A feast celebrating the bounty of the land as the “locavores” of Piano di Collecchia do it.
(Skip the words and jump right to the video: Eating with Tuscan Locavores)
It started with a dinner last summer at our neighbors Armando and Francesca’s place. We had polenta with wild boar sauce. We drank wine. We had sweets. We had after dinner liquors.
By the time the meal had dissolved into crumbs scattered on the table and clots of empty wine bottles, I realized that nothing at that dinner came from a distance of more than a kilometer from the building in which we all lived. Alcede made the red wine and the flour from which the polenta was made. The wild boar was shot out back, where the little corn fields were (and where cannons are fired at regular intervals day and night this time of year to keep them from eating the mature ears). Armando made the white wine. The Mirto—a mirtleberry liquor—was made by La Sarda, the architect born in Sardinia and living below us.
Two large trophies stood conspicuously in the dining room. Armando and Francesco had recently won them for their salami. It wasn’t a fluke, they took both first and second place. Armando works at the hospital. He is not a pig farmer by trade.
And I would find out later, even the building in which we all lived has had a strong relationship to food ever since it was built in the 16th century.
Thus began my exploration of what it is to be a locavore in the Lunigiana.
Our downstairs neighbor Enrico is a banker and has an ulivetto, an olive grove from which olive oil is produced. Honey is produced under our western window by a shadowy character we call “the farmer” who also has a cow for milk that we pass on our way to the car.
Alcede and Armando, as I’ve already pointed out, make wine. (Alcede, at the 4th of July barbecue we held, encouraged me to extinguish the flame-ups with his wine, as it didn’t cost much and enhanced the flavor of the meat when thus sacrificed into smoke.)
Lots of folks make polenta. We found Michele stripping the kernels from the cobs one evening on his terrace and stopped to watch. He ended up giving us a bag of his flour and telling us how his mother makes it into polenta, then promised to take us to the 350 year old mill when it had rained for two days straight (enough water to work the grinding wheels).
(By the way, eating local here is not about saving money on the cost of food. A half kilo of commercial polenta flour can be bought in a supermarket for 0.63 Euro-cents. The polenta made by many in Piano di Collecchia is from late maturing corn that is uneconomical for commercial production but absolutely perfect for polenta—and loaded with flavor the commercial stuff can’t equal.)
Add to the above the huge kitchen gardens which produce more than enough to feed even the part-time and agriculturally challenged foreigners like us—plus the hunters whose bullets pierce the air incessantly from the roadsides during the season and you have quite a different impression of what it means to eat locally.
Makes the “eating food produced within 100 miles” definition of “locavore” that’s used in the US seem kinda silly.
So, we made ourselves a challenge. Let’s see how much food we could gather that was produced entirely within the city limits of Piano di Collecchia (whose population probably swells to nearly 100 when we and the British couple come to visit in the warmer months). Then we’d make a feast. Not a fancy feast. A romantic, hearty “celebration of the earth” feast. Then we’d make a video.
Farro Salad – Farro is a local grain that is traditionally served as a first course in the Lunigiana and the nearby Garfagnana.
Cippole Agri Dolce – Sweet and sour onions because they’re cheap here compared to the US.
Polenta with Rabbit (Polenta e coniglio al Forno) – Michele’s polenta prepared the way his mother makes it with a rabbit cooked in the oven with local wine, a touch of local honey and a dash of vinegar.
For those of you with lots of bandwidth, here’s a less compressed version: Eating with Tuscan Locavores