It is difficult to feel indifferent about tripe: either you love it or you hate it. Consider, after all, that tripe is not one of the prettiest or appetising things you might choose to eat. Trippa usually comes from one of the first three stomachs of a cow, the rumen, or first stomach, the honeycomb-like reticolo or reticulum and the poetically named bible or leaf tripe, in Italian known as centopelli. The fourth stomach is lampredotto, that fabulously Florentine thing that, curiously, is rarely used in other cuisines.
Although it has seemingly humble origins, offal has been a centuries-long favourite of not only Florentine peasants but also nobility. It is well known that Catherine de' Medici was a fan of cibreo, a Florentine dish made with chicken crests and offal. Tripe itself continues to be one of the ingredients that defines Florentine cuisine.
Offal is not only tasty but highly nutritious and low in fat. With offal, you also know exactly what it is you are getting-unlike processed ham and other industrially made meat products that many people seem to eat without batting an eyelid. So, if you have never tried tripe before, do not be discouraged by what your brain tells you-let your tastebuds do the judging. Besides, the Florentines do tripe very well.
Tripe has quite a delicate taste, with a soft but resistant bite, reminiscent of squid or calamari. It is first boiled for some time until it softens, often with a trusty carrot, celery or onion. Because of tripe's delicate flavour, thrifty hands can easily transform it into all sorts of dishes: meat sauce, meatballs, stewed in tomato sauce or thrown onto a bun, sloppy joe style.
In the summer, there's no better way to serve tripe than cold, in a salad: insalata di trippa (see recipe). As a plus, if you buy your tripe straight from a trippaio (a tripe and lampredotto seller usually serving from unmistakeable food vans), you won't even have to turn your stove on. My local trippaio sells tripe boiled to perfection and ready for preparing in favourite dishes for about 9 euro a kilo, a little more than double the cost if you buy it raw in the supermarket to boil yourself at home. He also happens to prepare his ready made insalata di trippa with some additions: tomatoes and capers.