Food can tell you something about an area. In few places in the world is that as true as in Sardinia. Sardinian cooking is one of the most distinctive and personalised aspects of the island, one that goes beyond exquisite delicacies and fits into its history and tradition. In San Pietro, an island off the island, with a marvellous sea and a strong character, the culinary tradition is the identity and soul of the local community. The Girotonno symbolises this. From 22nd to 25th June, this original gastronomic festival tells a story of ‘men, history and flavours following the tuna route’. Carloforte, which is one of Italy’s most beautiful villages and is a pearl of the Mediterranean, shows the world a tradition of fishing and cuisine in an event which is much-awaited from far afield. It is an expression of a culture that has roots stemming from ancient rites.
The tradition of tuna-fishing nets, and the rais who leads the tonnaroti tuna fishermen is celebrated by a four-day programme of live cooking and greedy sampling of modern recipes and those from yesteryear. There are also presentations and concerts, entertainment and guided tours through the village of Carloforte and the island’s splendid coast. The stars are internationally-renowned cooks and resident chefs: you can see (and learn) straight from them the art and refinement of cooking, as they take turns on the stage of the Tuna Village, in preparing (and giving live commentary on) the dishes. The key moment is the international tuna competition, a spectacular contest between award-winning chefs from Italy, Norway, Japan and Peru, who are committed to bringing out the quality of the tuna with their art. There is a jury of journalists, experts and opinion leaders to judge the dishes, and a jury chosen from the public. The tuna will be presented in traditional recipes and creative varieties, together with other dishes from Carloforte.
Tastes and cultures, tradition and modernity come together in Carloforte. Its history and landscape are unique in Sardinia: the people are originally from Tabarca, but are strongly linked to Genoa through historic and cultural ties. The roads in the centre of the village and along the sea throb with life. The architecture is mainly 18th and 19th century: palaces with beautiful façades, houses in pastel shades, staircases and alleys where you smell the aroma of seafood cooking. The fascination of the small harbour is the prelude to discovering the sea with a thousand colours and the coasts of the island, where there are a number of fascinating cliffs, including La Conca and Le Colonne, a symbol of Carloforte, to charming inlets, like Cala Fico and Cala Vinagra, which are dreamlike coves with unpolluted sea floors.
Migrating packs of red tuna, the most prized kind in the Mediterranean, have always swum through the channel which separates San Pietro from Sant’Antioco, the largest of the islands in the Sulcis archipelago. Fishing them with nets is a practice that goes right back to Romans and Phoenicians, and was perfected in the 15th century by the Spanish. Still today they are fished using the same methods: it is a real ritual that is carried out from April to June. It starts with a propitiatory prayer from the tonnarotti, led by the rais, who leads them in his musciara boat. These ‘running tuna’, which have red, fat flesh, which arrive in large packs from the Atlantic to deposit their eggs in the warmer Mediterranean. Their routes, in packs, are predictable. The structure of the nets forces them to enter into ‘rooms’ which get smaller and smaller, until they become trapped. The last ‘room’ is called the ‘room of death’. That is where the killing takes place. Then the tuna is worked in one of the few historic tuna plants still active in the Mediterranean (it has been going nearly three centuries!) using traditional methods.