Saturday, August 20, 2011


Cypress and stone pines
Albero is Italian for "tree" and the word should come in handy in Tuscany, which is the most densely wooded region in all of Italy. 

When we were driving through the Tuscan countryside last spring on our way to Cinque Terre, the guide was pointing out the straight, raised Roman roads and the "open and shut umbrellas" that dotted the landscape.

The open umbrellas were of course, umbrella pines;  the shut ones were cypress.   Umbrella pines are also known as stone pines and have been cultivated since ancient times for their edible oil-bearing pine kernels.

Also abundant are sweet chestnuts. The Mugello region has whole groves, and the European Union recognizes Marrone del Mugello as the territory which is specially adapted to the cultivation of this fruit.  First news about this chestnut dates back to the Roman age.

October is the month they ripen, so we may be able to  taste some of the early harvest.
It is here that the fruit, as well as being a precious source of income, has been long used by the local population as the basis for much of its local cuisine, so much so that the chestnut is often referred to as the albero del pane (the bread tree). The harvest of this fruit is still carried out by hand due to the steep, hilly location of the many centuries old chestnut groves, making it impossible to harvest using machinery. - The marroni of the Mugello

This region is definitely a spot to stop for lunch or dinner.  In addition to the famous chestnuts, the area also produces oil, wine, high quality meats, cheese, honey, saffron and potatoes, various types of mushroom, and the white truffle, which grows in the woods and chestnut groves of the surrounding valleys.

Mugello is supposed to be great for nature walks, but I have a feeling we'll be better able to get the guys interested in visiting because the roads are the site of the Autodromo (Formula 2 and Motorcycle Grand Prix racing circuits).

Olive Grove
And the trees I remember being everywhere in the Mediterranean- the olive.  First cultivated by the Etruscans in 4th century BC, these evergreens can live for hundreds of years.  They look the same as they do elswhere,  but there are many different, prized cultivars that can only be identified by olive experts, who study the pit and leaves to determine the varietal.  Although there are countless varieties, the olives themselves are either green or black (the black ones start out green and change colour as they ripen).

Olive oil is one of the first things I want to pick up at the market. With fresh bread.  And pecorino cheese, some parmesan & balsalmic.... mmmmmm

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