Having only arrived in Corsica about a month ago I will not even try to suggest that I know it. However I will write about what I’ve discovered so far and how this is shaping my Corsican cocktail.
So, it’s a French island in the Mediterranean with an official language of French, right? Well, yes… Google will tell you that. But the reality is that most Corsicans that I have met have gone out of their way to explain to me how Corsica is not France. The food is definitely not traditional French food, and most speak a dialect closer to Italian. ‘Thankyou’ for example is ‘Ti’ringrazio’ – closer to the Italian ‘Grazie’ than the French ‘Merci’. Their mentality is at first a little cautious. Being an island race that has been invaded by people from every corner of the Mediterranean in its history (even the Vikings apparently) who can blame them! But once they have decided that you aren’t trying to invade their country they welcome you like one of the family.
A friend I have met here, Roldou, a chef, told me of Corsica’s diverse geography. He explained that you can find forests and marshes in the north, dry Mediterranean scrub and rocky outcrops in the south, snow capped mountains in the middle and everything in between.
We ate lunch at a beach bar close to Moriani and it was the typical Mediterranean scene, white sand, blue sky, glistening turquoise sea (and a cold beer of course!). We drove 20minutes into the mountains and I felt like I had been transported to the other side of the world. Dense oak, cork and chestnut forests covered the steep hillsides and clouds floated through their leaves.
From the road we walked up the San Nicolas river and found a series of waterfalls. Wild herbs such as mountain mint and a kind of Catnip called Nepita which is often used by Corsican chefs, clung to the cliff faces either side of the gorge and Fig trees grew along their base. I could have been anywhere in the world. If you told me I was in the cloud forests of Japan i would have believed you (Middle Earth wouldn’t be far off!).It is this diversity that has earned Corsica its nickname; ‘L’Île de Beauté’ – The Beautiful Island.
It is however, Corsica’s other nickname that has inspired me the most with regards to my cocktail; More than half of the island is covered in a shrub land called Maquis. Among the Maquis are 2500 species of wild flowers and aromatic herbs. Imagine a natural Pot Pouri of rosemary, thyme, juniper, lavender, mint and eucalyptus. The scent of these hillsides has delighted passing sailors for thousands of years as it wafts out to sea on the breeze. Hence the nickname, ‘The Scented Isle’.
It will come as no surprise that most of the distilleries on Corsica are actually distilling for the essential oils in these herbs. They then sell the oils to pharmaceutical, perfume and cosmetic companies around the world…. Have they not heard of Gin?!