Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

    entry Sept. 2003            


Agriturismo is not what it used to be. Throughout Italy, that term refers to the small off-the-beaten-track farm partially converted to an inn, a place for guests to wander in, enjoy a home-cooked country meal, stay a night or two, and maybe even go out and look at the horses and goats. This combination of dude ranch and bed-and-breakfast remains most common in central Italy, but over the last 15 years in the idyllic setting of, say, the hills of the Sorrentine peninsula or in the Cilento region south of Salerno, the idea has taken hold —the small country road, the farmhouse, the orchards, the old wooden mill out in front for display with other antique farm tools handed down from the proprietor's father and his father before him (photo). Indeed, I have stayed in such places, myself. They really do exist.

Or did. The carabiniere corps known as NAS (Nucleo Antisofisticazione) is in charge of quality control of products meant for human consumption. They are the ones that check the chemicals in food, the purity of drinking water, the hygienic conditions in slaughterhouses, etc. In places that take guests, NAS also checks the hygienic and safety conditions. NAS has just issued a report on the state of agriturismo in Italy. The news is not good. Of the 617 establishments checked, 184 of them had violations, some of them serious enough to warrant punitive legal action. Violations were disproportionately high in southern Italy —Campania, Abruzzo, and Calabria— and included faulty sanitation, improper ratio of guests to available space, lack of safety measures, poor conservation of food and improper slaughtering of animals for meat. 

A number of establishments did not even seem to be agriturismo in the accepted sense of the term. They were little more than restaurants or hotels that had decided to cash in on our societal yearning for —and lemming-like summer rush to return to— the good old days. These places were by a main road, say, and just decided to hang their agriturismo shingle on that one tree out in the parking lot. I have not given up on the quest for the perfect, small family-farm with the authentic cheese, wine and bread, the one with the scythe from 1840 mounted over the fireplace. Nor should you give up, but if it has a blinking neon sign, alternating blue and yellow for agri- and -turismo, "Horseman, pass by!"

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