The Mugello

Mugello is an historic region of northern Tuscany, a small distance north of Florence, corresponding more or less to the inferior basin in the middle region of the river Sieve (even though its name is extended also to include the ‘comuni’ (municipalities) of Dicomano, San Godenzo, Firenzuola and Marradi).
The area is an open basin occupied by a strip of alluvial terrain, hills and mountains. Agriculture is still in practice and cereals, potatoes, sugar beet, vines, olives groves and orchards are all cultivated, as is also the breeding of livestock.
For centuries here a farming culture has developed with a history which dates back to the Ligurians and the Etruscans and which has given the area their personal characteristics so much so that it is considered an historical area within the region of Tuscany. The reality of the Mugello is found recounted in many texts but above all in a work at the end of the XIV century, "I Ricordi" (“The Memories”) by Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli, a noble and Florentine patron who began to write in 1393.
He wrote I say that the Mugiello is the most beautiful town in our country district, and for this it is commonly known by everyone or by the most part of our townsfolk. …….. It is placed in the middle of a beautiful cultivated plain, adorned with beautiful and delightful fruit trees, all well kept and adorned with all goods like a garden: nearby, in the centre you can see a running river, all delightful, and also other ponds and brooks, which with delight come down from pretty mountains with which the said plain is accompanied. All around, like a beautiful garland, there are plains and hills high to climb, and the same goes for the larger and higher ones, which are nonetheless delightful. And some parts are wild, and some parts are cultivated. And some are neither wild nor cultivated, but between the one and the other but with great beauty. The lands near the houses you can see are cultivated, well worked, adorned with fruit trees and beautiful vines, and with a good number of wells and springs of running water. Whereas those on the hills you can see are wild, great woods and forests of many large and good sweet and horse chestnut trees and in these woods there is a large quantity of wild animals, like wild boars, roebucks, bears and other wild beasts.
Therefore, one can already get a connotation of the Mugello from this text which also corresponds to its reality today; this is notwithstanding the development of various local activities and the influence of Florence which it has felt over the centuries upon its economic life, due to its nearness to the city of Florence; the motorway "of the Sun" and various methods of communication have all but cancelled the distance, permitting many of its inhabitants to commute. But certain farming traditions are not devoid of influence, given the nearness to the Emilian and Romagnolo regions (it is enough to think of the wide-spread habit of making home-made pasta). These traditions are well rooted and are still verifiable today in many aspects of the life in this area: from that of the language that preserves words (for example the turkey which is called "dindo", probably from the French oiseau d'Inde because it came from the West Indies, or rather, from America; in fact many of the words used in the countryside words are derived from French origins, a probable legacy from the Napoleonic soldiers), sayings, expressions and phonetics of their own used in the dialect of countryside people (a widely spread example is easily verifiable: the "r" often substitutes the "l" when it is followed by a consonant) to that of food and cooking which are obviously linked to products from the land and the breeding of livestock.
Even if with some difficulty, you may still be able to find the ‘bardiccio’, a pork sausage made from mince meat and contained in the gut of the animal, highly flavoured with garlic and fennel, sometimes mixed together with beef fat and that is, preferably, cooked on a grill before eating.
The ‘budella’ (parts of the intestines of cattle, sheep or swine) in the Mugello take the name of "digiune" and are cooked for the most part in stews with all the usual flavouring vegetables and herbs (‘gli odori’) and a small amount of tomato. In the Mugello, if you are lucky, it is still possible to eat a dish called "cibro" (a term whose origins are very controversial; and probably refers to the French "civ" that means rich dish), a dish of an antique recipe that requires the livers and heart of a chicken, the crest, the wattle and the "fagioli" (being the testicles, small and very tasty) of the cockerel, as well as the ‘unborn’ eggs, which can be found inside the hen. The procedure is short: brown a chopped onion in some butter with a sprig of sage, then brown the crest and wattle, these having been previously scalded and covered in flour; after a quarter of an hour the livers, heart and testicles are added: season with salt and pepper and cook for another quarter of an hour, mixing the unborn eggs two or three minutes before the end. Take the pan off the heat, and mix delicately with a yolk of an egg beaten with a little lemon juice.
This is an unforgettable recipe due to its exquisiteness and also for the fact that is does not give in totally to French cooking.
There are many foods typical to the Mugello which should be preserved in the memory and in practice. Cited is an example of ‘le ficattole’, small pieces of bread dough first cut into strips and then fried in abundant oil; which at one time were sweet , sprinkled with sugar, but today are preferred salty and filled with salami or cheese. Another very well known glory of the Mugellese cooking is that of potato ravioli made of filled fresh egg pasta, perhaps the noblest, original and authentic Tuscan production in this area. This is the kind of dish in which the cuisine from the Emilia region excels. Also in the Mugello, and justly famous, are the delicious ‘tortelli montanari’, made with pasta filled with mashed sweet chestnuts, flavoured with grated Parmesan cheese (sometimes also ricotta), nutmeg, salt and oil, served usually with butter and cheese. The traditional sweet ‘tortelli’, however, are not enclosed in a case of pasta; but are fritters made from a cooked batter made from flour, water, butter and icing sugar, mixed with many eggs, and made crispy golden in boiling olive oil.
The population of the Mugello, of antique farming traditions, has known how to preserve for centuries a deep attachment to the earth and its produce, so much so that still today even in certain restaurants and old trattorias their cooking presents exquisite original and characteristic dishes that are not found in other parts of Tuscany.