Gioia del Colle – The Burrata Town
Gioia del Colle is a little town in the heart of Puglia, strategically located half way between the Ionian and Adriatic seas to the east and west, and between the cities of Bari and Taranto to the north and south. Its name comes from the legend of a queen who, having found a cache of buried jewels, had them made into a necklace, thus giving Gioia del Colle its name, “Jewels of the Neck.”
A natural rest-stop for merchants and travelers of old, Gioia has a population of 30,000 and boasts 13 active churches. Many feature tall, graceful bell-towers and are well worth a visit, if only to admire the beautiful interiors, paintings and sculptures, many dating back to the 17th century.
The centro storico or historic quarter is distinguished by a wealth of arches that hundreds of years ago marked the entrances to the private gardens of wealthy families, but are today charming walkways across public courtyards. The town’s castle is one of several built by Frederick II, with only two of the four original towers left standing.
Typical specialties from the area include red and white wines, extra virgin olive oil, orecchiette and of course, its famous burrata cheese.
The origins of burrata in Gioia del Colle date back to 16th century, when the production of this cheese began in manor houses. Burrata was a delicacy at that time, reserved only for landlords and sick people. The cheese did not trickle its way down to the masses until the 20th century when one clever businessman used the location of his shop to his advantage and called Gioia del Colle “The Burrata Town.”
In 1910, Clemente Milano, a local shopkeeper and owner of a coffee-bar near the town’s railway station, started producing burrata for his bar and had the brilliant idea of peddling this product to those waiting for trains. Milano later began boarding trains and selling his burrata to passengers who would then spread the word about this delicious cheese. Burrata was an instant hit; between 1900 and 1950, cheese factories began to pop up throughout Gioia and the town became famous for its production of burrata.
More than 20 cheese factories currently work in the area, making it the “birthplace of the regional dairy production.” Capurso Brothers’ cheese factory has become a leader in the production and offers a wide range of dairy products in addition to burrata, such as fresh and smoked scamorza, butter, fresh ricotta, stracciatella, cream bocconcini, manteca and matured provolone.
In August, Gioia del Colle hosts a town festival dedicated to the “Dairy Queen,” the burrata. During the festival it is possible to witness the production of this prized cheese and sample it at the various stands prepared by the local cheese factories.
In addition to burrata, Gioia is also known as the birthplace of the increasingly popular Primitivo wine. Local history records a 17th century Benedictine monk finding the first vines in the gardens of his monastery, now Gioia’s Police headquarters, and later planting them in the surrounding fields. Primitivo is increasingly popular throughout Europe and is already a favorite in the United States. Today, a host of small family-owned businesses harvest, bottle and sell their own private Primitivo labels, many producing no more than 15,000 bottles a year.
Gioia also shares in the Puglian tradition of producing what is acknowledged as some of the best olive oil in Italy. It has unique iron-rich soil of the land, a particular climate which sees dry summers and wet winters and the long tradition of producing a product that unites advanced technology and equipment to centuries-old traditional methods of workmanship.
Though renowned for its delicious cheeses, wines and oils, the real treasures of Gioia are its art, history and the simple people that make Gioia del Colle a real jewel.