain a product that can be conserved for the rest of the year.

Traditional fig dishes are present in festivals and fairs in the province. In particular that of St. Joseph, which is celebrated in Cosenza at least from the mid-nineteenth century.

In the kitchen, at the beginning or end of the meal, the Fico di Cosenza PDO is the protagonist of many traditional productions: montagnoli, crocette, nocchette, stuffed figs, baked figs, balls, braids, corollas, salami and fig honey. These figs are an indispensable ingredient for preparing a classic dessert for the holidays, the “pitta ‘mpigliata” or “pitta’ nchiusa“.

PROPERTIES OF FIGS

The benefits of figs are many:

  • Excellent for reducing symptoms of fatigue because it is a highly energetic and complete food with all the nutrients
  • Rich in mineral salts and Vitamin C and A
  • Easily digestible
  • Thanks to the presence of the fibers they help the normal intestinal functions.

Balbino, the ancient wine of Altomonte

11.11.2019

Balbino” wine is the ancient white wine of Altomonte. Discovering such  mysterious Balbino means re-discover the ancient wine of Altomonte (Cosenza) handed down from Roman authors and that in the last century, thanks to the Giacobini Company, became one of the ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria.

THE LAND OF THIS WINE

The vineyards rise above a mountains chain, which dominates the whole Valley of Crati river, and extends its view to the Gulf of Taranto.

Wide is the horizon, always of a temperate climate, often subject to the gust of strong winds. Here lies one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: Altomonte, a municipality in the province of Cosenza, which represents a rare jewel of nature, history and art. Its rich cultural heritage is clearly visible in the splendid architecture of its historic center, in the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, the greatest example of Gothic-Angevin art in Calabria or in the Norman castle of 12th century.

Town of Altomonte

The previous name of Altomonte (its toponym) is Balbia, perhaps a Phoenician voice deriving from Baal, which means “lord” and “divinity”; most likely the village was originally moved to the Esaro river, where, in the Larderia district, the remains of a Roman villa dating back to the 1st century AD have been found.

In 1065 the town of Altomonte is mentioned as Brahalla or Brakhalla, coming from the Arabic hypothesis “blessing of God“.

The town, besides Balbia, was called Braellum or Bragallum, by King Robert the Wise of the Angevin dynasty, or according to others by Pilippo Sangineta in 1337 the name was changed to Altofiume.

But even this name was not lasting, since Queen Joanna I, also of the Angevin dynasty, gave her the name of Altomonte.

Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione

HISTORY OF BALBINO WINE

Balbia (alias Altomonte) was known to the ancients for one thing in particular: his wine. The city became more celebrated in antiquity by reason of its generous wines.

Plinio counting the most celebrated wines of Italy, did not exclude those of Babia.

Athenaeus calls this wine generous, and truly austere [“Vinum Babinum generosum, et admodum austerum, et semper se ipso melius nascitur”; Ath. Deipn. Lib. I], and wants the Bimblina vine to be born here, which was transplanted to Syracuse by the first King Poli, a native of Argo Greco, so that the wine made from this grape by Siracusans was called Polio wine. According to these historical sources, therefore, the Balbino of Altomonte would even appear to be the ancestor of the Moscato di Siracusa, born from the same vine.

In modern times, we find it among those ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria together with the Provitaro Bianco (compared to the Chablis), the Calabrese Rosso (compared to Bordeaux), the Malvasia, the Moscato Giacobini and the Moscato Diavolone.

A FAMILY AND AN INDUSTRY: GIACOBINI

In Altomonte, between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the family of Giacobini were active, a noble family that became a renowned company for the production of fine wines, liqueurs and vermouth.

An ancient brand

Balbino Bianco was one of their best products; in 1889 he won the gold medal at the National Wines Fair; then, Ciro Luigi Giacobini and his son Francesco gave birth to a real industry, one of the few then existing in the province of Cosenza.

The industry of Giacobini family gave rise to a period of great economic development of the territory, the factory created work for dozens of workers, reaching over 200,000 bottles a year, and exporting all over the world.

Fratelli Giacobini Company of Altomonte (CS) was located in the eponymous Palazzo Giacobini in Altomonte, today home to the Hotel Barbieri.

The activity has survived thanks to the Sciarra brothers and their actual brand Moliterno: in the company museum set up in a completely renovated patronal house, the Sciarra family still tells of the Giacobini Company through objects, equipment and documents, private and not.

Effectively, what was the grape used by the Giacobini for their Balbino Bianco (the standard Balbino white wine) is not crystal clear, nor whether it was that of which the sources speak or a mixed grape variety.

In any case, the Farneto del Principe farm in Altomonte called Balbino one of its wines, made from white Greek and Malvasia grapes.

A RARITY: BLACK BALBINO

There is also a Black Balbino in Altomonte, called in dialect ‘mparinata: it is a late-ripening vine (in the first and second decade of October), with a medium-large bunch, conical in shape, fairly long and compact but sometimes sparse and with a peduncle medium-short.

The wine coming from this grape medium-small, ellipsoidal or short ellipsoidal, is a red wine.

The skin is thick, very pruinose (from this the term “mparinata”, that is” floured “) and blue-black. The pulp is not very firm, pleasantly sweet and rightly acid.

Black Balbino wine

The Black Balbino grape prefers little expanded forms of cultivation such the sapling and is a rustic vine, not very sensitive to adversity and to parasites. It was also recovered in Cirò Marina, where it is used in the wine making and is attested from the mid-1800s; once it was used as a table grape, as well as to make wine.

Today, almost disappeared, it gives grapes that come together for winemaking with other locales.