Subscribe

Subscribe to The Search Enter Your Email

Twitter

Links

LISTEN TO MY MUSIC!

What's Your Delicious?

I want to know what you think is Delicious! Send me an email and tell me what amazing food experience I'm missing out on.

CLICK HERE TO EMAIL CHEF ELISABETH

Search

Entries in Maquis (3)

Friday
Nov122010

The Joys of Corsican Cuisine

In my previous post, I talked about the Terroir of Corsica and the honey, cheese and meats that contribute to Corsica's wonderful and sophisticated specialty food scene. Now it's time to get into the cooking and cuisine of Corsica, and talk about the many, many meals we enjoyed while on the island.

Life changing Lasagna at A Tramula restaurant in Evisa Corsican food is a seamless blend of French and Italian cuisine. It is Italian in style, with menus dominated by pizzas, pastas and tomato-based dishes. But it is often heavily French in flavor, rich, meaty, earthy and buttery. The food is fragrant and assertive with the use of the powerful herbs of the Maquis (click here to read my previous post about the Maquis). The flavor of the Maquis is in fact one of the defining characteristics of Corsican food. Its taste lingers in sauces, and sausages, in pasta dishes, cheeses and in the honey.

Perfect example of Corsican's French and Italian roots at the farmer's market in Ajaccio. On one side, pizza, on the other, Croque Monsieur There is an emphasis on hearty stews and braised meat dishes, wild boar being among the most famous. Pork in Corsica is particularly delicious as almost all of the piggies are either free range or genuinely wild. Corsica is also famous for it's chestnuts, and many products are made with chestnut flour, including polenta and beignets.

Our first taste of classic Corsican food came on our first night in Ajaccio. We went to a restaurant called U Pampasgiolu located on a quiet side street close to the port. Tables were set up in a sort of large alleyway which made for a very cool dining atmosphere. Matt and I both got the same dish. It was essentially a tasting menu but it arrived all at once, served on a large wooden "planche". There were 7 different dishes ranging from cheese to veal stew. The waiter told us the correct order in which to eat everything and we dug in.

A massive tasting platter of traditional Corsican dishes at U Pamapasgiolu First off, a yummy beefy, hearty soup filled with potatoes, carrots, onions and celery. Then there was a ham, brocciu cheese, spinach and wild mint tart that we felt tasted a bit like toothpaste. Not our favorite part of the assortment. But the other dishes were fantastic. Braised eggplant in tomato sauce stuffed with breadcrumbs and ham, veal stew seasoned heavily with herbs and a burst of sharp vinegar alongside creamy garlicky polenta. Then a charcuterie plate with salami, a thick sliced prosciutto and a gamey wild boar. This was our first taste of Corsican charcuterie and in my journal I noted that the meat was the "gamiest, smokiest, most delicious 'meat leather' we had ever tasted." Finally, there was a Manchego-esque cheese served with a thick fig jam. It was a major meal. Delicious and enormous. And an amazing introduction to the world of Corsican food.

Savoring the last sips of excellent red wine in the charming outdoor seating area of U Pampasgiolu We had another great meal on the road from Corte to Porto Vecchio at A Mandria, a huge restaurant with a large outdoor garden and patio. We arrived and were led to the outside where a family of about 20 were happily eating at a long banquet-style table.View of the outdoor garden and seating area behind the restaurant A Mandria The menu was extensive and, as usual, only in French and Corsican. So we had no idea what to order. Surprisingly, the waiter spoke English and he insisted that I get one of the specials of the house: an assorted meat platter with chestnut polenta, twice baked potato and braised beans in tomato sauce. I obeyed. Matt, on the other hand, opted for a lighter option, an omelette that must have been made with at least 8 eggs, filled with tangy aged Brocciu cheese and also served with a twice baked potato and braised beans.

Matt's massive Brocciu filled omelette at A Mandria My plate arrived. It was enormous. 3 different cuts of thick, grilled bacon-esque pork slabs, blood sausage, the stuffed potato, a hunk of Brocciu and the polenta. It was a meat bonanza. The bacon was really smoky, having been grilled right on the gigantic wood burning grill at the back of the garden. The rind was right on there, which added for a nice crunch with each bite. The sausage was juicy and impeccably seasoned. The beans, creamy and comforting.

