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CHIANINA OX | ITALY'S FOOD AND WINE

chianina beef

The white Chianina ox, only fifty years ago a fixture of every Tuscan landscape, is the largest extant breed of cattle in the world. Large cattle were known in Lucania during Roman times and the Chianina cattle of the Val di Chiana may well trace back to these. The oxen now known as the Chianina were praised by the Georgic poets, Columella and Virgil, and were the models for Roman sculptures.

The breed originated primarily in the west central part of Italy and was found in a wide variety of environmental conditions. Because of this, Chianina cattle vary in size and type from region to region. The largest representatives are from the plains of Arezzo and Sienna - the Val di Chiana of Tuscany. Until recent times the Chianina ox was used in Tuscany primarily as a draft animal. With the advent of modern mechanised farming practices, the selection emphasis has been placed on the breed's ability to produce beef. The earlier selection for work animals had produced a very large animal with considerable length of leg, good action and heavy muscling. A docile disposition was also desired in the draft animals. The later selections for beef production has maintained the size of the breed and improved the rate of growth.

The famous Florentine T-bone steak, the bistecca alla Fiorentina, is by tradition prepared from Chianina beef although there is no law mandating this and vast amounts of Spanish and even Argentinian beef is sold in Tuscan butchers and especially restaurants as bistecca alla Fiorentina.

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SANGIOVESE GRAPES | ITALY'S FOOD AND WINE

sangiovese grapes

The name of the Sangiovese red grape is thought to be derived from "sanguis Jovis" meaning "the blood of Jove (Jupiter)." Its beginnings probably predate Roman times. Sangiovese is one of the two predominant red grapes (the other being nebbiolo) in Italy, where it is extensively planted, particularly in the central and southern regions. It is believed to have originated in Tuscany, where it dominates today. Sangiovese wines vary immensely depending on where the grapes are grown, how they're grown (the yield allowed), and which of the many subvarieties they are made from. Generally, Sangiovese wines are high in acid, with moderate to high tannins, and medium levels of alcohol. The flavours have a hint of earthiness and are usually not boldly fruity. Sangiovese wines are not deeply coloured and often have a slightly orange tint around the edges. Most are not long-lived and will last for less than 10 years.

Of the numerous strains of this grape, Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo have taken the lead. Compared to Sangiovese Piccolo's smaller grape clusters, Sangiovese Grosso has larger, more loosely bunched grapes. It is also more widely cultivated and yields a larger crop. One strain of Sangiovese Grosso is Brunello ("little dark one"), so named for the brown hue of its skin. It is the grape responsible for the potent and long-lived Brunello di Montalcino wines, which are made totally from this variety. Prugnolo is Montepulciano's local name for the Sangiovese Grosso grape, which produces the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines. Though Sangiovese is the dominant grape in Italy's well-known Chianti wines, for DOC qualification it must be blended with other varieties, including a percentage of white grapes. Fortunately, the maximum allowable Sangiovese (also known as Sangioveto in Chianti) went from 80 to 90 percent in 1984, which allows Chianti wines to have a more robust character. Some producers, particularly in Tuscany, are now making non-DOC wines either using only Sangiovese grapes or blending them with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon or the stronger-flavoured Cabernet Franc (Podere San Cresci). Cabernet is a particularly complimentary partner that lends bouquet, structure, and longevity. The Carmignano DOCG officially allows 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon to be blended with their elegant Sangiovese-based wines.

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HISTORY OF ITALIAN CUSINE

Annibale Carracci The Beaneater

At the beginning of the 18th century, Italian culinary books began to emphasize the regionalism of Italian cuisine rather than French cuisine. Books written then were no longer addressed to professional chefs but to bourgeois housewives. Periodicals in booklet form such as La cuoca cremonese ("The Cook of Cremona") in 1794 give a sequence of ingredients according to season along with chapters on meat, fish and vegetables. As the century progressed these books increased in size, popularity and frequency.

