Nestled on the tip of the Sorrentina Peninsula, overlooking the Bay of Naples, seventeen acres of lush organic gardens and orchards provide the raw ingredients for Don Alfonso 1890. Run by Alfonso Iaccarino and his wife Livia, the restaurant is an extension of the land the Iaccarinos began cultivating 25 years ago when they purchased an abandoned lot and turned it into the family farm, Le Peracciole, named after a local variety of pear.
Here, the Iaccarinos have tamed a wild part of the Sorrentina Peninsula. To walk in their garden is to glimpse a bit of lemon-scented paradise: terraced hillsides of olive, fig and lemon trees, basil, rosemary, lavender, marjoram, tomatoes, artichokes, favas, fennel and oregano wind their way down to the blue Mediterranean Sea. Several weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of visiting this edible paradise.
Many people know Alfonso as the chef behind the two-star restaurant Don Alfonso 1890, but not everyone realises that his orchard is just as, if not more, important to him. After all, what would go onto the plates of Don Alfonso 1890 without Le Perraciole? “For us, great cooking happens in the fields like great wines on the vine,” says a quote on the restaurant’s website. It also runs around the garden: Alfonso keeps chickens for their eggs and the resident ox provides fertiliser! Olives from the 500-year-old olive trees are pressed into oil for the restaurant, and the lemons end up in homemade liqueur and sorbet. But the most important thing just might be the capers: 2.5 kilograms of the berries are harvested a day!
Le Peracciole is a short drive away from the restaurant, which feels more like the welcoming kitchen of a big Italian family than a three-star restaurant. Alfonso and his brother Ernesto are master pasta makers and whip durum wheat semolina into fresh pasta to accompany local seafood and the harvest from Le Peracciole. The wine cellar, an ancient tunnel that leads under the restaurant, provides the perfect conditions for storing cheese and wine, and is itself worth a visit.
It was such a pleasure to see a chef as concerned about the quality of his ingredients before they enter the kitchen as when they leave it. Knowing where the tomatoes were grown and walking the narrow paths where Alfonso tends his vegetables gave me a new appreciation for the taste and quality of what I was eating too. It’s not every day you get to literally follow a tomato from the farm to the end of your fork!