Food and Travel

 




LE PERACCIOLE ORGANIC FARM

 

 

On my last trip to Italy to the Amalfi coast and the Sorrento Peninsula, I was on a quest to connect with the elements—nature, people and history—that this  magnificent land has preserved throughout the centuries.

 

I decided to visit Don Alfonso 1890, a restaurant and boutique hotel  located in  Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi.

Sant’Agata is nested on the promontory of the Sorrento Peninsula with a view of the bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

 

Alfonso Iaccarino is the “Three-Star- Michelen Chef” of Don Alfonso 1890, which has been for a destination for people looking for culinary excellence for many years. Chefs from around the world study Iaccarino’s innovative cuisine for inspiration.

 

My decision to visit Don Alfonso 1890 was not only motivated by curiosity and the desire to experience such a culinary treasure, but it was also an emotional one.

 

As a young boy in the 60’s, I used to spend summers with my family along the Peninsula Sorrentina.

I remember the smells of the terraced fields overlooking the bay of Naples, where lemons, olives, figs, fruit trees, and fresh herbs—basil, rosemary, oregano—filled the air with their sweet essence.

Images of that past are still vivid in my memory—going to the farmhouse in the morning to get fresh cow’s milk, stopping by the local baker for bread hot out of the oven, and picking figs off of the trees that shaded the narrow country paths on my way home.  Then I would sit on the terrace of my home, overlooking the bay and dip the warm bread filled with figs in the hot, fresh cow’s milk that my mother had just boiled on the stove. This simplicity was life at its very best.

 

Years ago I hung a picture on the wall in my office, which is a beautiful view of Capri taken from a field near Punta Campanella—the tip of the Peninsula Sorrentina. That view gives me such feeling of calm serenity.

So, one day while surfing the internet I was looking up chefs  that represent the excellence of Mediterranean cuisine and I came across a story about Alfonso Iaccarino and discovered that he had purchased a property near  Punta Campanella, where he restored an organic farm, “Le Peracciole,” that would become the essence of his cooking.

 

Then I saw a picture of his farm and, oh my God, it had the same view of Capri that I looked at and dreamed about every day in my office. I was so happy to see that someone had such love for this territory, so much so that he sold his beautiful villa to buy land that would require an enormous amount of labor to reestablish its organic integrity. I could see and feel that this farm was, for Alfonso, a sanctuary and an inspiration for his life.

 

Before I left to go Italy I was able to arrange a visit to Le Peracciole Organic Farm.

My wife Julie and I were so happy for the opportunity .

 

The first week of August, while driving from Sorrento to Sant’Agata on the way to Don Alfonso, I was thinking that probably only a few  people that visit Sorrento, Positano, or Capri venture to see Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi. The views from this area are spectacular with an uphill curving road opening up to beautiful, generous countryside.

Sant’Agata is definitely a low key place compared to the frenzy of Sorrento or Positano. This is part of its beauty.  Here you encounter the local people on the streets, at the bar, or in the barber shop and you can feel the love and culture.

 

When we arrived at Don’ Alfonso at 10:30 am, we were greeted by Fortunato, a very nice, soft-spoken young man who works at the reception. He invited us to board his small car so we could drive on very narrow paths on the way to Le Peracciole Organic Farm. As we approached the farm you could see the terraced land sloping down to the Mediterranean Sea. Just as we entered the property (there is no gate or signage), we ran into the beekeeper who had been attending the bee hives. We were starting to see how this land’s ecosystem was well planned.

 

Just a few steps and the farm was opening to the blue Mediterranean Sea and the island of Capri looked and felt like it was within arm’s reach. We felt like diving into the water and going for a swim.

 

That was it. Just a few steps on this beautiful land and strong sensation travelled through my body. The emotions were engulfing my throat, I could barely speak. The dream was in my eyes and under my feet.  Paradise on earth I was thinking.

see video clip

 

 

 

Fortunato was a wonderful guide, telling us all about the crops, occasionally picking something for us to sample—figs, wild berries, tomatoes.

 

Soon we ran into Alfonso Iaccarino, who had been attending to one of his olive tree supplying it with extra water. He was taking care of the tree like it was one of his kids.

He was accompanied by one of his dogs, a big Bracco hunting dog. We could tell how much he loved to be there attending this fantastic land.

 

For a moment, the legend of Ulysses and the myth of the sirens came to mind.  It wasn’t by chance that Homer chose this coastline to lure in sailors. He knew how magical it is here.
The sirens tempted Ulysses and his men to abandon their ships and settle in this land of harmonious nature filled with love.

Well, I thought, maybe one of Alfonso’s ancestors was one of Ulysses’ crew members who jumped ship and settled there under that  spell of love.

