The match between Pantelleria and the caper is immediate: you can find this plant everywhere, above all where you would expect it the least, because it is able to find humidity between the cracks and grow lushly. From now on the Pantelleria Caper IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) will also have a face, that of the President of the Cooperative of the Producers of Capers, Rosario Cappadona.
Let me first thank Mr Giosuè Calaciura and his book “Pantelleria l’ultima isola” collana Contromano editori Laterza (which means Pantelleria the last island, it hasn’t been translated yet). In this book I first got to know the essential job Rosario Cappadona has done not only for the cooperative but for many farmers and workers of the island, I was so fascinated by the paragraphs written by Calaciura that I decided to get in contact with the president and ask him to meet him. The telephone call was enough to impress me for the kindness and the capability of going straight to the nitty-gritty of the topic as if we had known each other for a long time.
We went to the Cooperative in Scauri Basso without an appointment, Rosario had told me he is always there and so it is: he and the clerk are working at their tables. Don’t expect signs either along the street or at the entrance, but it’s obvious you will find them in Caper Street!
Rosario hasn’t got a degree in agriculture, so you won’t need to ask me otherwise you would also have to tell him the reasons why only a person with a degree in economics or a technician should lead a company like this. He has s degree in HIstory and Philosophy, to lead a cooperative like this one should deal with the culture, the history and the perfumes of a region.
Rosario has been linked with this place and product since his childhood: his father was a farmer and then Rosario became a union consultant for the company. He also decided to make different working experiences, for example working for a newspaper about Sicily but printed in Emilia Romagna, a region he is deeply connected due to the friends he made there and to the places where he lived and he likes going back to.
The cooperative was founded in 1971 by Pietro Bonomo, the biggest caper producer of the island, who had understood that the caper makers needed to collaborate to be stronger together. Pietro Bonomo will be President till 1986 when Rosario Cappadona took on this role.
It’s very interesting to know how Rosario sets the initial aims of his role as a President. It concentrates in three sides. The first is the characterization of the product, making as well a procedural guideline, that sets the rules for example also on the way capers have to be kept. The caper of Pantelleria must be kept only with sea salt and not winegar, that would change its taste.
In the meanwhile Rosario starts traveling around Italy to take part to food fairs in Milan, Verona and Parma, where he had the opportunity to let the product be known but also to meet only sales representative but also buyers.
Last but not least he concentrates on research in collaboration with the Universities of Catania and Palermo. The University of Agriculture of Palermo compared the different caper plants of Morocco, Sicily, Salina and Pantelleria. Only the plant from Salina has a similar taste to that of Pantelleria, but the plant from Salina has thorns while the farmers from Pantelleria selected over time the plants with no thorns.
The University of Chemistry of Catania made researches on the proprieties of the active ingredients of the caper since the Greeks and the Romans used it for beauty. This research led to the making of a cream, which was produced and sold in pharmacies until some years ago and whose effects against sun rashes were incredible.
We can’t forget that in 1996 the caper of Pantelleria got the IGP label, the only one in Italy with the Label of Geographic Protected Identification, This means that every single caper can be traced back to the plant it blossoms on. This represents an incredible result if you think about the fact that the Cooperative is a relativly small commercial reality far from everything but with a very precise aim: complete the production chain on the island, even the packing.
Nicolò de Nicolai, waiter and geographer of the King of France, talks about this natural plant in 1576. Today it’s a farmed plant that grows up to 400 mt. What we eat is the flower before it blossoms, this is the reason why it is possible to harvest the same plant 10-12 times a year from May to September. The size of the product does not influence its quality and taste, it’s only about esthetic. The price changes due to the time needed to harvest it.
I’m so thankful I was able to talk to Rosario. Through his words I was able to understand how much passion, determination, perseverance you need to be able to reach the top ranking quality. I also liked the atmosphere of warm hospitality. You will at once realize the cooperative is not the usual boutique of local products but you are at the very heart of the production, where farmers come to have a chat with Rosario. He is the one who at the same time answers the phone o serves clients who have come to make some provisions for the winter.
A little reminder! On the website of the cooperative you can buy online: capers, oregano, dried grapes of Zibibbo, patè with capers and other ingredients (I’ve already tasted the one with capers, dried tomatoes and olives as a pasta sauce… EXCELLENT!) and you can also buy the books written by Rosario on how to prepare tasty plates using the products of the cooperative. One of the first recipes I’m thinking of is the Pantesca Salad, a must if you come to Pantelleria!
Do you also like matching a place and/or a product with a face? Tell me your favourite match!