Friday, September 22, 2006

Palazzo Pitti and Pecorino

It is my final day in Florence, and I venture to the district known as Oltrarno, which means “across Arno.” This region on the south side of the riverbank was once considered the low rent neighborhood until the Medici Grand Dukes moved here in 1550.

Their base of operation became the Palazzo Pitti, a sprawling edifice just a short walk beyond the Ponte Vecchio. It is both a palatial royal residence and a gallery that houses the Medici collections, and I spend the morning admiring works of art created by Titian, Lippi, Botticelli, Rubens and Raphael.

Behind the Palazzo Pitti is the Boboli Gardens, which the Medici family first cultivated, and is now a rambling historic garden. There are elegant fountains, Roman statues, cypress trees, citrus trees, exotic grottos and song birds, which provide a welcomed respite from the automobiles and motor bikes of central Florence.

Shortly after 5:00 p.m. I find myself, quite by accident, in front of Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, via Taolini, where Massimo bought me the Tuscan bread on Thursday. I notice there is a wine bar attached to the bakery that wasn’t open yesterday morning. I recall Massimo telling me that the bakery is owned by Castello di Verrazzano, a winery in Chianti. It seems like providence to have arrived there, so I step inside.

An affable waiter with glasses, wearing a maroon bow tie and apron, welcomes and seats me. It is a long narrow room with a small outdoor café that opens onto the cobblestone street. The tables have white marble tops and glass cabinets cover one wall. Inside are all types of dusty, aged wine bottles from Castello di Verrazzano. There is the head of a wild boar hanging on the wall and what I suspect is wild boar prosciutto curing behind the meat counter.

The waiter brings me a glass of Sassello, a vibrant ruby red wine made from the Sangiovese grape. It is lush and aromatic with a deep essence of chocolate. For the accompaniment, he presents slices of Pecorino cheese on fresh bread. He brings a large rectangular honeycomb to the table and artfully scoops crystalline amber honey on top of the cheese. He shaves orange zest across the honey, and I am mesmerized as I watch the citrus oils mist over the creation. He finishes with a sprinkling of pepper.

The sweetness of the orange and fresh honey and the tartness of the cheese melt into the chocolate flavors of the wine. It is simplicity and perfection, and a most appropriate finale to my exploration of Italian cuisine in Florence.

Buona sera, Firenze!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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