Lucca is famous throughout the world as the centre for the production of refined yet full-flavoured olive oil. Some estates in the area produce a truly exceptional oil by allowing the extra virgin olive oil from the first cold pressing to separate naturally from the water content of the berry before staining off the precious green-gold liquid. This is far more time consuming and uneconomic then the usual method of using a centrifuge to separate and clear the oil, but it produces an oil of greater delicacy and richness.
The city of Lucca has a reputation for fine gastronomia. Like all Tuscan food it relies principally on the quality of its basic ingredients, prepared with care and with a tendency towards simplicity rather then elaboration. The restaurants of Lucca may produce many fine dishes, but the essence of Lucchese cooking is still firmly rooted in the traditions of the contadini, or farmers, with food that reflects the seasons, and which is produced in time-honoured ways.
The marvellous hams and salami, the breads and biscuits cooked in wood burning ovens, the mounds of riccotta and discs of sheep's milk cheeses that are produced in the hills around Lucca are proudly displayed in the elegant alimentari that cluster around the city amphitheatre. One often hears that Lucca is the gastronomic centre of Tuscany; it is certainly true that it is difficult to eat badly there, 'fast food' being unheard of and most of the Trattorias being family run affairs with Mama doing the quality control.
It is also a city that is remarkably free of tourism, though the last two years has seen the arrival of long distance coaches and groups of bare-kneed Teutons and diminutive Orientals. Eyes glued to their videos they march a quick circuit around the town, then back to the coach and off and away to yet another jewel of Italian culture.
Perhaps the inherent conservatism of the Lucchese will preserve the rather austere, private nature of the city. Behind its wide high walls its citizens conduct their lives in a sedate ,slightly reserved fashion. The remarkable number of Romanesque churches that grace the town are a constant reminder of a noble and unbroken history of piety and respectability. Bourgeois principles that the present citizens of Lucca continue to live by and enjoy.
© Leonie Whitton
We thank Leonie for kindly capturing the flavors of Lucca for us. She and David run Il Collegio, an artists' and writers' retreat overlooking Lucca, whose courses look quite interesting. For more information either write them at email@example.com or visit their website, at http://www.summerhills.u-net.com.