The World’s Best Figs, but the Supply is Limited


In the sunny Cilento region around Salerno, south of Naples, the harvest of white figs is just now wrapping. Extra sweet and much more tender and fine-seeded than the coarse Turkish, Greek, or Calabrian varieties, Cilento figs are also very hard to harvest, which is why they are mostly grown for personal use now, usually on a tree or two in the back yard. In fact, commercial production almost disappeared until Santomiele, a family business from the Thirties, was revived in 1999, forming a co-op with the remaining growers. While plain dried Cilento figs are quite a delicacy in themselves, Santomiele transforms them into masterpieces laced with spices, chocolate, and liqueurs, creating a limited production of confections in the process that are numbered and only available from September to December. Among the best are filetti, (fillets of fig packed with granules of amaretti cookies and chocolate); capocollo (a “sausage” of fig, pistachios, almonds, and cinnamon); and fagottini (wrapped figs cooked in leaves). The company also makes melassa, a conserve that’s perfect with cheese, and a fine, dark-chocolate-covered fig paste that’s a favorite European indulgence in the fall. Santomiele’s figs, which are packed in dried leaves and bamboo shoots, are so popular around the holidays (they’re the kind of things Armani and Fiat send to all their high-end clients) that you need to reserve now if you don’t want to be left out. Even Queen Elizabeth is said to be hooked on filetti, which an English lord sent her last year.

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