Fabrizia Lanza’s dog is named Monsù: he’s a cirneco dell’Etna, an ancient breed that was probably brought to the island of Sicily from Egypt, where the dog’s ancestor, Anubi, was considered a God and was depicted on coins and coats of arms. Monsù, however, is a young, cheerful dog who races around the countryside surrounding Case Vecchie, in the small hamlet of Regaleali – where the unique vines that create the Tasca d’Almerita are grown.
We’re in the heart of Sicily, near Enna and Agrigento, with the cities of Palermo and Catania about an hour and a half by car. But they seem worlds away. The beauty of this countryside is ancestral and emotional, and Case Vecchie is an island within an island. It’s a typical example of a 19th Century country estate, with a large interior courtyard and the old farm houses dotted around, which are today used as schools.
The large kitchen, full of copper pots, china bearing the family’s coat of arms, and aromas and tastes, is the classroom where lessons are given on how to prepare regional specialties like Sicilian cassata, pasta with sardines, and chickpea panelle.
This is where Fabrizia Lanza welcomes her guests for her classes on Sicilian cooking which come in three variants (lasting 1, 3 or 5 days), and which include cooking lessons, meals and hospitality at Case Vecchie. It’s a full-immersion experience that one can even tailor to their own desires and interests. And while learning to cook, you get a chance to chat with Fabrizia, perhaps even while sipping a good glass of Tasca d’Almerita wine.
Case Vecchie is the exact place where the culinary adventure of Anna Tasca Lanza – Fabrizia’s mother – began. In 1989 Anna had the idea of bringing homemade Sicilian cooking to the world, soon becoming famous in the United States with cooking classes, books, television and radio appearances along with celebrated chefs like Julia Child and Alice Waters. She travelled around the world – from New York to Hong Kong, from India to Australia – before returning here, to Case Vecchie, where she then decided to build the heart of her taste academy here. And here is where Fabrizia is carrying on the legacy.
Today, her school is attended by passionate gourmands that arrive from all over the world to learn to cook, live and absorb the atmosphere of a world that no longer exists. A world of old-fashioned elegance and the powerful love that Sicilians feel for their land.
A Regaleali the infinite spaces, the sloping hillsides scorched by the sun evoke the land recounted by Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel Il Gattopardo and brought to the big screen by Luchino Visconti. This the land of long-standing families, and in Anna Tasca Lanza’s kitchen, you can find their cooking.
The name of the family dog, Monsù, comes from the term for the cooks who worked in the large aristocratic households, the heirs of the French chefs who, in the 18th Century, worked for the noble families of Palermo. And who, over centuries, created a unique cuisine, a combination of French gastronomy and Sicilian traditions, local products and refined techniques.
Fabriza Lanza still uses this way of cooking as her point of reference in the kitchen, with ancient recipes that communicate a world, a civilisation, a social class that held eating well as a high priority. The Sicilian noble class was, and still is, very cosmopolitan. Families were accustomed to travelling and spending extended periods of time in Paris or Switzerland. And they were always accompanied by their monsù, who would set up their kitchens and bring abroad with them the products from their own land.
And here at Case Vecchie, the cuisine is based around the products that grow around the school. From the pastures and vegetable gardens, there are vegetables, wild herbs, meats and incredible cheeses that are used in the preparation of Fabrizia’s dishes. And they also help in understanding the complexity of Sicilian cuisine, which comes from an accumulation of different histories, ingredients that were brought to the island by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spanish. And together, all of these influences have helped to create an utterly unique cuisine: in Sicily, it’s impossible to not eat well. Even a small dog of an ancient breed named after the “monsù”, surely eats magnificently.
All information about prices and class duration can be found on this website.
Francesco Martucci from I Masanielli in the Campania region of Italy has been named the best pizzaiolo in the world for a third year running. See the full list as well as all the international winners.