Vittoria offering Comino comforts

Vittoria's Tony Crolla and his father, Alberto, with wine and antipasto. Picture: Scott Taylor
Vittoria's Tony Crolla and his father, Alberto, with wine and antipasto. Picture: Scott Taylor
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THEY enjoy the sounds of the bagpipes, have festivals galore every August and love their food and drink.

So it’s no surprise, really, that the natives of the Comino Valley in Italy have so much in common with life in Edinburgh that they have flocked to set up home here.

Some of the most well-known Scottish Italians – from the founders of Valvona & Crolla to artist Eduardo Paolozzi and Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi – have their roots in this forgotten valley in the geographical heart of Italy.

Over the last 150 years, families have left their Italian homeland in favour of starting new lives in Scotland – and specifically in Edinburgh.

And to celebrate the special links between the Comino Valley and the Capital, a food and drinks fair is to be held in Edinburgh tomorrow and Monday.

The Valcomino Expo, which has been organised by the Italian Consulate, is designed to showcase the wines and foods on offer in the rich culinary valley and give local lovers of Italian food the chance to sample authentic fare on their doorstep.

More than 20 suppliers and producers have travelled to the Capital for the event where they will meet leading food and catering distributors, restaurant and delicatessen owners and chefs.

Restaurateur Tony Crolla, of Vittoria, La Favorita and Divino fame, says more and more of his customers are looking for that extra something when they dine out, and that the produce of the Comino Valley offers just that.

“Customers want to know where our wine and produce come from and that what is on their plate is pure and not processed. Good food costs money, mass-produced foods cost a lot less.

“The quality of the products from Valle di Comino is truly exceptional. While people will be familiar with the likes of Chianti or Parma ham, this event will help to introduce a range of excellent Italian food and wine that people in Scotland will not have sampled before.”

The Comino Valley consists of a dozen small towns, including Picinisco where Tony’s family is from, and is just one and a half hours from both Rome and Naples. It is famed for producing many of Italy’s finest wines – many not yet imported in the UK – as well as its cheeses, pasta, cakes and truffles.

“I think that Valvona & Crolla is the main reason that a lot of people from that area came to Edinburgh,” explains Tony. “I always like to thank the Contini family for that.

“Unemployment was high after the war, so they brought a lot of nephews and cousins over and gave them jobs in the deli and then, over time, they started their own businesses – chip shops, cafes, restaurants – then over the years they branched out into other careers in law, medicine, finance or whatever. My father came here to work at Valvona & Crolla.

“The number of people in Edinburgh who have been fed by people from Picinisco for the past 40 years must be incredibly high. The two places aren’t twinned, but they should be.”

Tony adds that being back in Picinisco is like a home from home. “There are lots of people who settled here who have now gone back. When I go into a bar in Picinisco there are always people from Edinburgh there and everyone is speaking English.”

Cesidio Di Caccia, an East Lothian-based lawyer who is actively involved in the Valcomino Co-operative, which is trying to raise the profile of the area, shares the similarities between Edinburgh and the towns which make up the Comino Valley. “Bagpipes and the accordion are the traditional instruments of these people and still enjoyed,” he says.

“Music is a passion here and Atina Jazz is one of the most important music festivals in Italy. And festivals are to be experienced in every corner of this valley, throughout the year, but especially in August. From the important Festival delle Storie, which celebrates storytelling, to Pastorizia in Festival, which celebrates the culture of the mountains and their shepherds, to the local feasts and religious festivals to public gatherings of families, friends and visitors who come together in the piazzas to enjoy music and dance and food and wine and most of all each other’s company.”

It’s just a shame that the similarities don’t include the weather.

The Valcomino Expo will feature at least ten wine producers, many of them small independent businesses as well as suppliers of the region’s famed cannellini beans, pecorino cheese and truffles. The event, which runs tomorrow and Monday, will take place at the Graypaul Ferrari dealership at Fort Kinnaird.