My artery-clogging pork festival plate at A Mandria It was a ton of food. I finished about 1/4 of the plate before I conceded and let the bees have their way with it. (click here to read my earlier post about the meat-loving, ever present, occasionally pesky, but harmless Corsican bees)

Matt's omelette was lovely, light and fluffy and streaked with the crumbly cheese. And I should mention that, as expected, the bees had no interest whatsoever in Matt's boring old vegetarian omelette. But my pork? They came from miles around. I'm telling you, these bees love their piggy.

This was the first place we learned the concept of the "bee offering." We put a couple of pieces of my pork at the edge of the table. The bees went right to it. And while the occasional bee strayed over to my plate to inspect the remnants of a smoky piece of pork fat, most of them were happy to stick with what we had so generously set aside for them.Appease the bees: A generous pork offering for these meat-loving insects For dessert we had an amazing chestnut caramel flan and a much needed espresso. The waiter than made us taste 2 home-brewed liqueurs: one myrtle flavored (myrtle is a pungently flavored berry that grows among the maquis) and one chestnut flavored. Both were yummy, sweet and strong. We rolled away from the restaurant in a meat-induced haze.

Though I had meat coming out of my ears, I could not resist the silky chestnut caramel flan at A Mandria Myrtle and Chestnut Liqueur at a Mandria helped to revive me from a meaty black hole Perhaps our favorite meal was an unexpected stop in the tiny mountain village of Evisa. We drove through Evisa on our way to Corte, after leaving the town of Porto and enjoying a lovely hike in the Gorges de Spelunca. We had had a late breakfast and so we had planned to drive straight through Evisa to the Foret D'Antoine and then on to Corte (Click here to read my previous post about Corsica's natural beauty). But as usual, the drive took longer than expected and we arrived in Evisa around 1:30. Lunchtime.

View from the terrace of A Tramula in Evisa One of my guidebooks mentioned that there was a small family owned restaurant off the tiny main road in the town. We entered A Tramula and knew right away it was our kind of place. The restaurant itself is tiny, just one small room with a bar and a couple of tables. At one table in the corner a group of Corsican men sat drinking beer and bickering with one another. To the left of the bar was a kitchen, if you could call it a kitchen. It was basically just a closet with a grill, a little oven and a small four burner stove. But magical things were happening in that little kitchen closet.

We were escorted through the restaurant to a patio overlooking the beautiful Maquis covered mountains and the charming red-roofed Evisa houses. The air smelled sweet and clean. We sat down at our table with big smiles on our faces and ordered a half bottle of Rose.

Matt in Lasagna bliss on the terrace of A Tramula On the menu there was a special of the day. We didn't bother asking the waiter what it was because we would not have understood what he said anyway. So we just pointed to the words on the menu and ordered "deux."

It was not even 10 minutes later (service in Corsican restaurants tends to be amazingly fast) that we had before us a mouthwatering square of lasagna covered in tomato sauce, layered with some sort of soft and crumbly goat cheese and sprinkled with dried maquis herbs. We were speechless for a moment. It looked that good. And smelled that good.

Legendary lasagna at A Tramula We simultaneously brought our forks to the pasta and dug in. The lasagna was meltingly soft and tender. The pasta, cheese and sauce melded together in perfect harmony. Each bite was better than the next. The sauce was fresh, a little sweet, fragrant from the herbs. We sat there and ate in silence, slowly, carefully, as if the lasagna was a piece of art to be lovingly treasured. We looked up at each other occasionally, shaking our heads in amazement at the awesome-ness of this meal. We didn't need to speak because we knew what we were both thinking. Bite of lasagna. Sip of wine. The breeze of the cool mountain air, scent of the maquis drifting around us. Life doesn't get much better than this.

