Curious Appetite

Florence

Best Tours for Fall in Italy

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:

White truffles found from a recent truffle hunt

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 . 🙂

Sangiovese Grapes in Chianti Classico

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.

Taken from my Trek from Panzano to San Donato (Chianti)

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.

Fresh ravioli filled w seasonal ingredients!

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.

Best wishes for your Fall adventure,

Curious Appetite

Brac Florence- Libreria Caffè

Jesus Christ, Florence. You’re beautiful. You’re a gem. But you’re stuck in a moment. And that moment is the Renaissance. 

Brac is the embodiment of the anti-renaissance, pro-hipster movement of Florence. It bleeds with contemporary “we’re so alternative but artsy organic homey Anthropology-store front displays”, it hurts. Even the menĂą is a collection of food porn- taken with a Polaroid camera all pinned up on the bar wall. Jesus, if this was the antimony of Renaissance…well it would be.

You might be asking…so what the hell is it…BRAC?

It’s a restaurant caffĂ© that has a bunch of books in it so it’s called a “literary caffè.” Barf. Europe, how pretentious you may can be. So I have books in my bike sometimes…so does that make me a literary biker??? Those books I generally don’t read but accumulate in order to look educated and like I give a damn about anything else but hooch and hot butchers.

I digress… Basically, it’s a little bistro style resto in some random alley that serves up some gourmet, fancy frilly vegan and vegetarian food. Despite all its sickening cuteness and “cool,” you can’t beat Brac for wicked solid vegetarian meal. Or vegan at that.

Vegan Tartare- the world is a big fat paradox!

I’d been here for dinner on a pair of occasions. I highly recommend the piatto unico and it’s basically a mix of all their fancy savory mains like Sardinian flatbread pie, lasagna and fagottino style cheesy pasty.

This time recently however, I was here for brunch (pronounced “braaaaanch” by moi). I came on a Yelp-event occasion and most people were pining for pancakes…and I knew better than to order pancakes from some fru-fru bourgeois literary caffèpancakes are for hungover American wolves of the indulgent excessive palate. It’s quick risen lazy man crepes with some blood sugar roller coaster-inducing syrup doused on top…to me pancakes are like diabetic sponges that only lead to stomach aches and cavities.

My theory is “when in Rome”…and when in some snooty vegan bistrot, you are best to order the snobbiest thing on the menu and for me- my dear readers- was the wild fennel and citrus vegan tartare (oxymoron, right?) atop a crema di spinaci which was fancy foodie talk for blended spinach. 

For €8, it was a fab-bo deal. Beautiful presentation, lovely flavors, crunch consistency and a mark in my “I’m an adventurous eater” book of brags.

So word to those who need an escape from the grandma house decor of Renaissance Florence for an equally revolting overdose of all things modern, hipster and contemporary Brac is your man. Or woman. Or whatever.

With a smile,

Curious Appetite

p.s. Here is your BRAC info:

via dei vagellai 18r 50122 firenze http://www.libreriabrac.net info@libreriabrac.net +39 055 0944877

Into the wild- a truffle hunt

Dog is a man’s best friend- even more so for truffle hunters in Italy.

My wanderlust in life is directly called from food. Like a child listening for the ocean in a seashell, I pay attention to how I can get closer and closer. To understand the fabric that makes global consumption tick. How and where food originates. And recently, I was able to follow the whispers of my inner wanderlust by going into the wild for a truffle hunt in San Miniato, Tuscany.

Truffles are as precious as gold, sold for hundreds on the ounce in some cases. They are wildly debated as a tuber or as a mushroom. To me, they seem like a little of both. They grow underground like a tuber, but grow spores wildly like a mushroom. Their taste is hunted for by umami seekers worldwide. In Italy, they are a serious business. I saw some dogs in the woods sniffing around with muzzles, not because they could bite, but because other hunters plant booby traps of poison. In just a small village in Tuscany, the size of 39 square miles, there are over 1000 registered truffle hunters. Of that 39 miles, perhaps just a quarter of that (maybe less, maybe more I couldn’t be bothered to check.) has woods where the prized truffle can flourish.

It is said that in order for an abundant truffle season, it must rain between the 1st 2 weeks of August. If there are few truffles, the competition grows fierce. If you attempt to hunt in an area where you usually don’t hunt and are unknown by locals, you may return to your car with slashed tires. So they say. Dog poisoning and vandalism all for the sake of umami.

We spent a great day in nature, with our hunter’s best friend (a pup!) following the wise olfactory guidance of this little pup, Titta.

At the end of the day, we found SEVERAL white truffles!

We paused for an aperitivo of wild (gathered) porcini crostini and prosecco (I love Italy for moments like these) and went on to wash them.

White truffles found from a recent truffle hunt

After they were washed and the prosecco was finished, we headed to a local trattoria to bask in the jewels little truffle pup had found. Truffles on prized Lardo della Colonnata.

Lardo di Colonnata- lard cured on marble slate with herbs

Truffles on eggs over easy

Lonely, fresh buttered and pepper Tagliatelle

fresh egg pasta

Made into pure sensory bliss with our fresh, grated white truffles on top

If there was a such thing as food heroin, I think this would be it.

And dessert. Of course. No truffles were harmed in this course, sadly.

caramel and pine nut semifreddo

If you are interested in experiencing what I had the joy and inspiration to experience, contact me for booking and pricing. This truffle hunt excursion is offered by the lovely leaders of an organization I collaborate with whose aim is to connect the public with small producers that are dedicated to traditional, sustainable Tuscan Italian gastronomy and agriculture.

