Self-catering never tasted so good
Simone Kane stocks up with local specialities on a new foodie trail around Corsica
Sunday 10 January 2010
As I step out of the car to admire the view, my nostrils fill with the heady scent from the surrounding feathery pines. I'm standing on a mountainside above the Gulf of Porto Vecchio on the south-east coast of Corsica.
On a clear day, you can make out the salt pans originally fashioned by the Genoan rulers out of the shallow seawater lagoons. Today, the local salt industry still produces enough to meet most of the island's needs – in particular, the preservation of Corsica's cherished meat.
I'm keen to try some of that meat, which is why my husband and I are following a new trail of Corsica's local food, using one of the gourmet maps by the Routes des Sens Authentiques, a joint initiative of the tourist board and producers to promote the island's wealth of specialities.
It promises to show us where to find soft brocciu cheese, cakes made from chestnut flour, wine, honey and olive oil straight from source. Ten routes have been created into downloadable maps with lists of producers and craftspeople whose premises are open to the public. The advice is comprehensive, though it isn't in English. Still, we find it easy enough to follow and are soon experiencing "Corse authentique".
Our first stop is L'Ospedale. Here we discover a couple of low-key places where we can sample traditional Corsican cuisine, which, surprisingly for an island, consists of meat, meat, meat and not a lot of fish. The Corsicans are mountain people, not fishermen – the demand for seafood only came with the rise of tourism. We plump for a restaurant called U Funtanonu – along with a group of brave cyclists who've made the climb up the steep hairpin road to the village.
It's mid-morning, so to keep it light we opt for the assiette regionale, a staple starter in most restaurants, but a speciality of the auberges, or country inns. Laid out before us is a platter of charcuterie – and it's a lot of pork: melt-in-the-mouth smoked fillet (coppa) and shoulder (lonzu), as well as a classic prosciutto (prizuttu), a terrine and some superb smoked sausage. Next, madame tries to ply us with her take on the ubiquitous Corsican chestnut cake – made with flour ground from the fruits of the Castagniccia forests, also a gorging ground for the pigs that had just featured on our plate. We politely refuse, for we must be on our way.
Back at sea level, we pick up a local road towards the village of Muratello, where we hope to find J L Ansaloni, a manufacturer of brocciu. An island favourite, this light, fresh cheese, similar to ricotta, turns up in everything: for breakfast with jam, in fritters (beignets) and cheesecake (fiadone), stuffed in pasta and fish and in the typical omelette au brocciu.
The meandering lanes cut through a landscape of maquis, the aromatic scrub of evergreens that imparts its distinct flavour to this ewe's or goat's milk cheese. The views are lovely, but the Ansaloni farm is proving elusive. On our third turn around the village, I'm ready to give up, but we suddenly spot the half-hidden sign for the "bergerie".
I explain my mission in questionable French. "Brocciu frais – non!" says Monsieur Ansaloni, telling me that the fresh variety is available only from November to early July. It's August when we visit. My disappointment must be obvious because he offers a plate of samples of the demi-sec type. After all that driving round in circles, my husband is rewarded with tangy little cubes of heaven. Sheepishly, I decline.
We have more luck finding Domaine de Torraccia, near Lecci. As we arrive, tons of gleaming grapes are disappearing into what looks like a huge skip, ready to be pressed. Inside, are displays of the white, red and rose wines, alongside jars of small, bitter picciolini olives and bottles of golden oil. You can taste before you buy here, so we make an informed choice on a bottle of the medal-winning Oriu Reserve Rouge 2004.
Our final stop is an impressive farm shop – set on a roundabout of all places. These roadside shops are common in high season and, predictably, charge inflated prices. Its tables are piled high with local produce and artisanal delicacies and we load our basket with crusty bread, sausage, chestnut nougat, maquis-infused honey, semi-dried brocciu and delicious white peaches. There's no more enjoyable way for self-catering holidaymakers like us to get the dinner in.
How to get there
Simone Kane stayed in Villa Supranu, San Ciprianu, Corsica, courtesy of Coastline (0844 557 1020; coastline.co.uk). Seven nights at the villa costs from £695 per person, based on eight sharing, including return flights, car hire, twice-weekly maid service, daily deliveries of bread, pastries and newspaper, and 24-hour concierge service. Thomson Airways (www.monarch.co.uk 0871 231 4787; thomson.co.uk/flights) offers return flights to Figari and Calvi in Corsica from Gatwick and Manchester from £179.
Routes des Sens Authentiques (corsica-terroirs.com).
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