In the local dialect of Irpinia, east of Naples in the region of Campania, mesali literally means "tablecloths", a sign of hospitality. It's also the name of a fantastic association of 10 area restaurants, all committed to native ingredients. Traditions are individually interpreted; you might find new-wave cooking at one location and rustic dishes at another. Their motto is "gusto, prodotti, persone", to sum up the importance of their regional flavors, products and people (taste, products, people). They're collaborating with Slow Food, serving presidium products from Campania like alici di menaica (special salted anchovies), colatura tradizionale di alici di Cetara (traditional run-off liquid produced by salted anchovies), and San Marzano tomatoes.
I wrote an introduction for the Mesali guidebook and was invited to the presentation in Avellino. Restaurateur members spoke about their restaurants, Irpinia, and the importance of organizing, not a strong point in Italy. A buffet followed, with dishes from all restaurants, tastings of wonderful (and unheard of by me!) regional products like bread from Montecalvo, Gesualdo, Ospedaletto, and Vallesaccarda, Sturno prosciutto, Baronia ricottine, and a selection of regional wines-standouts were from A Casa, Terradora and Di Meo.
The Mesali subtitle is "Gastronomic Transhumance in Irpinia", evoking the tradition of the shepherd's transfer of sheep from mountains to valleys. With the Mesali guidebook in hand, travelers can easily arrange an itinerary in the area (without the sheep), going from restaurant to restaurant with a guaranteed warm welcome and good meal at each stop. The guidebook has detailed information on each associated restaurant, listings of nearby lodging, wineries, food artisans and places of touristic note. Meals cost from 15 to 50 euro including service and cover charge but excluding wine; eat at all 10 establishments and get a free meal at your favorite. I'm wild about the Oasis, da Pietro, Valleverde, and the Locanda di Bu and can't wait to try all the others.
-July 2009 link to the article published in The Atlantic Magazine