My life sounds pretty rough right? But in all fairness- food is my job. How did I end up judging at a gelato competition? A few months back, I made an impromptu trip to Carpigiani’s Gelato University & Museum near Bologna with a fellow writer visiting from Seattle. After a crash course in gelato history and making, 2 of the University’s managers asked if I’d be interested to be apart of a jury for their upcoming World Gelato competition. I said no, I’m on a diet and I hate gelato but thank you.
HA! You damn right I said yes before they could finish the sentence.
This is how the conversation went: Them: “We have a world gelato competition coming up, would you like to…” Me interrupting: YES I CAN HELP EAT ALL THE GELATO HOW DO I SIGN UP?!Continue Reading →
(original post in 2015, updated in June 2017. Not including a significant % of other respectable gelaterie but these are my top 10 in the historical center of Florence)
Where oh where does one find the best gelato in Florence?
Anywhere, right? It’s Italy! It’s Florence- the birthplace of gelato! You can’t go wrong! No- WRONG! Finding quality gelato in Florence is more difficult than you think. A large % of gelaterie in the historical center sell gunk full of 95% crap, albeit having the means/resources for making great gelato easily. Italy has a plethora of quality raw ingredients- yet establishments continue to favor business/profit margins over preserving gelato’s integrity. You may be wondering “Why is there so much gelato in Florence?” While I wonder, “why would anyone in their right mind allow bad/subpar gelato to be born?”
In general, there is a lot of gelato in Italy. However I must say that Florence has a particular fondness of gelato because it is said to be the birthplace of gelato. On my gelato tours in Florence, we chat about the key figures of gelato’s beginnings: Cosimo Ruggieri, Bernardo Buontalenti and Francesco Procopio (Francesco was actually from Sicily and this is where the gelato origin wars start to ensue). As one of my guests said recently “basically we’ve learned that Florence invented everything.” Exactly. I mean, how can you not boast a city that gave the world the (standard) Italian language, gelato and the negroni? Continue Reading →
Just a few weeks into my break from Florence and I am already going through gelato withdrawals. As some of you may have gathered, especially if you are a long time follower, that I am what I have coined as a gelatoholic and in Florence, a gelato shop is where you can usually find me on a smoldering day or even in the dead of winter. Obviously not so anonymous about it. The thing I love about gelato is that..well there are many things. 1st I love that it is an affordable pleasure. Most people can get a little dollop of heaven for just 1.50-2.50 euro. In Seattle, I fooled myself into thinking I liked American ice cream and wasted nearly 5 bucks of overly sugared, grainy, milky indistinctly flavored cholesterol bombs. Bluebird, I’m looking at you. Continue Reading →
My 1st whole year in food & wine travel is coming to a full circle. So every season I learn about what tours are most popular- and most ideal.
The majority of tours I help with are food and wine related, although it happens when I plan an art tour or cultural sights tour (boring- can we just get to the food and booze already?). Friends used to ask me what were the best tours to take in Italy and I never knew how to respond. So I really love the work I do here because now I feel like I’m learning Italy inside and out.
People also ask when is the best time to come to Italy. In my opinion- it’s anytime! Italy is so festive so every month there is something rich and colorful happening no matter where you find yourself. Even August. It may be empty and hot, but you can explore the streets in a much more unique way in a month where most people are away at their beach house.
So Fall used to be my favorite season when I was a Seattleite, and now I have to say it’s Summer. Fall, however has much more to offer to travelers to Italy in terms of activities. Summer is hot and is good for beach bumming and prosecco spritz in the local, hidden squares of Venice. Fall is good for really learning about Italian traditions when it comes to food and wine. This is a period where harvesting takes place for things like wine grapes, olives, chestnuts and lovely fall produce like kale, persimmons, squashes, MUSHROOMS, white truffles and more.
So in honor of Fall in Italy, I’d like to give my readers some advice on the best tours to consider for any person interested in traveling in Italy:
Truffle Tours-I live in Tuscany so I can only speak personally for amazing truffle tours in Tuscany but I know that Piedmont is also king for Truffle Hunt tours and I most recently learned that Le Marche is home to truffles and there are truffle hunt tours there as well. The great part about truffle hunts is that you get to have a moment outside of the city and really connect with nature and well, food. You get to really see the 360 process from meeting the hunter and the dog and getting to eat some of the truffle you find out in the woods. It’s a super authentic experience (with the right travel planners, ahem.) especially because a good travel planner will book you in to lunch too at a restaurant in a small village that is completely off the beaten path and brings you food so good, you’ll want to cry. Like I do, everyday as an avid eater in Italy . 🙂
Wine Tours-Regions to focus on: Barolo, Chianti Classico and Montalcino. Barolo is the king of Italian wines in my book as I much adore the Nebbiolo grape, and it so happens to be somewhat close to Alba where you can also attend the yearly truffle festival and take a truffle tour, too. Chianti Classico I recommend because it’s so damn pretty with so many colors painting the rolling countryside which you will enjoy even from the window of your vehicle. Montalcino is great because in October they have a wine festival called Montalcino D’Ottobre and the city transforms into a wine fair. The scenery here is simply breathtaking and gorgeous as it sits high up in the Tuscan hills and is a total paradise for food and wine lovers. Wine tours are great all year round, but in the Fall they are especially special because you might be able to taste grapes ripe off the vine, see the harvest and perhaps even attend one of the many harvest festivals that run about.
