My life revolves around 3 things: Italy, food and hooch. Food being my first love, Italy second and Hooch the last but not least! I knew one day I would move to Italy but I didn’t have any clue I would have been this lucky. In a country as paradoxical as Italy, I somehow managed to make a way for myself without knowing anyone. In exactly what I wanted to be doing. Believe me, I took odd jobs, had my patience tested and I did whatever I needed to do to. So now that I’ve bored you all to tears with my Dr. Phil Opera book club ego stroke fest, I will tell you that I do plan on writing a book about this experience, it will include of course the token romantic scandal. Stay tuned!
I recently visited a local farm for a cheese and wine tour in the Tuscan town Montepulciano, (just 1.5 hours south of Florence) and I have to say I had my mind blown just a little bit.
The farm I visited has a little over 100 sheep and goat to produce the typical pecorino toscano cheese that is so fundamental to Tuscan cheese culture. Pecorino is Italian for sheep milk cheese (although some mix in some goat milk), and Tuscany is not the only region that has its own pecorino cheese. Like you may have heard of pecorino romano (from Lazio) or pecorino sardo (from Sardinia). History of sheep’s milk cheese dates back several centuries as the food was a luxury item for the nobility but also at the same time a form of sustenance for pastoral peasants as the cheese packs a lot of flavor when aged (perfect for enhancing a peasant vegetable soup) or a lot of nutrition when fresh (like fresh pecorino).
What was interesting to me is that the farm was completely organic and produced also grains (which they use for pasta and bread making), olive oil (like everyone in Tuscany- olive trees are everywhere here), wine and apiculture (honey!). I was happy to see some young people working the farm because this today is sort of trendy but realistically, a self-sustaining farm is how Italians have survived in historically poor eras and how many rural societies operate today.Rural communities produce and exchange (or sell) with their neighbors and on a small (organic) scale, it can work.
However, more and more people are becoming less and less interested in working in the fields and migrating to cities for office jobs. Part of this has forced big farms to become the norm and thus increased their thirst (and need) for profit by using non-organic means. There is no way the world can produce natural, organic small scale produced food for what like 7 billion people especially when agronomists and farmers are dwindling and land grabs for urban sprawl are increasing.
As much as I am a huge proponent for sustainable, organic food- I also realize that at this current time it is impossible to expect. However, in a small country like Italy- it could make sense. Except the fact that people are generally poor here and it makes sense for a family to buy a kilo of breakfast cookies for €4 euros by a huge multinational who is probably sourcing flour from several countries (whose quality standards I question) than buy organic whole grain locally baked ones for more than triple the price. There is no way a bag of cookies that weighs a kilo could cost €4 without cutting corners, and in my opinion- safety.
More and more I see the importance of organic food production. Digesting agri-chemicals which leave residue on our food undoubtedly is unhealthy and increases our risk for disease when constantly exposed. It’s not just consuming the food with chemical residue- it’s the production plants that undoubtedly pollute the air and water of nearby towns. It’s a risk to the farm workers breathing in the sprays in the fields. It’s the petrol chemicals being refined in order to produce them. It’s the fracking for oil which then pollutes our environment (water included) which is then needed to extract energy to produce agrichemicals. But as much as I am lecturing on about this- I don’t see any other realistic alternative at this time. Unless of course, we all go back to nature and learn to be somewhat self-sufficient. Or until green energy becomes profitable. Organic food is definitely profitable but that means only a select few can actually afford it. And that’s not right. Everyone has the right to clean and healthy food that won’t poison them. But something has got to give. We need to learn how to even just grow herbs on our windowsill. I have friends in Italy who are letting their family vineyards be demolished because they have no interest in carrying on the tradition of family wine production. We need to somehow bring back interest in self-sufficiency and pressure our elected officials to invest more in organic agriculture and divest in agribusiness. We decidedly depend too much on the market to provide things we can’t be bothered to produce and demand too much from it to be perfect.
So I didn’t talk so much about the amazing cheese flight, floral thick honey and the lovely homestyle organic wine…because well, these topics impressed me more. That a group of people have chosen to go against the grain and live a rough, rural lifestyle for the sake of clean food. These people have to work hard to maintain an organic production site- it’s not always rosy. They have to decide to live in the inefficiencies of the countryside in total isolation. But it is a sacrifice that creates beautiful foods that nourish not only the people that visit, but keeps the idealism alive that the world can be a healthy, organic and green planet.
In June of 2012, I moved to Florence. In the last days of November 2013, I made a trip back to my motherland. If I can call America that. I went because it was time to take a break. And also to perform a wedding. Yes, I am a certified wedding officiant. If you are coming to Italy looking for an American wedding officiant- you can count on me. Yes yes, I am a woman of many trades: travel, food, wine, cooking and yes- officiating marriages.
This wedding was in Hawaii. The weather was a dream. The wedding went off with a bang and a bit of whiskey.
My 1st week in America involved lots of fish, raw fish, mango, avocados the size of melons, papaya, poke salads (my favorite) and street tacos. During my stay in the paradise of Kauai, I attended a coffee tour, a rum tasting tour and many days at the beach attempting to body board, sipping mai tais and pina coladas in between. I almost want to move back to Seattle just so that I can have easy access to Hawaii. America did a good job securing that state as one of ours. As beautiful and unique as it was, I couldn’t help thinking how much it resembled L’Isola d’Elba off the Tuscan coast. So Italian expats or Italophiles (or just plain ol’ Italians), if you’d like to experience Hawaii but can’t make the trek- go to Elba! 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.
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.
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.
Truffles on eggs over easy
Lonely, fresh buttered and pepper Tagliatelle
Made into pure sensory bliss with our fresh, grated white truffles on top
And dessert. Of course. No truffles were harmed in this course, sadly.
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.
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