Taste is the one of the most exciting food fairs in Italy. It's in my home town of Florence in the Stazione Leopolda, an ex-railroad station, a most beautiful space. For three days well-chosen producers offer an array of culinary jewels, house wares, books, with round table discussions on important gastro-political topics. But there is only so much time even I, trade-fair junkie, can spend wandering the aisles. So I'm crazy about Fuori di Taste, outside the fair, all over Florence, with more than 100 events that begin before the fair starts and continue throughout--tastings, cooking demos for adults and children, cocktails, breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, pairing products from the fair with restaurants, bars, hotels, groceries, wines shops, clothing stores, and a cool artisanal home decor shop with very special kitchens. I attended many.
I began with a "crudo" raw fish demo at the Riva Loft Hotel (lovely location away from the bustle of the city) with Luciano Zazzeri, chef-owner (and former fisherman) of La Pineta, one of my favorite fish restaurants in Tuscany. He identified his ingredients, strictly local, all-Tyrrhenian fish and seafood, talked about aquatic terroirs of the Tuscan coast, then filleted fish (Japanese knife) with the skill of a maestro. He prepared a series of raw fish and seafood dishes--"more interesting than the bogus sushi that's currently the rage in Italy," he justly declared. His showed us male and female langoustines and pointed out the difference (females have a final appendage with a hand-like end to scoop eggs onto midsection). Extra virgin dressed almost everything. Raw red shrimp, mackerel with ricotta cream, albacore minced with olives and capers and garum, squid sliced into spaghetti-slim strands marinated with lemon (an exception since Luciano feels that lemon destroys the flavors of super-fresh fish), oysters with onion and Vin Santo vinegar and as a finale, sea urchin roe crostini. All served with Bolgheri Rosato rosè and Costa di Giulia white from Michele Satta. I was thrilled. I need to get back to La Pineta, soon.
Dinner at alle Murate was sponsored by the Accademia delle Frattaglie (Academy of Offal). Diners had to join the society, and commit to eating offal. No problem. Highlights were Simone Fracassi's "black" Chianina (Tuscan heirloom breed) offal crostini, Rolando Bellandi's Garfagnana (area of Tuscany) biroldo (spiced pork, tongue and blood salami) served on chestnut flour bread, lampredotto (fourth stomach tripe) sandwich, and best of all, Franco Cazzamali's "little bundle" of Piemontese beef, sausage, Parmigiano, and raisins wrapped in caul fat. I skipped dessert.
I went to the fair when it opened on Saturday morning. I immediately met Benedetto Cavalieri--love his pasta, especially spaghettoni. I stopped by to visit In.gredienti, taste mandarin orange essence on bread with extra virgin. And was happy to taste spoonfuls of two different Parmigiano creams at La Dispensa di Amerigo. I spoke at length with Fabrizio Zivieri from the Macelleria Salumeria Zivieri Massimo and tasted his terrific beef, raw. Agrirape, from Leonforte, Sicily, displayed Enna black lentils, huge dried Leonforte fava beans, and preserves made from their special peaches (they ripen in September) that were simply spectacular. I had to get a jar of their peaches in syrup. It's not easy to find quality baccalà and the display at Schooner had great appeal, different cuts and cures of Gadus morhua (not Gadus macrocephalus, which is what most preserved cod is made from) from northern Atlantic waters, explained owner Roberto Ghezzi. I signed up for his tasting. Flights of baccalà from Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada were presented, uncooked (it's cured, like prosciutto so it's not really raw), whipped with potato and extra virgin, and "tartar" with complements like chick peas and leeks, capers and pine nuts, burrata and chives. The final flight was "other parts" like liver, tongue, head, cheek, tripe and lightly smoked bottarga (preserved roe). I was so impressed by the quality that I signed up for the baccalà dinner.
After all that salt I was thirsty, and was happy to spot Teo Musso and taste his artisanal beer. Crowds made the fair difficult to navigate so I left for a breath of air (no calories!) on the way to Hotel L'Orologio for a "three penny tasting", ten euro charge with proceeds going to the Meyer pediatric hospital in Florence. Castello di Ama wines were served with panini made by 'ino using Mattei's products--my favorite was biscotti della salute with Normandy butter and Mongetto anchovies.
I took friends out to dinner at Cibreo, my favorite restaurant in Florence. It's one of the few restaurants I know of where the main courses are as exciting as the appetizers and first courses. We bumped into superstar winery owner Angelo Gaja and his wife Lucia, dining in the front room (not at the illustrious 3-star restaurant nearby). There were many new dishes on the menu, included foil-baked mackerel and a crust-less tart of whipped baccalà, leeks and breadcrumbs. My friends were impressed with the meal. So was I.
Part II coming up....
-March 2010 link to article published in The Atlantic Magazine