On our recent visit to Benano, Paul and I made a new friend — Alessandra. She’s looking forward to meeting our guests. She doesn’t speak a word of English, but that’s OK. I’ll give you a head start, and you can use sign language to complete your transaction. All you really need to know is that she sells wonderful homemade cheeses and homegrown legumes at her shop, which is just a stone’s throw from Rocca di Benano.
Any former guests reading this will remember the expansive stretch of flat farmland just above the tiny village of Benano where our villa is. Taking the hairpin turns up the steep hill just behind Benano, most newcomers are shocked to find themselves on a broad plain, far different from the hilly terrain in the opposite direction.
I often walk or jog along the road up there, and my phone is loaded with photos and videos of the big flock of sheep that I occasionally get to see being herded to another pasture across the road. The bells worn by the sheep that clang as they graze are among my favorite sounds of rural Italy.
Those sheep, it turns out, produce more than memorable “ear candy” — they also produce the milk Alessandra’s family uses to make a variety of delicious cheeses and fresh yogurt. You won’t regret buying some mellow pecorino, creamy ricotta, or tasty ricotta salata to have around during your stay in Benano, or having Alessandra seal some of it in plastic for your trip home.
The rest of the road on the plain is lined with fields of plants that I couldn’t recognize. It turns out Alessandra’s family grows chickpeas and lentils there. Specialties of the region, they’re the main ingredients in some of my favorite Italian soups. Of course, being sold dried, they also travel well.
Beware the little shop’s limited hours of operation: Thursday evenings (5:00 – 8:00) and Fridays and Saturdays (9:00 – 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 – 8:00). When Alessandra and her husband Francesco are not minding the store, they’re tending the sheep and crops and making cheese.