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Mater: The Gourmet Immersed in the Forest Reviving the Dishes of the Camaldolesi Monks

Francesca Feresin
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In Moggiona, Filippo Baroni and Marta Bidi Uphold an Ancestral Cuisine that Pays Homage to Monastic Tradition with Contemporary Technique and Taste.

Cover photo: Lido Vannucchi

Text photo: Nicco Leone

The story 

Autumn is my favorite season, especially when experienced among the forests. Every time the car begins to venture through avenues masked by orange-brown leaves of the trees, I instantly feel good. It doesn't surprise me, then, that one of the most beautiful and unforgettable experiences of the year happened between October and November, in the heart of the Sacred Forests of Casentino. We are in the province of Arezzo, in Moggiona, a small village in the municipality of Poppi, along the road that leads to the Hermitage and the Monastery of Camaldoli. Here lies Mater, a gastronomic establishment within the "Borgo I Tre Baroni" Resort, managed by Filippo Baroni and his wife Marta Bidi, respectively in the kitchen and dining area.

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He, born in 1982 in Poppi, graduated from the hotel school in Chianciano Terme, and together with his two brothers, he carries forward the family restaurant project with Borgo I Tre Baroni and the nearby Locanda Dei Baroni. Self-taught, in 2017, Filippo decides to add Mater to the resort, a fine-dining restaurant that reflects monastic and regional cuisine. Over the years, together with his wife, Filippo increasingly defines the restaurant's profile, focusing on the purity of ingredients and the concept of sustainability.

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It's no coincidence that the couple's latest project is the creation of a garden next to the restaurant on the lands surrounding the Resort. Its name? Hortus Conclusus. Inspired by the Camaldolese monks, this enclosed garden currently houses more than 30 plant species. It's a closed circuit that self-sustains with vegetables, herbs, and flowers living in symbiosis.

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Everything cultivated reaches the restaurant, just as everything the restaurant needs is grown (within the limits of possibility). Here, one can indeed speak of zero kilometers and zero waste. Kitchen waste is used to create compost, which becomes natural fertilizer for the garden. No pesticides or other chemicals are used.

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The vegetables, fruits, and aromatic herbs become bases, syrups, and preserves to be used even in the context of mixology. Mater practices "Agricultural Mixology": signature cocktails developed from ingredients grown in the restaurant's garden. Handling both the garden and mixology is Lorenzo Ostrogovich, the farmer bartender, who, with a studied, slow but precise approach, offers locally-inspired drinks in the spirit of "no waste," preparing liqueurs, vermouth, and mead from scratch. Imagine that fallen tomatoes from the garden, which would normally be discarded, become the base for the Red Snapper, a drink similar to a Bloody Mary but with London Dry Gin instead of vodka.

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This year marked the first year of Hortus Conclusus. From next year, having collected seeds from plants born during this period, the new plants that will grow will be native to Mater's garden. A dinner at Mater can be complemented by a romantic stay inside the resort, to be enjoyed even in the summer around the beautiful pool. The rooms are elegant, spacious, and bright with captivating views of the surrounding forest.

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For restaurant guests choosing to stay overnight, from Friday to Monday, Filippo and his staff prepare a rich sweet and savory breakfast to be enjoyed at the restaurant's table (25 euros per person). Tarts, sweet rolls, homemade jams, along with eggs sunny-side-up and selections of cheeses and cured meats, will delight your eyes.

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The restaurant 

As the "place of the silence of the heart," Mater takes the guest back to the origins of ancestral cuisine and the culture of the territory in which it is located. The symbol of the restaurant is a pelican, representing "sacrifice" and the unconditional love for children. Mater is not coincidentally referred to as a mother, earth, origin, but also as the one who generates the root of the tree. Chef Filippo Baroni's cuisine is direct, bare, primitive, immediate, and essential, revolving around his land with its ancient traditions and the excellent products of the region.

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The dining area is the realm of Marta Bidi, the chef's wife. With passion, energy, and a contagious smile, Marta shares her home with genuine sensitivity and advises customers on the best wine pairings. Mater's wine cellar consists of a selection of wines predominantly from Tuscany, with international hints in sparkling, white, rosé, and red varieties.

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There are two tasting menus: In Superficie, (In Surface) consisting of five courses at 75 euros (45 euros for wine pairing by the glass), and In Profondità, (In Depth) which includes eight courses at 95 euros (55 euros for wine pairing by the glass). It is also possible to choose dishes à la carte.

