Are you game?

Delights of the hunt at La Coppiola in Pistoia

Sarah Humphreys
November 22, 2012

If you are a meat-lover and looking for a menu with a difference, La Coppiola in Pistoia is the place for you. Painted a vibrant orange, the colour of Pistoia's football team, and simply furnished, it may look like your run of the mill Circolo Arci (Associazione Ricreativa e Culturale Italiana; www.arci.it), an association that promotes culture and social commitment. But it is much more than that, especially during open hunting season, which in Tuscany is typically from late September to late January.

 

Annual membership costs 10 euro, allowing access to all branches of ARCI plus discounts on certain cinema theatres, concert tickets and other cultural events. Membership cards are not always required for eating. A Circolo Arci generally offers reasonably priced snacks and drinks and has space to hold a range of events, from bingo to live music, art exhibitions to debates. The typical circolo in Tuscany will no doubt be characterized by its charming habitués: elderly gentlemen playing cards and drinking wine or grappa. But, at La Coppiola, there is no time for card-playing as the patrons are much too busy eating.

 

Run by brothers Luca and Diego Gironi, with their partners Laura Sardelli and Claudia Demasi, La Coppiola is also part of the ArciCaccia association (www.arcicaccia.it), a division of Arci that is concerned with protecting the environment and ensuring that hunting laws are respected. Being keen hunters and cooks, the Gironi brothers decided to combine their favourite pastimes and offer fresh genuine dishes that are not easily found elsewhere. The meat is obtained directly from local hunters, who hunt in the Apennines surrounding Pistoia.

 

Although hunting is often considered a controversial subject, both boar and deer breed exceptionally quickly and cause enormous damage to crops and property. Arcicaccia considers hunting to be a sensible solution to this problem, while avoiding damage to the environment, which can be caused by other, more harmful forms of population control. ‘La Coppiola' refers to a strategy when two hunters simultaneously shoot two birds, and the name is fitting: there is no shortage of fowl on the menu. Depending on the season, the ‘catch of the day' may be pigeon, guinea fowl or pheasant, which have often been ‘selected' by the brothers themselves.

 

In typical Tuscan fashion, the Gironi brothers follow a family tradition. Their parents managed a restaurant that also served wild game, in the surrouding mountains. In fact, their mother, Cristina, taught her children to cook, and many of her recipes are on the menu at La Coppiola. Along with inexpensive breakfasts, La Coppiola has a lunch menu that ranges from 5.50 to 10 euro per person, with dishes changing every day. Dinner is served every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

 

In the evening, a typical starter will consist of wild boar sausage; a selection of cured meats, including boar and venison; homeade crostini with rabbit liver patè and fresh mushroom sauce; slabs of cheese made in the Pistoia mountains and served with Sardelli's tasty homemade fig jam olives, pig's liver or a whole quail. First courses include homemade tagliatelle and maccaroni in a wild boar, venison, duck or mushroom sauce. Portions are enormous and Luca Gironi and Demasi's sauces are delicious and delicate. The huge ricotta-and-spinach-stuffed tortelli smothered with thick meat sauce are absolutely out of this world.

 

Moving on to the highlights of the evening, second courses always feature generous helpings of wild boar and venison, and a fine controfiletto in a superb Chianti sauce. The ‘wild' flavour is removed from the boar by marinating it overnight with celery, carrots, onion and wine, then slowly cooking it to remove excess liquid before other ingredients are added. Dinner specials range from rabbit to stuffed pork and hare. Seasonal vegetables are purchased from local producers. Mushroom season is particularly pleasing, with fresh mushrooms picked by the brothers themselves (they'll never tell you where they forage, however!). Not forgetting the wine, the house red is an excellent Rosso di Montepulciano; the perfect accompaniment to dishes featuring wild game. The white wine is a crisp Chiantigiane. A variety of bottled wine is also available.

 

But what about vegetarians? The options from the main menu may be rather limited, but Diego Gironi makes wonderful pizzas in the wood-fired oven. There are over 30 types on the menu, so vegetarians are sure to find something meat-free (though the pizza oven is also used for cooking some of the meat dishes).

 

It may be physically impossible to eat more than two courses, but Diego Gironi may well become angered if you don't clean your plate! However, if you have any space left, Mamma Cristina provides an exquisite selection of homemade desserts, which include tiramisù, panna cotta served with blueberries picked in the mountains, tarts with homemade jam and a divine death-by-chocolate flan.

 

Apart from cooking, La Coppiola, along with Arcicaccia, organises events such as trips to the Nature Reserve in Fuccecchio and helps find volunteer rangers to patrol the local mountains. For real enthusiasts of the woods, there is even a ‘chioccolo' course, in which you can learn to imitate various bird calls with specially designed whistles.

 

You don't need a membership card to eat at La Coppiola: just curiosity and a healthy appetite. Make yourself at home in unfussy surroundings, loosen your belt, tuck in and enjoy excellent value for your hard-earned money. The warm welcome, hard work and enthusiasm of these two pleasant young couples will no doubt leave you wanting to come back for second helpings. They also serve fish, but that's a whole other story.

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