The region of Tuscany
Heather Jarman of Sapori & Saperi Gastronomic Adventures gives an inside view of the chestnut harvest in the Garfagnana zone of Tuscany near Lucca.
I ran into Beppe in the village in early October and asked how the chestnuts were coming along and when he planned to light the metato (chestnut drying hut). He shook his head forlornly. There hadn’t been any rain since the middle of June. The chestnuts weren’t dropping and the few that had were small and barely worth the bother of gathering. Usually there are three fat chestnuts inside one prickly outer cover, but this year you were lucky if there was one medium-sized one. We needed rain right now. He might not light the metato at all.
Montepulciano near Siena is synonymous with Tuscan wine. Last time we looked there were 6 DOCG wines from Tuscany, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was one of them. Of the 34 DOC, Montepulciano lends its name to a Rosso and a Vin Santo, ignoring any reference to those produced in Abruzzo from the grape of the same name.
It is the most extensive valley of all the Appenine range and is a 500 sq.km cultivated 'garden' whose appearence today is thanks to constant human intervention over thousands of years.
Hannibal stocked his whole army with grain here in the 3rd century BC and they were still draining the marshes during Napoleon's time.
As well as the more well known Cortona, and Montepulciano, the towns not to miss are Cetona, Castiglion Fiorentino and Lucignano.
Cetona even has a small museum dedicated to the presence of prehistoric man and early cultivators.
The museum traces Neanderthal man in the zone and suggests a visit to the Grotto of San Francesco where they lived (below).
The now (just about) archived mad cow scare across Europe had the effect of increasing the amount of labelling on all Italian meat products - 'Genuine Sicilian', 'Hand-reared Lazio' etc. In a strange way 'mucca pazza' has been good for typical regional products.
There are many ancient breeds still surviving across Italy and each has strong regional identities. Those of central Italy have been grouped under the name 'Vitellone Bianco dell'Appennino Centrale' or 'White Veal of the Central Apennines'. The EU have even labelled them IGP, a protected status mark or 'Indicazione Geografica Protetta'. Just seek out the above logo.
Ice cream, or rather gelato, is part of the cultural heritage of Italy. The city of Florence celebrates it with a dedicated annual festival (see gallery below) which sees several piazze of the historical centre set up with kiosks where you can taste fabulous ice creams from local gelati makers and others from around Italy and beyond.
The itinerary starts in Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. You can't miss it for the huge mobile gelato making bus called 'Il Buontalenti'. It's impossible to resist, but do note how each artisan gelato maker only presents one flavor for the event. This obliges the visitors to sample at least 3 types and pass by all the stands before making a (difficult) choice.