Magic in the Gran Sasso mountains and the kitchen of the Sapori di Campania
High in the mountains above the Gran Sasso Valley in Abruzzo, the medieval hilltop town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio rises into the clouds. The town has been transformed into a albergo diffuso, a hotel that makes use of abandoned buildings in abandoned towns, carving out luxurious and beautifully appointed rooms, restaurants and shops united only by the narrow stone pathways previously traveled by 1,000 years of hearty farmers and paesani. We're here to visit one of the farms of my friend, Alessio, whose family runs a nearby agriturismo, Sapori di Campania. Alessio grows 95% of the products served at the agriturismo. Today, his worker emerges through the fog porting a crate of perfect purple potatoes, soon to be gnocchi on tonight's menu. The Gran Sasso mountains are as storied as they are remote and austere. The towns of Calascio, Santo Stefano and Castel del Monte (home of the SlowFood Presidia Castel del Monte sheep's milk cheese) were once holdings of the Medicis. In the 20th century, Mussolini was imprisoned close to its great sheep grazing plain, the Campo Imperatore. Today, the Campo hosts arrosticini roasts, featuring succulent wood-grilled lamb skewers. Tonight, Alessio will prepare dozens for us to nibble on, while he shares the story of the Transumanza, the semi-annual migration of sheep and shepherds from high in these mountains to the lowlands of Puglia, a harsh but essential pilgrimage vital to the survival of every small town along the way.