With its culinary traditions and proud local heritage, few French places stake a claim to the importance of terroir quite like Corsica, the “Île de Beauté” in the Mediterranean. Justin Postlethwaite makes his selection of the best food and drink that this beautiful island has to offer
Known in France as the Island of Beauty, Corsica is a Mediterranean gem, a mountain in the sea with beautiful beaches, rugged countryside and pretty harbour towns. But what of its indigenous food?
Corsican cuisine is famous for its hearty, earthy style, which is based on peasant traditions and favours fresh, seasonal ingredients harvested locally. With something of a Franco-Italian flavour, however, Corsican food is as diverse as the land, and the cuisine paysanne traditionnelle contrasts with fresh natural seafood to create a gastronomic kaleidoscope.
Summertime visitors will relish the large selection of cheeses on offer at the local cheese fair in Veaco, south of Corte, that takes place annually in May. Goat’s cheese is especially prevalent in Corsica, and unlike mainland French cheeses, which are classified by type, Corsican cheeses are known by the manufacturer’s name because they vary so much. Particularly recommended are the brocciu passu, a smooth, cultured cheese from a small factory in Furiani, and the hazelnut-flavoured Calenzana, a soft cheese with a washed skin sourced from the Balagne region.
The humble chestnut is one of Corsica’s main exports, and the locals have come up with hundreds of inventive ways of using it, from chestnut flour that is used in bread and pastries, to soups,doughnuts, tarts and cakes, as well the traditional treat of simplemarrons glacés in the winter. Citrus fruits also abound in this sunny paradise, and it’s the only region in France that produces clementines.
A telling tipple
Seeking a tipple to quench the thirst? Corsica offers a selection of world-renowned beers, such as the hand-crafted Pietra brand, a malt beer brewed with sweet chestnut flour in the village of Furiani. In the summertime, try the lighter white Colomba beer, which is brewed from barley and wheat and tempered with a blend of strawberry, myrtle and juniper. Other brands to look out for are Tora, an arbutus and myrtle-flavoured beer, and A Tibbiera, a prolific brewery offering a range of blends from lighter honey flavours to spicy dark amber brews.
Wine lovers will not be disappointed in Corsica, as the region is known for its full-bodied reds, and the hot and dry climate makes for intense flavours. There are eight main appellations on the island: Ajaccio, Sartène, Figari, Patrimonio, Coteaux du Cap Corse, Calvi, Côte Orientale and Porto Vecchio. The Patrimonio region – the northern appellation inland of the port of Bastia – produces some of its best and longest wines, including firm Rhônish reds, well-balanced whites and rich Muscat Vin Doux Naturels. Some local wines come with an AOC (guarantee of origin and quality) and most vineyards have an open door policy, where you can simply drop in and sample the produce for yourself.
Off the bone
Corsica is especially famed for its delicious dried meats. If you’re visiting between November and March, you’ll be just on time to sample some figatelli, a kind of smoked liver sausage containing offal such as kidneys that is cooked over an open fire and traditionally eaten hot dog-style in a piece of bread, or raw and dry with bread. In the mountainous regions, lamb or wild boar stew (civet de sanglier) is a common evening meal, and is sometimes served with a traditional chestnut pulenta. Bon appétit!
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