COASTAL CORSICAN CUSINE

Langoustine delight The food in Corsica's coastal towns does not differ drastically from the food that you find further inland, except for the obvious addition of excellent seafood. And almost every seafood based meal we had was eaten either right on the beach, or within sight of the sea, making everything taste that much better.

The Beach in the town of Cargese, where we had one of our favorite Coastal-Corsica meals All of the seafood we had in Corsica was impeccably fresh. But there was one type of seafood that was really outstanding: Shrimp and the mighty Langoustine.

I don't tend to think of shrimp as much of anything. I mean, I love it. But it doesn't have all that much flavor and there's nothing particularly special about it. Shrimp in Corsica, on the other hand, is a mind-opening experience. Every time I had shrimp, which was often, it arrived head and shell on, simply grilled or poached and drizzled with some olive oil and crunchy sea salt. To taste these shrimp is a revelation. They are so sweet and briny, so fresh. When you eat these shrimp it as is if you are tasting the little crustacean for the first time. As if you finally know what shrimp are supposed to taste like.

Dining outside at Sous La Tonnelle in Porto Vecchio At the restaurant Sous La Tonnelle in Porto Vecchio, I had one such enlightening shrimp meal. The restaurant is very pretty, located on a busy side street in the main part of the Citadel. As with most places we went to in Corsica, there was outdoor sidewalk seating. We always opted to sit outside when we could as the nighttime weather was a consistent balmy 75 degrees with a lovely cool breeze.

Sous La Tonnelle is known for it's traditional Corsican food, (as so many restaurants proudly boast) but we were also right on the coast so seafood was prominent. I pretended to look through the menu but the truth was, as soon as I saw shrimp as a main course, I knew what I was going to order. From the very first time I’d eaten a Corsican shrimp I was hooked. At this point in our trip, if it was on a menu, I was going to order it.

Braised endive with crispy pancetta at Sous La Tonnelle We started with a delicious dish of braised endive swimming in a balsamic reduction and topped with delicate slices of crispy pancetta. The endive was so tender and buttery it almost disintegrated into the sauce when you cut into it. Flecks of the crispy smoky pancetta mingled with each bite, creating a yummy mix of saltiness, bitterness from the endive, and a sweet tang from the balsamic reduction. A great start to the meal.

For our main course, Matt got a seared duck breast that was smothered in sweet caramelized onions, creamy fingerling potatoes and a dense meaty port-sauce. It was great. Really scrumptious.

Simple and spectacular shrimp at Sous La Tonnelle But the shrimp. Oh the shrimp. My dish was so simple. 4 or 5 large shrimp, some rice with herbs and vegetables, a couple of roasted cherry tomatoes. But it was perfect. I could've eaten a hundred of them. Head meats and all. Corsica has managed to elevate a humble, ordinary shellfish to a whole new level.Don't miss a single bit of these delectable shrimp. Consume from head to tail! One of the reasons I was so impressed with the shrimp was because of the enormous difference between the Corsican version and the one we get here in the states. But let's not kid around here. The shrimp were amazing and mind blowing and all that. But when it all comes down to it, a shrimp will still be a shrimp. It will never be able to stand up to what I consider to be the grand-daddy of all Crustaceans: The Langoustine.

You've heard me go into great, gory detail about Langoustines before, in my post about Barcelona. If you've never had a langoustine, the flavor is basically a cross between a lobster and a shrimp. They are actually related to lobsters. Langoustines are big, about 6 inches or so long, with lanky claws that extend far beyond their bodies. Their shells are much harder than shrimp but much softer and easier to split than a lobster. The meat is sweet and delicate. I rarely see Langoustines on a menu in NYC but in Europe they are very popular. And in Corsica they are at their finest.

Soothing view on the terrace at the club house at Sperone golf Course During one lunch, I indulged in an absolute langoustine bonanza. Matt only had a couple. He just doesn't get it. I had at least a dozen, and I only stopped because I thought the waitress was giving me funny looks. But how could I hold back? It was a Langoustine BUFFET!

World's greatest Buffet? Langoustine galore We had just played a round of golf at one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed course called Sperone. Sperone is astonishing. Beginning at the 10th hole, you see the Mediterranean in the distance. From there on, hole after hole, you are bombarded with one breathtaking view after the next.The 16th hole at Sperone is right on the water. It's Matt's happy place. Some of the holes appear to be right in the middle of the ocean. The water was a rainbow of gorgeous blues and greens, and it was so clear we could see straight down to the bottom. Sperone even has it’s own wonderful beach: Petit Du Sperone. It is a tiny stretch of sand surrounded by green hills. A great place to take a refreshing dip after a perfect round of golf.

Some of the nicest water we saw in Corsica was around the Sperone golf corse View of Petite Sperone beach. A small, quiet beach. You just walk right down from the golf course Sperone is a swanky, expensive course. And with every swanky course comes a swanky clubhouse to go with it. After our round we headed up to the clubhouse to grab a bite to eat. We were thinking a nice turkey club sandwich, some fries and a beer would be great. Instead we were greeted with an all you can eat gourmet buffet filled with delectable salads, cheeses, charcuterie, poached and smoked salmon, shrimp and a gigantic platter of glistening pink langoustine.

I was shocked. Langoustine are expensive, a luxury ingredient. And here they were, an endless supply at my fingertips. The buffet wasn't cheap. But for 35 Euros, unlimited access to not only langoustines but a host of other very high end ingredients made this a great deal. I grabbed a plate and began.

My Second Plate at Sperone Buffet: All Langoustines all the time Everything was great. There was curried shrimp, pasta salad with tuna and artichokes, avocado salad with fresh tomatoes, beet salad, endive salad, mozzarella salad with tomatoes and red onion. It went on and on. At first I loaded up my plate with a sampling of most of the dishes. But then I focused in on the main event, happily tearing apart one langoustine after the next. It was amazing.

We had another wonderful seafood meal in Porto at the restaurant La Mer. La Mer is a beautiful space with a large outdoor patio under a canopy of leafy trees. Strings of lights hang between the branches creating a magical secret-garden-esque atmosphere.

Lovely outdoor seating at La Mer We began our meal with a "Crumble de Nicoise." As usual, we had no idea what we were actually ordering, and as usual it did not matter. The crumble was some sort of mixed fish-tartare topped with, well, a crumble of breadcrumbs and herbs, sitting in a light curry tinged tomato sauce. It was an unusual and surprising dish that we loved.

Crumble de Nicoise at La Mer Though we were at a fish restaurant, Matt wasn't in the mood, having just spent the entire day on our boat ride through Scandola (click here to see my previous post on the marine nature reserve of Scandola). He'd had enough of the sea for the time being. So he got the Entrecote de Boeuf. And I gotta admit, it was awesome. A big, juicy piece of steak accompanied by a bernaise sauce that was so thick it could be mistaken for mashed potatoes. There were big roasted shallots, grilled cherry tomatoes and smoky grilled fingerling potatoes. There was also some sort of divine broccoli or spinach based puree that we couldn't quite identify. Fantastic.

Matt's Succulent Entrecote de Boeuf at La Mer I, on the other hand, was not messing around with meat. I knew that the fish at this restaurant came right from the waters we had been exploring earlier that day, and that meant I had to have it. I ordered the fish of the day which was sold by the gram. I don't actually know what kind of fish it was but it didn't matter.

It arrived whole, expertly charred on the outside, flaky, moist and delectable on the inside, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt. My sides included the same mystery puree Matt had, along with a sweet potato puree of sorts, a stewed tomato and raw, sweet fennel dressed with olive oil and wine soaked golden raisins. A stunning fish dish that I will never forget.

My whole delectable fish at La Mer My final, and perhaps fondest, coastal Corsican culinary memory takes us to a beach in the town of Cargese on our second day on the island. We left Ajaccio to drive to Porto. It was a gorgeous drive but it was our first experience with the narrow Corsican mountain roads and sheer drops into horrifying bottomless gorges. We were terrified. Well, at least, I was terrified. Matt didn't have time to be terrified as he squeezed past an oncoming truck speeding around a hairpin turn at 70 miles per hour. He was sweating. I was holding my breath. We were stressed out.

