Over the course of our Italian getaway we found ourselves seeking out markets, festivals and food fairs just for the opportunity to sample various regional cuisine. In a country where food is life, believe me it wasn’t too hard.
Local growers food Fair, Firenze
Late on a saturday afternoon we stumbled across this food and wine market set up in the Piazza Della Republica. Highlighting regional Tuscan produce it was here that we first discovered pecorino fresco. Needless to say that we consumed copious amounts of this soft, ewe-milk mild version of the formaggio for the remainder of the holiday. Oh and tartufo – both black and white.
Boccacesca – Food and Wine Festival, Certaldo alto
Set atop the picturesque ‘high-town’ of Certaldo, this annual food fair celebrates wine and food from the region. It was at this fair that I tried my first Sopressata Toscana. This large (up to a foot long and often several feet long) Tuscan sausage quickly became my favourite cold meat. Made with basically the whole hog head (tongue n cheek included!) the sausage is prepared by boiling the whole head of a pig, chopping, seasoning and then mixed with the highly gelatin cooking liquid to form a sausage. The texture in parts is crisp like cartilage and at other parts, rather meaty.
The area is also famous for its Cipolla di certaldo or Certaldo purple onions. These onions are unbelievably naturally sweet. So sweet, I am not sure my caramalised onions (after much TLC) end up as sweet. We ate these at any chance we could – fried (onion rings), tossed in pasta (with pork and fennel) and braised to form the base of an amazing Brunello di Montalcino Chianina filet sauce.
Boy do the Italian know how to put on a good charity event. Stumbling upon this street fair in Panzano in Chianti one Sunday morning, we had no idea what culinary delights lay ahead. Indeed had we known, we probably wouldn’t have eaten brekky that morning. After our best attempts at an Italian conversation with the Nono guarding the wrist bands, we realised that the sea of people beyond the barricade we’re all taking part in some sort of charity raising event. ‘Butchers for Children’ they rather inappropriately called it.
Rather skeptically we paid our 10 euro suggested donation, and passed into what we soon discovered to be food heaven.The street was full of people, wine and food. We quickly realised that this wasn’t just a ‘taste a few bits of salami’ type of fair, but rather a full on food affair. Hot plates and bowls of food were being ladled out and handed through the crowd with effortless Italian flair. Plate after plate of beef ragu, braised beef, sausages, tartare beef, crostini di lardo, zuppa, porchetta and prosciutto were piled into our willing mouths all washed down by free-flowing wine and prosecco being poured by all to willing local butchers.
And when we thought that we could not possibly eat another bite, one of the butchers ceremoniously brought out the pièce de résistance – a succulent sucking whole roasted pig. So crisp, so tender, so moist, so juicy that in that moment I felt my life was that much more complete. I was 100% content.
Vegetarians beware. A visit to Toscana is really not complete without a taste of their famed Chianina T-bones. Whilst staying near Greve-in-Chianti we were lucky enough to stay at a beautiful Agriturismo called Podere Casa Nova. A family farm stay managed by their charming (and gorgeous) son Mario, we ‘food connected’ immediately when he delivered home-grown heirloom tomatoes, family made wine (complete with lees), olive oil and vinegar to our farmhouse door. He also informed us that his father (a local butcher in town) was going to be cooking at the annual Chianina festival the following day, and that we should definitely visit town.
Drawn by the aromas of BBQ meat, we found ourselves in Greve town square the following day, watching all the butchers in town tender to a smoking BBQ full of 1.5kg Chianina t-bone steaks. Mario’s gracious father even paused during cooking to allow Sam to get a few shots of the prized meat.
Eurochocolate Festival, Perugia
For a few days in October Perugia plays host to the Eurochocolate festival, an annual event rather famous worldwide. The festival is quite literally a chocoholics dream. Every major chocolate manufacturer is there mixed in with boutique chocolate makers from all over the world. The whole city had an aroma of chocolate and we were in heaven.
Often I find it so hard to find different ways to describe how amazing food is, and I do worry if I come across false. But believe me when I say that the markets that we visited during our 2 week trip literally took our breath away.
If my Italian food journeys interest you, stayed tuned for my next post where I will attempt to document the delicate process of home cooking a Chianina t-bone steak.