Trekking Tours- Oh my god, I went on a trek recently through Chianti (Panzano to San Donato, to be exact) and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The weather is perfect, there are no mosquitos (the bane of my life) and it provides a much needed escape from the city buzzing and smog. Plus!!! All the Fall colors in the forests and wine fields was just simply incredible. I’ve decided- I need to do a trekking tour at least once a week to maintain my sanity (and to justify my wine and cheese habits;)
Gelato Tours– Okay, so with the harvesting of chestnuts and persimmons- gelato gets REALLY good in Florence (where I live). I recently had a Marron Glace and it was omg amazing. So creamy, starchy, caramel-like, slightly bitter and just bursting with nutty fall flavors. Plus, in the summer gelato is like a heat-survival tool. In the Fall, the weather remains slightly warm during the day so your gelato doesn’t melt in like 3 seconds yet it is still very weather appropriate. I love how my favorite gelaterie add fall spices and wild herbs to their artisan concoctions. On a gelato tour, you have the option to make your own gelato and tour the gelato kitchen! I can’t believe how cool my job is.
Cooking Classes- I think it’s so great to take a cooking class in Italy especially in the fall when produce is so abundant and there are some cooking classes that combine market tours with the cooking classes. I highly recommend taking a cooking class in Venice and in Tuscany. Oh hell, actually anywhere. I love when a cooking class booking comes in, as I usually get to be the interpreter (and have an amazing lunch). But also, I get to cook with Americans for the day and it cures my homesickness! It’s super cool since they are obviously curious about Italian cuisine in a country that I love so much. The best of both worlds!
I’m sure there are more, but it would get too long to list them all!
If you are interested in learning more about food and wine tours in Italy, contact me.
I am pretty bummed that I haven’t been writing as frequently as I would like, I tend to have a good reason or another but ultimately- I’ve been too busy stuffing my face and keeping my glass full to bother typing away. 🙂
The first thing I must speak upon is my ungodly obsession with gelato. It’s pretty sick and twisted, at this point I should be considered a gelatochocohawlic. There is good reason, too! First off, I live in Florence where gelato was supposedly born. However, ask an Italian where anything was born and it will just so happen to be conveniently original from their hometown. Secondly, I live right above one of the best gelaterias in the city. Is it the best in my opinion because I could practically crawl spiderman style down these ancient walls to arrive at such delectable wonders? Who knows, and let’s be honest- no one cares. I live above a gelateria and it’s become a problem. Thirdly, to make matters worse than being haunted by a gelateria every 100 meters, apparently during renaissance times women were forbidden from eating ice cream. Well, it wasn’t like they got a fine but it was a huge social faux pas for a woman to be seen licking an ice cream. And even today in some silly male and dogma dominated culture it is still heavily discouraged. SOOOOO naturally I MUST make up for all these years of ice cream oppression!!!! I mean, it’s my duty as a free western WOMAN of the 21st century!!! And yes, you’re welcome! 🙂
My wine studies went really well at Apicius and I feel very confident about my command of knowledge concerning wines in Tuscany. Moreover, you can depend on me to ace any challenge on a food and wine pairing with a wine from this beautiful region. For studies sake, I had to really understand and study a pair with a chianti classico (which makes up a good chunk of the Tuscan sangiovese-based line-up) with a nice Tuscan aged prosciutto and a hard umami loaded pecorino cheese. I mean, it was rough work but I finally figured it out, for the sake of my grades.
Back to gelato. My go to flavors are generally anything chocolate and something nutty like pistachio, coconut or nocciola (hazelnut) but sometimes I get a little tutti frutti and venture with fresh watermelon, apricot or cantaloupe. I’ve even ventured into the fusion realm with saffron rose and then walnut gorgonzola (gelato?! yes you can!)
I have yet to meet a gelato I didn’t like. Today I had a realization that I may need to go on a diet if I continue at this drink wine at every meal that consists of cheese and cured meats pace/lifestyle, but how could I live without gelato?! Well, thankfully today I found a gelateria that has “skinny” yogurt gelato and apricot sorbet so that crisis seems to have been averted. Or wait, maybe I could go on a gelato diet! In fact, some Italians DO have ice cream for breakfast! I was having lunch with a Sicilian friend and I casually mentioned my gelato obsession and pondered the possibility of having it for breakfast and she said I could in theory as this is practiced in Sicily. (?!?!) Basically, since it gets rather warm down there in the summer, it’s not uncommon apparently to have a lemon granita (like a sort of slushie) with a piece of bread. Alright, so turns out it’s in my genes to want gelato for breakfast! I knew it!! 🙂
Macaroooooons! a perfect cookie for an ice cream sandy!
Oh! one more thing! So eating in Venice can be complete crap! I know you can find little hole in the walls and restos off the beaten path, but you know some people (tourists, you know those who are making a lot of commerce possible with their hard-earned money) should be able to sit near the canals, watch the gondolas pass by and have a bloody good meal too and not get ripped off just because they want to visit a new place. GRRR! That mentality really pisses me off about some resto owners to rip tourists off for the immediate financial boost but really, they are creating a crap reputation and then some people write home about it. 🙂 But nevertheless, Italy is the only place where you can eat complete crap but it still looks lovely on a plate (like these wretched fishy freezer burned gunky shrimp and razor sawed salad with sulfuric over boiled eggs:)
So moral of the story is: when in doubt, eat gelato!!! 🙂 🙂 CIAO!