What is it that draws us year after year to this enchanted land called Tuscany? Quite simply everything. From the land, to the people and, of course, the food and wine, your senses are truly delighted and your spirit is rejuvenated.
We were smitten at our first visit, 12 years ago, when we met up with some friends who had rented a villa in the Florentine countryside. We spent the days basking under the Tuscan sun, savoring delicious local cheeses, salami, fruit and bread, and sipping the region’s Chianti wines while surrounded by a panoramic tapestry of golden wheat fields, verdant green vineyards and the silver/ grey olive groves. It was a moment in time etched into our memory and we vowed to return.
The following year, we rented the villa for an entire month. This gave us the opportunity to live the Tuscan life and explore the area. We got acquainted with the locals, shopped daily for our food and prepared meals. Taking the time to gather with family and friends around the table is fundamental to the “bella vita” and certainly one of life’s simplest and truest pleasures.
Our love affair continues. This summer we had the pleasure of renting a villa outside the beautiful hilltop town of Cortona. This was truly Frances Mayes’ “Under the Tuscan Sun” territory. Like an old friend, we were warmly embraced.
Tuscany is filled with warm hues, warm pinks and deep, mustardy ochres are a traditional color for the exterior walls of Italian villas, recalling the fresco paintings of the Renaissance.
FLOWER WRAPPING STATION
Tuscans love fresh bouquets of flowers at their table whether cut and arranged from a flower market, gathered from their own gardens, or wild from the countryside.
ARTICHOKES AND THE TUSCAN TABLE
In Italy, carciofi are sold with their stems, an extension of the heart which holds the real meat of the artichoke blossom. Traditionally they are baked in coals, leaving the diner to pull off the burnt leaves to the enjoy the tender heart. Tuscan artichokes can also be eaten raw, sliced thinly like a carpaccio, with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice, shaved pecorino and a dash of salt.
TUSCAN CHEESE BASKET
The designation Stagionato generally refers to more seasoned cheeses, made from ewe's milk. The aging imparts nutty and buttery notes to the cheeses.
Foglie De Noci is aged in walnut leaves and rubbed daily with olive oil. Pecorino Grano is aged under wheat after curing. Paglio is aged in straw, imparting the cheese with a pale yellow color, and a creamy goodness that pairs wonderfully with honey and jams.
ANGEL & LION MARBLE SCULPTURE
The Franciscan Basilica di Santa Croce (Holy Cross) in Florence is the burial place of some of Italy’s most illustrious men, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, and is thus known as the Temple of Italian Glories.
SETTING A TUSCAN TABLE
Dining alfresco is an Italian national pastime. Setting the table with a vibrant organic palate is essential and easily done by pulling together the colors of the surrounding countryside: a tapestry of sunflower yellow, eggplant purple, burnt sienna mixed with sky blue and vineyard greens. A centerpiece of fruit and vegetables celebrates nature’s bounty.
PECORINO AND HONEY
Tuscany is well-known for its love of pecorino cheese drizzled with honey. Paired with a glass of a Chianti and slices of rustic bread, it make a simple yet delicious appetizer.
BRAMASOLE - THE HOME OF FRANCES MAYES, Author of Under the Tuscan Sun
Perched high on a hillside just outside of the city of Cortona sits the magnificent home of writer Frances Mayes. Upon first glance, you are struck by the beauty of this pink plaster villa and its terraced gardens. It is a labor of love by which one cannot help but be mesmerized, where every inch has been nurtured and cultivated by hand.
BUTTERFLY & LAVENDER
Although the Tuscan countryside isn’t usually associated with Lavender, the flowers are locally grown in gardens and farmed in the plains of the Maremma and the Val d’Orcia hills. It is magical to sit and watch the bees and butterflies gather their nectar.
Famous for the simplicity and seasonal foods, Tuscany’s local farmer’s markets are the place to be. The region’s gentle hills are a perfect source for locally grown produce, whether it is sampling a genuine bottle of Tuscan olive oil, or foraging for truffles, homegrown is more than a lifestyle. Artisan purveyors travel with their wares from one town to the next. Stock up on fresh fruit, cheeses, vegetables, meats, and seafood while socializing with traveling market caravaners.
FAGIOLINI IN UMIDO SERVING PLATE
Green beans stewed with fresh plum tomatoes and basil leaves are a Tuscan staple. The secret to this recipe lies in combining the sweetness of the green beans and the acidity of the tomatoes. Crisp and sweet, and loved by all; a great healthy side that doesn’t involve any sacrifice in taste.
NO. 19 WINE BARREL
Podere Virginiolo Vineyard and Cantina is small collective of local grape growers nestled in the Florentine countryside, just outside of Montespertoli. The cellar, which dates back to the seventies, is spacious and functional, the home of tomorrow’s vintage, a fine Chianti Riserva, aged for 24 months in traditional oak barrels, and one additional year in bottles.
TUSCAN COUNTRYSIDE VINEYARD VIEW
Blue skies, rolling hills, wispy olive trees and straight rows of Sangiovese grapes compose a typical Tuscan landscape.
Authentic Italian Panini’s are found throughout the Tuscan region and are popular in Florence. Prosciutto, salami, and cheese purveyors have been crafting their products for centuries. We recommend the Mercato Centrale, where you can sample a variety of these tasty meats and cheeses.
FRESH MOZZARELLA CHEESE
Authentic Mozzarella is made with water buffalo milk, stretched by hand and kneaded after being dipped in hot whey. Variations include Fiordilatte, made of cow’s milk, and Burrata, which adds a touch of cream to the recipe. The result is an unforgettably smooth and milky cheese, best enjoyed fresh.
SPAGHETTI AL POMODORO
Emblematic of Italian cooking, and Audrey Hepburn’s favorite recipe, Spaghetti Al Pomodoro is at its best when made with fresh ingredients, Sweet vine ripe tomatoes, fresh picked basil and fragrant sautéed garlic slathered lovingly onto your favorite al dente spaghetti and tossed in extra virgin olive oil makes a simple, soulful, pasta dish.