In October we travelled to Tuscany for two back-to-back tours with Chef Jenna of Amore Trattoria in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We visited charming Tuscan villages: Cortona, Greve in Chianti, Montalcino, Bagno Vignoni, Siena… and savored the absolutely picturesque countryside that characterizes the region. They say the light in Tuscany is unlike any other place in the world. They’re right. The purple sunsets, the olive trees heavy with fruit, the Cyprus trees…. absolutely intoxicating. Or was it the Chianti?
Highlights from Amore in Italy 2015 ~ Tuscany:
The olive oil.
We were in Tuscany just as the olives were ready for pressing. And 2014 was a crummy year for olives (due to a warm winter) so locals were dying to get that bright green gorgeousness back in their kitchens. It was wonderful tasting a variety of different oils and equally wonderful sharing in the joy and enthusiasm that locals exuded. (And thank goodness I still have two bottles in my cabinet.) We even visited a press in Cortona, on one of the first days they were pressing for the season, and Chef Jenna translated the process and history of this business.
A charming cheesemaker in the hills. We visited the homestead of Federico Bagnoli, a cheese maker in a mountaintop village whose secret lies in the pure farmland his cows freely graze and his dedication to quality. He set up a table in the olive grove, talked about making cheese, and cut wheel after wheel of absolutely gorgeous cheese for us to sample.
Attending Sagra del Tordo in Montalcino! This is Montalcino’s most important annual festival and it includes food, dance, and celebration. The city is divided into four corners and the residents spend the weekend competing, on food, archery, traditional dance, and falconry. There is lots of parading and revelry. We spent two sunny days enjoying the festival. We dined at the open air food stands with a view of the valley (all four corners did great in our opinion!), attended a feast clad with bandanas supporting the city quadrant where we were based for our stay in Montalcino, watched the nail-biting archery competition, and watched the parades and dancers with joy. Those costumes!
The highlight was absolutely the food tents. Each city quadrant had their own set of tents with local specialties (hand-rolled pici pasta with ragu, giant grilled porcini mushrooms, polenta, chocolate salami (made with dark chocolate, cookies, and wine)… and so much more! We shared at least one of everything and the well-stocked wine tents made sure we had the terrific local Brunello di Montalicno to wash it down.
Cooking & eating together. We love including cooking classes on most of our tours. In addition to picking up new recipes and enjoying a fabulous meal, we get to chat with instructors about their home. Spending a day in Chef Alessandra’s kitchen in Cortona was wonderful. Here is Chef Alessandra’s Tiramisu Recipe (delizioso!!) ~ enjoy!
And the views! Oh, the views! We enjoyed this view from Cortona at a private home we rented, owned by a Prada fashion designer. Unique accommodations always help us experience the essence and flavor of the local area.
Check out this Facebook album for photos of our time in Tuscany.
We’re excited for more culinary adventuring with Chef Jenna this fall in Sicily. View tour details here; at the time of writing there are a few spots left. Amore in Italy ~ Sicily promises to be another tour full of unique experiences, great wine, hilarious moments, and stunning scenery. Our October 2016 Tuscany tour is sold out but we’re considering going again in 2017. Interested in joining us? Let us know!