Meet the Sicilian Island That Produces the World’s Best Capers

Volcanic Pantelleria is known as the “black pearl of the Mediterranean,” thanks to its pitch-dark landscape of jet lava. The island is a chip off the rock that is Sicily, heading toward Africa, closer to Tunisia (visible on clear days) than to any other part of Italy. And, it happens to be the native habitat of the world’s best capers.

Gabriele Lasagni opened the Museo del Cappero in 2021, situated next to La Nicchia, the caper company founded by his wife’s family nearly 75 years ago and affiliated with the area restaurant of the same name. Pantelleria’s volcanic soil, he says, is “the perfect nourishment for the caper plant,” and a stroll anywhere on the island bears this out: Among the massive cacti, cascading bougainvillea, and bushes of pink and white oleander, the flowering plant grows wild in seemingly every nook of the nearly shadeless isle. Harvesting is done by hand, and the capers are preserved via a dry ferment with local sea salt rather than a saline or vinegar brine.

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Basket of capers in Sicily, Italy
Basket of capers in Sicily

New York–based Gustiamo imports La Nicchia capers, among other Italian delicacies, but don’t stick to just berries and buds. Take a tip from Pantelleria, where the fruit is more than a condiment, with cooks utilizing the whole plant. Fermenting the small, flat leaves provides a neat solution to the avalanche of capers rolling off a bagel with lox, while the freeze-dried buds are ideal for snacking with a glass of Pantelleria’s highly mineral Zibibbo white wine. Dehydrated, salted croccanti add a briny crunch to tartare, while pulverized caper powder is a lovely cocktail garnish for drinks that call for a salted rim.

Two of the island’s best gelaterias, Il Gelato di Ulisse and Katia, each offer a dark chocolate with capers combo that bursts with bitter-salty-sweet umami. Sadly, gelato doesn’t travel well. But a company called Sabadì exports chocolate bars studded with Pantelleria capers to 35 countries, including the U.S.

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