The Casentino forest it is part of the homonymous park and extends over a vast territory that involves the regions Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. It is a region rich in history, most of which is closely linked to Camaldoli monks, from 1012, when the order was founded, which for centuries has also been involved in the preservation and management of these woods, guaranteeing local communities sustenance and shelter. Not only, with the wood coming from the Casentino, the cathedral of Florence was also erected and the fleet of ships of the Pisan maritime republic was built. Today it is a naturalist tourism destination, for the fascinating trails through woods and hills populated by majestic animals like the deer – which just at the beginning of autumn resounds with its bellowing to conquer the female and guarantee the continuity of the species – and centuries-old beech woods, UNESCO heritage. And of course there is a very strong religious pilgrimage of those who go to places of prayer such as the Hermitage of Camaldoli and the Sanctuary of La Verna.
But as it is customary here to talk about food, after this necessary festive setting, another necessary element is added to make this place even more attractive. It is good and fair to take the road that winds through the Casentino hills also to get to Moggionaa small fraction of Poppi, in the province of Arezzo, and reach Mater-Restaurant – thus completes the cinematographic triad Eat Pray Love. Credit is everything Filippo Baroni, a daring cook who opened his own haute cuisine restaurant in 2017 within the hotel structure “Borgo i 3 Baroni“Already owned by parents and siblings. A challenge that for some years has rewarded him with his passion and tenacity.
But let’s proceed in order, even in the religious sense, because Filippo decided to progressively vote research on his own roots, on the history of the place. Passionate about music and art history, he studied hotel management, and after experiences with Gaetano Trova and Marchesi, he decided to embark on a path quite distinct from what the region could offerwhere the restaurant is inspired above all by tradition and is suitable for a tourist in search of simplicity.
From 2017 to today, Filippo has started to travel and rediscover his own woods, collecting herbs and fruits and beginning to study and understand them. through fermentations, work processes learned from experts, agronomists and mycologists and environmental guides who have enabled him to map the Casentino based on products that the monks already knew centuries ago. It is therefore not a question of innovating, of inventing, but of go back and return to the future with a new awareness. The trip turned out to be so exciting that with the complicity of his wife Marta Bidi, butlerdecided to devote part of his research also to the taste, to the recipes, to the life of the monasteries, which were and still are in part real autonomous communities, in which everything is self-produced, from food to wine – which, in in medieval times it was not separated from being a food.
Mater today is therefore the result of a 5-year journey, in which the urgency prevails to adhere as much as possible to one’s own place, to feel part of a story that began a thousand years ago. . and which still emerges in the gaze, like a beacon for the future too. There is no fashion in the preparation of infusions, preserves, fermentations, but the reconnection to gestures that should be maintained here. And in the flavors there is concreteness and contemporaneity, we are in thesnag and nunc of Tuscan country haute cuisine, with the memory of the past and the desire for the future, without challenge or provocationbut with a rhythmic sweep of flavors, clean and clear, confirming where and when we are.
The inspiration of a raw material, the observation of the landscape, the reinterpretation of traditional recipes, the passion for art – transmitted by his mother, professor of art history – and for music – Filippo has also a past as a musician – these are all elements that strongly enter into the modus operandi of the conductor, by creating an idea of cuisine that sinks deeper and deeper into the heart of the Casentino, to the rhythm of seasonality.
Open for dinner from Thursday to Monday, Sunday also for lunch, at Mater you can choose the à la carte menu or the tasting Deep (10 lessons for 85 euros), in a large room with fireplace and large bay windows overlooking the panorama of the forest, with a sober style and beautiful tablecloths that give elegance to the tones of the wood and the beech trees that like columns bring us back to the surrounding woods.
