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.
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.