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The dishes 

The lights are on the round table, which, clean and essential, defined by the light gray tablecloth and the brighter hues of the bread plates, is immediately filled with a welcome of crispy and bold flavors. Noteworthy for its freshness is the fried basket with char from Mulin di Bucchio, yogurt sauce, and chive, while the corn and rice taco filled with roasted guinea fowl salad, mayonnaise, and pickles is appetizing and heartwarming. Autumn is celebrated with the yellow pumpkin cappuccino, smoked potato foam, and porcini mushroom powder, while the mouth is cleansed and the palate prepared for the "In Profondità" tasting menu with the sphere of citrus and herbs covered in dried tomato powder, to be eaten in one shot.

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Alongside the array of amuse-bouche, Marta prepares a signature cocktail at the table that enhances and pays homage to the garden's products. It's a Rum Cooler based on white rum infused with mint and citrus for 4 months, with the addition of homemade laurel liqueur and ginger beer. It seems like a lot, but it's not over yet: to complete the welcoming, there's a taste of Cappelletti filled with raviggiolo cheese in meat broth. Warm, slightly tangy, they pave the way for the appetizers.

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Between bites of ancient grain sourdough bread spread with rosemary and black lemon butter, here comes the Trout, herbs, and moss—a creation where the precise cooking of the fish combines with a medley of garden herbs, excellent for the variety and harmony of flavors. You encounter tarragon, then wild arugula, and again purslane or St. Peter's herb. Everything evolves in the mouth, engaging the guest in an unpredictable and exciting journey.

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The fun continues with the next course: Rabbit, eel, lentil. The animal is presented in all its parts. The thigh and shoulder are slow-cooked and transformed into tender shreds to be eaten with a spoon along with the garden's cabbage cream. The liver is grilled and eaten with the hands, while the most substantial part of the rabbit, central to the service, becomes a low-temperature-cooked roll filled with marinated eel—a crucial element in the diet of the monks of Camaldoli, as it is a frequent guest in the nearby Traversari pond.

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Complex, bold, balancing between bitter and acidic, the Tagliolino with grapefruit, river shrimp, and artemisia arrives. The pasta, coated in pink grapefruit cream, is topped with freshly seared river shrimp. The shrimp shells are not discarded but transformed into a bisque that amplifies the sweet notes of the sea. Filippo continues to amaze us. The second course of the tasting is incredible both in concept and taste: Risina, pine oil, fermented pine nuts. For those unfamiliar, Risina, known as the "monks' rice," is the broken Carnaroli rice grain that, considered a discard, was donated to them. Now, the "ugly" version of the rice grain that Filippo acquires from a company in Casalese, specially producing it, represents one of Mater's iconic dishes. During the autumn season, it is served with a fermented pine nut cream and pine oil to add roundness. An enjoyable off-menu item is the Smoked Spaghetti cooked in Abbucciato and gentian extraction, a reinterpretation of Cacio e Pepe with an Arezzo twist. Spicy, savory, balsamic—the tasting is a vibrant and elegant slap, creative and technical at the same time, an exemplary summary of Baroni's cuisine.

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Probably the most convincing dish on the menu, reflecting the recently started garden project, is the wild salad, served with bell pepper vinegar sorbet and Saba. Like a bridge between carbohydrates and proteins, the salad is a compilation of everything the Mater team gathers or preserves in oil, vinegar, or salt throughout the year. Just as the Monks did in their gardens, Mater's brigade highlights the fruits of their land, making them a standalone dish.

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In the main course, an abundance of aromatic herbs is present, ranging from sorrel to Saint Peter's herb, including oil-preserved leafy greens, spruce shoots in vinegar, and baby artichokes. Instead of salt, gomasio is used, and the salad is seasoned with the salad's own dressing. On the side, a bell pepper vinegar sorbet and buttery puff pastry are served for sopping up. The final savory act is thick, carnivorous, and smoky: Venison, radicchio, whisky. The meat is marinated in soy sauce and concealed by a film of 16-year-old Lagavulin Whisky. The dish is based on garden radicchio, while on the side, a venison cutlet is seasoned with its garum, marrow, and burnt almond.

Filippo Baroni Radicchio e cervo lido vannucchi ph
@Lido Vannucchi

After a refreshing Chartreuse and herb Granita, the actual dessert arrives, featuring blackberries, rosemary, vermouth reduction, and sour cream. The vermouth, homemade since 2019 using the "soleras" method, is reduced and paired with a blackberry sorbet, rosemary cream, and black sesame seeds. As a pairing, strictly a glass of Cocchi vermouth and one of Oro Mugello vermouth.

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The dinner concludes with a delicate and invigorating herbal infusion, paving the way for the rich and varied gourmet breakfast the following morning.


Ristorante Mater

Phone:+39 366/5035127

Via di Camaldoli, 52  Moggiona Arezzo


Closed until March 2024

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