Effective marketing

Tom Fork
April 7, 2011

If you don't hear the pleasant din as you approach the market, you can read the signs: a fruttivendolo unloads then carries a crate of cabbages on his shoulder, the piazza is barricaded by a sea of white vans hatched open, chefs and kitchen hands dart back and forth between the market and the tens of restaurants within a stone's throw of piazza Ghiberti, where Mercato Sant'Ambrogio is situated. You are in food heaven at the edge of Florence's center, and the colors and scents invite as the promise of pigliando, at favorable costs, the promise of uniquely Italian product excellence.

 

 

Mercato Sant'Ambrogio was founded on May 3, 1873, when Florence was the temporary capital of the newly united peninsula. It marked a renewed desire to encourage Florentines (suddenly Italians) to their piazzas. This was Florence's first official covered market; San Lorenzo was built one year later. Before the construction of its green and white, train-station like structure, designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, who designed the central market one year later and Milan's then-futuristic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the piazza was filled with small vegetable gardens where contadini would peddle seasonal vegetables.

 

What you are guaranteed at Mercato Sant'Ambrogio is the expertise of down-home Florentines, many of whom have worked here since the 1960s, when the market assumed its current set-up: outdoor vendors and food-specific stalls inside. Take Luca Menoni, whose macelleria was founded in 1921 and survived the 1966 flood, even though the pressure of the water within the building blew off the roof! Ask him how to cook an authentic bistecca alla fiorentina or whip up a tartare di chianina. Stop by the bread and cheese banco at the eastern entrance and the vendor will be happy to toss you a taste of any one of his products, recommending the pane di Montegemoli, a rustic Tuscan bread from Valdicecina, or a seasoned pecorino, a must for any true Tuscan taster. The resident historian and fruit and vegetable vendor, Maurizio Ceccantini, like his colleagues, offers only one tip: keep it seasonal and always ask.

 

Keeping your spese seasonal is not just some granola-cruncher concept. Each vendor I spoke to said the same thing: it's a matter of health.

 

Now, in early spring, it is the perfect time to begin to visit the market regularly and watch the produce change. Today, get your hands on the new spring arrivals. Carciofi are still in crates, so enjoy them while you still can (see recipes in TF 30, 118, 119). Find asparagus in all its varieties: traditional, wild and white. Fry some zucchini flowers or get your hands on the first good tomatoes since September. Finish off any dinner with the strawberries that are just now naturally sweet, and keep your eyes peeled for the summer fruit arrivals. When in doubt, ask the veggie vendors how to prepare seasonal ingredients. Everyone has a recipe to share. Buone spese!

 

Photo Credits: Sofie Delauw http://thecuriouseater.com 

 

 

 

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