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Vincenzo D'Antonio visits Campania and has fun choosing a wine to go with the region's famous Mozzarelle di Bufala

This time we have left our beloved Penisola Sorrentina and we are going far from the sea but still we see our Vesuvius. We are driving across green hills, the sea far away to our left, towards the northern part of our region, called Campania. Several thousand years ago, some happy person named this land Campania felix

Our goal is Caiazzo, a very small hill town where there is a very good restaurant named Il Generale after our hero Giuseppe Garibaldi. Very close to Caiazzo, more than a century ago, Garibaldi with his red shirts won the Borboni and met the King of Savoy, and Italy became united in one state.

We knock at the glass door and the patron Stefano, a young man, gives us his welcome. The restaurant is elegant: particular care is taken with the mise en place, with silver cutlery. We sit down and Stefano offers us a flute of Asprinio di Aversa I Borboni, a sparkling wine that's very good as an aperitif.

In the meantime we scrutinize two lists: the menu and the wine list. No doubt: antipasto Generale please, there's three of us, but bring only one antipasto in a large plate: we'll manage to share it! Stefano is a clever buyer, and, believe me, fifty per cent of a restaurant's quality is down to the patron's skill in sourcing the produce. Salami under oil and fresh ship's ricottine in small baskets have come from a particular farm located at the foot of Matese, a green mountain not far from Caiazzo.

Amongst the antipasto there are three small mozzarelle di bufala: one is mine, of course! I take it by fork and I put it onto my plate. I cut it and white drops of milk fall into the plate like tears. I taste it: your great Milton wrote about lost paradise. Hic et nunc I write about earthly paradise. Never, really, never did I eat so delicious a mozzarella di bufala. But that's normal here because we're in buffalo country! Around Caiazzo live, and give milk, thousands and thousands of buffalo. And here also is the top know-how to transform the fresh milk into this delicate cheese. The man who is able to create mozzarella has the title il casaro.

The first course is an assaggi, so that we can assay three first courses: tagliatelle with nuts, pennette al Volturno, and risotto al radicchio trevigiano. The Tagliatelle is in a white sauce made with a litle milk but without tomatoes. Pennette is a short kind of maccaroni, Volturno is the river that crosses this land and where Garibaldi won Borboni. The dish has a very nice flavour of a secret variety of home grown herbs, with just a touch of tomato and a hint of garlic.

Stefano is both patron and chef: he likes to challenge himself with the cuisine of other Italian regions, so he cooks a wonderful risotto al radicchio Trevigiano. Trevigiano is in the northeastern part of Italy and only there is it possible to get this particular kind of radicchio.

Choosing wine is always a problem, a happy problem, but a problem all the same! Especially when there are three of us that have to reach a decision. We solve it by leaving our own region and looking more toward the home of radicchio.

We try an excellent bottle of white wine: Alto Adige Val Venosta Riesling 1997 produced by Franz Pratzner. It smells wonderful and I listen to the fruit. It will become a very famous wine, I'm sure. Thanks to the farm at the foot of Matese, we appreciate the second course: laticauda lamb. The name has a latin origin; it means a very large tail. Really, these lambs' tails are longer than those of other lambs. The Laticauda we are eating are less than one month old and have been fed only mother's milk: never grass. Stefano offers cosciotto, or leg, of laticauda with a sauce made with red wine. We need bread to bathe in the sauce. Bread and cosciotto: we are talking about heaven, isn't it so!?

I don't know which red wine Stefano used for the lamb: Aglianico I suppose. Anyway our choice is Sangiovese dell'Umbria '97 produced by La Carraia, at Orvieto, Umbria. The land around Caiazzo is a bit like Umbria. This Sangiovese is a strong red, with floral flavours, very clean. I liked it vey much.

At this point, some other people now would ask for dessert. Not us.

Each of us chooses a wine. We do a blind test to see which goes best with mozzarella, which is a difficult cheese to match with wine. This mozzarella isn't small -it comes in a big ball. You will find the best flavour of mozzarella in a big ball rather than in a small one. First slice, first wine: a red wine; I can almost hear a wine that I know very well: Lettere by Grotta del Sole. My score is 7 out of 10.

We must cleanse our palates with bread and a drop of oil - delicious oil, too! Second slice, second wine: a white wine, yellow, elegant, with a long finish. My score is 8, but I don't know what wine it is. Cleanse again with bread and oil, then the third slice and the third wine: another white wine served in a flute. It isn't a normal wine. It has bollicine, tiny bubbles. It is Franciacorta Saten made by Monte Rossa. My score is 9. The second wine was Frascati Superiore Santa Teresa produced by Fontana Candida. [Yellow? the Frascati we get in England is almost colorless -Ed] My friends' scores are quite similar to mine. So, a cheese unique to this region has the best marriage with a white wine coming from Franciacorta, in northern part of Italy!

Finished lunch? What? no pudding?
Stefano says: "Mousse al cioccolato - oppure - Torroncino affogato al caffe' caldo ?" - Chocolate mousse or torroncino in hot coffee. And I say: Why "or"? "and" is better than "or". My friends all agree and Stefano has to as well.

A dessert wine: Moscato dell'Umbria by Donna Olimpia: served at just the right temperature, not too cold! I'm the guest so I cannot look at the bill. Afterwards I found out that the total amount was 200,000 lire, including all the wines. So, about 65,000 lire per person.

The return trip was longer: I stopped off and bought mozzarella di bufala produced by La Baronia.

Largo Plebiscito Veneto, 2
CAIAZZO   close to Caserta; Caserta km 23 to Naples
Phone no. 0039 - 0823 862606
Closed on Monday and for dinner on Sunday.
Vincenzo D'Antonio February 1999

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