From clay to decoration. Ceramic in Caltagirone

Caltagirone is a town in the district of Catania, in between Iblei and Erei mountains. I arrived there through Ss 124 coming from the innerland. I had a wish: to visit the Varsallona family factory.
I had the pleasure to be guest of the Varsallona family for a day and, thanks to that, I’ve got to know one of the most colourful tradition in Sicily.
The laboratory and the shop owed by the family are one of the most important thing happening in Caltagirone.
Riccardo is the creator of this reality and he started to be a student of artisanal art when he was a teenager.
Caltagirone itself is one of the best place to be when you want to admire and buy fine ceramics from Sicily.
The city of Caltagirone has become iconic for his beautiful and long stair going up to the Santa Maria del Monte church with his 152 steps decorated with polychrome majolicas. This stair represents how affectionate the people are to artisanal handycraft.

When I start the tour with Giuseppe Varsallona I didn’t know how pottery was made and everything was looking weird and cahotic to me and this feeling became the opposite after his relevant and punctual explanations.
Clay is a rock that mixed with water becomes malleable. First step to use this malleability is put it in a mold while is wet. It can stay wet a couple of days depending on the humidity and temperature of the place where it is.

When it dries it’s time to add some details and decorations that would make the piece unique together with the painting process. After details are added it’s time for the Bisque firing (or Biscuit because after this process the clay becomes brown).

After this process the glaze will be applied in a way that pottery can be colourproof and so painted. This is where Andrea Varsallona excells, Apart from his own genuine and “futuristic” project: ceramic sculptures fired on high temperature without oxygen reaction. Andrea talent helped by this special process made a stunning result: iridenscent figures, unique pieces of pure art that has to perform necessarly while there is an active audience. All those beautiful colours can be appreciated only when you move around Andrea’s sculptures.

Liqueurs: a rustic, yet fine way to produce them at home

Every year I have a very important appointment: going to collect fruits and herbs to make my own liqueurs.

In some countries this process is forbidden, and this is something that I do miss when I’m abroad.

Since, little by little, I started to have some customers, what was an home-made activity became also a funny job.

What I love the most is the beginning and the end of the process, also because in the middle there is nothing (which is actually the “whole” thing) or just waiting patiently that the alcohol has absorbed all the flavours from leaves and/or peels.

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The beginning is collecting the ingredients. Most of the time I go for fruity digestives so I collect tangerines, oranges, lemons around. I often find people who support me offering their trees since I haven’t been so lucky to have a piece of land and have my own resources.

Some people do understand the meaning of sharing, especially when they know that they can’t use most of the product of those prolific trees, unless they have a farm, and in the end some of the fruit would be wasted.

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When I finish this part I rinse everything with a sponge and I start to peel in a fine way. Lemons are the hardest in terms of stress for your fingers but tangerines are the worse because it is very important to avoid the white part of the peel which is always very attached to the peel itself talking about tangerines.

I won’t tell how important is that every fruit, after been washed, is clean and dry, cause I believe is obvious. Once this thing is ready to go in a jar with the alcohol, all you need to do is just wait (for some liqueurs 40 days, some 30 days and some others a week or a couple).

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After the maceration I’m ready to prepare the syrup which is normally just water and sugar, boiled, cooled and finally rejoined with the alcohol. The filtration is also a sensitive process: it’s nice to find some imperfections (brown dusty dots) in a home-made liqueur, but it’s better to avoid most of the impurities released by the macerations. To do that I just use a funnel with a little linen sheet on top. It slows down the filtration but the result is remarkable.

This year my specialties will be

Finocchietto (Funnel Liqueur)

Arancello (digestive based on oranges)

Limoncello (digestive based on lemons)

Aurum (citrus fruits mix)

Mandarinetto (digestive based on tangerines)

Allorino (digestive with laurel leaves)

[text me for recipes]