“Black chicken, authentic chicken.” This Tuscan saying expresses just how firmly rooted pollo nero del Valdarno truly is here. As part of the Food for Change campaign by Slow Food, we set out to encounter this passenger aboard the Ark of Taste.
Valdarno Black Chicken nominated to the Ark of Taste by Chef Gaetano Trovato from Arnolfo Ristorante in Italy
This chicken is a true symbol. Its silhouette inspired the image of the black cockerel that adorns the Chianti Classico bottle — the most renowned Chianti designation of origin — and indeed has been a symbol of this territory since 1384. Nevertheless, during the 20th century, the breed went through hard times, and indeed at one point it appeared that it was destined to be reduced to an image on a label. But in the 1990s, genetic work made it possible to recover the characteristics and restore the stock.
Gaetano Trovato – chef of Arnolfo Ristorante in Colle di Val d’Elsa, in Chianti of course – is an expert on this chicken. With two Michelin stars under his belt, he crafts an elaborate cuisine that plays with color. He describes his cookery as edible architecture, and he finds his raison d’être in the feeling it procures and in the land from which it emanates. It is only natural that Arnolfo Ristorante should be part of the Relais & Châteaux family, as Gaetano calls it; and that the establishment should get involved in the 2021 Food for Change campaign with Slow Food and Relais & Châteaux, to bring the Valdarno black chicken into the spotlight.
Gaetano introduces us to Laura Pieri, a poultry farmer who supplies his restaurant with Valdarno black chicken, as well as pigeon, duck, guineafowl, and more. Laura quit her marketing career in 2004, at the age of 30, to walk in her grandfather’s footsteps. She now raises poultry in a woodland spanning nearly 20 acres, equipped with mobile henhouses. The animals are free to wander, climbing trees, hunting worms and nibbling roots in the earth to supplement the maize and grass blend that Laura provides. In the evening, the chickens head for shelter, since predators abound. Laura has also installed a slaughterhouse on the farm to avoid the stress of transporting the animals and thus preserve the full organoleptic qualities of the meat.
These are the ideal conditions for raising Valdarno black chicken, a very rustic breed unsuitable for intensive farming. In fact, that is one of the reasons that it disappeared from the Tuscan countryside during the 20th century. Another reason is that it matures slowly: it is slaughtered at the age of 180 days. That’s quite a contrast with just 35 days for a run-of-the-mill chicken...
Bringing out the most in a meat requires a certain expertise. The white meat is very flavorful, but it is firm and lean, making it suitable for traditional stews. Gaetano sought to develop a modern interpretation, observing the perfect cooking time for each piece. The wings are used to prepare a starter; the carcass goes into a stock in which pasta stuffed with the thigh meat is simmered; and the breasts form the main dish. Nothing is wasted: hearts, livers, gizzards, necks, kidneys and even cockerel combs enter into a traditional Tuscan dish, cibreo.
In today’s world of speed and simplification, Gaetano and Laura have chosen to complicate their lives and take their time, to the delight of gourmets. But their actions also make it possible to pass along the identity of this territory to future generations: its extensiveness, its uniqueness, and its authentic clout. Biodiversity also means cultural diversity: it makes the world richer and more beautiful.