After about an hour and a half of driving, I reluctantly tore my eyes off the road and began to look through our guidebooks to get an idea of where we were and how close we were to Porto. We still had a considerable way to go. We were, however, near to the town of Cargese which apparently had a very nice beach. We had yet to experience a Corsican beach and we were in much need of a break from our little road trip. We entered the tiny town of Cargese and I told Matt to pull off at a fork in the road. The road, the guidebook said, would lead us down the the beach.

The welcoming beach at Cargese Soon we saw a line of parked cars. We turned a corner and there was a long expanse of white sand and a beautiful blue sea. Matt and I had no idea what to expect of Corsican beaches and we were pretty shocked to discover how Caribbean it looked and felt. We took about a thousand pictures of the clear water and the surrounding mountains.

Irresistibly charming beach restaurant on the sand at Cargese beach We walked down the beach and came to a little restaurant. It was love at first sight. Thatched roof, wooden bar, a floor of sand. The family who owned the place was sitting at a long table eating platters of seafood and drinking wine. We were so happy to not be driving, so happy to finally be on a beach relaxing and enjoying our honeymoon, so happy to have discovered this unexpected magical restaurant. It was paradise. We rented two chairs from the owners of the place and set up camp.

It's a good life on the beach at Cargese After we were sufficiently chilled out we took our first dip in the Corsican sea. It felt just as good as it looked. Then we made our way up to the restaurant for lunch.

Matt ordered a panini with ham, cheese and tomato. I don't know why, but sandwiches in Europe are always good. This one really hit the spot. I went a little bolder and got the dish I saw everyone eating when we had first walked in. It was a mixed seafood platter with shrimp, mussels, smoked salmon, calamari, octopus, crab, fresh mango, tomatoes and Bibb lettuce. It was tossed with a light lemony vinaigrette and that was it.

My wonderful Fruits de Mer Salad at the Cargese beach restaurant It was AWESOME. First of all, this was my first taste of Corsican shrimp. Like I said before, a revelation. The mussels were tiny and sweet and tender. Every single aspect of this dish was impeccably fresh and delightful. I'd never tasted seafood like this before and I knew right away that I was in for some serious seafood delights on this trip. Like all things in Corsica there is something in the air…something in the land…something in the sea that just makes everything taste different.

Up Next: The Gourmet Side of Corsica and Drinking in Corsica
Monday
Nov082010

THE TERROIR OF CORSICA and CORSICAN SPECIALTY FOODS

Delicious charcuterie and cheese at the Farmer's Market in Ajaccio I talked about the extraordinary beauty of the island of Corsica in my previous post. There is no shortage of natural wonders here, from the gorgeous beaches on the coast to the fragrant Maquis-covered mountains of inland Corsica. Experiencing the natural beauty of Corsica is enough of a reason to travel to the island.

But Corsica has so much more to offer. Lounging on the beach, basking in the sun after a tranquil swim, you may think you are in the Caribbean. But when you are sitting at a beach restaurant with your toes buried in the sand, and you order a Calzone filled with a barely poached egg, prosciutto and mozzarella cheese along side a glass of delicate Rose wine produced by a nearby vineyard, it dawns on you. You are in an island sandwiched between FRANCE and ITALY. This is the two greatest cuisines in the world, existing in culinary harmony.

The inner glory of Matt's Prosciutto, Mozzarella and fried egg Calzone at Tamaricciu restaurant The really cool thing is, you're not eating French food and you're not eating Italian food, though elements of both cuisines can be found in many of the dishes you encounter. You are eating Corsican food made almost exclusively with local Corsican ingredients. This is food you cannot eat anywhere else but in Corsica. And you can taste the difference.

Roaming Corsican pigs lounging by the side of the road. Not a care in the world. The French have a special name for locally produced food: "Terroir." The concept of "terroir" has two meanings. The first is literal; it is essentially a reference to the land, the climate, the region where a particular food is grown. But there is a deeper, more complex meaning to the word. It is also a description of the unique, almost indescribable quality and taste of food that is grown in a particular place.

