Cuisine in the land of the Medici

La ribollita

The Mugello is a huge valley closed in on the north by the Apennine mountains, on the south by the spur made up by Mount Giovi and Mount Senario which divide it from the valley of Florence, and on the west by Mount Calvana beyond which the city of Prato and its surroundings extend.
The most important towns of the Mugello are San Piero a Sieve, Barberino di Mugello, Scarperia, Borgo San Lorenzo, Vicchio and Dicomano.

This valley was once extremely rich in game: deer, roe-deer, wild boar, hare, wild duck and geese; the many rivers and streams were well-stocked with barbell, roach, eel, trout and prawns. The Ligurian Magelli, the Etruscans and the Romans had settlements here, and later after the Dark Ages, the medieval families of the Guidi and the Ubaldini made their homes here.
After 1300 the Mugello passed a period of rapid development as a rural area of the Florentine Republic. A certain Morelli (1371-1444), native of this land, wrote this description of the beauties and the produce of the Mugello in his Chronicle of the Fourteenth Century (Cronaca Trecentesca):

 

On the plains of the Mugello are to be seen the best and most fruitful of orchards of the County, where the harvest is made twice or thrice a year, and always in abundance. And I learned that on the rich lands of these hillsides there is wheat, fodder, fruit, wine and oil in abundance, and also great quantities of wood and chestnuts and livestock enough to supply a third of Florence.
I learned that great quantities of cheese and lambswool and chickens come from the Mugello and that there are other fowl and game in great abundance.
The Medici family, and, in particular Lorenzo the Magnificent, have left many signs of their dominance in the Mugello, not only with their buildings (notably the VILLA OF CAFAGGIOLO at Barberino, the CASTLE OF THE TREBBIO at San Piero a Sieve, the PALACE OF THE VICARI at Scarperia) but their presence also remains visible in agriculture – the fields and the woods planted with their taste for geometric patterns, and the system of irrigation.

In the fifteenth century the Medici family, on their property situated at PANNA, established a cattle farm, breeding ‘Swiss’ cows (Alpine browns) to provide both for themselves and also to sell.

Today, after many centuries, the Mugello still maintains this tradition and many farms of this territory breed cattle, sheep and also horses:
  • much of the cow’s milk produced here is distributed by the central dairy of Florence for the city’s population. The uncontaminated nature of the environment where the milk is produced has allowed it to be given the denomination of Top Quality, and specifically MUKKI MUGELLO. The delicious yoghurt produced with this milk is sold under the name BIO MUKKI, the biological milk Podere Centrale is also produced;
  • sheep’s milk, initially prepared by the shepherds, is then made into an excellent sheep’s cheese at the diary;
  • beef is sold by a network of local butcher’s. Its quality is guaranteed by the well-established Consorzio Carni Mugello.

 

La Ribollita La zuppa di fagioli Funghi porcini I prodotti del Mugello La bruschetta I prodotti del Mugello

 

The annual FIERA AGRICOLA MUGELLANA (Agricultural Fair of the Mugello), continues the tradition of the markets of the Mugello and gives us an overall view of the local agricultural activities with several important zootechnical exhibitions (the national, regional and provincial shows of the Limousine beef cattle and the Frisone milk cow) as well as expositions of other products and machinery.

Products of Mugello: Good, healthy and close by

Caprino cheeseCaprino cheese
Learning to know and buy traditional Mugello products
There is nothing better than the taste of a freshly picked fruit or vegetable. There is nothing more reassuring than knowing  where each morsel of food we eat comes from. There is nothing greener than buying local products.
Mugello, the Florentine farmland, produces milk, meat, oil, wine, honey, cereal, and potatoes, as well as the well-known Marrone IGP chestnut. It goes without saying that the local cuisine uses these Mugello grown ingredients to make its wholesome yet tasty dishes.
Over the years Mugello has changed: in the Province of Florence and in the Tuscan Region, the territory is identified more and more as a centre for crop growing and breeding farms. Significant changes in breeding techniques and also in the layout of its farms have been taking place.

