A Taste of Tuscany

When I think of Tuscany, I immediately and overwhelmingly think of the food.  Sure, there is also a long list of amazing wines, art around every corner in Florence, picturesque hill towns with more towers than people, and many more incredible aspects to this region in the heart of Italy.  But the food, the food… is unlike anywhere else.

The French term terroir explains most of it… the thought that the natural environment where food is produced is inherently responsible for the flavor of the food itself.  The land that makes up Tuscany is oh so perfect for producing great food.  So much so, that several food products from Tuscany are protected under a designation from the European Union.  They use the IGP designation to designate a geographical zone for production of the item.  And DOP to designate products that are wholly produced in a geographical zone.  Three of my favorites IGP and DOP products to use this time of year from Tuscany are Olio Extravergine di Oliva Toscano IGP (Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil IGP), Prosciutto Toscano DOP and Pecorino Toscano DOP.
It’s a long name for a really fabulous bottle of oil.  When you see the Green TOSCANO label and the IGP blue and yellow logo on our bottle of Central Market Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it is a guarantee of quality.  To qualify for the designation, the olives must be 100% from Tuscany, and the oil can only be from the first cold pressing.  Then the oil must pass a multitude of tests of sensory and chemical make-up.  That pretty, numbered band around the neck of each bottle really sends a strong message about what’s inside.  With our Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you get a rich and voluptuous oil with a strong note of butter and a bit of green grass.  It is a great oil to dip a piece of bread into or finish a plate of pasta.
Prosciutto is the Italian word for ham, but it’s not your ordinary ham.  Prosciutto Toscano bears the DOP logo on each leg signifying its ties to the region.  Only pigs born, bred and slaughtered in Tuscany are used in production (along with a few other zones nearby.)  And the curing method for the hams goes beyond what is allowed for other Italian prosciutti.  In addition to sea salt, the Tuscan ham is coated with pepper, juniper and myrtle as it ages taking on those aromatics.  The resulting ham has a delicate flavor with nuances beyond the pleasantly porkiness.  Prosciutto Toscano also keeps its moisture during the aging process.  Use this prosciutto as you would others…wrapped elegantly around a breadstick, strewn across the top of a hot pizza, toss small diced bits into a pasta dish or just eat it out of hand!
The third item on my list of favorites from Tuscany is the incredibly versatile Pecorino Toscano DOP.  Again, that DOP on the label lets us know that this cheese is a guaranteed to be 100% sheep’s milk from a specified grazing zone where they feed on Tuscany’s verdant pastureland of grasses and herbs and the breeds are those Tuscan breeds best for milking.  These ensure a consistent quality of cheese when you Pecorino Toscano on the label.  These cheeses are sold in a range of ages.  Younger cheeses will be more white to light yellow in color with a pliant texture and mild, milky flavor.  Older cheeses will be straw-colored and much firmer in texture.  Use the younger when you want a richer, more mellow flavor in your dish.  The older will provide a nuttier and more forward element of flavor.  Interchange them to subtlety change your recipe.  Or do as many Tuscans do and pair these simply with a dab of honey.

Enjoy a sampling of all of these products in store, on Friday, December 20th from 11:00AM - 6:00PM
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