Walking arm in arm, two elderly women, with coiffured silver hair and wearing tan winter coats, ambled their way up the steep cobblestone street, periodically stopping to peer inside the little shops. It’s the bustle of a busy Saturday afternoon where young and old are gathered sipping espresso, eating ice cream and talking with one another while finishing their errands.
In Roman times, the wealthy escaped the politics and heat of Rome to relax in this hillside village of Nemi, Italy where sparkling water from Lake Nemi pours freely from the community fountain.
An eye 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.
Samples of pepperoni happily given
The worn marbled floor inside had a small path leading through the vast selection of cured meats and the woman behind the counter was freely giving away samples. I finally 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. Maybe because I’m in Italy, there’s the anticipation these will taste more authentic than the ones at home. They did. A customer asked for pepperoni and the helper grabbed the meat shaped like a rope, judiciously cut it off and coiled up the rest in a basket. She must be buying this for an antipasto platter, I presumed, to serve with a block of parmesan cheese.
A sweet shop not to be missed
My sights turned to the top of the hill where many shops sell the famous custard tarts exquisitely topped with miniature strawberries. Nemi is known for its sweet and tiny strawberries grown along the banks of the lake. 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 richness than sweet. I tried to ask the workers if the tarts were made in the shop. Not understanding me, I pretended to mix ingredients in a bowl and then they pointed to their kitchen area. Yes, they were made in the shop.
Near the top of the meandering, winding hillside road, local women at a table talked and gently laughed outside of La Casa del Pane pastry shop. I peaked inside to peruse the goodies and one of the white haired women immediately came into the shop and welcomed me. I noticed she was wearing a white starched uniform dress and she smiled 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. Luigina 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 the fuel the fire.
Walking along the shops
She went on to tell me a legend of the strawberries representing the national colors of Italy, the first color is white while young and growing , then green, and the last color is red as it developed 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, she carefully put many different cookies in a bag for me to take as a warm gesture.
The village of Nemi with 2,000 residents has many shoppers indulging in the tasteful things in life in a delightful setting.