Tuscan cowboys? Italian cattle? A real Italian barbecue?
You better believe it and I experienced it all recently with Slow Food Kansas City as we traveled to the Maremma in southern Tuscany with our guide Judy Witts Francini, the Divina Cucina.
Our group arrived at Corte degli Ulive, a large bioagriturismo outside of Bolgheri, and we were immediately greeted by some real Tuscan cowboys known as butteri. We were then told all about the Tuscan cowboys, and it was explained that the butteri were very courageous people and with their horses they faced the wild nature of the Maremma more than anyone else in Tuscany.
The working day of the butteri used to start before the sunrise when he would choose his horse and saddle it.
The butteri’s real job was then carried out in the big fields where the herd of beasts grazed. He would control, count, move the cattle and eventually venture out — the butteri had to know the territory very well — to find lost beasts.
Days in the Maremma were not always easy, and during some periods of the year the job was even harder. These were the periods of the “figliature” (birth of animals), of the “spocciatura” (moving of cattle), the branding and the taming of wild colts.
Today the job of the few remaining butteri is totally different, and one of their main tasks is to keep alive the traditions of the Maremma.
We observed white long-horned cattle along with a horse, rider and cattle exhibition. It was really a great time to see the cowboys, young and old, carry on the tradition on the farm.
Now for the best part: We were treated to a real Tuscan cowboy lunch of salumi, prosciutto e peccorino, bruschetta with fresh farm-raised garlic cloves and local olive oil. Next came on the best pasta dishes I have experienced, a tagliatelle & Tuscan cowboy sauce prepared with local beef, carrots and onions along with tomatoes and rosemary slow simmered.
The main course was Tuscan barbecued ribs, slow roasted bacon and grilled sausage with roasted potatoes that were finished with a little bit of olive oil, sea salt and rosemary. Our meal finished with baked cantucci (hard biscotti) and Vin Santo along with a very simple Tuscan tart with blackberry jam. A few espressos to finish the afternoon, and we were all satisfied.
Who knew that there were real Tuscan cowboy still today and who would ever believe that you could enjoy a real Tuscan barbecue? Well, it’s there my friends and I’ve experienced it and I cannot wait to share some of the recipes I enjoyed with all very soon at my restaurant. If this is what a “Spaghetti Western” is supposed to be like, I can truly say this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in Italy.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.