It’s the herbs – thyme, marjoram, basil, fennel and rosemary – of the maquis (the dense, scented scrub covering lowland Corsica) that lend the island’s cuisine its distinctive aromas.
You’ll find the best charcuterie in the hills of the interior, where pork is smoked and cured in the cold cellars of village houses – it’s particularly delicious in Castagniccia, where wild pigs feed on the chestnuts which were once the staple diet of the locals. Here you can also taste chestnut fritters (fritelli a gaju frescu) and chestnut porridge (pulenta) sprinkled with sugar or eau de vie. Brocciu, a soft mozzarella-like cheese made with ewe’s milk, is found everywhere on the island, forming the basis for many dishes, including omelettes and cannelloni. Fromage corse is also very good – a hard cheese made in the sheep- and goat-rearing central regions, where cabrettu à l’istrettu (kid stew) is a speciality.
Game – mainly stews of hare and wild boar but also roast woodcock, partridge and wood pigeon – features throughout the island’s mountain and forested regions. Here blackbirds (merles) are made into a fragrant pâté, and eel and trout are fished from the unpolluted rivers. Sea fish like red mullet (rouget), bream (loup de mer) and a great variety of shellfish is eaten along the coast – the best crayfish (langouste) comes from around the Golfe de St-Florent, whereas oysters (huîtres) and mussels (moules) are a speciality of the eastern plain.
Corsica produces some excellent, and still little-known, wines, mostly from indigenous vine stocks that yield distinctive, herb-tinged aromas. Names to look out for include: Domaine Torraccia (Porto-Vecchio); Domaine Fiumicicoli (Sartène); Domaine Saparale (Sartène); Domaine Gentille (Patrimonio); Domaine Leccia (Patrimomio); and Venturi-Pieretti (Cap Corse). In addition to the usual whites, reds and rosés, the last of these makes the sweet muscat for which Cap Corse was renowned in previous centuries. Another popular aperitif is the drink known as Cap Corse, a fortified wine flavoured with quinine and herbs. Note that tap water is particularly good quality in Corsica, coming from the fresh mountain streams.