Agriculture and the production of related goods now represent 5% of total production in Mugello compared to the 3.5 % average in the rest of Tuscany, and only 1.99% in the province of Florence. This is also confirmed by the employment rate which sees 5.9% of the population occupied in agriculture, compared to 4.4% at a regional level and 2.3% at a provincial level.

 Statistics from the year 2000 show that small family run farms occupy 2/3 of the territory, 68,505 hectares, while only the remaining 26,686 hectares are run by farms employing paid help. If we then consider the amount of agricultural land used the percentage increases: 22,438 hectares of land, out of 32,110, are worked directly by landowners, while only 9,654 hectares employ paid help.

There are a total of 1,724 farms; 15,419 hectares of land are used for growing crops; 3,746 hectares for fruit trees (olives, vines, fruit); and up to 33,118 hectares are woodland. Obviously, this percentage varies as we move from Mugello to Upper Mugello.

 Cattle farming is important in Mugello: in December 31, 2003, there were 383 breeding farms present on the territory with 12,325 head of cattle, of which 3,148 were for the production of milk (72 dairy farms).

An important contribution to cattle farming is made by the Centro Carni in Rabatta. It is essential for the closure of the cow-calf line, and provides protection for producers and buyers alike.
The production of milk in Mugello reaches close to 17,5 million litres a year, which means 50% of the Tuscan production that passes through the Centrale del Latte of Florence (central dairy).

The excellent Mugello chestnut, more widely known as the marrone, has been adwarded the IGP (Protected Geographical Identification) standing by accordance with CEE n. 2081/92 regulations.

The IGP Mugello Marrone

Mugello chestnuts

The characteristics

The Mugello marrone comes from chestnut trees of a specific local variety that can be traced to the Florentine marrone family. The chestnut groves, 3,322 hectares of land, grow on hillsides that are from 300 to 900 metres above sea level, and the maximum density is 120-160 plants per hectare.
The shelled, freshly picked Mugello marrone is characterised by its medium size (no more than 80 chestnuts to a kilo). It has an oval shape, slight point with the presence of a tuft, one flat side and one markedly convex side, and a rectangular shaped, flat and lighter coloured cicatrix at the base. The pericarp (husk), which is easily removed from the episperm, is thin, reddish-brown and streaked with 25-30 slightly darker vertical lines.
The pulp of the nut, usually one per fruit, is white, crunchy and sweet tasting, and has hardly any creases. The “Marron Buono di Marradi”, is the most appreciated and renowned of them all, but other Italian varieties are also quite good, for example: the  Carpinese, Fragonese, Cecio, Montanina and Reggiolana.

The history

Chestnut growing in Mugello dates back to Roman times, but it is only from the Medieval period that we find numerous documents and genuine accounts of the diffusion and importance of the groves, and in particular, the marrone. The hundred year old marrone chestnut woods in the area have been providing an important, irreplaceable source of food and revenue for the local population since the end of the 1950’s. The chestnut is, in fact, more commonly known as the “bread tree”. After a 30 year regression, during which we have witnessed a drastic decrease in the mountain population, a change in culinary tendencies, and a notable reduction of chestnut woods due to the advent and growth of cortical cancer, the 1980’s have brought with them renewed interest and the diffusion of this speciality.

Where and how they are produced
The area of production covers a part of the territory in the province of Florence, a part of Mugello, which includes the entire area of Marradi, Palazzuolo sul Senio and Dicomano, and a part of Borgo San Lorenzo, Firenzuola, Londa, Rufina, San Godenzo, Scarperia and Vicchio.

MILK

COW’S MILK
MUGELLO WHITE GOLD 

Dairy farming has a long history in Mugello: in their estate in Panna in the year 1400 the Medici family was already breeding brown “Swiss” cows for their own use and for trade. Today, centuries later, the territory is true to this tradition: there are, in fact, numerous breeders in the towns of Firenzuola, Marradi, Palazzuolo sul Senio, Barberino di Mugello, Scarperia, San Piero a Sieve, Borgo San Lorenzo and Vicchio.