Yours in food wanderlust,

Curious Appetite

Where to eat in San Niccolò (Florence, Italy)

Walk and drink in San Niccolo’

San Niccolò is a sort of micro-neighborhood on the way to the trek to Piazzale Michelangelo, a popular square where you can get a stellar view of the city. Unfortunately, pop tourism has influenced Piazzale Michelangelo to be a sort of Disneyland attraction with bad food carts, painful cover music belting buskers and plastic souvenir vendors.

In all honesty, I despise how some businesses in major Italian cities like Florence have decided to cater to mass tourism and eroding its authentic character as a result. Tourists aren’t the problem, it is a type of mentality which hides behind the guise of “business as usual” in order to supposedly make establishments more “welcoming” (i.e. tourist menus, crap souvenirs, mushy pasta and frozen pizza for €10, terribly translated menus, crap cover bands, outdated American pop top 40 radio, etc).

I do love loads of things about Florence. I love how easy it is to get around by bike. I really love San Frediano and Santo Spirito (as long as it doesn’t turn into a touristic/cheap crap/corner shop wasteland) and I love how beautiful the city is, I love how there are little wine shops and the Tuscan food culture. I love the Florentine accent and I love (some) Florentines. Really. The point of my blog is to help readers find what authentic soul there is left in Florence.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

So despite Piazzale Michelangelo becoming a obnoxious tourist trap with a view (which you absolutely cannot miss in Florence),  I still have managed to salvage a couple places to eat and drink at the bottom- in a little area called San Niccolò.

Truffled Tagliere smorgasbord

La Beppa Fioraia-  Past the arches of San Niccolò, take a sharp turn into what seems like a dodgy alley and disappear into one of the few green nooks of Florence to La Beppa Fioraia. My favorites here are the tagliere (Tuscan smorgasbord of cheeses, dips, spreads, fried breads, cold cuts, veggies and cured olives) and wild boar pappardelle. The wine list is somewhat decent (good € range) from what I remember and the interior decor is alive with color.

I have heard that in recent years this resto has gone south from what it used to be (surprise , surprise…Florentine restaurants loosing quality after being discovered by the arbitrary rating world of tripadvisor?) However, I still don’t think you can beat the ambiance and abundant gourmet tagliere.

Address: Via dell’Erta Canina, 6r

Gecko Bar & Grill- This is a new burger, sandwich and cocktail spot which is very trendy, contemporary and I may go as far as saying “hipster”. I went recently with my pal Georgette of Girl in Florence who recommends it and I must say it was decent. The service was good, which says a lot. I enjoyed their BBQ pulled pork sandwich (pictured) but then again, if you are visiting Florence for the 1st time or visiting in general, why would you want something not Tuscan such as a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, similar to bar & grill food in the U.S.? In any case, Gecko would definitely be a great spot for craft beers and cocktails on a late night since the bars Zoe and Negroni next door are not exactly the greatest.

Address: Via Dei Renai 11/R

lardo crostoni. cured fat and cheese- that’s Tuscany!

Fuori Porta- One of my favorite wine bars, Fuoriporta is loved by wine enthusiasts all over the city. They have high quality wines by the glasses ranging from caliber to obscure, quarter liter carafes and gourmet wine friendly foods. Their patio is a trap- you can sit out there for hours slightly removed from the chaos of center Florence with a medieval gate as your backdrop which is lined with random greenery. I personally enjoy their gourmet crostini toasts with things like black truffle cream and soft, salty prosciutto to go with their excellent selection of mouth watering white wines.

Address: Via Monte Alle Croci, 10r

Cent’Ori- This is a gourmet trattoria I’ve decided. Burrata with shaved truffle, Savory, juicy sliced pork arista and baked to perfection potatoes, fresh ravioli in a heavenly sage sauce and they have a fixed menu for lunch which is actually a great value for 10 euros, including a glass of wine. The food is pretty delicious but I must warn, the service is pretty horrible unless you are there with a Florentine or you speak Italian enough to know that service in Florence in general is a alien concept. The owner is somewhat temperamental and the food presentation/order if they are busy is extremely inconsistent. The only reason why I am even mentioning them is because most places to eat in San Niccolo actually suck and if you have to eat well, don’t want to spend a fortune and can put up with lame/slow service- then Cent’Ori is worth a go. The wine list is non-existent and you have to go to the wall inside to pick your wines, half of them aren’t even marked for price and your lucky if they remember to bring your wine glasses. All that being said, I would still go back if in a bind and none of the other eateries on this list had a table available.

Address: Via di S. Niccolò, 48, 50124 Florence, Italy

In your quest for soul in Florence,

Curious Appetite

Are you curious about food tours in Florence? Take a progressive dinner crawl (with me!) for a curated, delicious evening while discovering the best food and drink spots with soul. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for live travel tips and subscribe by e-mail to this blog for future updates. Happy travels!

Piadina- the Italian flatbread

Piadina Tartufato- by yours truly

La Piadina is a wonderful thing. What it is IS an Italian flatbread made of flour, lard (or olive oil), salt and water and stuffed with 2-3 ingredients- usually a meat, cheese and a veg. In Emilia Romagna, where la piadina romagnola originates, you will find piadinerie that make the flatbread fresh (even with little charred blots on) and stuff it with local cheeses, prosciutto and fancy sauces (truffle cream upon request!!!).

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