by Renato Nesi
The beer, which in the land of Arezzo has firm and ancient roots, is often considered a social drink, suitable for company, sparkling and light toasts, however far from good food.
But if we try to go beyond the cliché, it opens a new world of intriguing and fascinating aromas and flavors to discover.
Beer in fact lends itself very well to the combination with traditional cuisine and in many cases allows you to create difficult matches that are almost impossible with wine.
Now that the rivalry between the two great drinks is finally overcome, we can serenely approach the relationship between food and beers from the most beautiful perspective, the one that combines technical correctness to the hedonistic pleasure without reverential fears or fear of looking like the “strange taste” ones.
Just to give you an example, let’s think about sweets. Beer is a perfect ally of spoon desserts, creams and dry pastries.
The sugary component present in beers following alcoholic fermentation and the fragrance provided by the essential oils of hops, in fact, allow to create fantastic matches.
The same applies to certain vegetables such as artichokes which are hostile to the noble world of with. Playing with the bitterness and acidity of beer you can balance the roughness of the vegetable, creating a surprising synthesis.
We could go on for hours with school cases, but it is time to grab a glass and fork and move on to practice.
We leave for a journey through the historic dishes of Arezzo cuisine which we will have fun matching with our sparkling friends.
Yeah, because “there is not only one beer, there are several beers”.
In the world there are hundreds of “Beer Styles”, each with different history, raw materials, production methodology, organic characteristics and origins. Just like wine varietals, oil, fruit and so on. The beer brings with itself an incredible biodiversity, which makes it the ideal companion for every table and occasion.
But let’s proceed in order. After selecting a necessarily incomplete number of local dishes, I ordered them starting from appetizers, or at least entrèe, to move on to the main dishes (first and second courses), finally reaching the desserts.
Black cabbage crostini
A simple bruschetta seasoned with boiled black cabbage, oil, garlic and the possible addition of chili.
Pairing: here the rules of engagement are clear; the kale ferrous, the spicy pepper and the oily oil. The priority is therefore to degrease and clean the mouth without neglecting the texture of the mouthful. I propose a Keller Pils in the Italian interpretation. There are many craft breweries that also produce it in Tuscany. It is a low fermentation beer characterized by a good rate of bitterness where the malty notes of bread crust and cereal combine with the fresh and herbaceous bouquet given by hops. Alternatively, we stay on the bitter and opt for an American Pale Ale, thus accentuating the contrast and playing on the waltz of aromas and flavors.
Wonderful Tuscan recipe prepared in numerous variations which in our case includes minced veal, chicken liver, carrot, celery, parsley, capers, anchovies, extra virgin olive oil and vinsanto.
Pairing: by right contrast I would engage a Saison, beer sour soul, very characterized by yeast born in the Sixteenth century in the Belgian countryside, where it was offered to seasonal farm workers during the hot summer days. It was a beer for the Saisonniers.
Porchetta from Monte San Savino
The porchetta that is the suckling pig or boneless adult deprived of the entrails, filled with aromatic herbs and spices and cooked whole in the oven or on a spit, it is a typical preparation of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio and Monte San Savino’s porchetta is a real institution.
Pairing: no doubt, a good Weizen. This style perfectly marries pork and creates a fantastic mouthfeel. Not to mention the historical references and romance that recalls in the heart of every true beer lover. So let’s rely on the traditional high fermentation wheat beer of Bavarian origin, known since the early Middle Ages. Today it is produced in large quantities near Monaco, but there are also interesting examples among Italian artisans.
Historical first course from Casentino produced with the famous Cetica potato used for the filling of tortelli together with rigatino (Tuscan bacon), tomato, parsley, garlic, rosemary, nutmeg, lemon zest, parmesan, eggs, salt and pepper. The dressing is usually made of butter, sage and grated pecorino cheese, but there are variations with meat sauces or mushrooms. Today we choose the classic with butter.
Pairing: the dominant note of the dish is the sweetness of the potato combined with the flavor of the pecorino cheese and the fat of the butter. We therefore need an important beer from the point of view of alcohol content able to withstand the structure and strength of the mouthful. For this we can rely on a Tripel of Belgian Cistercian tradition (the first recipe is the one of monks of Westmalle since 1934, the name since 1956). Alcohol around 8% ABV, high sugar residue, but also spicy notes and a nice dry finish. So we play on the concordance more than the contrast but without excesses: adelante with juicio.
Maccheroni with goose sauce
In Arezzo, “maccheroni” means a type of pasta that is longer than tagliatelle, but without going into pappardella. Perfect for the free-range and tasty goose sauce. In the poor cuisine from Arezzo goose is the queen and should not be a surprise. The flesh of this animal, in fact, was not among those that the sharecropper had to give to the lord.
