Autumn salumi toscani

Jordan McCord
October 16, 2008

Fall is upon us. The sweltering heat is long gone, the mosquitoes have calmed down and leather jackets are everywhere. More importantly though, this change in season brings its particular delights of Tuscan cuisine.


With the dawn of colder weather, we often crave food that is rich, comforting and higher in protein. As lighter fare, such as panzanella or prosciutto with melon become passé in September, Tuscans are quick to replace them with the quintessential foods that will satisfy the autumn-lover's palate. One such seasonal staple is finocchiona.


Finocchiona, which derives its name from finocchio, fennel, is one of the most popular pork products in Tuscan cuisine, especially in Florence. Although it closely resembles a salami, its sharp seasoning distinguishes it from others. The meat is ground roughly and seasoned with salt, pepper and the fennel that gives it a subtle, yet distinct anise flavor. A variant, sbriciolona, is less firm and crumbles when sliced. Although finocchiona can be found all year round, it is popular in the fall during the harvest of Florence fennel, a smaller, sweeter variation of the stalk that is most abundant in fall and winter.


Like other Tuscan cold cuts, finocchiona can be purchased in supermarkets and groceries by the etto (100 grams), and its stands out as an essential part of antipasto dishes served in Tuscan restaurants and households. It is usually listed on the menu as a part of salumi toscani, paired with prosciutto, salame, crostini, and another fall favorite, soprassata.


Soprassata is salami made from the leftover cuts of the pig, including the head, tail, fat and sometimes tongue. These pieces are pressed and boiled together with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and lemon. Whereas some types of Tuscan salami look very similar, soprassata stands out because of its pinkish-gray color and its patchwork look, the result of the mix of different cuts, which also makes for an interesting and varying texture. The use of meat scraps is rooted in popular culture in Tuscany, especially Florence, where wasting food is heavily frowned upon.


Soprassata and another of the  salumi toscani, bardiccio, are both typical of this season: in the past they were produced when pigs were butchered in fall or early winter to guarantee a supply of meat for the rest of the year. Bardiccio, like finocchiona, is ground with spices, including fennel, and, like soprassata, it is made from leftover cuts. Bardiccio, however, is shaped into long, thin sausages (each one called canella), and can have a deep red color, depending on how much of the heart is used in production. It is not aged like finocchiona and soprassata, but must be grilled after purchase.


Because of the rich quality of these meats, they become a special option in the Tuscan merenda, an occasional light meal eaten around 5 p.m. A small portion of one of these decadent meats pairs nicely with unsalted Tuscan bread or crostini. This seasonal treat is sure to tide one over between meals on a cold day. They can also be a delicacy for a dinner with friends in the chilly December and January evenings.


Although many wines complement the unique flavors of these meats, they are best matched with a bold Chianti that can cut through the sharp seasoning.



Aperitivo How-to

So how do you turn these tasty fall meats into a quick and easy Tuscan aperitivo? Simple...just follow these instructions to serve up an authentic Florentine appetizer.


While the key feature is the meats, to have a proper aperitivo, you need the right ingredients, starting with the bread. Unsalted pane toscano showcases the meats' flavors. Although any kind of Tuscan bread will work, we like the bozza pratese best. While you're at the panetteria, grab some schiacciata as well, which goes well with cheese and veggies.

Next, choose an array of salumi: prosciutto toscano (also called casalingo), finocchiona or sbriciolona, soprassata, salame toscano and salsiccia cruda, which can be spread right onto the pane toscano .


To balance the richness of the salumi, serve an aged pecorino with chestnut honey, both made right here in Tuscany, and some fresh baby onions, sun-dried tomatoes and preserved artichokes.


As for wine, because the food flavors are strong, there is no need to go with anything too bold. Serve a nice young red from your favourite vino sfuso place, where you can fill bottles straight from the cask for three or four euro.



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