Cioncia is one of those typical Tuscan dishes that reminds of the last century authentic and traditional flavours: rustic recipes made with poor ingredients that may turn a simple dish into a tasty delicacy. Nowadays you may try the cioncia at the typical and historical trattorie in Pescia only.
Going throughout our wine&food itinerary, I would like you to stop with me in Valdinievole, and more specifically in Pescia, a town that had gained – till last century – international claim thanks to one of the most important flower exhibition in Italy (Biennale del Fiore).
A dish with modest origins
During the beginning of the XXth century, Pescia was home to many tanneries, where bovines’ skin was turned into bags, clothings, fabrics and so on. Skin – mainly calf’s skin in this case – was then stripped from flesh for being processed at a later stage. Workers assigned to this job used to clean and scratch even the most callous parts out from skin, and those that were not suitable for being turned into bags or stuff like that, as face.
During that period, poverty and hunger were so spread out that nothing was ever thrown out away: from calfs’ face, then – hears, lips, nose and cheeks more exactly – people use to stripp remains for cooking with a tasty and delicious sauce. Someone preferred bring them home, others sell to restaurants and trattorie for gaining some more money, where they will have been turned into what we now know as cioncia, a poor and simple dish with a good amount of calories.
An exclusive delicacy
Handed down from generation to generation, cioncia has recently become a traditional recipe of local cuisine, that gives a touch of genuinity and authenticity to modern cooking. Thanks to recipes like this, old local food customs may live through years and get till our times. It can quite be defined a sort of niche dish that you may exclusively find in the most typical restaurants and trattorie of Pescia (if you come across a luxurious restaurant, bear in mind it’s not supposed to automatically serve cioncia), offering the real and authentic last century recipe, whose ingredients list also includes passion and love for cooking, essential elements that may make the difference. Or, as an alternative, who better than a grandmother may prepare a dish like this?
The real cioncia recipe includes – besides the above mentioned parts of calf’s face: carrot, onion, celery, garlic, nepitella (aromatic plant), ripe tomatoes, red wine, salt, pepper, laurel and extra virgin olive oil, included a few roasted bread and vegetable broth.
Meat is parboiled with laurel for about half an hour, then fried over low heat and finally cooked with the aromatic herbs mince. After adding tomatoes and broth, meat is cooked over another hour and a half, till it’s tender and the sauce reduced.
Cioncia is usually prepared in a crock pan, whose more important characteristic is keeping hot inside, and served with a few roasted bread and some extra virgin olive oil…exclusively from Tuscany!
Pescia: cioncia and Svizzera Pesciatina
If you decide to drop by Pescia for trying the cioncia, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed by all things you may discover. It’s surrounded by marvellous hills and mountains, commonly referred to as Svizzera Pesciatina, home to the 10 castella – 10 quaint old villages that seem to hang down the hilltop and mountains. An off-the-beaten-track itinerary that offers relaxing and restful sightseeings if you like go to the discovery of local traditions, culture and customs, stroll around narrow stone lanes surrounded by fairy little houses.
Tuscany close at hand
I’ve always considered Pescia one of the most strategical towns – from a geographical point of view – I’ve ever seen…if I confess I live here, does that seem a bit interested?
Actually, Pescia is very well connected with all the main tourist destinations of Tuscany both by train and roads, located within an easy drive or train distances: Firenze is about 60 kms far (an hour train ride and about 45 minutes drive ride), Viareggio – and the Versilia coast – is about 50 kms far (an hour train ride and 40 minutes drive ride). Pisa is located at about 50 kms far away as well and Lucca less than 20. Thanks to the importance that its flower market gained in the past, Pescia boasts a rail station that offers a very good service, with lots of trains to and from the main tourist locations of the region. If you are looking for an accommodation, Pescia is a smart choice according to me: being located off-the-beaten-track destinations, but within a short distances from everywhere – it offers many good value accommodation, both in the old center and on the surrounding hills.
Closest destinations you could also be interested in visiting are Collodi (the Park of Pinocchio and Villa Garzoni), located at about 5 minutes drive distance from the center, and Montecatini Terme, one of the most renowned thermal resort of Tuscany, easily reachable with a 15 minutes drive or a 5 minutes train ride.