In the 18th century, medical texts warned peasants against eating refined foods as it was believed that these were poor for their digestion and their bodies required heavy meals. It was believed by some that peasants ate poorly because they preferred eating poorly. However, many peasants had to eat rotten food and moldy bread because that was all they could afford. In 1779, Antonio Nebbia from Macerata in the Marche region, wrote Il Cuoco Maceratese ("The Cook of Macerata"). Nebbia addressed the importance of local vegetables and pasta, rice and gnocchi. For stock, he preferred vegetables and chicken over other meats. In 1773, the Neapolitan Vincenzo Corrado's Il Cuoco Galante ("The Courteous Cook") gave particular emphasis to Vitto Pitagorico (vegetarian food). "Pitagoric food consists of fresh herbs, roots, flowers, fruits, seeds and all that is produced in the earth for our nourishment. It is named because Pythagoras, as is well known, only used such produce. There is no doubt that this kind of food appears to be more natural to man, and the use of meat is noxious." This book was the first to give the tomato a central role with thirteen recipes. Zuppa alli Pomidoro in Corrado's book is a dish similar to today's Tuscan pappa al pomodoro. Corrado's 1798 edition introduced a "Treatise on the Potato" after the French Antoine-Augustin Parmentier's successful promotion of it.

In 1790, Francesco Leonardi in his book L'Apicio moderno ("Modern Apicius") sketches a history of the Italian Cuisine from the Roman Age and gives the first recipe for a tomato based sauce. In the 19th century, Giovanni Vialardi, chef to King Victor Emmanuel, wrote A Treatise of Modern Cookery and Patisserie with recipes "suitable for a modest household". Many of his recipes are for regional dishes from Turin including twelve for potatoes such as Genoese Cappon Magro.

In 1829, Il Nuovo Cuoco Milanese Economico by Giovanni Felice Luraschi features Milanese dishes such as Kidney with Anchovies and Lemon and Gnocchi alla Romana. Gian Battista and Giovanni Ratto's La Cucina Genovese in 1871 addressed the cuisine of Liguria. This book contained the first recipe for pesto. La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiare bene ("The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well"), by Pellegrino Artusi, first published in 1891, is widely regarded as the canon of classic modern Italian cuisine, and it is still in print. Its recipes come mainly from Romagna and Tuscany, where he lived.

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INGREDIENTS IN TRUE ITALIAN CUSINE

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In Italy each area has its own food specialties, primarily at a regional level, but also at provincial level. The differences can come from a bordering country (such as France or Austria), whether a region is close to the sea or the mountains, and economics. Italian cuisine is also seasonal with priority placed on the use of fresh produce.

Italian cuisine has a great variety of different ingredients which are commonly used, ranging from fruits, vegetables, sauces, meats, etc. In the North of Italy, fish (such as cod, or baccalà), potatoes, rice, corn (maize), sausages, pork, and different types of cheeses are the most common ingredients. Pasta dishes with use of tomato are spread in all Italy.

In Northern Italy though there are many kinds of stuffed pasta, polenta and risotto are equally popular if not more so. Ligurian ingredients include several types of fish and seafood dishes; basil (found in pesto), nuts and olive oil are very common. In Emilia-Romagna, common ingredients include ham ( prosciutto), sausage ( cotechino), different sorts of salami, truffles, grana, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and tomatoes ( Bolognese sauce or ragù). Traditional Central Italian cuisine uses ingredients such as tomatoes, all kinds of meat, fish, and pecorino cheese. In Tuscany and Umbria pasta is usually served alla carrettiera (a tomato sauce spiked with peperoncini hot peppers). Finally, in Southern Italy, tomatoes – fresh or cooked into tomato sauce – peppers, olives and olive oil, garlic, artichokes, oranges, ricotta cheese, eggplants, zucchini, certain types of fish (anchovies, sardines and tuna), and capers are important components to the local cuisine.

