Story by Rupert Titchmarsh

Win a 7 day cruise around the Mediterranean, courtesy of Carnival cruises. Carnival cruises has teamed up with Jamie Oliver to offer a lucky couple a dream holiday – the deadline to enter the competition is the 2nd April. Sun, sea, surf and some speciality dining – this cruise is a beauty. You will visit the Mediterranean’s gastronomic capitals. So as long as you’re not watching the calories too closely there is so much for the gourmand to enjoy. Read on for a preview of the trip featuring stops in Barcelona, Monaco, Rome and Messina.

Barcelona is a most beautiful city, justly famed for the work of Gaudi and its superb cuisine. Just as the completion of Gaudi’s magnificent cathedral ‘La Sagrada Familia’ seems to take for ever, the culture of ‘mañana’ makes Barcelona and Catalonia in general perhaps the spiritual home of the slow food movement. The tapas and pinchos are the best to be found anywhere in the world (apologies to Castillian Spain). Look out in particular for the Iberico or Pata Negra jamons. Distinct from Jamon Serrano, the Iberico hams are produced from a specific, primitive breed of swine that are fattened up on acorns from the cork woodlands of Southwest Spain. It is the best ham you will ever eat, especially when served at room temperature, which (as a former deli owner) I know Environmental Health Officers will not permit in the U.K. Jamon Iberico marries really well with Habitas, which are tiny broad beans in oil, they have a sweetness and satisfying pop that makes them incredibly moreish. Also look out for the manzanilla olives, little slivers of silver boquerones (pickled anchovies), morcilla (black pudding), calamari, the list goes on and I am in danger of salivating onto my keyboard. There are so many wonderful tapas bars but it is worth straying off the beaten track to find the good ones. You will pay a premium for anything purchased on La Rambla and the side streets offer better fare. For those who don’t mind coughing up some euros I can heartily recommend Tapac 24 on C Diputacio.

Back at sea and with the flavours of Catalonia fresh in the mind and garlic still on the breath, you will have enough time to prepare yourself for the delights of provençale and international cuisine to be found in Monaco. If you are on a budget I would recommend keeping your powder dry for later destinations. Monaco is horribly pricey but one can eat extremely well. Onto the lovely Tuscan port of Livorno where there is wonderful seafood and salume. Salume is the umbrella term for salami, prosciutti (hams) and coppas of all types. The Italians have made this area their speciality and the Tuscan offerings are as good as anywhere. Don’t expect to find salami Milano, or Parma ham, Italy is a very parochial society perhaps due to their relatively recent status as a country. You stand the risk of offending them if you request such items and will be encouraged to try the local specialities. You may be lucky enough to see Prosciutto di San Clemente or the Umbrian Prosciutto di Norcia and my tip is the wonderfully fragrant Finnochiona. This is a fresh, soft salami spiked with fennel seeds, quite delicious, it accompanies the superb local red wines. Look out for porchetta, a coal-roasted pork loin and belly stuffed with the herbs of the region fabulous hot or cold.

Staggering replete back into the air-conditioned comfort of your ship you begin the short trip south to Rome. Arguably the most beautiful and romantic city on earth, I would hope you are too busy staring deep into each others eyes to notice the (very good) food on offer. If you are travelling singly and the extremely persistent local Romeos don’t appeal then frankly eating in view of 2500 year old monuments is enough to distract even this most gluttonous of commentators. The fires of passion rekindled, you will wend your way down the coast on to the incredible city of Naples. Dirty, noisy, busy and alive. Alive like nowhere else you will have ever been. The colours, sights and smells can lead to a sensory overload. The people are very friendly although some might want to get up close and personal with your wallets and purses. Naples is surrounded by fascinating areas from Pompeii and Herculaneum, to the gorgeous Amalfi coast. Gastronomically it is home to pizzas, limoncello and mozzarella. The Neapolitan pizzas are fantastic, quite different from the pale imitations to be found elsewhere in the world. Lovely light crisp bases, topped with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients and finished off with the mozzarella di buffala that the region produces. Buffalo mozzarella produced in the lush lowlands of Campania to the East of the city bears no resemblance to the elastic mozzarella produced from cow’s milk many of us are used to. If you get a chance to visit mozzarella cooperative I would recommend it. The water buffalo are delightful animals, the production techniques fascinating and the mozzarella is mind bogglingly good. Traditionally it should be eaten really fresh, preferably the day of production. Wonderfully milky and soft it is a delight roughly broken and drizzled with good olive oil and seasoned.

As the trip winds to a close there is still time for a visit to the ancient Sicilian port of Messina. In some ways the gateway to Europe (the Black Death was thought to have arrived in Europe here), this strategically important city has changed hands many times and has seen conflict as recently as the second world war. The area is known for its production of citrus fruits and the Sicilians boast that their limoncello is better than that produced on the Amalfi coast. I suggest this is an argument that you put to bed once and for all with extensive tastings at both destinations. Worth looking out for is bottarga. This is a delicious but ruinously expensive delicacy produced on Sicily and Sardinia. There are two types but Sicily is better known for the tuna variety (bottarga di tonno). Wonderful on pasta with a good peppery olive oil it is a unique flavour and one that I encourage you to try. Finally, with the belt let out a notch or two, the ship then makes its way back to Barcelona leaving you to reflect on the wonderful produce of the Mediterranean ports hopefully having experienced some new flavours. Just writing this has made me peckish..”¦. So how does one enter that competition again”¦?

About the author: Rupert Titchmarsh used to work for Northfields meat suppliers – an institution at London’s famous Borough Market. He loves everything about food including cooking, growing your own, truffle foraging and raising pigs.

Enter the competition (deadline 2 April 2010)

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