For centuries, the Apuan Alps have been characterized by strong environmental influences—which in turn, have determined the culinary habits of the region. People throughout the area depended on pasture and hunting and they also gathered wild fruit and roots. Historical and literary references suggest that the inhabitants of this area worked hard to produce food and push themselves beyond primitive circumstances. Thus, the hilly area close to the Apuan Alps was cleared and terraced with dry stone walls. Farmers planted vines and olive trees as well as barley, millet, emmer, rye, beans and peas. However, this mountainous area was most famous for the cultivation of the chestnut—a tree that has been present in this territory for centuries. In recent digs, pollen from the Castanea vulgaris species has been found in fossils throughout the Emilian Appenines. These specimens are thought to date back to the Quaternary age.
The chestnut became known as the ‘Tree of bread and survival’. The area’s coastal plain formed gradually and remained waterlogged for a long period of time, becoming the habitat of ample eels and frogs. In addition to using many herbs and myriad products derived from sheep breeding, the Apuan Ligurians took advantage of the sea. Thus, they were among the first populations to feed on sea urchins, limpets, and mussels. These could be collected off the deep cliffs found along the coast. When the Romans began quarrying marble, the area’s men abandoned their land and devoted themselves to quarry work. Like marble-work, the essence of Carrarese cuisine exemplifies frugality, while maintaining its lively flavor and strong character. Throughout the centuries, culinary traditions have remained ‘strong and frugal’—an authentic reflection of the Carrarese character.
Though the Apuan region was highly influenced by ‘the yoke of Rome’, it still managed to conserve many elements of its traditional culture. After being defeated, the local population retired to the mountains, establishing themselves in their old fortresses. In reference to the Apuan people and their fortified structures, we can site the works of Tito Livio who wrote, ‘montem, antiquam sedem maiorum suorum, ceperunt’. Lardo di Colonnata is an authentic specialty from the area; it is made in a marble basin and flavored with a mix of spices and herbs from the Alps. ‘Marlligat’ is another type of typical sausage, made with pig’s blood, pork fat and wild fennel seeds. They also produce a soft cold-cut called ‘mortadella’ and various typical sausages. The area’s typical bread is made by hand according to ancient methods and then baked in wood-burning ovens. Local cuisine also makes ample use of wild herbs. For example, they are fundamental in the preparation of ‘Polenta Incatenata’ which is made with maize flour, herbs and black-eyed beans.
When fried and seasoned with oil, these herbs can also be served as a side dish. They are equally delicious, eaten raw in a salad or when used as seasoning for an omelet. The territory’s traditional spelt dish is prepared with broad beans, peas and beans. No recipe would be complete, however, without the addition of lard from Colonnata and fried aromatic herbs. And how can we forget ‘Taglierini nei fagioli’ (a dish made with beans and pasta), that has always been representative of local flavor. In this area, spoonfuls of polenta are also served with mushroom sauce or sausage and topped with grated pecorino cheese. This unique dish is known as ‘Kazalà’.
Article by the Municipality of Carrara