At The Slow Road we believe that getting in deep and up close has as much to do with a region’s culinary culture as it does with its geography and people. You can’t really call yourself a cultural adventurer if you don’t embrace the local food and drink; to partake of the freshest, most delicious local fare is to become one with where you are. In our Cuisine 101 series, we introduce you to a few of our taste buds’ favourite regions.
Tuscany Cuisine: An Introduction
So much of what we today think of as “Italian food” has its roots in Tuscany cuisine. Imagine a sumptuous Italian feast and it’s hard not to picture bruschetta hot off the grill topped with fresh tomato, basil and olive oil; a thick Florentine-style T-bone steak, biscotti dunked in a caffe latte; or a glass of sweet vin santo or a full-bodied glass of Chianti. Below, a few delicacies that are as quintessentially Toscano as Chianti.
Few pigs are actually raised in Tuscany, but the prosciutto cured here is among the most prized in the country. Tuscan prosciutto is saltier and stronger tasting than the “sweet” variety (prosciutto dolce) found in Parma and the rest of Emilia-Romagna. The curing of pig thighs can be traced back to the Romans, and in the Middle Ages Charlemagne passed strict laws regarding the conservation of pork. But the art of making Tuscan prosciutto was perfected under the Medicis in the 1500s.
Along with marine salt, pork seasonings include pepper, rosemary, garlic, juniper berries, fennel and even wine and vinegar. And while the process is governed by strict rules, the combination of ingredients is each producer’s well-kept secret. About 132,000 prosciutti are produced each year in Tuscany. When tasting, be sure the slices are hand-cut with a knife (the heat created by an electrical slicer alters the flavour) and eat immediately.