Garden in back of restaurant A Mandria between Corte and Porto Vecchio It is not only the physical land and region where a certain food is grown that makes it taste different. As Anne Willan writes in the Introduction to her cookbook "The Country Cooking of France":
"Terroir isn't merely rainfall, mineral content and angles of exposure to sunlight…Terroir is our cultural and historical link to the land, the expression of the land itself and of the people who live there. To the French…it is an emotionally charged term, for it is food that tells a story."


Picture Perfect Corsican Peaches at the Farmer's Market in Ajaccio The notion of Terroir is what makes dining in Corsica so special. There is a passionate devotion to all things local. So what you eat, and drink, directly connects you to the land that surrounds you. Each bite of delicious lasagna, or prosciutto, or a briny langoustine, each sip of earthy red wine or clear sweet Corsican sparkling water, embodies the essence of Corsica’s land and it’s history. The food has a taste and a quality that you will not experience anywhere else you go in the world.

And each bite tells a story. You think of the sea you just swam in, or the mountain you just crossed, or the pigs you just saw walking down the road. You smell the heady herbs of the Maquis, feel the cool ocean breeze, remember the icy clear waters of the rock pools you swam in earlier that day. Every meal you have in Corsica is a dining experience that somehow involves all your senses at once. And as a result every meal is special. And very delicious.

Fluffy, sugar coated Beignets filled with aged Brocciu cheese at Boulangerie Galeani in Ajaccio CORSICAN SPECIALITY FOODS

The image of the Moor's Head becomes very familiar while you are in Corsica When you are in Corsica you will see the image of the Moor’s Head everywhere you go. The Moor’s Head is the national symbol of the island. It is not only the emblem on the Corsican flag, but also appears on the packaging of all locally made products.

Inside an excellent wine, charcuterie and kitchen supply shop in Bonifacio When you see the Moor’s Head, you know you what you are purchasing was made in Corsica. And this is important. Because when you try the delicious Corsican Charcuterie, Cheese and Honey you’re going to want to make sure you get the real thing.

Woman making fresh beignets outside a bakery in the town of Corte HONEY Corsican honey is very unusual. There is a particular type of bee that can only be found in Corsica, and this leads to a variety of uniquely flavored honey. Corsican honey is, in fact, the only honey in France to be granted AOC status. You may have seen the AOC, or “Appellation of Controlled Origin,” label on fancy French wines or cheeses. It is basically a way to guarantee a product comes from a certain area, as well as to preserve traditional production methods that have been passed from generation to generation. Thus, if you see the label "AOC" on a bottle of Bourdeaux, you know that the grapes are from the town of Bourdeaux, France and that the methods of producing the wine are the same methods that have been used for hundreds of years. You know you are getting an authentic product.

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with the traditional Apples and Honey. The unique Corsican honey makes this a very special New Year! The fact that Corsican honey is designated AOC is significant. It means that the French government has determined that the unique qualities of the honey can be found in no place but Corsica, and that the traditions of harvesting and producing this honey are invaluable and must be officially preserved.

And if you tasted Corsican honey, you would agree that this is a product that needs to be protected and treasured. Corsican honey is absolutely wild tasting. It certainly does not taste like any honey that I have ever had. There are a number of different kinds of honey and the type is determined by where the bee hive is located. Honey from bees that live at a high altitude taste different from those that live closer to the coast, because the type of flower that the bees pollinate varies based on the location. There is a honey that is made from the chestnut tree, a honey that is made from the flowers of the maquis in winter, and a honey that is made from the flowers of the maquis in spring. Each one has a distinct and intense flavor, both sweet and herbaceous and very complex. The taste lingers and blossoms in your mouth. It's like you are tasting the very essence of "bee." It's pretty mind-blowing.

