Italy is well-known worldwide for its breathtaking landscapes, its incomparable cultural richness and, of course, its exquisite cooking. As for the latter, a particular phenomenon is becoming popular from North to South of Italy: the reemergence of the monastic cooking. Monasteries, abbeys and convents in the whole country are famous not only for their historic-artistic heritage, but also for typical products offered to pilgrims and tourists. In the Middle Age, the monastic cooking consisted in simple and natural food. Today, people often organise food festivals to rediscover ancient culinary traditions. Moreover, many Italian chefs serve typical dishes adapted from the monastery kitchen. This ancient culinary tradition carries a very important message: rediscovering the simplicity of foods and savours.
MONASTERY OF SANT’ANTONIO IN NORCIA – UMBRIA
E.d.: during the summer of 2016, a strong earthquake devastated many Italian central regions. Norcia has been one of the most ravaged towns. Even if the Monastery of Sant’Antonio has been badly damaged, we still wanted to include it in our list as a sign of respect for the beauties that were lost during the catastrophe. With the hope that those towns and monuments will soon start living a new life.
The 15th century Monastery of Sant’Antonio is located in Norcia, not far from Perugia, an historic and religious area. The monastery is a calm and peaceful place where monks follow the St. Benedict’s Rule, which involves the principle of hospitality. Here the day is still organised around the Ora et Labora, so monks dedicate themselves to several activities: praying, maintaining vegetable gardens and preparing typical products according to ancient recipes. Guests can spend some time in the comfortable dining room tasting vegetables, creams, honey, monastic pesto sauce and local food. Specialties of the house? Tagliatelle with monastic truffle sauce, honey sweets and the famous paste di Sant’Antonio.
CHIARAVALLE ABBEY – LOMBARDY
Chiaravalle Abbey, located south of Milan, is a fascinating Cistercian monastic complex; the construction started in 1135 thanks to St Bernard. The buildings’ precious frescoes are particularly appreciated by visitors, who can also be hosted by monks inside the Abbey. These monks, according to St. Benedict’s Rule, open the Abbey’s doors to people willing to endure a spiritual experience.
Meals are shared with monks following the silence rule. Guests can taste a large variety of products coming from the farm animals and the vegetable garden located inside the complex. Delicacies include fruit jams, honey, sweets and biscuits, sauces, culinary herbs and meat. Furthermore, seasonal tasting events are often organised inside the monastic complex.
MONTEVERGINE SANCTUARY – CAMPANIA
The Montevergine Sanctuary is an important religious complex located in Mercogliano, approximately 4100 ft high, not far from Avellino. The origins of the sanctuary are closely linked to the life of the hermit William of Vercelli. This well-known religious complex attracts a million and half people every year. It also houses the important icon representing the Virgin Mary, dated XIII-XIV century. Inside the Sanctuary, Benedictine monks created a proper restaurant where visitors can taste typical products: honey, wines, herbal liqueurs and food cooked following ancient recipe books with great care, such as tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and grilled meats.
MONASTERY OF BOSE – PIEDMONT
The Monastery of Bose, located in Magnano, near Biella, has been housing a community of monks and nuns since 1965. Many are the activities here: maintaining the apiary, the orchard and the vegetable garden and preparing typical products, among which bread stands out, symbol of simplicity and sharing. The well-known Rustico di Bose is a soft and easy to digest handmade bread. This delicacy is made following an ancient natural leavening thanks to pasta madre, a dough made of water and flour without yeast.
Paste di meliga (typical Piedmont biscuits made with corn flour), tarts and jams of Bose are other delicious oven products of the Monastery. Moreover, honey is excellent too, and it is served with cheese – very appreciated by gourmands. Some examples? Acacia honey with pecorino cheese or linden honey with gorgonzola cheese.
MONASTERY OF SANTA CATERINA D’ALESSANDRIA – LATIUM
The Monastery of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria is located in Cittaducale, not far from Rieti. It was built starting from 1327. The monastic complex includes the Church, the museum, the library, the cells, the refectory and the vegetable garden. Benedictine nuns spend their time here doing three main activities: praying, working and cooking traditional food. They offer typical and territorial dishes to pilgrims: pasta all’amatriciana with local tomatoes, spelt and lentils soups, lamb stew and beans with cotiche.