 Packages of milk "Mukki Selezione Mugello"Packages of milk “Mukki Selezione Mugello”

The cow’s milk that is produced in the area is destined, for the most part, for the Centrale del Latte di Firenze, Pistoia e Livorno. The Mugello territory, which is rich in pastures and renowned for its ancient zootechnical tradition, has always been dedicated to breeding dairy cows.  Here Mukki Selezione Mugello milk is made.

The fresh “Mukki Selezione Mugello” milk comes straight from the uncontaminated green pastures situated in the heart of the Mugello Apennines, an ideal place for rearing animals that graze in open fields. This milk, with its full, unmistakable flavour, is collected every day from 29 selected dairy farms and then pasteurized.  
Both High Quality whole or partly skimmed milk in one litre containers are available. These completely recyclable containers embody the image of the high quality product they contain: they are all white, elegant, and marked simply with the letter “M”, blue for whole milk and green for partially skimmed.
In the Mugello territory we also find the organic milk line.  Mukki has chosen 3 farms which respect organic agriculture regulations. This milk becomes Mukki Il Podere Centrale. It is available in one litre containers both Whole and Partially skimmed.

The history
The traditional quality of the product is linked to the milk that comes from cows reared on farms on the Tosco-Emiliano Apennine mountains, and to the particular way the herd is tended to.

This high quality fresh milk is very much appreciated for its particular taste and freshness, which have made it famous at a regional level. Mugello milk can be drunk cold, in cappuccinos and milk shakes.
Since 1954 the Centrale del latte di Firenze (Florence central dairy), today known as the Centrale del latte di Firenze Pistoia e Livorno (central dairy of Florence, Pistoia and Leghorn)has not only covered every step of the milk production process, but from 1990, has also registered this production, making it possible for us to trace the milk all the way to packaging. 
Where and how it is produced
It is produced In the province of Florence, in the towns of Firenzuola, Marradi, Palazzuolo sul Senio, Barberino di Mugello, Scarperia, San Piero a Sieve, Borgo San Lorenzo and Vicchio.
Insulated milk tankers collect the milk from the dairy farms every day; it is then pasteurized, homogenized, packaged and stored at 4° C. The milk is transported to the central dairy the very same day it is collected to insure that the high quality and flavour remain unaltered.

Extra Virgin olive oil

The olive tree was a holy plant for the ancient Etruscans: in time it has come to represent the life and extraordinary landscape of the Tuscan countryside.

The characteristics

Extra virgin olive oil is obtained by mechanically pressing the cold olives. Varieties of olives are: leccino, frantoio, moraiolo, pendolino, maurino and a few autochthonous varieties.
Olive oil is green, and may have, with time, yellow highlights. It tastes of mature green olives, and has an added touch of almond, artichoke and herb flavour, as well as the obvious hint of tart and spice (pizzichino).

Bottles of Mugello extra virgin olive oil

The history

In Tuscany, the organized production of olive trees for personal consumption and trade dates back to the second half of the 7th century BC.
In fact, when the relic of the ship the Giglio, 600 BC, was recovered it contained Etruscan vases full of preserved olives.
The olive tree was a sacred plant for the Etruscans, so much so that the priestesses paraded with olive branches during the processions. Bitter olives were “sweetened” with various means, from pickling to bathing the olives in water with dry fennel and lentiscus fruit. Olive oil was exported throughout the Tyrrhenian, like wine.
During Medieval times there was a significant increase in olive-growing in Tuscany, especially in the areas of Florence and Siena, thanks to urban land-owners and the share-cropping system. Even rough lands could, therefore, be terraced and put to good use.
In the first half of the 15th century olives were grown intensely in the area around Lucca, and olive groves could be found in the hills near Pisa. Through the years the Tuscan countryside has become agricultural, covered in olive trees alone, or vines and olive trees.
Vast woodlands were, therefore, turned over to the production of wine and olives, thus favouring the exaltation of the extraordinary Tuscan countryside.
In Mugello the colder, more humid climate has not permitted the extensive growth of olive trees, especially at the bottom of the valleys where the frost damages the plants. However, in the past 15 years, based on statistics,  the production of olive oil has been rising constantly and is now present throughout the Mugello territory, and, as tests by the chamber of commerce prove, the quality is first-rate.
There are over 100,00 olive trees for the production of olive oil in Mugello today, as well as numerous plants grown for personal use or by plant lovers, and cannot be classified with those for production.
Compared to other areas in Florence, the production is still limited, but it denotes a capacity to grow in quantity and quality.
The production of olive oil in Mugello comes under the Colline Fiorentine IGP.