Pairing: goose meat tends to sweet, but here you have to deal with the spiciness of chili, spices, oil fats and the acidity of the tomato. So, I recommend a combination with a beer certainly of good body and medium alcohol content, but that combines the malty notes of cereal, also with a bitter and spicy part well present. The styles that can help us the best are the American Amber Ale, so the star and stripe version is an English Brown Ale, more hoppy or turning to warmer notes, a Scotch Ale. But I go further, since we are in Tuscany: a beautiful Red Iga (Italian Grape Ale, the first beer style certified as Italian in 2015) with Sangiovese must.
Bringoli with fake ragout sauce
This time we move to Valtiberina, more precisely to Anghiari. This recipe is the Aretinian version of Umbricelli or Strangozzi. Large fresh spaghetti prepared without the use of egg. The sauce is called “fake” because as often happens in the poor kitchen the sauce is mostly tomato with a little meat added.
Pairing: the engagement with bringoli must take into account the acidity of the tomato, even if diluted in the sauce and in the overall texture of the dish, pasta plays an important role here. I suggest to bet on a beautiful Dubbel. This style is born in Belgium, in the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle since 1856. Dubbels are dark, spicy and alcoholic beers of about 7%.
Rabbit cooked in porchetta
Delicious rabbit stuffed with bacon, potatoes, garlic, sage, rosemary and wild fennel cooked in the oven. Ideal with potatoes.
Pairing: you are on the safe side with a Belgian Strong Ale. Good alcohol content (7-8% ABV), sweet trend, balanced by dry finish and rich nose of esters that bring back honey, ripe fruit, but also spices and aromatic herbs.
Great typical dish of Casentino, of Medieval root. Almost a “cacciucco di terra” made of mixed meats (beef, chicken, guinea fowl, rabbit, pigeon, duck, lamb) cooked for hours in a pan. It starts with a sauté of onion, carrots, garlic, parsley, basil, and chili. Then the meat is added and the cooking is carried on for about two hours, bathing with red wine and lemon juice. Finally, add the tomato. Serve with toasted bread rubbed with garlic.
Pairing: difficult. Tomato acidity, very different meats, spices. We have to go hard. But do not worry, to our help comes a great Central European classic: the Doppel Bock. Dark beer with low fermentation that combines dry and malty notes with more sugary ideas and a good alcohol content from 7 to 8 grades in volume.
Celery Stalks with Chicken sauce
Here there is a simple and fascinating recipe from Valdarno. Boil the celery stalks, beat and then mix them with eggs, grated Parmesan, nutmeg and salt. In order to obtain a dough that is then fried and put back in the chicken sauce.
Pairing: we aim for a nice Pils. Fragrant and light with the right amount of bitterness to degrease and clean the mouth. The style was born in 1842 in the town of Pilsen, today’s Czech Republic and then it was embraced by consumers all over the world.
Baldino is the Arezzo version of the famous castagnaccio. It is prepared with chestnut flour, sugar, raisins, pine nuts, walnuts, rosemary and extra virgin olive oil.
Pairing: given the characterization of the cake, the most suitable beer style is definitely the chestnut beer. Some are also produced in Tuscany although the golden age of these beers is a bit outdated. For a long time it was believed that Chestnut Beer had Italian roots and circulated anecdotes even with an unspecified role of Napoleon in the story. But the truth is that style was born in Perigord Noir in France in the Middle Ages. If you do not have a chestnut beer, you can always opt for an invigorating Quadrupel or the lighter sister Dubbel.
Panina, of which there is both the salty and the sweet version, is a true icon of the gastronomic tradition of Arezzo. In its sweet version it is baked in the oven and is made with raisins, black pepper, saffron, butter, sugar, flour.
Pairing: raisins and saffron guide the choice of beer. I propose to play by contrast and match a Double Ipa. The scents given by the essential oils of hops will help the blend with saffron, while the bitterness will dampen the sweetness and fat of butter, sugar and raisins. Instead, if you want to follow the binomial “sweet on sweet” then the look will surely fall on a Tripel, soft but dry in the finish
Rice Fritters (or Saint Joseph’s Fritters):
Typical of Father’s Day, but my aunt makes them even in the middle of August, they are a delicious dessert produced with rice, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, raisins, vin santo, lemon peel, grated orange and a pinch of salt.
Pairing: the proverbial caress in a fist serves with fritters. So let’s confide serenely to a Golden Strong Ale. Strong, dry, rich, able to withstand the blow and texture of the bite. Alternatively, we can play foil with a Saison or attempt a sharp contrast with an American Pale Ale as long as we choose a reference with good alcohol content.
Of course this is a journey for endless sailors where everyone can have fun to choose the favorite match and play for amazement every time because, basically, if they ask us what our favorite dish is the best answer is one: curiosity.