Desserts are very famous and delicious as well, such as tisichelle (anisette donuts prepared with a mixture of flour, sugar and oil) and zeppole di patate (fried sweets sprinkled with sugar).
ROSAZZO ABBEY – FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA
The Rosazzo Abbey lies on a hill at 577 ft high in Manzano, a town near Udine. Visitors and pilgrims particularly appreciate the magnificent buildings and the surrounding breathtaking landscape.
In a calm and peaceful location, guests can taste the Abbey’s joy and pride: wine. At the end of 1200s, Benedictine monks coming from Milstatt Abbey in Austria brought to Rosazzo the culture of vineyard cultivation. Today, the Abbey is worldwide famous for its exquisite wines, such as Ribolla gialla, Picolit and Pignolo. The historic ageing wine cellar is the oldest of the region, and open to visitors by appointment. Tourists can admire the impressive vaulted ceiling and cobblestones pavement, built at the end of 1200.
MONASTERY OF SANTO SPIRITO – SICILY
The Monastery of Santo Spirito is located in the urban center of old Agrigento. It is a magnificent medieval complex founded in 1299. The Monastery is well-known both for its architecture and its large selection of typical pistachio or almond sweets, prepared by Cistercian nuns according to centuries-old confectionary traditions. For example, the delicious pistachio cous cous is prepared with a mixture of bran, pistachios, almonds, cinnamon, sugar and pieces of dark chocolate. Nuns offer to guests and visitors other appetising handmade sweets, such as almond sweets, frutta martorana (soft fruit-shaped candies with almonds and sugar), buccellato with figs (sweet pie dough filled with figs, nuts and spices, shaped as a wreath) and amaretto biscuits with pistachio.
NOVACELLA ABBEY – TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE
The Augustinian Novacella Abbey, founded in 1142 by Beato Hartman, bishop of Bressanone, is located in Varna, close to Bolzano. The Abbey was built in the most Northern wine area of Italy. Altitude, atmospheric conditions and mineral ground are ideal for the production of famous wines, such as DOC white wines of the Isarco Valley: Sylvaner and Müller Thurgau.
Inside the Abbey’s wine cellar, visitors can taste these exquisite wines and other local products: grappa, apple juice and elder flowers syrups. Everything served with speck, smoked sausages, cheese and Tyrolese bread. Moreover, during winter months, visitors can warm up with a hot barley soup; in summertime, instead, seasonal salads are on the daily menu. Among desserts, apple strudel certainly stands out.
MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE ABBEY – TUSCANY
In Asciano, near Siena, the Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey is a monastic complex founded in early 1300s by Olivetan monks, followers of the Benedictine order. The Abbey is open to everyone who needs a period of relax far from the hectic rhythm of everyday life. The Refectory, one of the largest rooms of the Abbey, has an impressive vault ceiling and walls with 17th century frescoes. Among the products made by monks, the most famous is the Flora di Monteoliveto, a delicious liqueur made following an ancient recipe from the Abbey’s pharmacy. Specifically, it is a 23-herbs infusion, which ages over six months. Well-known for its delicious taste and its heady scent, it is indicated for its remarkable digestive properties.
SANTA SCOLASTICA MONASTERY – LATIUM
In Subiaco, close to Rome, the Santa Scolastica Benedictine Monastery consists of buildings of different styles and overlooks the valley thanks to its strategic position, as it is located at 1673 ft high. In order to host visitors, monks organised a Foresteria (guest quarters) where people can relax and taste natural and savoury foods. An example of menu includes: chili cheese, finocchiona salami, mortadella with pistachio nuts, pork loins of Norcia, croquettes with meat sauce, fried pumpkin flowers and bruschetta among starters; as first dish, pasta with mushrooms and peas; as second dish, stewed meat alla monferrina and gratin potatoes, with orange pie as dessert. The dishes are served with water and house wine.