I love the Mercato Centrale in Florence. There's no reason for anyone living or staying within walking/bike riding/bus distance of this institution to ever have another mediocre meal. Ever. They've got enough variety to make 1000(000...) meals, each different and unique and delicious, all with top quality ingredients. Meat, cheese, produce, mushrooms, fresh baked bread the list goes on. The mind boggles at the available options and potential combinations. There are even restaurants inside if you can't wait to get home and cook.
The building itself is nothing special by Florentine standards but it's big- a full block. And the point is really what's inside.
Let's take a stroll through then:
Continuing our stroll, then outdoors where there are hundreds of stalls selling non-food stuff:
If you get the chance, go. Get a room with or with use of a kitchen, or just make picnic/bag lunches. Then eat.
Really enjoyed this, the pictures and videos, thanks Fumobici. Were you by yourself? The reason I ask is because a woman would have made you stop at least 1000 (000) times to look at this and that. ;D Mich
You don't see a whole lot of English in the market but some of the Asian vendors use it some for signage. The ethnic Italian vendors don't generally seem to know much, but the East and South Asians mostly seem fluent.
Here's a large photo showing labels at one of the dried fruit stalls in Italian/Chinese/English. I bought an etto (100g) of dried strawberries from an Italian vendor and they were amazing just eaten plain, such concentrated strawberry flavor. I could definitely find a use for them in baking and deserts. How about minced dried strawberry and marscapone filled pastries with a dribble of balsamic over the top or a sauce made from dried guava and lime over panna cotta gelato?
Yes, it really is nice to have a kitchen available, so much more variety and value shopping at the market as opposed to dining out. Here's the kitchen at the wonderful little B&B, Casa Corsi, I stayed at in Florence:
Roberta, the proprietress is wonderful and yes that is an espresso machine on the left. Here's the little common room:
And perhaps best, there's a beautiful courtyard to eat or relax in as well:
The cost is super reasonable too, and easy walking distance from the train station, Piazza S. Maria Novella and the Mercato Centrale, even the duomo as well. I can't recommend the place highly enough.
Going back to the delightful cheese photos at the market, I found myself wondering if Italy has a lot more hard cheeses than soft cheeses, or if the impression is simply caused by the ease of displaying the hard cheeses at a market. Obviously mozzarella, gorgonzola, etc., are soft, but a lot of the other 'stars' of the Italian cheese world seem to be hard. Easier to keep in a warmer climate, perhaps? I know that in France, the farther south you go, the more hard cheeses there are. The northern cheeses are much more soft and runny.
I think you may be onto something with the climate. Hard sheep's milk cheeses (although there is a lot of variation in texture- when fresh they are somewhat soft) known generically in Italy as Pecorino dominate. Soft cheeses tend to be (extremely) fresh rather than ripened. Up near the Alps of course the cheeses tend to be similar to Swiss, with more cow's milk as opposed to sheep's.
Honestly, nobody makes cheeses of the variety and consistent quality the French do. It's not even a close thing IMO.
I'll challenge that statement with my opinion (though each are as valid) - nobody makes cheeses of the variety and consistent quality the British do. It's not even a close thing IMO. I admit if you want soft cheese than the Continent is where to go. If you want hard cheese, then it's got to be Britain and Ireland. Needless to say I prefer hard cheese.
France has "Traditionally, there are from 350 to 400 distinct types of French cheese" (Though it is said that due to varieties of the same "some claim closer to 1,000 different types") But "there are over 700 named British cheeses produced in the UK."
If you discount all the false cheddar products about and look at the proper cheese, (rather like discounting all the Brie crap that's out there) the consistent quality and variety cannot be surpassed. Uk cheese is a hidden gem overshadowed and overlooked by European snobbery.