Aug 31st, 2007 by Jonathan
A slightly macabre headline, I know, but the point it attempts to convey is that, instead of being a pig’s idea of paradise (it would be more like a peculiar kind of mortuary, I guess), it is the pork-lover’s paradise. With an entire floor is devoted to fresh meats, charcuterie (norcineria) and cheese (the second floor is exclusively fresh fruit, vegetables and bread), and for someone unused to such enormous displays of flesh on sale, visiting Florence’s Mercato Centrale was an experience that will stick with me.
Don’t think for a minute that this place has not been discovered and that we weren’t treading (and are not in this blog) familiar ground to food fans from across the world. This fact was brought home immediately by a letter from an American woman from upstate New York that had been stuck to the inside of a stall’s display case, extolling the virtues of the seller, promising to be back soon and proclaiming eternal friendship, though, perhaps a little bizarrely, also conceding that she spoke no Italian and the stall-keeper, no English, so what kind of friendship this was might be debatable.
However, it is such a wonderful place to just visit and take in the vast array of products available, that I don’t mind it having been found before me. In fact, compared with the rest of Florence where tourists outnumber locals by an impossibly high ratio, and the twang of Texan accents is even more obnoxious than usual, the Mercato Centrale is comparatively evenly mixed between gawping tourists and locals briskly going about their shopping in spite of the invasion.
And gawp we did. The header to this page is just one of the awesome sights we witnessed. The sheer variety of salumi – salami, mortadella, speck, 10 different kinds of proscuitto, including wild boar, bresaola, capacollo, sopressata, the list goes on. After visiting and obnoxiously taking pictures, tasting, but not buying anything, at seven or eight stalls, our consciences got the better of us and we decided that we must buy something and try to smuggle it back into the states, come what may.
Our very helpful vendor, Alberto (at left), told us that meats were forbidden but cheeses, providing they had been pasteurized, were allowable. I’m not sure if he was speaking from a position of real knowledge, but since he spoke good English and we were prepared to buy just about anything after slavering over display after display of fatty, salty goodness, we took his advice at face value, and then ignored it. We bought more than 2 kilos of parmiggiano-reggiano and half a pound (vacuum packed to thwart the highly sensitive noses of airport sniffer dogs) of guanciale (cured pigs cheek).
Then, feeling very pleased with our purchases, we headed off for a well-deserved lunch – a very non-Florentine, Napolitano-style pizza at il Pizzaiuola, a pleasingly off-the-beaten-track place where a mirror placed above the pizza oven allowed patrons to view their pizzas being made. I had the pizza romana – with capers and anchovies (see below). In truth, while it was an excellent pizza, the crust could have been crisper and the cheese bubblier, but the sauce was excellent – not too sweet, and the anchovies were like butter.
All in all, for those of us who are more interested in food than the admittedly stunning architecture that Florence is rightly famed for, it was a great morning, particularly since on our way to lunch we passed a snaking line to enter il Duomo that must have been 700 people long.
Lunch: 12.30 – 3pm
Dinner: 7.30pm – 12.30am
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