Many of the culinary specialties you can eat in Arezzo come from Casentino, the Upper Arno Valley. Amidst beautiful forests and charming villages, this area is a paradise for those seeking fresh air, relaxation, beautiful excursions and gastronomic wonders.
While some delicacies are available all year round, others follow a specific seasonality. In common they have experienced producers and lovers of their work and the perfect mix of innovation and tradition offered by hosts and restaurateurs.
Your journey to discover the flavours of Casentino will be marked by magical atmospheres, itineraries rich in history and views of breathtaking vistas. There are at least five delicacies that you must absolutely taste: here is what you need to know about the jewels of the cuisine of this valley of Arezzo.
It is a Slow Food Presidium able to conquer you with simplicity. Hand-sliced and laid out on a slice of Tuscan bread, Casentino ham is a feast for the eyes even before being a feast for the palate with its bright red color dotted with white fat. The delicate taste, in contrast with an intense scent, will surprise you with a smoky accent.
It is a delight that testifies to a piece of history of the valley, in the past inhabited mainly by woodsmen and shepherds. Here dark mantle pigs, probably belonging to the Anghiari hooded breed, were raised in the wild or almost.
Tuscany is an amusement park for cold cuts lovers. Watch the locals, take a look at what they eat on the street and the food they order in the trattorias. You will find that Casentino ham is not necessarily linked to the main meals.
Do as they do and try it during aperitif time, accompanying your board with a glass of red wine, in the savory breakfast of your dreams or in an epic focaccia to take you to the sack with a snack.
Red Cetica Potato
This DOP tuber takes its name from a fraction of the Municipality of Castel San Niccolò and it has been in the fields of Pratomagno, in Casentino, at least for a hundred years. Red on the outside and white on the inside, usually the Cetica potato has its roots in hilly areas.
Gnocchi and potato tortelli are the best dishes to enhance the goodness of red Cetica potato. If you can still enjoy it today it is thanks to the recovery, which began in 2001, that saved it from the danger of disappearing.
Do your best to taste this delicacy in the only area of Italy where it is cultivated. It is also an excellent ingredient for gourmet frying. The boiling oil will make your Cetica chips a real masterpiece.
The white truffle is another delicacy to be included in the list of what to eat in Arezzo. For the collection of the truffle, it is essential to have the help of a well-trained dog and the experience of the truffle masters. If you have never participated in this fascinating activity, give it a thought!
The white truffle (bianchetto) is also called Marzuolo, because it is usually born between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. There are two easy tricks to recognize it: the light or reddish color and the scent, which makes it seem like garlic.
If you choose the Marzuolo as a memento of your holiday, you have to remember some simple rules. Use it in flakes at the end of your dishes without cooking it. Be careful not to exaggerate the quantity because its flavor which tends to spicy is very strong.
Chestnuts from Casentino
In the past the “forest bread” was an important food for the inhabitants of the mountain. We talk about the chestnuts, one of the strong points of the local gastronomy.
Here different varieties are harvested, but Marrone del Casentino reigns supreme at the top of the ranking of the most valuable. The tenderness and the unique taste of its flesh make it unique.
In their notes, the housewives and cooks of this area have noted countless recipes based on chestnuts. You would not believe how many ways you could taste them. Boiled, roasted on the grill or in flour perfect for cakes, pies, fresh pasta and breads.
Given the abundance of chestnut groves in the valley, be prepared to witness an unforgettable show in autumn. Casentino will give you exciting walks among fabulous trees and the incredible colors of foliage. A season in which you also have the chance to live as a protagonist during the many village festivals dedicated to chestnuts.
Another Slow Food Presidium closes this short review of Casentino excellence. It is the zolfino bean. A nice name but not the only one for this rather rare variety. It is small, pale yellow and they have nicknamed it also burrino bean, maybe because when it is cooked, it melts in your mouth like butter.
A couple of goodies for fans. It is also called one hundred bean because of the hundredth day of the year in which tradition advises to sow it. Moreover, the zolfino does not tolerate the stagnant water and in fact it has always been cultivated in the hills, in the lands enclosed between the Arno and the Pratomagno.
It seems that there was both an emperor and a pope – Charles V and Clement VII – behind the introduction of beans in Tuscany, including zolfino. The sovereign would give the pontiff of the Medici family the first specimens imported into Europe from America recently discovered.
If you can taste a portion of it, you will be impressed by the creamy texture of these legumes. Look for it in the menus of restaurants, it is often served as a seasoning of toasted bread croutons or as a side dish of succulent main dishes.
Travel in taste in Casentino
You have reached the terminus of this itinerary among the typical products of the Upper Arno Valley. Try to recompose the puzzle made of scents, traditions, colors, history and incomparable tastes. It would be great if you could try all five dishes made in Casentino.
So when they ask you for advice on what to eat in Arezzo, you will have the answer ready. At the end of your stay here you can tell the life, death and miracles of the cuisine of this wonderful portion of Tuscany and its fine foods.
And if you have only had a few, that is fine. Casentino will welcome you with open arms and laid tables for the next time you come back.