Alfonso Iaccarino inches his van down a narrow, unpaved road on a dramatic descent toward the rocky Amalfi Coast. We arrive at the gates of La Peracciole, the farm he owns with his wife, Livia. With a sharp turn, Alfonso heads the van down an even steeper track through terraced fields neatly planted with all manner of vegetables. The Mediterranean shimmers below the cliffs; the island of Capri, about four miles offshore, looks much closer in the afternoon sun.
The Iaccarinos have brought me to their farm on this stunning stretch of the Italian coast southeast of Naples for a picnic on a rare day off. They are the owners of Don Alfonso 1890 in the town of Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi, one of only three restaurants in Italy with three Michelin stars. Alfonso, the chef, creates extraordinary food loosely based on such traditional regional dishes as fritto misto and roast rabbit with wild herbs. Almost every fruit, vegetable and herb that he uses is grown organically at La Peracciole, two miles away. Many restaurants in Italy keep small gardens, but a place that maintains an actual farm is quite unusual.
More than a decade ago, Livia's mother gave her a parcel of weed-covered land. The Iaccarinos spent many months building up the soil, which had been neglected for years. Farming on Amalfi is tough, irrigation horribly costly. The Iaccarinos, though, were not to be put off. La Peracciole now covers eight acres and produces, among other things, lemons, peaches, tomatoes, artichokes, eggplants, shell beans, squash and lettuces, as well as olives, from which they press a highly prized oil. "It has taken us 10 years to do this," Livia says. "It all started with the smell of fresh produce delivered to the restaurant. It made us want to grow our own."