A group of Corsican bees innocently dining on a piece of silky Prosciutto fat during our meal at the Sperone golf club Speaking of bees...when you go to Corsica, at least to the areas of Corsica that we were in, it's pretty obvious that honey is a big thing here. Because bees are EVERYWHERE. And I'm not exaggerating. Bees quickly become a major part of your day-time Corsica dining experience. At every meal they will hover around your plate and even sometimes eat your food. And there is nothing you can do about it.

But I don't want to scare you. The truth is, the bees are totally harmless as long as you don't try and mess with them. In fact it's pretty enlightening to be in such constant and close proximity to bees and learn not to fear them. Corsicans are so used to bees that at restaurants the waiters instruct you to make a bee offering: Put a small piece of food on a bread plate and place it at the side of your table. The bees will be delighted--and they will, for the most part, stay away from your meal.

Interestingly, Corsican bees (as one waitress told us) love Prosciutto, eggs and Chicken above all else. They are gourmet bees. This fact was proven to us again and again during our Corsican dining experiences. We actually couldn't believe how right this waitress really was.

My delicious vegetarian pizza at Tamaricciu restaurant on the beach at Palombaggia We sat down to lunch at Tamaricciu, located on the beach of Palombaggia. The food here was great. Especially because we were sitting about 30 feet from the water on one of the most beautiful beaches we had ever seen, drinking Rose wine and enjoying the cool breeze. It was glorious.

Anyway, Matt, as he so often does, ordered the better of our two dishes. My vegetarian pizza was delicious with fresh artichokes, red peppers and mushrooms and expertly done chewy and crisp crust. But Matt's Calzone, filled with prosciutto, gooey mozzarella cheese and a delicately poached egg was transcendent. It arrived like a giant calzone football, golden brown and charred in just the right places. When he broke into it the egg oozed out over the plate exposing the smoky prosciutto and cheese treasures that lay within.

A Perfect calzone at Tamaricciu on the beach of Palombaggia And that's when the bees descended. I was sitting right next to Matt, munching on my pizza and drinking my wine. The bees couldn't care less about my peppers. Not a single one even approached my plate. But to my left Matt was fully sharing his Calzone with 3 or 4 bees. Really, I don't blame them. The Calzone was that good. But they were all over that plate, little legs dancing around the sticky egg, mouths tearing off (bees rip off food with their mouths, it's crazy) pieces of prosciutto and flying away with them, only to return for more a few minutes later.

Bees enjoying bits of Matt's Calzone At one point a bee landed on our bottle of water and it's legs left egg yolk behind on the glass. That attracted even more bees, who now hovered around our egg-marked water bottle. One time a bee floated over to my pizza, inspected a piece of artichoke with disdain and then drifted back over to dine on a lone piece of pork.

Bees on our bottle of water I'm not going to lie and say this was not annoying. There were moments when I just wanted to eat in peace without the company of the bees. But, like I said, they are not there to hurt you and they never do. And you gotta respect the fact that they love their prosciutto and sweet drippy egg yolk. After all, who doesn't?

CHEESE

Mouthwatering assortment of Cheese at U Stazzu in Ajaccio Corsican honey goes very well alongside a nice piece of Corsican cheese. Corsica produces a lot of wonderful cheese, primarily from sheep and goat's milk. But most famous of them all, and the only one with AOC status, is the soft, ricotta-like Brocciu cheese.

Aged Brocciu cheese for sale at the Farmer's Market in Ajaccio. Note the symbol of the Moor's Head on the packaging Brocciu is considered the national cheese of Corsica. It is produced from November through May and it is best eaten fresh, within 48 hours of production. Brocciu can also be aged for several months, transforming it from a soft, mild and creamy cheese to a more crumbly and tangy one. Brocciu is used in many Corsican dishes, from savory ones such as an omelette or pasta to sweet desserts like a filling for sugar dusted beignets or the base for a refreshing ice cream. You are guaranteed to see it on most Corsican menus in one form or another. We were not in Corsica during Brocciu season, so we tried the aged version. Which was delicious. But apparently it is nothing compared to the fresh product. In one blog post I found on Corsica, the blogger writes that the fresh cheese is so good that: "I’d actually go so far as to say that you shouldn’t visit Corsica any other time of year than during Brocciu season." Oh well. I guess we'll just have to go back sometime.

