It was a bright, spring day. While she was in Fivizzano to pick up the latest bags and hardware that conformed to the latest recycling scheme the commune had thought up, Martha also managed to pick up some Lunigiana food specialties which we ate outside, on the terrace. This was the platter of food we shared:

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A Lunigiana Lunch in the Sun

The top row consists of food bought locally, but not food that is particularly though of as “Lunigenese” in origin. From left to right there is an onion focaccia, a whole wheat focaccia and a bit of truffled pecorino cheese.

It’s the bottom row that’s interesting and quintessentially local. You’ve got your Torta d’Erbe, a delicious vegetable “pie” with a very thin and flaky crust, farinata, a chick pea flour and olive oil pancake that is rolled up here and almost unrecognizable as a pancake, and slices of a fabulous salami bought in Pontremoli at the Salumeria Angella di Bertocchi on via Garabaldi 11 in the heart of town.

I’ve always thought of the place as a sort of tourist place, so haven’t been in it—at least for a long while. When I saw the slender sausage, I asked “what is that?” to which the reply was simply, “salami.”

But when I saw him cutting it carefully with a knife, I knew I had stumbled upon something special. You use a big commercial cutter to make short work of most salumi, but some things you need to be thicker, or you need to cut without making any frictional heat that would destroy a delicate texture.

As it turned out, the salami was a hard salami, but the bits of fat were soft and silky on the tongue. It made me think I was eating a Salame lardellato. Naturalmente Lunigiana makes one. It was delicious, and unlike anything you might come across in the states unless you knew a master meat preserving specialist.

Can you have a good picnic in the wilds of northern Tuscany? Are you kidding me?

A Lunigiana Lunch in the Sun originally appeared on Mar 26, 2016, © James Martin.

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Italy compared to the continental United States in size

Above you see a little map overlay with the country of Italy placed under a map of the Continental US state boundaries.

Italy’s total area is 116,350 square miles or 301,340 square kilometers, the 72nd largest country in the world. Almost 40 per cent of that is mountainous territory.

The area of the US is 9,826,675 square kilometers by comparison. Thus the US is about 32.5 times the size of Italy.

By population, Italy is the 23rd largest country in the world with 61,680,122 people living within its borders.

If Italy were a US state, it would lie between New Mexico and Arizona to be the 5th largest state by area.

So if you’re planning a vacation to take in mainland Italy, it would be like taking a New Mexico vacation except that to drive from north to south would be like driving from far northern California to San Diego, a long drive of at least 13 hours if you don’t dawdle.

And the food is better in Italy.

See Also: How Big is France Compared to the US?

How Big is Italy? originally appeared on Nov 19, 2015, © James Martin.

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Are you not tired of hearing about the curative powers of “yummy!” Italian food arranged on a plate by a saintly person of unsullied culinary credentials who sources the food from other saintly people who treat their lambs like the lambs of God?

Well then, why not visit an outlet mall and eat in the food court? Certainly there will be a disgusting gruel of dubious provenience served there!

Contrast is everything. So off we go.

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The Setting For a Romantic Meal (Or Not)

This is the food corral (er, “Pavilion of Taste”) of the Shoppin Outlet Brugnato Cinque Terre.

Just so you know, we’re located just outside of the town of Brugnato, known for its Infiorata

The “Cinque Terre” has been added to the title by a clever advertising person because the tourists know the five little overtouristed villages and will drool over the prospect of emptying their wallets on any object with the words “Cinque Terre” printed on it, especially refrigerator magnets.

They will sell more crap, in other words.

So let’s have a peek inside, eh? People are eating; don’t bother them with your mouse cursor.

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Shopinn: The Food Court


So we make the circle. People in cute uniforms tell us what they can do for us. The burger joint is closed, but we eventually decide on some pasta from this compact little kitchen:

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I Piaceri della Pasta

All the pasta is fresh. You can buy it raw and cook it at home. But most people are hungry after their morning shopping, so they pick a sauce and one of the young women will cook the pasta right before your eyes. I ordered Ravioli al Ragu. It’s easy enough.

Five minutes or so later the plate of pasta comes to me on a tray with real silverware along with a very nice glass of red wine which I have purchased for the modest amount of 2.50 euro. Not vino sfuso, the cheap bulk stuff, but local wine poured from a bottle with a label from a serious winery. Try that in the US without making yet another trip to the ATM.

I might as well show the dish to you:

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Ravioli al Ragu

It’s good. Quite good in fact. In any case it tastes way better than the warmed over chef Boyardee slurry you might get served in an American food court, despite looking oddly similar.

