The Region of Chianti in Tuscany
This region offers not only amazing wines to its numerous visitors, but also castles, romantic gardens and delicious food. Some of the things you can sink your teeth and soul into besides wine include black and white truffles, olive oil, wild boar, chianina cow, cinta senese pork, percorino cheese. All of this can be savored in the picturesque landscape of Tuscany.
Chianti is a small area in the heart of the Region of Tuscany, which has an area of about 100 square miles. By comparison the Region of Tuscany has an area of over eight thousand, eight hundred square miles. The Chianti is located between the beautiful cities of Florence and Siena. By car it takes roughly two and one half hours to meander through the lovely countryside. Of course you'd want to spend an entire day stopping along the way to sip wines, taste olive oils, and sample the local cuisine.
Many of the wine producers in Chianti are open to the public and provide tastings free of charge; of course you are encouraged to take a bottle or two home (oh darn). Many of the farmers grow olive trees alongside their vineyards. If you've never enjoyed an olive oil tasting it is quite an experience and I promise you your tastebuds will be spoiled forever!
Nearly 70% of the chianti region is bosco or forest. In fact, the area between Florence and Siena in medieval times was a dense forest. One of the possible origins of the name Chianti suggests that it is derived from the word clangor, the noise made by hunting horns. This forest was rich with wild animals and game. Although the forest is now dispersed amid vineyards and olive orchards, there is still plenty of wild game. Wild boar, or cinghiale, is a delicious meat used to make ragu and incidentally is a rather un-popular beast amongst the growers. These unattractive, but somehow cute, animals enjoy snacking on the vitner's grapes and unearthing and then devouring the precious and costly truffles. The rolling hills are fertile and make for an ideal landscape for raising livestock such as the ancient, Tuscan chianina cow and the cinta senese swine. The large, white chianina cow is not only popular on the table of the florentines as Bistecca Fiorentina but also is the host of celebrations such as the famous explosion of the cart at Easter in front of the Duomo. I really wasn't a big meat eater before moving to Florence and rarely ever ate sausage of any type, but now I eagerly devour all variations of insaccati, or sausage, including those made from cinghiale and cinta senese.
One final savory food note about the cheese. Have you ever tried pecorino or sheep's milk cheese? Pecorino is to die for! You will see it in all of the local shops and markets. There are lots of varieties, first it can be aged, and like fine wine it only gets better with age. Young pecorino is smooth and savory, the longer it is aged the more rich and bold it becomes. There are also varieties with are aged with truffle, hazelnut or pepper. My absolute favorite appetizer plate is the mixed pecorino cheeses with honey and marmellata.
You can imagine that I "sample" alot more meat and cheese since transfering to Italy, I'm also counting calories (wish I was just needing to count sheep!).