This morning, we climbed into Papa Gerry’s tiny car for a day trip to Agnone, best known for manufacturing the bells of the Vatican. Agnone is a small town of 6,000 people about 35 minutes west of Carunchio in the Province of Isernia. On the drive over, Gerry made sure us Texas girls were well aware of the correct pronunciation of the famous town, instructing us to repeat “AH-NEO-NEH” after him like schoolchildren until we got it right.
I popped a “travel gum,” (essentially chewable Dramamine), in hopes that the ride through the hills would be more forgiving this time. Not so much. Thankfully, I recovered pretty quickly upon arrival and rejoined the group for our first stop. Turns out, a strong stomach is not my super power. (By the way, thank you to whomever vandalized my unattended notes to dub me “barfy.” Good times.)
The Marinelli Bell Foundry
A short walk later, we were standing in front of the Pontifica Fonderia Marinelli, the official Vatican Papal Bell Foundry. Incredible. This place has been around for a thousand years, employing mostly autistic men. One of them banged out a short concert for us in the workshop. ( “Jingle Bells” was his song of choice.)
To make a bell, the master bell casters start with a wax cast — a technique they’ve been using since the 1300s. The artisans use wax to transfer religious designs and decorations onto the cast.
Then, a layer of clay is applied to form a “false bell.” Once that hardens, the wax inside is melted, leaving the imprint of the design on the inside of the false bell.
P.S. Brass + tin = bronze. Heat that concoction up to 2,000 degrees and you get MOLTEN bronze, which is poured into the middle to form the final bell. Voila! Each time a new bell is “born,” it’s blessed by a local parish priest. Kind of a big deal, eh?
Porchettas & Peronis
After we left the foundry, we walked a few blocks down to the local butcher, where Botegga Vecchiarelli had 25 porchettas ready for our group lunch. The classic street sandwich of sliced pork is commonly found in Central Italy and often topped with fennel.
Ours was mixed with pickled eggplant, dribbled in olive oil and stuffed into flaky bread rolls. We took our porchettas to a nearby courtyard, where we sat in the sun and promptly washed them down with a Peroni — the perfect complement. Afterward, a lovely gelato of pistachio and limone.
Next on the agenda was the Di Pasquo cheese factory, run by four sisters. Agnone is famous for its formaggio, especially the caciocavallo, which is a stretched-curd cheese often considered a gourmet version of provolone.
We were invited to tour the factory — where they also produce mozzarella, and ricotta — but not before donning a hair net. Gotta keep it clean, y’all. I just couldn’t resist copping of feel of the cavciocavallo.
Gerry Knows Best
After taking multiple photos with curtains of cheese, we headed back to Carunchio. This is the part where Papa Gerry gave us the low down on marriage, children, and the microeconomics of olive oil. This dude has opinions! He also let on that he’s learning Thai via Skype twice a week with a friend in Thailand. Of course he is.
Finally, on our last night in this beautifully remote village, it was time to make-eh the pizza. The Abruzzo way. We gathered for the last time in the gorgeous mosaic-covered kitchen. When it was all said and done, we had sampled somewhere around 18 different pizzas. Then, an impromptu Italian hootenanny to close out the night.
By the end of the week, I knew that my soul was in synch with something that I cannot explain. Good news, guys. I found the secret to happiness. And it starts with a thin crust.
Whoever gives my eulogy, please mention that I once sang “The Eyes of Texas” over dinner in a tiny Italian village.