Glass Gets Mothered by Le Mamme Del Borgo in Motta Camastra, Sicily 

“TWIST more slowly,” Mariangela instructed me, through a translator, in her native Sicilian dialect.

Mariangela was attempting to teach me her homespun macaroni-making method as part of a private cooking class arranged by the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, a beachside resort in Taormina, Sicily. The process, which Mariangela made look effortless, involves forming fresh pasta around a thin wire before twisting the resulting noodle off, all without breaking the dough. 

Mariangela, Co-founder of Le Mamme Del BorgoMariangela, Co-founder of Le Mamme Del Borgo

I kept breaking the dough. Fortunately, my teacher was patient, and encouraged me to try again.

“Bravo!” she beamed when I finally coaxed my first intact piece of macaroni off the wire, before adding: “Now you just need to make one thousand pieces more.”

Mariangela was joking, thankfully, but this isn’t far from the amount of homemade pasta she and the other women who form the collective known as Le Mamme del Borgo, or “Mothers of the Village,” make each week in their hometown, Motta Camastra. Every Sunday in summer, the “mamas,” as they are affectionately known, open up their homes, and kitchens, to anyone interested in learning about their town’s take on traditional Sicilian fare.

Le Mamme Del Borgo in Motta CamastraLe Mamme Del Borgo in Motta Camastra

Le Mamme Del Borgo Making MacaroniLe Mamme Del Borgo Making Macaroni

The Mamas Famous Macaroni Dish with Tomato SauceThe Mamas’ Famous Macaroni Dish with Tomato Sauce

Motta Camastra is a small hilltop village in the northeastern part of Sicily. The town boasts a beautiful medieval central square and dramatic views of the Alcantara Valley. But despite its many charms, the village’s population, which today stands just over 800 people, has been in a steady state of decline for decades as young workers flee the island in search of job opportunities abroad. Concerned that knowledge of the town’s culture and cuisine was disappearing along with them, the mamas decided to band together to offer a small but important comfort to those who remained—a home-cooked meal. 

Le Mamme del Borgo, based on a similar effort in Tricase Porto, a town in the Italian Province of Lecce, is not a business, as the mamas are quick to point out. The project started as a way to support their struggling town. All profits from the meals they cook, which cost just 20 Euros a piece, are reinvested back into the project itself or used to help purchase new kitchen supplies for local families. Charity or no, the resulting dining experience offered by the mamas is unlike any other on offer in Sicily, even amid the island’s up-and-coming culinary scene. 

Arancini With Walnut Pesto Prepared by the MamasArancini With Walnut Pesto Prepared by the Mamas

An evening dining with the mamas can best be described as a blend of a street food festival and family-style eatery. Each of the mamas takes responsibility for preparing a single traditional Sicilian dish, served straight from their own kitchens. At one woman’s house, guests might be served a baked ricotta infornata. At another’s – arancini rice balls with a walnut pesto sauce. Over the course of the night, diners stroll from one home to the next, chatting amiably with mamas and their families while enjoying their meals on stools set up along Motta Camastra’s narrow streets.

It didn’t take long for word of the mamas to spread – today, just three years after forming, Le Mamme del Borgo prepare their traditional Sicilian feasts for anywhere between 60 to 90 people every Sunday from late spring to early autumn. After years of watching their town’s ranks diminish, the mamas now enjoy playing host to people the world over who travel to Motta Camastra to take part in this unique culinary pilgrimage.

Ricotta Infornata and Sun Dried Tomatoes, Common Dishes Prepared by the MamasRicotta Infornata and Sun Dried Tomatoes, Common Dishes Prepared by the Mamas

Le Mamme del Borgo received an extra bump in visibility last year when the Belmond hotel group, which operates the Grand Timeo hotel in Taormina in addition to Villa Sant’Andrea, began partnering with the mamas to offer curated experiences for their guests, such as private cooking lessons and lunches in picturesque locales around Sicily. 

Antique Wine Barrels at A Barunissa Country House on Mount EtnaAntique Wine Barrels at A Barunissa Country House on Mount Etna

My own lesson took place on the grounds of A Barunissa Country House, an antique winery turned bed-and-breakfast nestled in the midst of one of the many nearby vineyards. Musicians played local Sicilian folk instruments in the background, enchanting us with the sounds of the ciaramedda, a double-chantered bagpipe, and the marranzu, a “jaw harp” played with a bamboo reed, as I tried my hand at making macaroni. 

Sicilian Musicians Play Local Folk Instruments, the Ciarmaedda (Mouth Harp) and 'Marranzanu (Bagpipe)Sicilian Musicians Play Local Folk Instruments, the Ciarmaedda (Mouth Harp)
and Marranzanu (Bagpipe)

Much of the produce the mamas use in their cooking is grown, fittingly enough, with the help of Sicily’s most famous matriarch – Mount Etna. Known to locals as the “Volcanic Mother of Italy,” the rich soils produced by the volcano, one of the most active in the world, create ideal conditions for cultivating any number of well-known Sicilian products, including wine, pistachios, figs, cherries and olive oil. With most ingredients sourced locally, the mamas’ menu is dependent on the season. In spring, the mamas’ famous homemade macaroni might be dressed with sweet, anise-flavored fennel. By summer, the sauce may change to a tomato base. 

Private Catered Lunch Arranged by the Belmond Group on Mount EtnaPrivate Catered Lunch Arranged by the Belmond Group on Mount Etna

Whatever the season, with up to a dozen dishes on offer on any given Sunday, it’s important to take a favorite slogan of the mamas’ quite literally – arrive with open arms and empty bellies.

By David Dodge

All photographs courtesy of Belmond

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