We start to orient ourselves with the amuse-bouche, dal cappuccino with mushrooms with a cream of local pink chickpeas, ceps in small pieces, a cream of mushrooms and a smoked mousse of mixed mushrooms. We then move on to carrot tart with shortcrust pastry made with carrots and rye, grilled herb pesto and baby carrots with spices; continue with the Chianina tongue and Bucchio char and sour beef tongue mushroom. It ends with a sphere with a liquid filling of raspberry and pomegranate kombucha with bitter herbsto refresh and prepare the following dishes.
Among the appetizers, Forest comics, Cereal bread, sourdough butter and herring, Brown trout in the undergrowth it is a composition in which the almost monastic essentiality of the ingredients dominates, in memory of the simplicity of the flavors once consumed in the woods. The trout is steamed and glazed with bark and leaves, the broth is based on an infusion of moss and lichens and pebbles and is drunk by intercalating mouthfuls of trout and herring butter spread on bread. Trout is one of the prides of Mulin di Bucchio, which has reintroduced farming and the chef here highlights it by restoring its wooded habitat.
Summer leftovers in Tomato, fermented plum, fig oil and Bitterit’s a grilled beefsteak tomato granita, fig oil and bitters on a fermented plum base. Aromatic herbs, bitter notes, tarragon leaf, oregano, fig, a vegetal and green corollary that give elegance and freshness in addition to serving temperature.
Among the first courses, one of the greatest expressions of the synthesis of the chef’s thought is lo Spaghetti, Abbucciato Aretino, matured truffleone of the signatures of this 2020. “A direct, naked, primitive dish, with no added salt or fat, made with three ingredients” as Chef Baroni claims, who has worked in depth on the typical Arezzo pecorino, for which he grated it and dissolved it in water, brought it to 85° in three stages (first 65 °, then 75° and finally 85°) then left to cool to obtain three consistencies and to be able to separate the fatty part by filtering the remaining water which is reduced and used to finish cooking the pasta. The remaining part of the paste is dried and powdered. The spaghetti is cooked in abbucciato extraction, then seasoned with the fatty part of the cheese, and finished with pine powder – or in season, truffle – and cheese powder. Floral notes of cheese and balsamic notes of the forest are the leitmotifs of a complex but extremely comfortable dish, like a contemporary cheese and pepper.
The first of the two seconds is Lumache, ovoli, herb and mushroom vinaigrette, mushroom and tansy teawith the traditional long cooking of Valdarno snails in terracotta with fennel seeds and chicken broth. It goes well with a salad of herbs, including sorrel and sanpietro grass with a mushroom and ovoli vinaigrette. Finally, a liquid part, an infusion of tansy and mushrooms. A dish that ideally marks the transition to autumn, the humidity of the forest with the first rains, the first cold spells given by the slightly spicy notes of the herbs and the depth of the mushroom broth, with the complicity of the significant bite of the snails.
Radicchio, venison, peated whisky, is an autumn essence of Casentino, with frying, both for the radicchio – the real protagonist – which is cooked in a red wine sauce, and for the venison, with the finish of a peated whiskey jelly to give smoky notes.
The aromatic interruption of the pre-dessert of Spaghettini with cypress, grilled lemon, fig leaf he sees the carbohydrate returning, with its sweetness and consistency, serving as a dividing line between savory dishes and desserts. The meaty consistency of the pasta acts as an amplifier of freshness, in addition to giving an innate sweetness, and is a tribute to the Italian table and the Tuscan land in autumn.
Peach, herb and Chartreuse granita, passionflower fruit it is a refreshing dessert that is immediately followed by a Fruits, blackberry vinegar and cherry sorbetwhich incorporates the notion of fruit at the end of the meal which used to be found also in restaurants and trattorias, then fell into disuse.
And rather from Mater the fruit returns in a high and elaborate way, with various fruits put in osmosis and not, such as pickled blackberries, apricot with cardamom, plum with star anise and nutmeg, pear with absinthe, peach with cinnamon and ginger, all combined with a base of blackberry vinegar and Christmas tree ice cream.
Photographs by Lido Vannucchi
Via Camaldoli, 52, 52014 Moggiona AR
Call: 366 503 5127