It filled me up. I barely had room for the very nicely done torta di verdura. We liked the flaky crust wrapped around a copious filling of greens and onions. Despite the fact that Martha and I shared the dish, there was enough left over for a little breakfast joy the next day.

So what about the final touch, the coffee? Ah, yes we could get an Italian coffee from a big machine and it would undoubtedly be good, but let’s go to the Shopinn’s mall bar instead. It’s just a few steps away.

Some of you neophytes may think all you can get in Italy is a tiny cup with a little strong coffee in it. You like to have lots of stuff in your coffee, so you don’t dare come to Italy, where you will be deprived of the chance to add things like sprinkles and chocolate and spiced pumpkins and all manner of cloyingly sweet things to the astringent brew you find at places like Starbucks. Well, close your eyes! Now open them and look down there:

Golosino Zabaione: Coffee, Zabaione, and a scoop of gelato

Welcome to the alternative universe! It’s Golosino time! They’ve lined the glass with zabaione sauce (my choice), made the coffee in it, plopped a scoop of gelato on top, then speared the works with that cookie thing! Pig out baby!

And this isn’t the only “fancy” coffee they serve. Not by a long shot. There’s a list a kilometer long.

And were do you go to work off the calories? The mall has excursions! Read all about it!

Unreal, don’t you think?

Outlet Mall Food: Gross or Golosino? originally appeared on Nov 07, 2015, © James Martin.

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Who comes to Italy for the beer? Sure, Italy was once a beer backwater. Vines grew well; who needed beer? Oh a hot day, hard working Sardinians mixed the local Industrial suds with lemon soda so they could slug it down to re-hydrate without fear of drunkenness.

Today there is an explosion of craft beer in Italy. You can’t swing a cat without hitting someone heading for a pub.

A couple of years ago Katie Parla wrote:

“While most would agree that the Italian craft beer industry was born in 1996 when Teo Musso founded the prolific and influential Baladin brewing company, things have really got moving nationwide in the past 4-5 years.” ~ Why the Italian craft beer scene is so exciting

Our merry band of “travel bloggers” had a meeting with Simone, the brewmaster at Birrificio Mazapégul. It was to be held at the Barbeer in the Romagna town of Forli. We had to walk. Past this:

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Forli: The Castle

Italy is a wondrous place. Castles everywhere. And now good beer with odd names can be found in pubs and restaurants.

Ever lust after the taste of a beer named 1000 flies? Have no fear, Mazapégul Millemosche is a tasty golden ale. The name is based on a book written for children, Millemosche e la fine del mondo (A Thousand Flies and the End of the World) by a trio of authors: Tonino Guerra, Luigi Malerba, and Adriano Zannino.

It’s good, sound beer, light in alcohol. Perhaps hard working Sardinians would go bonkers with such a brew on a hot day. But I liked:

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Bale Burdeli Beer from Birrificio Mazapégul

Balè Burdeli is a little higher in alcohol and was inspired by American craft ales. It’s named after a traditional Romagna orchestra piece. You can hear it on YouTube

So who’s behind all these beers? The brewmaster was kind enough to provide us with Barbeer fried tidbits perfect for munching with his beer. He’s Simone, not only clever beer evangelist but a delight to yack with over a brew.

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Simone, the Brewmaster at Birrificio Mazapégul

Simone has a degree in food science and liked to play around with making beer in his garage before being called to duty at Birrificio Mazapégul. It’s obvious he likes his job, and is very passionate about beer and seeing people enjoy the brews he produces.

How hard is it to make and sell beer in Italy? Lots of people complain about the cost of Italian craft beers, but you may fix the blame squarely on the Italian sin tax that has stifled some of the growth already. Craft brewers evidently pay the same excise duty as larger industrial producers. This amounts to about 2,500 euros in peak months, according to figures I’ve seen, and that’s a huge burden per bottle if you don’t crank the stuff out in bulk.

Despite the cost, Italian beer creators have succeeded in delivering distinctively Italian style beers to their customers. Birrificio Mazapégul does a very nice job in its niche.

So look for the distinctive bottles when you are in Italy, or, if you happen to be in the town of Forli, check out Barbeer. The food is great; Italians have a way with fried things that go wonderfully with beer. Yes, there are even burgers.

Why would you go to Forli? Well, you could use it as a base to visit Mussolini’s birthplace in Predappio, or visit the world’s largest ceramics museum, the International Ceramics Museum in Faenza.

Or—you could just hang around drinking beer.


Disclosure: This post was a part of Buonvivere Blog Tour, organized by Settimana del Buonvivere in collaboration with 21grammy

Craft Beer in Italy originally appeared on Nov 05, 2015, © James Martin.

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