Thursday, February 19, 2009

In Corsica, Chestnuts Rule

In my Corsican travels, I found authentically produced foods aplenty. The locals consider the chestnut tree the "tree of life." So, it's no wonder their oldest, and perhaps the biggest, fair is Fiera di a Castagna (the chestnut festival) held in the village of Bocognano. In December, the beloved chestnut is the main attraction with the many stands selling chestnut butter, breads and biscuits while visitors can also watch chestnut fruit and flour competitions.

Chestnuts and chestnut-derived products appear just about everywhere on this French island. In fact, it's one of the only places in Europe where you can still find chestnut flour that's made into cakes, pastries, bread, soup, polenta, honey, even ice cream and beer.

When I sampled the island's honeys, cheeses and meats, I found that they all had a unique flavor because of the aromatic maquis plants -- coating so much of the land -- that the animals feed on.

The pork products that are staples of all meals also have a sweet flavor because of the free-range pigs and wild boar foraging also for chestnuts as well as acorns. Interestingly, the charcuterie, whether figatelli, a smoked sausage with offal or lonzu, a pork loin, are artisanally produced. And most of the other meat products are free range also, including lamb and beef.

The unique beer, Pietra, is brewed from sweet chestnut flour making for a full-bodied beverage.
(Colomba, another beer produced by the same local company, gets its flavor from Corsica's scented maquis, the aromatic herbs coating so much of the land.)

Brocciu is a shepherd's cheese of sorts made of whey usually from sheep's milk cheese. It's served fresh or made into a fiadone, a Corsican cheesecake, or in omelettes.

From the smallest mountain huts to the finest seaside restaurants, Corsica lovingly maintains its traditions that bring an array of flavors to the table.