Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A County Fair in Florence

      Florence, birthplace of Renaissance art, is probably the last place that one would imagine to find a country fair.  Never say never, however, as a county fair --called Ruralia--took place last weekend (Sept. 16-18) in the Cascine Park.

     The Cascine were originally cow pastures belonging to the Medici rulers before becoming transformed into a public park in the 1800s.  Not very well kept up and downright sketchy at night, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi has great plans to clean up the space and create an attractive public park complete with wi fi.  The first step to bring more people to the Cascine was the Ruralia event.

      On a very hot afternoon, photographer Carly and myself discovered that the 17C bus takes passengers directly into the Cascine Park.  Upon arrival, the bus driver hollered "last stop--Cascine Park!"

Carly and I got off in front of the Agricultural College of Florence University....

...to discover a multitude of county fair stands that stretched to the bottom of the park.  It was so hot that we visited just a few, and didn't manage to go down to all the way to the end to see the cattle and the hogs.

The first stand, predictably, showcased Tuscan wine, under the direction of the knowledgeable staff of Siena's Enoteca Italiana.  This Enoteca Toscana featured guided wine tastings (for a fee) every two hours.  

We were treated to a sparkling wine--spumante--made from Vernaccia 
grapes.  It was very special, and fabulous.

After 6 pm, the stand offered a happy hour for twentysomethings--2 drinks and munchies for 5 euro.  The happy hour entertainment consisted of two traffic cops--Graziano Graziani and Paola Troncone-- demonstrating a video on the hazardous effects of mixing drinking and driving.  

Following true Italian tradition, Graziani admitted that he cultivates grapes in his backyard in the nearby Florentine suburb of Scandicci, making table wine for family consumption.  He owned up to being the son of a Tuscan farmer (contadino).  He confessed, "my father named me Graziano Graziani because he would always say that once I learned my name, I would know how to spell my last name as well."

See what you can learn at a county fair in Florence.  Carly and I moved on to the next stand, which was about fish species native to Tuscany.

We were informed that the fish that you see above is a sturgeon, a storione, which until recently (due to pollution and man-made obstacles, like weirs) would swim upstream in the nearby Arno River to breed.  

Our next stop was a booth dedicated to wild mushrooms, both edible and poisonous, that can be found in Tuscan forests (by the way: Florence is located in the region of Tuscany).  We discovered that by law mushroom gatherers have to carry a wicker basket in order to allow the spores to fall on the ground.  The king of Tuscan mushrooms, of course, is the delicious fungo porcino.

Having been raised in the Hudson Valley, but not on a farm, I have no idea whether whether live music and ballroom dancing are normally featured at a county fair.  At Ruralia, Carly and I came upon Italian grandparents having a great time indulging in ballo liscio, not exactly a country reel.

Some of this group were more hip that we could have imagined
 (see below).

Our attention was drawn next to what was identified to us as a grain thresher....

A person in the know brought to our attention a sack of farro (spelt or emmer), an ancient grain brought to Tuscany by the Romans and still cultivated in the Garfagnana hills above Lucca.  It is the basis for many delicious soups and warm weather salads.

Moving on, we saw a display of olive trees.  A gentleman inside a nearby tent conducted on the spot olive oil tastings.  When we asked which was the best, he refused to commit himself.  

He did, however, give us a clue.  "Look for olive oil that comes from the hills of central Tuscany.  The closer the estate is to the sea, the milder (più dolce) the olive oil becomes."

So much to see!  We learned that there is sheep cheese made in the mountains above Pistoia from unpasteurized milk (latte crudo).  Carly took this picture of aged pecorino.

We met a very nice beekeeper from the Rufina hills above Pontassieve who insisted we taste his honey.

Although Carly and I never made it to the pigpen, we were given slices of salami made from cinta senese-- a small, gray Tuscan pig native to the Siena area characterized by a white stripe--close by to an explanatory chart.

The Cascine Park also hosts a ipprodromo, a Hippodrome, where occasionally polo matches are scheduled. Carly isn't sure whether these are random polo players visiting the country fair Ruralia, or whether the men on horseback are actually part of the park's security, keeping an eye on small children.

Dov'è la mamma?

1 comment:

  1. What a nice market, Cascine must have been beautiful that day. I really like the photos as well - complimenti Carly!