ourcing. Sustainability. Provenance. Local foods. Organic. These are some of the buzzwords that have found their way into menus, restaurant reviews, and food stores across the United States. While I sometimes envy my New York City friends the variety of nourishment at their disposal, living in Italy means being able to enjoy top-quality foods without the hefty price tags. To prove it, here’s a peep into my pantry.
I like wine. I especially like the Sangiovese grape. In particular, I enjoy a 100 percent Sangiovese from old vines, the kind you find in parts of Montepulciano. They’re not easy to find — Fattoria di Palazzo Vecchio makes a great and affordable one, with vines dating back to 1951 — but once you start sipping, it’s easy to become a fan.
I also like apples. I really enjoy buying them from Podere Fontecornino, not far from Chiusi. Their organic Winesap apples are heavenly. The farm also makes a nice, dry cider, providing an alternative to prosecco, and pairing well with certain aged cheeses.
I really, really love tomatoes. I always try and grow my own but they disappear too fast. So, whenever they’re in season, I get Marinda tomatoes. They grow in the Pachino area of Sicily. It may not be around the corner, but the climate and topology are so well documented that I feel like I’ve been there. “The unique soil structure of the area, the consistent westerly salt-air breezes, the temperate climate, and sunny weather with its very rare frosts provide the ideal habitat for the Marinda,” says a website devoted to Pachino-area products. I’ll take a kilo, if you please.
And then there’s asparagus. When possible, I dine on wild asparagus. Skinny, flavorful and damn hard to find, they’re the bees’ knees in a light frittata. My friend Giancarlo brings them over — along with other seasonal finds — and I return the favor giving English lessons to his kids.
As for honey, I’m pretty easy. I like clover honey from the remote Casentino valley, southeast of Florence and about an hour from my Tuscan home. Centuries of shepherding, which once provided the wool for the iconic panno Casentino, a kind of rugged cloth, have also made Casentino’s hills and dales a haven for bees. Their chestnut flower honey is also tasty; it goes perfectly with local fresh ricotta.
There’s no meat in my pantry right now, but I do enjoy a good steak now and then. Chianina breed, of course. But let’s make it a scottona, shall we? Yes, that’s right. I prefer the slightly marbled meat of a young female under 16 months to an older, sinewy male, unless the latter is being used for tartare. The small butchers around me are all reliable, but my favorite is the Tenuta La Fratta farm. Say hello to Guido.
As for cheeses, I buy my pecorino and ricotta exclusively from Cugusi: the people are friendly, their prices are right, and they have a wide variety of aging and kinds for all tastes. Plus, it’s in a pretty place. So going to the farm, which is just outside Montepulciano, on the way to Pienza, is a pleasure.
So there it is, the rundown of my favorite locally sourced, organic, sustainable foods and their provenances. Tips are appreciated.