Florence's Famous Food Fair, Part II


Faith Willinger

To read part one of this two-part series about Taste 2010, one of Italy's most exciting food fairs, click here.

I knew the fair in Florence would be impossible to navigate on Sunday, so I focused on Fuori Taste events. In the afternoon I visited Carapina's new shop and tasted gelato made with Mieli Thun's superb honey, then tasted a spoonful of crystallized ivy honey, with its complex, evolving flavors. I also went for an aperitivo at the Hotel Savoy.

The bar has huge windows overlooking Piazza della Repubblica, with some of the city's best people-watching. Snacks were prepared by consulting chef Fulvio Pierangelini (he closed his highly esteemed restaurant a few years ago) with products from the fair: a mini-portion of red shrimp and zucchini risotto with rice from Cascina Veneria; Monte Veronese cheeses and Formaggio Ubriaco (macerated in wine must for a month, then aged for another six) from La Casera; a slice of spalla from Macelleria Savigni. The maitre d' claimed they made the best Martini in Florence. How could I say no?

Then I went to La Buca del Orafo for an event entitled "Knowing Baccalà," sponsored by Schooner, although I'd never heard of the chef, Angelo Torcigliani, and had my doubts. But he treated the product with respect and made a flawless dinner: Lofoten Islands stoccafisso (air-dried, not salted) brandade; Norwegian raw baccalà dressed with extra virgin olive oil; and Faroe Islands baccalà salad; followed by pasta mista (mixed shapes of pasta used for soup, a personal favorite); Sorana beans and slightly smoky baccalà bottarga that was truly impressive; and Faroe Islands baccalà filet with smashed potatoes (not pureed, with real texture) and tarragon oil. I promised to visit Angelo's restaurant, open two nights a week at his gastronomic grocery, as soon as possible.

The hot topic of Monday morning's roundtable discussion with scientists and chef Massimiliano Alajmo was a new Italian ordinance prohibiting the use of additives in restaurants. The ordinance appears to be a reaction to the popular TV program "Striscia la Notizia," a parody news show that attacked new-wave Italian chefs adopting hydrocolloids. The ordinance singles out restaurants, but pastry shops, gelaterie, and home cooks can still use the same compounds, and industrial food producers can use the additives because there's an internal safety engineer monitoring all processes. (Why doesn't that make me feel safe?) Powdered stock and bouillon cubes with MSG are technically banned, which would mean that many, many restaurants would have to change their habits. Everyone on the panel agreed that the ordinance couldn't become law because it was filled with contradictions.

Then, it was time for a final stroll through the aisles. I met Sardinian Stefano Rocca and tasted his bottarga—pale pink, sliced, and ground like powder to sprinkle on pasta or beans. Best of all was a jarred sauce pairing bottarga and sea urchin, served on Sardinian flatbread (pane carasau) but perfect for pasta, a must for my pantry. I also tasted 'nduja, a spreadable spicy Calabrian sausage from Luigi Caccamo, and headed to Zago's stand for one of my favorite artisanal Italian beers—unpasteurized and malty. Refreshed, I was ready to leave but was distracted by Chianina cattle pictures at Macelleria Ricci. I quizzed owner-butcher Enrico Ricci about his animals. Free range IGT Chianina, all additional feed from their farm. Satisfied with his answers, I had a taste, and promised to visit him in Trequanda (SI).

As a founding member, I had to stop by the Donne del Vino dinner at Villa Bardini with three of Florence's best women chefs—Benedetta Vitali, Beatrice Segoni, and Giovanna Iorio. I had a glass of wine with Donna del Vino members Beatrice Contini, Emanuele Stucchi, and Cristina Nonino, and gossiped with the chefs in the kitchen, but I went home for dinner. I was Taste-ed out.