 

 Alfonso joined us for a bit and proudly showed us the livestock. The chickens where separated in two groups some for delivering eggs and others for hatching new chicks. A big steer was resting in a stall in the company of a cat whose job I can only imagine was to keep rodents in check. The steer’s job was to provide fertilizer for the land!

 

 


It was fun and refreshing to walk inside the lemon groves, which are protected from cold winds, hail, and possible low winter temperatures by characteristic trellises (pergolati) which are covered with  straw  (pagliarelle).

 

All the produce and eggs used at the restaurant come from this relatively small corner of land. The bounty and rich quality of the products was quite impressive. This visit to Le Peracciole will be in my mind forever.

 

We drove back to Don Alfonso enjoying beautiful views and the fresh breeze coming from the sea colleting all the aromas of this generous land.

 

Once back at Don Alfonso, we went to sit on comfortable lounge chairs in a shaded area of the garden by the pool. It felt like being at a private residence, with the garden and pool in complete harmony with the surroundings.

 


Then a charming and elegant lady came to meet us. Livia Iaccarino, Alfonso’s wife, who is his partner in this fantastic story, came out to ask us how the visit went at the farm. She offered us water with lemon from the farm  cool down from our excursion. She explained it would act to cleanse the palate and also detoxify us in preparation for our meal.  It was the perfect drink for a hot summer day,  so refreshing and cleansing.


 

Livia appeared very happy and serene and her presence put us in a relaxed mood immediately.  We moved to a shaded garden table in the Don Alfonso Garden Grill. The Grill offers a lighter, simpler menu for a summery lunch.

 

 Lunch was exceptional. The food was exquisite, delicate and all in perfect balance.  The service was impeccable and warm. We felt like we were at the home of a good friend.

 

Having been at the organic farm before, we were very conscious of the quality of the products used in the preparation of our meal.  Just that awareness took us to another level of appreciation for the culinary experience.

 

Alfonso, now dressed in chef’s uniform, came to see us at our table and we discussed how nowadays  preserving mother nature is the single most important element to experiencing luxury, and  feeling healthy and spiritually in balance. After this philosophical detour, it is worth mentioning what we had for lunch:

 

Carpaccio di Dentice

Raw fresh red snapper cured with organic olive oil and assorted peppers, topped with salmon eggs and mixed greens.

 



Polipo e cous cous, crema di provola

Octopus served on cous cous with a side of a cream of provola flavored with cinnamon

 

Paccheri con crostacei

Paccheri is a large tube pasta made in Gragnano, a famous location in the Vesuvian shaded land where the best pasta di grano duro is made. This pasta was the perfect marriage with a crustacean bisque.

 

Scorfano con patate novelle al cartoccio.

Monkfish and baby potato.

 

We enjoyed this fantastic and delicate meal with a lovely white wine, Fiano di Avellino.

To finish we had refreshing homemade lemon sorbet.

 

During lunch, Mario Iaccarino, one of Alfonso and Livia’s sons, came to greet us and make sure we would stop to see him after so he could show us the wine cellar.

 

Mario, a super nice, handsome man, brings incredible experience to the family business.  He has worked with some of the best chefs and in some of the best restaurants in Europe.  He has acquired all of the knowledge and skills needed to be in the business of hospitality and fine dining. You can see his imprint and vision in the family business.

 

While on our way to the wine cellar, we passed by the kitchen that opens to the patio. Ernesto, the younger of the Iccarino’s two sons, invited us in to visit the kitchen.  Ernesto is also handsome and friendly, like everybody we met at Don Alfonso. Ernesto works with his father in the kitchen, together creating this incredible culinary masterpiece.

 

The kitchen was attended by several sous chefs prepping for the evening.  Tiles from Vietri decorated the walls of the kitchen from floor to ceiling, giving it a very warm and colorful feeling, like that of a country home.

We thanked Ernesto for the tour and for the delicious lunch and went on to meet Mario, who was in the  office reception area where you can buy some of their cook books and products from their farm—olive oil, limoncello, and more.

Conversing with Mario made me appreciate his business mind. But the thing that most impressed me was the his philosophy and approach to hospitality. Very simply put, he said, “It all comes down to kindness and warmth.”  So the first requisite to being part of the staff is integrity of character. You have to have what it takes to join the Iccarino Family’s vision.


The Wine Cellar is one of the Restaurant’s treasures. It is a Eutruscan tunnel that descends into the belly of the property, where the temperature and humidity are perfect for preserving great wines and cheeses. The tunnel was discovered by chance while excavating for some renovations. More than a wine cellar, we were actually visiting an archeological site.


It was time to go, so we thanked all the members of the Famiglia Iaccarino for their fantastic hospitality.

Julie and I came here with some expectation of what we would experience, but we walked away with much more.

To me the Iaccarino family enterprise is a gem of culinary excellence and an example of a lifestyle that is universally inspirational.

 

Elio De Santo

 

 Don Alfonso 1890