We’ve spent a lot of time taking day trips around here, but we really haven’t been north of here much. Today we decided to drive to the Casentino area, which is northwest of here. This is an area that’s known for its food and beautiful national park. How ridiculous is it to say that an area in Italy is known for its food and beauty? They all are. But they’re all particular. They each have their specialties.
The Casentino valley is bordered by the Apennines on the east and the Pratomagno range on the west. It’s an oval shaped bowl of a valley that is home to the mouth of the Arno River, which flows through Florence, and Casentinesi national park. One of our friends told us that this is the Italian equivalent of Yellowstone. I was curious about this area because of all food events we’ve attended. I kept seeing signs for “Casentino” meat and cheese and I wondered what this meant. So I consulted my resident expert on all things Italian, Michelangelo, and he told me about it.
I used my handy Slow Foods app and found a great restaurant in Bibbiena called Il Tirabuscio. We had lunch there and it was divine. We shared an antipasto of pear and cacio with honey. Cacio is a kind of pecorino cheese that we both love. This appetizer was so good. It was a perfectly poached pear with a hint of orange, drizzled with honey. The cacio was a little cheese souffle that was perfection. Yum.
For our main courses, I got the tortelli de patate with grigio cinghiale ragu. Grigio cinghiale is the local gray wild boar in this area. The tortelli de patate is kind of like a ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and the special red potatoes that only grow in Cetica. It was wonderful. I ate every morsel and wanted to lick the plate. Steve had a meat symphony. Grigio cinghiale, pancetta, chianina beef and fegato, which is liver. We’re not sure where the liver came from, but it was the cow or the pork. I’m not quite there yet with organ meat, but Steve said it was very good. I just had to trust him.
Bibbiena is not a touristy town. We were the only Americans in the restaurant, and probably in the entire town. There was no English menu – only Italian. I love this. Even though I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting. It’s Italy, for crying out loud. Why should the menu be in Italian and English? It shouldn’t. I love using my best deductive skills and taking my chances. One time I got sheep innards doing this (and I ate them), but that’s how you learn. It’s also how you learn about what’s unique to an area. For example, this menu had a lot of grigio cinghiale – a local specialty. That one was easy to figure out. You also know you’re in a very authentic, Italian restaurant when the menu is all Italian.
Every town here is decorating for Christmas. Bibbiena is no exception. I thought the tree in their main piazza was interesting. Check out the close up of the sign. This is the place with the Italian only menu. The sign on the Christmas tree is in English. Go figure.
After lunch, we drove to Poppi. I feel like we have a special connection to Poppi because of the Battle of Anghiari. Astute readers of Sprezzatura, Y’all will remember my post on the Battle of Anghiari. For those of you who may have missed that, let me briefly catch you up. In 1440, there was a battle in the valley below Anghiari between Florence and Milan. Remember, Italy wasn’t a unified country then. Cities fought all the time for territory and this battle was for a large chunk of what is now Tuscany. Florence won and the boundaries for present day Tuscany were conceived. Well, there was this very prominent family in the Casentina area and well beyond named Guidi. They had a palazzo in Poppi (and in many other areas all the way to the French border) and in the Battle of Anghiari they sided with Milan. Oops. End of the Guidis. Nevertheless, their palazzo in Poppi is almost perfectly preserved After they vacated the premises, it became the seat of government for the area for Florence. It has been continually used since then and that is why it’s in such good condition. And that’s why I feel a connection to it. Imagine – over 500 years ago a battle was fought in the town I live in that decided the fate of the family who lived in this palazzo.
Very nice day. This is one of the reasons we came here – to explore the country. To learn about what’s here. Italy is very simple on many levels, but taken as a whole is very complex. It’s a conglomeration of dozens of little pieces that we think of as one entity. It’s not. They don’t really think of themselves that way. It’s different in America. We also vary greatly from region to region, but we all think of ourselves as Americans. When they think of themselves as Italian, they are really referring to their specific area of Italy. It’s complicated. But it’s what to this day gives us the rich tradition and history that makes every little corner interesting.
And so the sun has set on another day in our journey. Wonder what tomorrow will bring?