Where and how it is produced

Olive oil is produced everywhere in Mugello except in Upper Mugello on slopes that go from 300 – 500 m.a.s.l. The olives, which are hand-picked, are moved within 24 hours to the oil-mill where they are cold pressed mechanically (under 28° C). The oil thus produced is then transported to the aziendas and bottled.

Pane del Mugello (Mugello bread)

The characteristics

This bread is made from Mugello wheat, crushed in flour mills with a stone press, uses natural yeast and is baked in a wood-fired oven. It is typical Tuscan bread, and therefore, made with very little salt, and in the shape of a “filone”, loaf, that can weigh from ½ a kilo to 2 kilos by bakers who belong to the Consorzio di tutela e promozione del pane del Mugello (Mugello breadmakers consortium). In fact, the entire bread making process takes place in the Mugello territory.

The bread of Mugello

The history

 Tuscany is famous for its unsalted bread, which is by and large the most widespread today: it is plain, with a traditional flavour, and baked in conventionally shaped loaves. A loaf of Tuscan bread can come in various forms: the “bozza” is  round; the “filone” is oval; and the“ciabatta” is flat.

The loaves are plain with a crunchy exterior and a soft, honey-combed crumb, which comes from leaving the dough to rise for many hours, and long baking times.
Real Tuscan bread needs – given the essence of the ingredients that aim to accentuate the genuine quality – to be baked in wood-fired ovens. Although they are always harder to find, bakeries with wood-fired ovens still exist and from those ovens come incredibly fragrant loaves. So called Tuscan bread is unsalted. This fact is rooted in tradition and a past marked by poverty, but has continued through the centuries because when eating the excellent spicy foods that this land offers, what you really need is a bit of “sciocco” (bland) bread.
Throughout Mugello, Tuscan bread is the most traditionally widespread: this traditional loaf is even produced in the towns of Marradi, Palazzuolo and Firenzuola, which are on the Emiliano-Romagnolo side of the Apennines.

Where and how it is produced

The water mill, Molino Foralossi, in Firenzuola, stone presses the wheat, which is never genetically modified, and grown on farms in Mugello. The flour that derives from this process is rich in wheat germ, fibres, minerals, vitamins and amino acids: all an essential part of a healthy diet.

The Vecchio Forno in Polcanto, the Panifico Faini Firenze in Luco del Mugello and the Forno Conti Giuliano in San Piero a Sieve are home-bakeries that use natural yeast, which is obtained by adding a natural enzyme to the flour and water to produce a smooth, dense dough. It is left to rise for a minimum of 20 hours until the volume has doubled. Bread dough is made by adding water and flour to the natural yeast (100 grams of natural yeast makes 1 kilo of dough). In the final stage of the process, 20% of the dough is added to the flour and water to prepare the mix. It is divided into sections which are left to oxygenate for at least 10 minutes. The dough is then prepared in different sized loaves and left to rise on cloths of natural fibre for 3-4 hours. Once the dough has risen, the loaves are baked in wood-fired ovens, which have been preheated to 200-220°, for 50-70 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf.

Mugello bread remains fresh for at least five days, and when it hardens it is excellent if used to make typical Mugello dishes like the “ribollita”, “panzanella” or “pappa con il pomodoro”.

© MUGELLOTOSCANA.IT

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