The first thing you notice approaching Corsica by ferry is how green and mountainous it is compared to Sardinia. This difference in landscape influences each island’s produce and the flavour of their food. The most distinct influence on Corsica’s food is from the ‘maquis’: the highly scented wild herb shrubs which grow everywhere. Driving around the island you see beehives dotted amongst trees and pigs, goats and cows all foraging along the hillsides. These all feed on the maquis which, in turn, flavours the honey, cheese and charcuterie the animals produce.
I spent the day with Patricia and Joelle, two wonderful ladies who let me help them collect honey from their hives. It was, despite my Neil Armstrong-like protective outfit, a fairly intimidating experience. It was fascinating to compare and contrast the taste of honey collected from the same beehive at different stages of the year. Because of the changing flowers from one season to next on the maquis bush, the spring honey was sweet, golden and light and the summer honey was much darker with a consistency like treacle.
Chestnuts are another ingredient integral to the island’s produce. I spent time with Stephane - a renowned local charcuturie producer – and his uncle Antoine to understand their significance. They treated me to a feast of a traditional chestnut polenta called pulenda – a real revelation – liver sausage, Brocciu cheese and, with no connection to chestnuts at all, the requisite fried egg. It is the chestnuts which Stephane’s pigs eat during the last two months of their life which gives his artisan charcuturie its distinct, nutty and very wonderful flavour.
From one idyllic ‘test kitchen’ to another, I found myself the next morning overlooking stunning, lush mountains hand-milking goats with a cheese maker called Lionel. Once they’ve been milked, the goat’s roam free (feeding on the maquis) while Lionel makes cheese. We sampled a range of Lionel’s cheeses – ranging in age from a day old to 6 months – before I cooked my recipe of fried goat’s cheese with a red pepper salsa.