In ancient Roman times, the wealthy escaped the politics and heat of Rome to relax in the village of Nemi, where sparkling water continues to pour freely from Lake Nemi into the community fountain. Perhaps they visited in the very places where men now sat, talking and sipping espresso, while children gobble ice cream.
An appealing shop to the right of the village entrance enticed me with its arched doorway framed with bundled string-tied salami, hanging pepperonis and whole prosciutto hams. Inside I found a small path across the worn marbled floor, leading me through the vast selection of cured meats to a woman behind the counter who was freely giving away samples.
I recognized two items known in US markets: long, thin pepperoni, reminding me of Slim Jims, and odd sized chunks of soppressa salami. All were salt cured, air dried and not sealed in a plastic bag from a big-name manufacturer. I anticipate these will taste more authentic than the ones at home, and am not disappointed. Another customer asks for pepperoni and the woman grabs the meat, shaped like a rope, judiciously cuts some off and coils up the rest in a basket. She must be buying this for antipasto platter, I presume, imagining that she’d serve it with a block of Parmesan cheese.
Nemi is known for its sweet and tiny strawberries grown along the banks of the lake, and at the top of the hill there are many shops that sell the famous custard tarts exquisitely topped with these miniature strawberries. I ducked into a shop with a beautiful display case of tarts and quickly ate the small strawberry dessert with thick custard base and scalloped pie shell, more egg-rich than sweet. Though the workers spoke no English, I asked if the tarts were made in the shop by pretending to mix ingredients in a bowl — they answered by smiling and pointing to their kitchen in confirmation.
Near the top of the meandering hillside road, local women at a table talked and gently laughed outside of La Casa del Pane pastry shop. I peeked inside to peruse the goodies and one of the white-haired women immediately came into the shop to welcome me. Wearing a white starched uniform dress and smiling easily, she said her name was Luigina and she introduced me to her adult son who had jet black wavy hair and spoke some English. Luigina has worked in the same shop for 31 years and her husband, who had passed on, was a third generation in the shop and began working there as a child. She told me each shop has the same tart shells but the custard recipe was a little different. It could be the eggs or cream or maybe the cooking method that distinguished one custard from the other. Luigina was proud of her bakery and said her ovens are very old and use chestnut wood to fuel the fire.
She went on to tell me how the strawberries represent the national colors of Italy — the first color is white while young and growing, then green, and the last color is red as it ripens into a luscious fruit. The colors of white, green and red are prominently displayed on Italy’s flags and emblems. I thanked her for speaking with me. Then, as a warm gesture, she carefully put many different cookies in a bag for me to take.
The village of Nemi, with 2,000 residents and a delightful setting, attracts many shoppers to come indulge in the tasteful things in life.
If You Go
Stay at the highly rated and family run Olive Tree Hill B&B in Zagarolo where owners Ivano and Tehri will cook for you and make sure you see all the important sights. www.Olivetreehill.com