At the beginning, it was perhaps the success of the film Il Postino, shot on the magnificent Pollara beach, that brought the tiny island of Salina (a part of the Aeolian archipelago) to the world’s attention. A part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, it’s the greenest and lushest of the Sicilian islands, with a fresh and damp climate that’s ideal for the production of two special products: Malvasia sweet wine, and succulent, flavorful capers.
Often referred to as “nectar of the Gods”, some of the most famous Malvasia labels include Tasca d’Almerita, Carlo Hauner, Fenech, Colosi, and Florio. The Fenech family has been making the golden-toned wine for centuries, and now the family-run company is headed by Francesco Fenech, whose right-hand man is a young Moroccan who arrived as a refugee years ago and is now an integral part of the business. “Bouabid understands grapes like few people do,” says Francesco. “If he weren’t here alongside me, I’m not sure I could manage. These five hectares make up my whole world.”
The Fenech family has its origins in Malta, and arrived on the island of Lipari in the second half of the Seventeenth Century. According to Francesco, “Malvasia should be sweet – but never too sweet – and we also make a drier version.”
What are the steps involved in making Malvasia?
The grapes are harvested at the end of August when they’re very ripe and are then laid out in the sun for about two weeks. I spread them out on the roof of the wine cellar, on long reeds. Then the grapes get pressed into must, and the skins are set aside to be used for grappa, which maintains the same fruity, soft, vegetal notes.
What’s the best way to enjoy Malvasia?
Beyond the traditional pairings with sweets, chocolate and cheeses, I’ve discovered the perfect pairing: Malvasia, caciocavallo cheese from Ragusa, and honey. Almost all wine producers also harvest capers, and the 4,000 residents of Salina are no exception.
We met with the Famularo family, who own and run a restaurant and agriturismo. They sustain that most people aren’t aware that “capers are a precious commodity. Not just because is no way to pick them unless by hand, but because it’s hard to plant the trees. They generally grow spontaneously.”
What’s the difference between Salina capers and other variants?
Capers from Salina have no thorns. And we have the special sun and island wind that makes their flavor unique. The Slow Food organization has recognized our capers as one of their products worth safeguarding, and this makes us proud. Foreigners are intrigued by the cucunci, which are longer and have a more intense taste. They get hand-picked from May to September – we get up at dawn every week and, with our backs bent, we pluck them right from the bushes or the vines. If you don’t pick the blossom (that is, the caper), and you let it bloom from within, the fruit is formed – the much beloved cucuncio.
Which capers are the most prized?
The smallest ones are the most prized, and their size changes the moment it is picked. All of them are then preserved in a perfect balance of salt, which gets rinsed off right before use. The larger they are – like the cucuncio – the longer they should soak in water.
What’s the best way to enjoy them?
In salads and sauces, on pizza, in fillings for ravioli or stuffed eggplant. We islanders tend to put capers everywhere – even alongside Malvasia wine – and some even make caper gelato!