Italian cuisine is also well known (and well regarded) for its use of a diverse variety of pasta. Pasta include noodles in various lengths, widths and shapes. Distinguished on shapes they are named — penne, maccheroni, spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, lasagne and many more varieties that are filled with other ingredients like ravioli and tortellini. The word pasta is also used to refer to dishes in which pasta products are a primary ingredient. It is usually served with sauce. There are hundreds of different shapes of pasta with at least locally recognized names. Examples include spaghetti (thin rods), rigatoni (tubes or cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets). Dumplings, like gnocchi (made with potatoes) and noodles like spätzle, are sometimes considered pasta. They are both traditional in parts of Italy. Pasta is categorized in two basic styles: dried and fresh. Dried pasta made without eggs can be stored for up to two years under ideal conditions, while fresh pasta will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator. Pasta is generally cooked by boiling. Under Italian law, dry pasta (pasta secca) can only be made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina, and is more commonly used in Southern Italy compared to their Northern counterparts, who traditionally prefer the fresh egg variety. Durum flour and durum semolina have a yellow tinge in color. Italian pasta is traditionally cooked al dente (Italian: "firm to the bite", meaning not too soft).

Outside Italy, dry pasta is frequently made from other types of flour (such as wheat flour), but this yields a softer product that cannot be cooked al dente. There are many types of wheat flour with varying gluten and protein depending on variety of grain used. Particular varieties of pasta may also use other grains and milling methods to make the flour, as specified by law. Some pasta varieties, such as pizzoccheri, are made from buckwheat flour. Fresh pasta may include eggs (pasta all'uovo 'egg pasta'). Whole wheat pasta has become increasingly popular because of its supposed health benefits over pasta made from refined flour.

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HISTORY OF ITALIAN CUSINE 1500-1700

Carracci Butchers shop

The courts of Florence, Rome, Venice and Ferrara were central to the cuisine. Cristoforo di Messisbugo, steward to Ippolito d'Este, published Banchetti Composizioni di Vivande in 1549. Messisbugo gives recipes for pies and tarts (containing 124 recipes with various fillings). The work emphasizes the use of Eastern spices and sugar. In 1570, Bartolomeo Scappi, personal chef to Pope Pius V, wrote his Opera in five volumes, giving a comprehensive view of Italian cooking of that period. It contains over 1,000 recipes, with information on banquets including displays and menus as well as illustrations of kitchen and table utensils.

This book differs from most books written for the royal courts in its preference for domestic animals and courtyard birds rather than game. Recipes include lesser cuts of meats such as tongue, head and shoulder. The third volume has recipes for fish in Lent. These fish recipes are simple, including poaching, broiling, grilling and frying after marination. Particular attention is given to seasons and places where fish should be caught. The final volume includes pies, tarts, fritters and a recipe for a sweet Neapolitan pizza (not the current savory version, as tomatoes had not been introduced to Italy.) However, such items from the New World as corn (maize) and turkey are included.

In the first decade of the 17th century, Giangiacomo Castelvetro wrote Breve Racconto di Tutte le Radici di Tutte l'Herbe et di Tutti i Frutti (A Brief Account of All Roots, Herbs and Fruit), translated into English by Gillian Riley. Originally from Modena, Castelvetro moved to England because he was a Protestant. The book has a list of Italian vegetables and fruits and their preparation. He featured vegetables as a central part of the meal, not just accompaniments. He favored simmering vegetables in salted water and serving them warm or cold with olive oil, salt, fresh ground pepper, lemon juice or verjus or orange juice. He also suggests roasting vegetables wrapped in damp paper over charcoal or embers with a drizzle of olive oil. Castelvetro's book is separated into seasons with hop shoots in the spring and truffles in the winter, detailing the use of pigs in the search for truffles.

In 1662, Bartolomeo Stefani, chef to the Duchy of Mantua, published L'Arte di Ben Cucinare. He was the first to offer a section on vitto ordinario ("ordinary food"). The book described a banquet given by Duke Charles for Queen Christina of Sweden, with details of the food and table settings for each guest, including a knife, fork, spoon, glass, a plate (instead of the bowls more often used) and a napkin. Other books from this time, such as Galatheo by Giovanni della Casa, tell how scalci ("waiters") should manage themselves while serving their guests. Waiters should not scratch their heads or other parts of themselves, or spit, sniff, cough or sneeze while serving diners. The book also told diners not to use their fingers while eating and not to wipe sweat with their napkin.

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