Roberta Ingrosso, when she’s not at her desk or caring for her two young kids, can be found pouring over recipe books or experimenting in the kitchen. You could find her pondering how to reproduce authentic pettole while substituting wheat flour for spelt, or working out how to use the last vegetables in her weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box. (Roberta Ingrosso and Salvatore Rossano, Founders of Radical Puglia)

‘Cooking is my main form of creative expression,’ Roberta says, ‘Food is nurture. Food is family. Some of our most important memories are around family meals. Sometimes just familiar flavours that we link to childhood are enough to provide comfort.’ For Roberta, however, there is an important balance to be found between tradition, information, and activism.

Her journey of migration, her life in inner Melbourne, her exploration of nutrition and food systems, along with her passion for dance and folk music has lead Roberta to look at her culture in a new light, and that is where Radical Puglia is born.

‘The concept behind Radical Puglia is embedded in its name, it is a play on the word Radici (roots), Roberta says. ‘It is our intention to re-connect with, and re-discover our own Pugliese roots whilst allowing our guests to explore Puglia in a ‘Radical’ way, by showing them aspects of Puglia that are not immediately accessible though mainstream tours.’

On a Radical Puglia tour, guests can expect visits to farmer’s markets and cheese-makers, but also instrument makers. The tour includes informal dance workshops and late night parties with some of the regions best traditional musicians and dancers, and combines long lunches with lively discussions around ethical consumption, growing methods, food systems and sustainability. Authenticity is a core value of the business. Watching friends discover the complexity of Puglia is something Roberta and her husband George have experience with.

Food workshop by Roberta Ingrosso - Photo Panayotis Kasseris

‘Having grown up in Puglia, but having lived in Australia for many years we’ve hosted family and friends in Puglia countless times. We’ve helped them explore the region and guided them through its cultural and culinary traditions whilst ensuring they had the most authentic experience.’

In fact, Roberta and George first experimented with the concept on their friends and family when they married in the Pugliese town of Martina Franca in 2012. When planning the wedding (and fielding numerous questions from the guests), the pragmatic couple set up a website, an insiders ‘How To’ guide for the region of Puglia. The wedding was also the starting point for a long and committed involvement with the Italian folk music scene, as Roberta and George, (who is Greek) looked for ways to ensure both their cultures were well-represented.

‘As we were planning the wedding and the music I realised that there were so many Greek dances that would be performed at the wedding, and I wanted George to learn an Italian dance too. So I went looking and eventually found a teacher. That was Rosa Voto, and we were the very first students of what was to become the Melbourne School of Tarantella.’ Dancing was to become a big part of the couple’s lives over the coming years as the couple immersed themselves into the infectious world of Italian folk music.

‘Being involved firsthand with the Italian folk music and dance scene in Melbourne, we realised that whilst the scene has experienced a steady growth and has attracted genuine interest on behalf of the Australian public in recent years, accessing and immersing oneself in the local music and dancing scene in Puglia remains difficult for an outsider, and a privilege of the locals.’

It was dancing that connected Roberta and George to musician and recent migrant Salvatore Rossano, who happened to be one of these artists with privileged local access to traditional music in Puglia and the south of Italy. Radical Puglia is the result of many dinner conversations about ways to combine Roberta’s passion for food and folk dance with Salvatore’s access to previously unpenetrated traditional music circles in Puglia.

‘Puglia has become a tourist sensation, and there are a plethora of tours focusing on food and landscape, but it is not combined with traditional music and dance in an authentic way. Radical Puglia fills this gap.’Coming up with the concept is, however, only the beginning. Salvatore and Roberta have worked hard to identify and connect to their niche market.

‘We need to connect with Australians who are passionate not only about food and travel, but also music and dancing, and it has been quite a challenge to reach them, to make Radical Puglia known to them.’

Despite the challenges, both Roberta and Salvatore are committed to this vision and there is no room for compromise. They are also adamant that while numbers will be small, Radical Puglia will not be a ‘luxury tour,’ aware that to give a truly local experience, their guests will live as closely as possibly to the way the locals do, coming into contact with alternative lifestyles and counter-culture.

‘We purposely try to avoid ostentatious places and look for something that’s nice, but authentic,’ says Roberta. ‘The most exciting aspect of Radical Puglia to me is not only the ability to re-connect with my roots, but also to contribute to the preservation of my culture and traditions by making them more accessible to the community that has become my own here in Australia. I am thrilled by the opportunity to share Puglia with our guests and re-discover its beauty through their eyes.’