A “Tagliere” from the locally famous Caseificio Borderi
Spending spring break in Sicily was probably the best decision I could have ever made in my life.
During the last week of March, and during the Easter holiday, I spent the week off from classes with family down near Siracusa, Sicily. On the eastern coast of this glorious island, in a melting pot of ancient Grecian culture, Arabic culture and Italian culture, Siracusa (Syracuse) stands out as one of my top places to visit in Italy.
The island of Ortigia, the eternally breathtaking island-city that sits right inside the city of Siracusa, attracts not only tourists, but native Sicilians from the entire province. Ortigia combines all of the romance of any Italian city with the laid-back, beachy lifestyle of Southern Italy. People are always strolling through the windy streets-- exploring, shopping, chatting, eating, and soaking in inspiration.
The architecture is intricately detailed, and the main piazza, Piazza Duomo, is arguably one of the most striking piazzas in all of Italy. It’s a magnificent, asymmetrical open space lined entirely with white marble that dazzles in both sunlight and moonlight. The Cattedrale di Siracusa marks one end of the piazza, standing tall and regal as it too is decorated with white marble.
I could spend an eternity describing all the beauty Ortigia has to offer, but I have to fast forward to the part where I describe what I ate! Aside from Sicily having the best food in Italy, their marketplaces draw everyone in from Nonnas preparing for their nightly dinners with family to curious tourists amazed at the fresh fish collections presented by proud vendors. A little ways past the Mercato di Ortigia-- yes, through the thick stench of fish guts!-- there is an open space with plastic tables, chairs and umbrellas set up at the end of the road…
Sammi, my cousin Ninni’s girlfriend, and I were just finishing up our spa afternoon in Ortigia, where we bonded through a mix of Italian, broken Italian, English, and broken English. Sammi was so kind, showing me around her favorite parts of Ortigia, and lead me through the market and over to this outdoor dining space.
Now anyone who is a true foodie knows that it is the most unexpected places that create the greatest culinary masterpieces. Seriously, it typically goes-- the sketchier the place, the better.
Not to say this place looks sketchy at all, but when I first approached, I never imagined the level of deliciousness I would experience at this tiny caseificio in the corner of the island. For those of you who don’t know, a caseificio is the name of a cheese or dairy shop/eatery, or a cheese factory.
All of the sudden, a boisterous waiter emerged from under the bright red awning of the shop, which read Borderi in bold letters. The front of the shop was completely open, with all sorts of meats hanging and cheeses luring us in. He pointed at us, shouted something incredibly quick in Italian with a Sicilian accent, and Sammi seemed to dish it right back! He was cracking jokes, and making his best attempt to make conversation with me, the token American cousin. His name was Antonio-- definitely ask for him if you go! He is a riot. He corralled us over to seek out any open tables.
Next thing I know, we were flying over to the first open table, Sammi declaring our spot and clearing the leftover plates from the last patrons who were dining there. I looked around, and every table was full; the sun was shining down on this cramped, outdoor eating space.
There was a clear distinction amongst all the tables, a partition dividing our side with the other. Sammi pointed out which eatery we were ordering from of the two stacked next to each other. I hardly even noticed there were two deli-style shops in that tiny space, I thought how they must be mortal enemies yet great friends-- competing in the same game they love so much for years.
And all of the sudden, Antonio was back and we were each ordering a glass of white wine. Sammi and the waiter, who continued his attempt to make jokes with me, were speaking so quickly I hardly knew what was happening-- all I knew was that whatever I ate, I’d be blown away. I trusted Sammi to order our light, post-spa lunch, and after a few sips of the deliciously sweet white wine we were enjoying, Antonio hurried back out from under the awning. He was carrying this beautiful wooden board topped with bright cups full of antipasto selections.
Cheeses, olives, marinated vegetables, cold cuts, oh my! They were so delicately decorated on the wooden board, and out came a basket of warm bread too.
I think I teared up a bit?
Anyway, since there was so much on this antipasto platter-- and since we ate it so quickly-- I cannot exactly recount everything we ate! The platter is called “tagliere,” referring to the cutting board it is served on, and it features various fresh meats, cheeses, vegetables, and other heavenly goods. You may have to rely on the pictures for this one.
What I can tell you is that Caseificio Borderi is an award winning eatery, and rightfully so. The family in charge has been running it for years, mastering the art of cheese-making and preparing the freshest, most delicious dishes. They are even better known for their panini, which are massive, and the atmosphere makes the dining experience there even more special.
Eating outside with the salty wind blowing in your face, enjoying the shouting of neighboring diners, soaking up the Sicilian sun? Everything I could have asked for. Each flavor was unique, memorable, and so incredibly fresh.
Promise me this, if you are in Ortigia, or even in Siracusa, find Caseificio Borderi and eat there. You will not be sorry, because eating there is one of those experiences that extend past having a simple meal. It is understanding Ortigia.