Steeped in tradition, full of flavour and proudly local, Corsican cuisine draws on both French and Italian influences but has its own very distinct character.
Corsica’s mountainous interior is key to understanding the island’s culinary predilections. Green pastures provide the ideal environment for rearing sheep, forested hillsides rustle with free-range pigs and wild boar, attracted by an unending supply of flavour-giving chestnuts, trout delight in the clean-water rivers, bees thrive on a multitude of flowers, and mushrooms offer up an autumnal bounty to rival prodigal spring.
On any self-respecting Corsican’s table pride of place is given to sheep and goat milk cheeses and cured meats. In terms of cheese, some of the most characteristic are:
Brocciu - a non-lactose whey cheese, similar to ricotta. It can be eaten fresh or aged and is a common ingredient in numerous recipes, from starters to sweets.
Tommette de Chèvre – a strong, full-flavoured goat milk cheese.
Niulincu -a soft tangy cheese from the very centre of Corsica.
Corsu Vecchiu - a semi-hard, semi-mature sheep milk cheese.
Casgiu merzu – Corsica’s version of Sardegna’s famous ‘rotting cheese’, casu marzu, complete with insect larvae. For real cheese specialists only!
To get a full insight into Corsican cheese, head to Venaco in May for the cheese fair, A Fiera di U Casgiu.
Corsica’s best cured meats are made from free-range pigs raised on chestnuts, acorns and other foraged goodies. Here are some of the tastiest products:
Figatellu - Corsica’s signature product, figatellu is a smoked, dried pork liver sausage often grilled or used in lentil soup to add a bit of substance. It should not be eaten in the summer.
Coppa AOC* (or capicollu) - an Italianate classic made from neck and shoulder cut.
Lonzu AOC - salted, smoked and peppered pork fillet.
Prisuttu AOC - matured for a minimum of 12 months, prisuttu - Corscian cured ham - is excellent and not to be missed.
*appellation d'origine contrôlée
Before moving on to the typical dishes you will find on restaurant menus, special mention should be made to chestnuts. During Genoese times (from 1284 to the mid-18th century), extensive chestnut tree woods were planted in Corsica’s interior as an alternative to cereal crops, which were difficult to cultivate. Chestnuts are rich in calories and can be dried and ground. The resulting flour is used all manner of Coriscan recipes, including pulenta, fritelli castagnini (chestnut flour fritters), maccaredda (bacon fritters) and cakes of all shapes and sizes. There are two annual festivals celebrating the mighty chestnut and the flour itself has received appellation d'origine contrôlée certification.
So what might be on the menu in Corsica’s restaurants? In terms of salt water fish, you will find lots of fresh red mullet, sea bream, anchovies, sardines and langoustine. From the island’s rivers and the east-coast lagoons come plentiful trout and eels respectively. The east coast is also a significant producer of oysters.
Corsicans love soups and stews and, depending on the time of year many menus will include zuppa corsa (a vegetable minestrone in a ham-bone stock), civet de sanglier (a thick stew of wild boar, vegetables, chestnuts, red wine and fennel), veau aux olives (another slow-cooked stew of veal, olives tomatoes, herbs and white or rosé wine) and agneau corse (roasted lamb with garlic and rosemary).
Italy’s influence is not only evident in the production of cured meats and cheeses, but also in the pasta course, and many eateries offer ravioli, cannelloni and gnocchi served in a variety of sauces (usually with brocciu cheese involved somewhere).
After all this goodness, you might still have room for dessert, many of which are variations on four principal ingredients: chestnut flour, brocciu cheese, citrus fruit zest and sugar.
Bon appétit and buon appetito!