My relationship with tripe has always been tough. As a child, I was overexposed to trippa alla romana by my Roman mom, who loved the recipe like I love chocolate. In my suburban town, it was not easy to find good (i.e. edible) intestines, but we lived on the edge of Philadelphia and my mom was on a first name basis with all the butchers in the Italian Market. Once in a while, she’d disappear for a morning and head to Esposito Meats where she’d chat up the Eposito brothers, talk with young Lou about law school, and peruse the counter until she found the very best tripe. Personally, I have no clue what the criteria was, but apparently Lou cut it well. Once home, my mom would hoist the bag high over all 5 feet and 3 inches as if a Templar showing off the Holy Grail. “Guess what we’re having for dinner….” And then she’d cook. Her trippa all romana smelled amazing - slowly browning in a very garlicky red sauce. My friends were bewitched by the aromas and always tried a little piece. And then no more, once it was explained that what they were eating was the very best of intestines. And thus ended my social life.
I stopped liking tripe. But no one really wanted to come over. Years later and living in Rome, I was secretly happy when the anti-social dish was disappearing from trattoria menus, which would make my mother drag me all over the city to find it only to order back-to-back servings of tripe assolutamente senza pecorino. No, I didn’t want a taste even if I used to like it as a child, I tell her, complaining that I was scarred from a childhood of tripe, boiled pig’s feet, anchovies and mozzarella, and foraged greens in a suburban world where kids were spoonfed Spaghetti-Ohs. Get over it, she’d laugh. But I wouldn’t budge.
Nope, I won’t eat tripe. Nope. Not unless it’s that beautiful trippa in insalata by Fabio in Florence.
The tiny, no-reservations Cibreio Trattoria (aka Cibreino) is where I find myself liking tripe. For the culinary detective, Cibreino is the trattoria-side of Cibreo, Fabbio Picchi’s historic establishment. While Cibreo is reservations, lovely table settings, and cloth napkins and table cloths, Cibreino is walk-in only, wood tables and old school paper table mats. The menu is hand-printed, and the prices are deliciously economical. From what I am told, Cibreino’s seasonal menu follows Cibreo, and I’m pretty sure the two establishments are connected by a corridor which leads to Cibreo’s kitchen.
First, I order a budino di curcuma, a soufflé-like yogurt pudding infused with turmeric. It is savory and a forkful embodies the turnover between fall and winter. The trippa in insalata, traditional Florentine tripe, arrives and it is unlike my hateful, friend-losing trippa alla roman. The dish itself looks like a abstract collage. Thin, white strands of tripe dotted with orange, and green bits- Celery, onion, carrot and parsley lightly cooked in olive oil, garlic and vinegar. I take a bite and it is the very opposite of what I grew up with. And it is really good. I realize that I have to call my mom and apologize for years of eye rolling and complaining. I lap up a pumpkin soup whose (Tuscan) olive oil garnish looks like a Rorschach inkblot. And I’m hooked on Cibreino.
Reign of Terroir
Maybe it’s his eyes, or his food, no matter what, Fabio Picchi is captivating. He’s a standout- from his bombastic personality to his shock of white hair. It' s no surprise that he is Florence’s 21st century emperor, reigning over Piazza Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood with a firm wooden spoon. Via dei Maccio is his gauntlet, a busy residential street lined with boutiques, shops and Fabio’s restaurants. Google" “Where to Eat in Florence”, and the results will include any one of his Cibreo restaurants - the obvious Cibrèo, and Trattoria Cibrèo/Cibreino, the charming Caffe Cibrèo, the unexpected Asian-fusion Ciblèo, and the organic market/deli C’ Bio. Dig deep and you’ll find that Fabio even has a supper club mixing food and entertainment, something he definitely isn’t lacking.
“I’m searching for saints”, Fabio tells me as we sip coffee at C’Bio, his chic bio market just around the corner from Cibreo. C’Bio stocks artisan breads, olive oils, pastas and more along with Picchi’s signature sauces, confits and other gourmet delicacies. This is Fabio’s showcase, a line up of food items hand selected by him, along with some other kitchen-adjacent items like bags, aprons, clothing. It’s all about the chilometro italiano, Fabio stresses, the Italian kilometer where products (whether Tuscan olive oil, Mugello beef, Sicilian capers) are from local culinary artisans. And by local, we mean reared, raised, farmed and produced in Italy. As he tells me all about how he chooses producers (which includes a long discussion on repeat visits), an olive oil producer walks in with two 5-kilo barrels. It’s time to try and as we sip, I find myself listening in on a heated discussion about Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former PM and political upstart. For Fabio, the personal relationship is just as important as the quality of the product, and he seems to know every thing from production and farming detaisl to personal lives.
I get back home and I’m counting kilos, too. Not grams but meters. I am watching where I eat- as in where it comes from, who is bringing it to the table (and how) and what it means to me and Italy. Fresh produce is practically constitution law in Italy and every social scene is tied to food, whether religious and secular. Italians love food- where it comes from, how it raised and how it made. And to Fabio,” it’s not about creating monuments, but mentalities. It’s about respect for the territory, creating a life-lasting gift that will pay it forward to the next generation”.
via de’ Macci 122, Florence
Lunch from 12.50
Dinner from 18.50
Fancy some tripe?
You don’t need to sit down at the table to enjoy some tripe. Epic Trippaio, tripe kiosks, are in key locations all over Florence, where my new favorite dish is served up sandwich-style. The culinary connoisseur knows that another storied offal is the more tender Lampredotto (the fourth and final cow’s stomach), boiled in a broth of herbs and vegetables, then finely sliced and as served inside a sandwich. Traditional toppings are salt and pepper, green sauce and hot sauce. Tip: Ask for your panino “bagnato”: sandwich bread soaked in the broth.
For the culinary explorers, here’s a great map of all the tripe kiosks in Florence.