Little Piggies of Siena

Four ravenous foodies nibble their way across ancient Tuscan town

SIENA, TUSCANY, Italy— If we were not actually putting food in our mouths yesterday we were looking at ceramics to put food on or in. We did leave for Siena to be pretending to be cultured types heading for some of the many art shows in town. It turns out one of the best shows in town was after in Miccoli’s deli on your way to Il Campo or the Duomo as you come in to town from the Porto San Marco. This fine deli on Via di Citta is right near the Palazzo della Chigiana. It has a strange old 60’s bicycle outside all made of cane and bamboo. And a boar’s head wearing bifocals. Ok, Ok, that all sounds sufficiently corny when I write it down, but relax and enjoy the show. We did. We must have come at a slow time but we spent over an hour of high spirited fun here on a cold winter day. Never unintentionally eaten so much fine food in any one place. My travel companions were three serious cooks and food fanatics and this place just rocked them back on their heels.

We laughed and ate and ate some more and every few minutes with high comic timing that we never saw coming the owner, Antonio, would deadpan “Hai Fame? Are you Hungry?” even though he was feeding us non stop like Christmas Geese. And there before us would be yet another sample of wine or sausage or cookies or oh my gosh stop the madness.

The store is packed to the rafters with delicacies and just prime photo ops every where glance. Not the least of which is Antonio with his awesome old world Van Dyke beard mustache combo that you rarely see outside Victorian tintypes. Anyway there are signs everywhere No Photos. So we didn’t. Our hands were too sticky with honey dripped over pecorino to really operate light machinery like a spy camera. And we saw why he says no. Dooofus older American tourist came in and bought next to nothing and said Photo Please. Antonio said no. And then relented and said OK. One. And picked up a big loaf of bread and posed with his arm around his plump happy Hai Fame amico and straight man. Meanwhile the tourist spends 10 minutes, I swear, posing one picture. Of the proscutti hanging from the ceiling. Moving customers out of the road. Telling us Americans he did not want any of us non-local people in his shot. THEN he asks to take a picture of the owner. No. Not now. He clearly shot the wrong ham first.

HAM HAM and more HAM
We then spent the rest of the post-deli portion of our day on a marvelous tour of our friends Tenuta Spannocchia just outside town. In fact from the time you leave the center of town headed towards San Marco to their farm you are constantly in Contrada Chiocciola. The Neighborhood of the Snail for all you Palio horserace fans.

At the farm we saw them raising their fine black and white belted Sienese pigs (an old native breed nearly extinct 20 years ago). Then we callously watched some of their recently departed brethren being stuffed into sausages and being salted down for next year’s prosciutto.

Then, under a stuffed and mounted wild boar head we had wine sitting literally in a huge fireplace snuggled up to the fire. And then we sat down and ate prosciutto. Followed by porcini soup to die for. Which we followed with a perfect hot creamy polenta and then SURPRISE, roast pork. This time in the form of some of Spannocchia’s cinghiale wild boar. The tenuta (Italian for estate) is a stupendous 1,200 hilltop acres. It is a non profit, self sustaining farm. They heat with their own wood in high tech wonder furnaces, they grow their own chestnut beams and rescue ancient breeds of farm animals and crops while preserving the old Mezzadria sharecropping lifestyle that was in place here for 800 or so years until after the last war. We have been coming here for 15 years and it just keeps getting better. It is an ocean of work and I could not respect them more for what they do. The fact that their organic food is all marvelous is just gravy!

By the way, it was actually fairly ok that we were “pigging out” on this particular day as it was the very last day, Tuesday, of Carnivale (carne va le meat go away get it?) Mardi Gras indeed.

Italy is still locked in a freak cold and now I have managed to get a bit of a cold too. I am presently using that excuse to stay low for the day, make soup and sit by the fire. By the fire in my new woodstove. Everyone who is tired sick and tired of hearing about it please raise your hand. Ok, only one more: it takes place upon arriving home last night at midnight after Our Day of Pork. I came home to an empty house but with a fire glowing in the stove. Bruno could not bring him self to trust me with the bigger wood until the stove was properly broken in but earlier that night he evidently brought in some of the big stuff and lit off a good one. A wonderful warm Welcome Home.

I know, after all the exotic food yesterday how how how could I stoop to a Bag O’Soup? Was it the catchy, ironic homage to Dean Martin: That’s Amore? Hmm. Maybe that factored in but the main thing is that this is a seriously good soup. Frozen soup in a bag. Yes, true. Just add water and in ten minutes you can serve this to company. Fair warning, I do.