Posted by dynise | Posted in News & Events
I am personally pretty open to trying almost any type of food. My mother always said, “how do you know don’t like it if you don’t try it?” So I usually go for it, besides, if every person in a country eats it, it’s hardly like it will kill you. Very often I am more than pleasantly surprised and end up adding another food to my “yummy” list. Foie gras, frog’s legs, escargot, truffles and sushi were all things that I didn’t eat as a child but will happily slurp down now. One of the newest things that I have added to the yummy list is cinghiale.
Cinghiale is Italian wild boar, and he is basically as ugly as all those statues and mosaics of boars you see throughout Italy, the ones you spin on your heel for luck or rub their bronze snouts. But santo cielo he is one tasty bugger. I would not like to meet him in the wild, picture an NFL player sized 5 inch tusk sporting wild pig. Besides, I can never forget that scene in Thornbirds. Through much of the Mediterranean, wild boar is extremely popular, and it is regaining popularity in the UK (they ate all of theirs so they had to import more.)
The boar is basically the wild version of pork, but slightly more aggressive, and they constantly interbreed in most parts of the world. If you haven’t visited Italy yet, then picture the Arkansas Razorback logo, he is a wild boar. The meat is similar to pork but it is extremely lean and redder than pork, with a rich flavor that has some similarity to venison. I have only seen cinghiale cooked thoroughly and I’m going to trust the tradition, especially since Italians are not known for overcooking any meat. My absolute favorite in the multitude of dishes that it is used in is a hand-made papperdalle with cinghiale ragout. If you like pork and pasta and see this on a menu, do not miss it.
If you are traveling in Italy in April and acquire a taste for this succulent meat then do everything you can to attend the Cinghiale Sagra in Certaldo every weekend in April. In addition to putting your canine teeth to use all day long while you walk off just about every calorie, you get to soak up the beauty of a lovely town just south of Florence and can hop on the train and be in Florence in about 40 minutes. A great day trip, and amazingly few tourists.
The heart of Tuscany celebrates Easter with a passion unrivaled in the United States. Florence has held the same festival for well over 300 years, beginning in 1679. The biggest spectacle is the arrival and “explosion of the cart.” The cart, the same that has been used since 1679 is drawn through the streets of Florence by garland wearing oxen and finished at the front of the Duomo. Easter Mass is held in the Duomo of course, and if you do not arrive EARLY, like with that rooster on the Chianti Classico bottles early, do not count on getting in to the Mass.
The actual explosion of the cart is representative of the rekindling of the hearth fires of the Florentines, a tradition dating from just after the crusades. Now the immediate explosion of the cart and launching of the fireworks signifies an abundant harvest, and if the cart does not immediately ignite after the dove is launched from the Duomo a huge, disappointed collective groan will rise from the crowd. After the cart has launched all its fireworks a procession in full Medieval costume begins. The costumes are stunning, colorful and the particpants all are happy and boisterous, this is definitely NOT a somber Protestant Easter celebration.
The city is overflowing with life and bodies on Easter Sunday, so plan ahead. Keeping some snacks and bottle of water with you will help stave off the hunger that will gnaw at you while you are waiting to get into a restaurant to enjoy the lamb that is traditionally served for Easter dinner here. And hopefully you have picked up some of the beautiful chocolate eggs that the local artisans create, even custom designed with gifts placed inside by the buyer. Makes it hard to appreciate a pink hard-boiled egg after you receive one of these works of art.
Eat well Sunday night. Eat very well Sunday night. The entire country except for some public transportation and a limited number of restaurants, and of course the hotels, shuts down for “lunedi Pasqua” or the Monday after Easter. You will hopefully be lazily wallowing in your food coma and looking through a collection of photos on your camera that will give you great stories for your friends.
Is culinary school an unattainable dream for you? Would learning from a chef in his own kitchen pique your interest? Does the idea of taking two years out of your career to pursue a dream mix fear and glee in your heart? Even if you can not pursue the dream of becoming a master chef you can still live the dream in smaller ways. Many of us have a love for cooking, but the rigors of taking it to the professional level and putting in 12 hour days on your feet are beyond what most of us are capable of.
There is a happy middle ground. The continued growth of agritourism has not slowed significantly, despite the current economic dampers on tourism in general. If you are escaping some Arctic winter temperatures by coming to Tuscany prior to peak season and will be here prior to the ninth of March there is a great event that the cooking enthusiast in all of us can appreciate, “Volterra Arte a Tavola 2009”. As this is the third annual running of the courses it appears as if coming years will offer the same option for the classes.
Basically what is being done is a series of cooking classes are being offered by chefs in their restaurants. So if learning to make pastries, pasta or pizza from an Italian chef in his Tuscan kitchen raises you pulse rate, fly into Pisa this winter (direct flights from JFK are available now) and spend a morning learning to make real Tuscan bread. Most of the classes have morning time slots, roughly 9am to 1pm but also include some other activities afterwards. You arrive at 8:30 and are welcomed with coffee and driven in a group to the location for the day. A little knowledge of Italian is good, although I was told English could be spoken, I would recommend some basic food vocabulary. I recommend email over the website, they appear to have some issues with the website.
DAL: 12 Gennaio 2009
AL: 9 Marzo 2009
INDIRIZZO: Via Fonda, 3
SITO WEB: www.comprensivovolterra.it
Posted by dynise | Posted in News & Events
Although nearly all of the sagre and festivals in Tuscany occur during the summer and autumn months one of the best actually takes place in winter, Carnevale in Viareggio. Rooted in pagan ritual, but adapted to Catholicism, Carnevale here is similar to others around the world. The “feast before the famine” if you will. In Viareggio Carnevale has been an institution since 1873, with pauses for both World Wars and competes with Carnevale in Venice, but the parade in Viareggio trumps Venice. Even though the daily temperatures during the event hover near 12C 52F during the day and 3C 38F at night that does not stop anyone from indulging in the last big party before Lent. All one needs is a few layers of warm clothing and a healthy attitude.
There is a fabulous parade every Sunday for the duration of the event, with satirical floats, dancing, fireworks and of course, food. If the words “fresh from the sea” set your mouth to watering you will be in heaven here. In addition to all of the restaurants along the normal “passegiato” being open for extended hours you will find vendors along the parade route ready to satisfy nearly all your pagan urges.
It is highly recommended if you are able to book ahead and find a hotel room in Viareggio to do so. If you are staying in Pisa or Florence the last train from Viareggio leaves a little after 10pm when even the three year olds are still out and about. As with all festivals in Italy, this is a family friendly affair with distractions for everyone. This is an experience I highly recommend, you can not be disappointed if you have any fun genes.
www.viareggio.ilcarnevale.com gives a brief history in both English and Italian of the event and the parade dates are in the upper left hand corner. I recommend a Saturday and Sunday to spend one day prior to the parade there and believe the final weekend is the most fun, March first this year, and hope you have as much fun as I have.