CHARCUTERIE

Meats hanging in a window in Bonifacio. You don't have to go too far in Corsica to come across some enticing meats hanging around. Where there is cheese, there is charcuterie. And the abundance of free range pigs and wild boar on the island guarantees top notch cured meats. The pig's diet consists of acorns, chestnuts, wild berries and the herbs of the maquis, giving the a meat a distinct flavor.

You really get to know your food here--the pigs on the side of the road are so tame and used to people that you can walk right up and pet them Corsican charcuterie is dense and smoky and pungent. Unlike, for example, an Italian prosicutto, which you might describe as mild, sweet and delicate, Corsican charcuterie tends to knock you off your feet with it's bold and assertive flavor and texture. Try the Figatelli (liver sausages) and the Prosciutto-like Prizutto for a good example of these really fantastic and unusual pork delights.

We stumbled across this Farmer's market as we were leaving Ajaccio. Good thing. It was awesome. Everywhere you go in Corsica, there's bound to be salamis and hams hanging around somewhere. In Ajaccio (pronounced a-ja-chio), the capital city of Corsica and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, we stumbled across a great farmer's market. There was an enormous selection of beautiful produce, fresh breads and cheeses. Many of the stands were selling excellent looking charcuterie. I had to try some. After a few minutes of browsing we settled on one stand with an enticing array of thin, almost black, wrinkled blood sausages and thick salamis with dark slightly molded rinds.

Vendor with lots of character at one of the stands in the Ajaccio Farmer's market The owner of this stand was a man wearing a red bandana around his neck and a black Indiana Jones-style hat. He was smiling and talking loudly and slicing off pieces of a giant ham leg to hand to passerby’s.

When we ordered a small portion of prosciutto and blood sausage (or, rather, pointed to them, since he didn't speak much English), the man asked if we were Canadian. We said we were from New York City. He then proceeded to take a gun out of his pants, laughing all the while, wave it around for a second and then place it on a piece of wax paper along with a slice of ham. He laughed some more and gave us our packages. We had no idea what the fire arm display was all about. It was very strange. But it didn’t bother us. That sausage tasted great.

A poetic display of Gun and Ham. Ajaccio also has a very famous Charcuterie and cheese shop called U Stazzu. Outside the store there is a sign that says only 15 people can enter the tiny space at once. Inside, the smell of aged meats and stinky cheeses smacks you right in the face. It's meaty, moldy, smoky and spicy all at once.

Inside the U Stazzu in Ajaccio. A must go to when in the city. Baskets display huge salamis of varying sizes. Some of them cost over 50 Euros for a single thick link. A display of cheese at the back end of the space makes you weep and drool with hungry joy. There are jars of delicious looking pork terrines, sweet maquis flavored jams and almonds suspended in honey. This is the kind of specialty food shop where dreams come true. The kind of place that makes you want to move right to Ajaccio and never look back.

Close up of the astonishing Salami at U Stazzu. Some of these cost over 50 Euros. SEA URCHIN There is one Corsican delicacy which we did not have the opportunity to try, since its season is only from December through the end of March. And I was devastated. Because for me this delicacy is the greatest delicacy of all, the food I love more than any other: The briny, oceanic, creamy almost foie-gras like glory of the mighty Sea Urchin.

Some people feel sea urchin is an acquired taste. Matt often thinks it tastes like toilet. But those of us who are devoted sea urchin lovers know the profound delicious-ness of this spiny sea creature. And the fact that it is such a delicacy in Corsica was yet another reason why this was my new favorite place on earth. Apparently, when in season, the locals just pick them out of the water, take them to the shore and pop them open to enjoy alongside a glass of white wine and some crusty bread. HEAVEN. Now I have 2 reasons to go back: Fresh Brocciu cheese and Sea urchin. Springtime in Corsica? Sounds like a plan.

UP NEXT: THE JOYS OF CORSICAN CUISINE