The hour drive to Vizzini went by like a flash for there was much to look forward to. It was the first time we had been on a longish car trip since the arrival of spring and with bambino at this tender age of almost two he was much happier doing so than ever before. It would be the first time visiting this allegedly beautiful town. And, the main reason for the trip, it was the first time we would be experiencing Sicilian ricotta cheese making celebrated in the form of Vizzini's annual sagra della ricotta.
We had made an early start but quickly discovered that we were not alone and the sagra was well under way. Guided by the smoke and the smell, it didn't take us long to find what we came for: the ricotta cheese hub presented as a live performance (a detail captured in the photo up top). Gathered in this temporary installation were at least 20 men, young and old, working together in a ricotta cheese assembly line composed of dozens of the traditional copper kettles, each with its own fire for cooking the sheep milk and water mixture to make the cheese. Bundles of branches had been collected for the event to keep the fires going, and additional bundles would be brought over as the supply got low. Clearly this was a well-planned event. And although there was already a line for collecting a bowl of the freshly cooked cheese, we were told it wouldn't be ready for another 30 minutes, but decided to join the others and line up too, perfectly happy to watch the cheese making spectacle.
And before we knew it, we, too, were gathered around a communal table partaking in the delicacy. The cheese was warm, soupy, surprisingly salty and mildly wonderful, best eaten with the fresh little roll that it came with. It somehow seemed the perfect thing to eat at 10:30 in the morning while the local marching band played its tunes to the delight of our bambino (who was not in the least bit interested in tasting the cheese). Others, not so keen on eating cheese at this hour, brought their own storage containers and we could only imagine what wonderful things they would be cooking up in the privacy of their own homes, presumably located somewhere nearby.
We finished off our bowls in time to follow the marching band on its path through the town, which was indeed beautiful. Along the way we admired the architecture (just love the details on the building below) and views of verdant hills peeking through the alleyways, and I spotted the handmade basket that I was determined would be coming home with me (and I later made sure it did!).
Our final goal for the trip was to visit palazzo Trao-Ventimiglia, which houses two historical museums: the bottom floor is dedicated to the town's agricultural and craft traditions, and the top floor, with its frescoed ceilings and fantastic rooftop views, to the work of Vizzini's most famous son, the writer Giovanni Verga.
There is more to see in Vizzini--like its churches, an abandoned section of the town that was formerly a tannery, beautiful countryside, etc.,--but we had filled our morning and were set on being back home by 1 for nap time. And this time it wasn't only bambino who needed some sleep!