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The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Basilicata: Part I

Updated on March 29, 2009

Basilicata is a primarily inland region of southern Italy, between Puglia, Campania, and Calabria which fronts only for a very short stretch on the Tyrrhenian Sea (between Sapri and Scalea, with the Gulf of Policastro) and the Ionian Sea (between Novi and Siri Metaponto with the Gulf of Taranto). The name seems to derive from the name of the Byzantine Official Basilikos who administered in the second century this part of Lucania. The name Lucania replaced that of Basilicata from December 1932 until the end of the Fascist Era and has since returned to the medieval nomenclature.

The western part of Basilicata includes some high mountain ranges peppered with sunken hollows, flanked by buttresses that slope towards the Ionian Sea. The northern and central area elevations do not reach the altitudes of the mountains further south as Mount Volturino, (1,856 meters, 6,089 feet) is the highest peak of the area. To the south the most imposing mountains include the Sirino (2,005 meters, 6,578 feet) and especially the Pollino (2,271 meters, 7,450 feet), which forms a barrier between Basilicata and Calabria. In the northern part rises the isolated Mount Vulture (1,330 meters, 4,363 feet), an extinct volcano adorned by two crater lakes. This volcanic geography is the primary reasons why damaging and deadly earthquakes are rather frequent in Basilicata.

The flora can be defined in four zones all subject to their elevations: the Mediterranean coastal zone (up to 400 meters, 1,300 feet); hillside forests of oak and chestnut (400-1000 meters, 1,400-3,280 feet); the mountain forest beech and conifers (the latter especially in the Pollino: 1000-2000 meters, 3,280-6,560 feet), and the high alpine pastures. The most significant crop in the region is wheat followed by oats, potatoes, barley, and corn, grown mainly in extensive agricultural tracts. The flax (for seed), and tobacco provide excellent and profitable harvests. Grapevines extend over eighteen thousand hectares (44,500 acres) and produce more than half a million hectoliters (13 million US gallons) of wine. The olive tree is cultivated in the hills, while citrus fruit is readily found on the coastal regions of the Ionian Sea. To the present day, traditional sheep farming is still an occupation of a significant part of the population.

As it was in Roman times, the former Lucania is a rugged, harsh, and sunscorched region. It is a mysterious land of shepherds and farmers where life still runs according to ancient rhythms and where it perenially awaits the solution of many socio-economic ills from a detached, distant and largely uninvolved national government in Rome. Basilicata's cuisine is strictly peasant and relies primarily on land products such as dairy and meat derived from sheep farms and the perennial staple meat of pork.

As the most popular of Basilicata meats, the pig was a key element of the local food because it can be raised anywhere in the region, and due to the fact that absolutely every part of the animal is used in the area's cuisine, even the blood with which the famous "sanguinaccio" or blood pudding dessert is prepared. In ancient times the killing of the animal was strictly regulated, like a sacred ritual, a ceremony that became a kind of a blood-soaked feast firmly associated with legends, traditions and details of centuries old folklore and customs. The first stroke of the knife to the throat of the victim was always the privilege of the head of the family. The innards were always the subject of special attention because the configuration of the entrails could reap good or bad wishes for the entire year. The festival reached its climax at the dinner table where an exceptionally rich and sumptous spread was prepared, as was the case on days of religious occasions as well as celebrations of marriages and births.

Continued in Basilicata Part II

Check out the entire tour of Italy's Historical Regional Cuisines!

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