Bardiccio, pane sciocco and a glass of Chianti from the flask

Whenever we used to go to the butcher’s, I would always go with a certain reverence, even making sure I was wearing clothes less worn and frayed than usual. The ciccia (meat) was for the rich and we never had jangling pockets. Fearfully we would approach the boy behind the counter, and whisper, so that we wouldn’t be heard by the more well-to-do customers who made up the regular clientele: “Some bardiccio, per favore”. Bardiccio was one of the few things at the butcher’s that we could afford; as luck would have it, it was also one of the best.

Certainly, it wouldn’t have been the connoisseur’s choice. It’s a tough meat but full of flavour, like the curses uttered by the gardener who hoes the hard earth under the burning sun. And under that rough, cracked skin, bardiccio has a tender heart; it’s also irresistibly tasty.

But what is bardiccio? Bardiccio, also known as the Florentine sausage (though it’s really from the Sieve valley) is a pork sausage based on what we call the quinto quarto - the fifth quarter. By this we mean the innards: the heart, the lungs, the liver, the spleen - all spiced with garlic and fennel.

It’s not clear who first invented bardiccio, though the heir to an historic butcher’s shop in the Rufina has complete conviction in attributing it to his grandfather. But like every poor dish, it’s been passed down from mouth to mouth, and like every poor dish, there are many interpretations of it: every butcher’s has its own jealously guarded recipe. The wonderful local expression infinocchiare, which also has the figurative meaning of deceiving someone credulous and gullible, describes the process of “drugging” the less desirable cuts of meat with fennel seeds, in order to take the edge off the hard flavours.

Bardiccio is always paired with the Valdisieve’s most representative wine, Chianti, in its traditional container, the flask bottle. The flask is an icon of Italian taste, like the moka or the pizza.

It’s squat and rounded in shape, the shape it took when its glass was blown. It’s coddled in a basket of woven straw. And it has a long, long history, which began centuries ago in this very same land between the Sieve and the Arno, the land that gave birth to bardiccio. The flask’s origins go back to fourteenth-century central Italy, which had a flourishing glassware industry; remnants of the furnaces survive today. It appears in many an artwork of its time, showing how ubiquitously it was used: the flask is mentioned in Boccaccio’s Decameron, and pops up in famous paintings by Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio, to name but two, in their windows onto everyday life.

Thanks to the initiative of wineries like Ruffino, which was founded in Pontassieve in 1877, the flask became the Chianti bottle around the end of the nineteenth century; before long it was one of the most globally beloved symbols of Italy. In the chiaroscuro post-war period, right up until the seventies, the flask achieve singular importance in the social and cultural fabric of the time. Pontassieve had a famous glassworks where the bottles could be blown; many of the townswomen, and indeed women from towns even thirty miles away, wove the straw that would serve as the flask's cradle, keeping the bottle stable and shielding the wine from the damaging light. So there we have it: unsalted bread, bardiccio and a glass of Chianti, flask and sausage sharing the same geographical and cultural origins. It’s a marriage of flavour and festivity, and, now as before, it expresses the wish to come together around food, simplicity and true affection.

[Photos: Fabio Bernardini for Visit Tuscany]

Sir, please do not believe that the huge flask that arrived this morning displeased me in any way. Rather, I thought that you had forgotten about the wine that I served to you this morning in those small glasses, the wine that you yourself declared was no mere table wine. Now, though, I plan to keep it no longer: I’ve sent it all to you, to do with as you will.

Messer Geri accepted Cisti’s gift and explanation in all good grace and, recognising his good faith, counted him a friend from then on.

[Boccaccio: Decameron – “Cisti the Baker”]