Staying in a Sicilian Village

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Sant’Ambrogio in Sicily

For this second trip to Sicily, we decided to stay in a small village for a week. We found Sant’Ambrogio through a website called Sicilian Experience. The idea is to give people a better sense of this amazing island by getting to know the people, the land and the local traditions that are in danger of disappearing.
Sant’Ambrogio has dwindled down to a population of 250 people and there is not much here to keep the young people from leaving. Carmelina Ricciardello is trying to change this by promoting eco-tourism in the town. Sant’Ambrogio only has one restaurant, one small bar and a very small grocery store. But, it is a picturesque hill town situated above a beautiful coastline at the foot of the Madonie Mountains. It’s also not far from the more popular town of Cefalù, which can be crowded with tourists most of the year.
Today we took a long walk up a steep hill to visit Giulio, who makes ricotta cheese the traditional way. As he worked hard heating up the milk—from his own herd of goats, he explained his methods for making the cheese. Although it helped that I could translate, Giulio’s enthusiasm and hand gestures were almost enough for everyone to understand. He was very organized with the tools of his trade, and was adamant about keeping everything clean. Yet, he was fun to watch, he could pause and explain things and he made us taste the cheese during the different processes.
Just when he was about to finish his batch, a few friends dropped by for cheese and conversation. They also brought Giulio some coffee and other goodies for the pauses between the different tasks. Everyone had a nice visit—drinking the coffee or Giulio’s homemade wine and sampling the fresh cheese at its different stages.
The word, ricotta, means recooked, so the cheese goes through a delicate second cooking stage. It’s very important to balance the heat with the right amount of hot water and salt. Although Giulio measures the salt carefully, he manages the rest by sight, touch and years of experience. He learned his craft from his father and his grandparents. Even his grandmother was an expert at making Sicilian cheeses.
It was interesting to see how fresh ricotta is made, but it was even more fun to be part of a daily routine in the life of a Sicilian. The people from this small village are warm and friendly, and their hospitality is genuine. In the town of Sant’Ambrogio, you have a chance to get to know the grocer, the family that runs the delicious pizza restaurant and the gang that hangs out at the bar. It all depends on how much time you spend in the town. If you want to get a feel for small town life and older traditions, with the help of a local host, I highly recommend trying the Sicilian Experience (www.sicilianexperience.com).
Below: Giulio the cheese maker, sampling the first stage of cheese, nearby Castelbuono, and two guys enjoying the village life

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About msraaka

I am a writer, ESL teacher and desktop publishing consultant living in the Pacific Northwest. After our first visit to Italy, my husband Bob and I have found ways to spend more and more time there. We love the people, the language, the food, architecture, art and the history of this amazing place.
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2 Responses to Staying in a Sicilian Village

  1. David Gili says:

    You guys are incredible! What a terrific experience. I especially like the description of driving in Sicily. Che corragio!

  2. Margherita says:

    Dear Martha, I just read the description you did about your holiday in S.Ambrogio…it is amazing for us to hear all this beautiful words…We are so happy about that! And really hope to see you one day…I’m sure I’ll keep riding your blog…It is a nice way to keep in touch with you!
    Thank you again
    Margherita from Sicilian Experience

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