I was driving the undulating hills of Chianti just outside of Florence, where you will see the Gallo Nero signs all over, similar to the Black Bulls along the highways in Spain. This is to let you know, though in Tuscany, you are in the Chianti Wine Region. Here wine has been produced in this area for over 2000 years, at least since Etruscan time. I am sure we all remember the raffia straw wrapped bottles. A great deal has evolved since then, but still there is respect for specific rules. Chianti is a blended wine, 80% of Sangiovese and 20% of other grapes, which include native grapes such as Canaiolo and Colorino. Now more importantly is the aging with Grand Selezione a minimum of 30 months, Riserva at 24, and Annata requiring at least 12 months from harvest. What makes Chianti Classico so unique compared to other wines? It is the unmistakable Black Rooster seal.
In reading any historical book the name Medici certainly conjures up Florence, a city totally and forever intertwined with the Medici family from the original Cosimo, to contributing four Papal Popes, to Lorenzo the Magnificent, and one cannot forget, Catherine de’ Medici, the infamous Queen of France who did not lose her head. One cannot read about Michelangelo or Da Vinci without reference to this political and financially powerful family. They certainly were accredited by many with the inspiration of Italian Renaissance.
For my story, it is the sixth Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany, Gran Duke Cosimo III, he reigned from 1670 to 1723. Cosimo's 53-year-long reign, the longest in Tuscan history, was marked by a series of laws that regulated prostitution, May celebrations and a final proclamation on his death bed, commanding that Tuscany shall stay independent. But probably his most lasting was an edict that has held up for over 600 years. Chianti was recognized as a wine-region of renown and its borders were defined in 1716 by Cosimo’s edict, along with the Black Rooster stamp.
The symbol was born as the coat of arms of the Lega del Chianti, a political-military league created by the Florentine Republic in 1384 to defend the borders against Siena, including the current municipalities of Castellina, Gaiole and Radda. If you look up in the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, headquarters of Tuscan councils and public meetings, you'll see the 16th century wooden ceiling tiles each representing a Tuscany district. Giorgio Vasari painted the black rooster on the Chianti tile, on a shield next to the figure of Bacchus, god of wine, to underline the relationship between that area and the wine.
The famous Black Rooster was probably due to its’ bold, warrior nature and the old belief that the crowing of the rooster at dawn chased the evil night spirits away. We should also mention the legend, though of dubious origin. In the Middle Ages Siena and Florence were fighting to conquer the Chianti territory. Eventually, to avoid further bloodshed, they decided to set the border in the place where two knights would meet after leaving at dawn - one from Siena and one from Florence - at the crowing of the rooster. The Sienese gave their rooster a lot to eat to make it crow louder, but the Florentines put their Black Rooster in a box with no food. In this way the black Florentine rooster, terribly hungry, began to crow in protest when it was still dark, while the white Sienese rooster, belly stuffed with food, was still sleeping heavily. The Florentine knight heard the rooster crowing and set off at a gallop, while the Sienese knight was still waiting for the bird to wake up. The knights ended up meeting at the Castle of Fonterutoli, a few kilometers from Siena, where the border was permanently set. Thus almost all of the Chianti territory therefore, became Florentine thanks to a very hungry black rooster.
That Black Rooster takes its name from the Valdarno, the valley of the Arno River. Sadly, the Valdarno black chicken, native to the valley of the Arno River in the Pisa plains, became a rare variety in the first decades of the 1900s. The numerous attempts to reconstruct the breed through local varieties ended up being lost, given the general tendency of breeders to move towards the breeding of the white Livorno chickens. Recently the breed has been reconstructed on the basis of crosses between foreign breeds (Bresse and Castilian) with the contribution of a few locals from the countryside of Siena. The black Valdarno is similar to the black Livorno, but its characteristics make it unique in the poultry world, as it is one of the most awarded poultry breeds for its elegant and robust appearance. The plumage is an intense black with green highlights and their character is proud and exuberant growing to be six hearty pounds. Just perhaps, it was what drew corpulent Cosimo III to choose the unique flavorful bird. Dinner and wine in one. Slow Foods has chosen it for its Ark of Taste to preserve for future generations.
Sharing a recipe of the Valdarno chicken: