A little Italy in Saluda

Published 9:00 pm Saturday, April 1, 2017

Carunchio, Italy, a small village in the Abruzzo region near the Adriatic Sea, recently became Saluda’s sister city thanks to an effort by Judy Thompson and the Saluda Sister City Initiative, a group of Saluda residents w

Chef Dino Paganelli prepared an Italian dinner for former guests and potential future visitors to Carunchio, Italy at Ward’s Grill in Saluda on Friday, Feb. 17.

ho have taken trips each year to Italy to bring Saluda and Carunchio together.

To further the friendship and share in cultural exchanges, Dino Paganelli, chef at Carunchio’s Abruzzo Cibus cooking school, and Massimo Criscio, CEO of Abruzzo Cibus and owner of the Palazzo Tour D’Eau, visited Saluda in February for a week during a tour the southeastern region of the United States.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Criscio and Paganelli pulled up in their Fiat to Thompson’s Grocery in Saluda and, like celebrities signing autographs, were greeted by Saluda residents during the hours leading up to the Italian dinner at Lola’s Venue in downtown Saluda.

Paganelli is soft-spoken, saying his English is not very good. He was humbled by those who greeted him, saying he is fascinated by the culture America has to offer. Like an Italian James Bond, Criscio has a cool demeanor and likes to joke around with the people he meets. His ability to walk up to strangers in Thompson’s Grocery and instantly make friends is unmatched.

Thompson’s Grocery Store owner Clark Thompson and Chef Dino Paganelli spent the afternoon on Friday, Feb. 17 preparing a dinner featuring egg and cheese dumplings, pasta and tiramisu at Ward’s Grill in Saluda.

Thompson explained the purpose of the Sister City program as being a way for Saluda residents to expand their horizons and learn about another country.

“One of our top priorities for the Sister City program is to help our Saluda students widen their view of the world by developing interactions with the school in Carunchio and by learning about Italy,” Thompson said. “Three groups of Saluda residents have gone to Carunchio in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The next trip is planned for 2018.”

According to Thompson, Saluda and Carunchio officially became sister cities in May 2016 when a group of Saluda residents went on a six-night vacation at the Palazzo Tour D’Eau. Thompson said Criscio and Paganelli conduct cultural tours of Carunchio with cooking classes and visits to Carunchio’s main attractions.

Former guests of Massimo Criscio at his Palazzo Tour D’Eau in Carunchio hosted the Italian dinner at Lola’s Venue. Pictured are Judy Ward, Chef Dino Paganelli, Frances Fairey, Bevie Hardy, Taylor Francisco, Judy Thompson, Debbie Thomas, Molly Thomas, Gloria Sullivan and Massimo Criscio.

During the group’s visit in 2016, Thompson said former Saluda commissioner Lynn Cass and Carunchio Mayor Gianfranco D’Isabella pointed out commonalities between the two cities including location, altitude, latitude and climate.

“Backed by the flags of Italy, the United States, Carunchio and Saluda, the two formalized the relationship with a proclamation in both Italian and English that will be displayed in the Saluda City Hall,” Thompson explained. “Cass presented Carunchio with books picturing Saluda environs and celebrating its artistic heritage and D’Isabella presented her with a plaque commemorating the joining.” Cass also presented the mayor with a traditional Coon Dog Day festival shirt and invited all to Saluda for barbecue and sweet tea.

Paganelli and Criscio arrived in Miami on Jan. 29 to embark on their three-week tour that concluded with a week in Saluda. Criscio said their travels took them to Amelia Island off Florida’s Altantic coast, on to Savannah, Ga., then to Hilton Head, S.C., and finally up to Saluda.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden met with Massimo Criscio during his visit to Saluda in February.

“We participated in a cooking school in Charleston called Zero George and the theme was modern American cuisine,” Criscio said. “For the first time, we were on the other side of the table. We sat down and there was a chef waiting for us. This guy is top-notch! We managed to get in because we had a good recommendation and so we saw the difference in how they do things.”

While in Saluda, Paganelli and Criscio stayed with Thompson, a former guest at the Palazzo Tour D’Eau in Italy, at her house for the week. They frequented Thompson’s Store in downtown Saluda, owned by Pensacola, Fla. resident Clark Thompson.

“Saluda is such a beautiful place and it feels like time has stopped in this moment here,” Paganelli said. “This is the first time I have been to a small town in America.”

Criscio said he and Paganelli wanted to embrace the southern culture of America while visiting. Thompson said they tried barbecue at Green River Barbecue in Saluda and square-danced to bluegrass music at the Feed & Seed venue in Fletcher, N.C.

“We had the sweet tea and the food is so different here than in Italy,” Criscio remarked. “If you want breakfast for dinner here, you get breakfast for dinner. If you want fast food, you get fast food. In Italy, lunch is between 12 and 12:45. If you miss it, you go hungry.”

Criscio and Paganelli held an Italian dinner during their stay in Saluda at Lola’s Venue above Thompson’s Grocery store. The dinner guests included Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden and Saluda commissioners Carolyn Ashburn and Mark Oxtoby.

Chef Dino Paganelli prepared a three-course meal with wine. Egg and cheese dumplings drizzled with marinara sauce was served with a side of bread and oil as the first course. Paganelli demonstrated how to make the dumplings and Criscio, a certified sommelier, gave a wine tasting course before the meal.

Paganelli prepared a three-course dinner for the evening that included egg and cheese dumplings (pallote cacio e uova), a pasta dish featuring traditional Italian sausage with the pepe trito spice similar to paprika that originates in the Abruzzo region of Italy (mezze maniche con broccoli e sabiccia di pepe trito), and tiramisu.

The dinner began with the egg and cheese dumplings, as an appetizer drizzled with marinara sauce. The pasta followed, with spicy sausage infused with the regional Abruzzo pepe trito spices from Italy. The meal ended with the classic tiramisu dessert, with its chocolate and mocha flavors cooling down the palate.

Paganelli and Criscio returned home on Monday, Feb. 20 after doing a cooking demonstration at Thompson’s Store featuring their special sausage with the pepe trito spice. Thompson’s Store now sells the sausage, which is Charlie’s Sausage with the Abruzzo spices, for $5 per pound.

The Italians won’t be gone for long though, as Carunchio mayor D’Isabella and a delegation of five Carunchio residents will be arriving in Saluda this spring. •