The knock at the door of our apartment in Tuscany came in the early evening. ‘Sono io’ – ‘It’s me’, cried out our neighbour. Opening the door, we were presented with a steaming saucepan. ‘Assaggia’, he said. ‘Taste this’.
Our neighbour is like many typical Italians – a ‘buongustaio’ (someone with good taste, gastronomically speaking), who lives by the traditional food rules of eating locally-produced foods cooked into delicious recipes passed down through the generations. This is not because of some new trend to eat locally, it’s because that is the way it has always been in these parts.
His idea of ‘fast’ food would be a homemade pasta dish with a simple sauce. With no fast food chains in the charming Tuscan village at all and the only ‘foreign’ food available being one restaurant that serves two dishes that hail all the way from Rome, the locals pride themselves on their traditions of good food cooked in traditional ways.
Foods are consumed within the season they are naturally harvested, with fruits and vegetables being cooked to make conserves and sauces were possible to last through the winter months and fresh herbs dried to last through the winter. Many houses will have a prosciutto ham or homemade salami hanging in their storage area, and wine and olive oil is produced locally and then distributed in unlabelled bottles amongst friends and family.
The day that our cousin came to the door the home-cooked meal he presented was an ancient traditional dish that truly puts the ‘slow’ in ‘Slow Food’: a main meal made of snails – ‘chiocciole’. The more traditionalist Tuscan diners will still collect the spiralled friends from the local forest and cook them in a homemade tomato sauce (usually made from homemade tomatoes too!). Flavoured with herbs picked straight from the garden, you really don’t get more whole food than this traditional Tuscan dish!
Other hand-collected ingredients include mushrooms expertly gathered in hand-woven baskets, truffles excavated from secret locations by prized truffle-finding hounds, chestnuts and a wide variety of aromatic spices and even some berries that grow wildly in these parts.
Each footstep releases a fragrant bouquet from the wild herbs underfoot as you walk the lovely untouched landscape of Tuscany. The hilltop towns scattered throughout the landscape, the Tuscan landscape remains as it has been throughout the centuries, the winding roads the same as those stepped out by the Etruscans and Romans in times long past.
Aside from snails, it is not unusual in the winter months to spy wild boar, deer, hare, porcupines, squirrels and even the occasional wolf! The first three may also be hunted by locals who wish to leave animals free to roam the habitat until necessary rather than having the wild animals in captivity.
As the snails, they have also been taken as the symbol of the Slow Food Movement, which started in Italy with the humble aim of bringing good information, good food and good wine to the good people of the world.
The Slow Food movement has spread from simply wanting to protect good food traditions in Italy. Since then, it has grown into a massive, global organization that has never lost sight of their original goals of keeping food simple, local and good.
In recent years, the movement has also become proactive in education, both by arranging initiatives in schools around the world, and via the creation of their own university, the University of Gastronomic Sciences, in Northern Italy.
Each month, a series of Slow Food events are held in all locations where there are Slow Food groups (each known as a ‘convivia’).
To enlist in the Slow Food Movement, see http://www.slowfood.com/. To find your nearest Slow Food group or, convivia, visit: http://www.slowfood.com/international/4/where-we-are?-session=query_session%3A5D94D341191fe1B6AEhiR2D0F448
If you would like to learn more about fresh produce and wholefood production, you could sign up for a market tour and cooking class in Florence, where you will learn about the traditional ingredients before heading to the kitchen to turn the products into delicious, typical dishes and then indulging in a delicious lunch made by you! For more information or to register, see: http://www.italy.artviva.com/tours_category/12/cooking_classes_tuscany_florence_venice_rome.
You can also visit charming hilltop towns of Siena and San Gimignano and Monteriggioni on our Best of Tuscany small-group tour. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence, immerse yourself in the Tuscan wine-producing countryside, enjoy a wine tasting and cellar visit, and be part of the scenery that has inspired so many great artists. Our small-group Best of Tuscany tour visits Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning Tusvan villa wine estate.
Visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore historic wine estates before undertaking a wine tasting. Tread through the terrain, enjoying spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside up-close and personal.
Stroll through the Tuscan countryside, join us for a Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.
To explore some charming Tuscan hilltop towns, such as Pienza or perhaps Montalcino and Montepulciano, with a private guide to accompany you, we have Tuscan private tours of Tuscany. We also have a great range of other private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to Rome, Venice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.
Artviva is a proud supporter and member of Slow Food, and specialises in small-group, quality (and fun) tours in Florence/Tuscany, Rome, Venice and beyond. Visit www.italy.artviva.com for more information, or email email@example.com.