It was some hours since we had gathered around the lunch table, and the light outside was starting to dim with the early onset of winter darkness. As the daylight outside the window was fading and the sky greying slightly by a gathering of non-threatening clouds, it made the last of the amber leaves still clinging to their branches seem all that more vibrant.
At the end of our traditional Tuscan Sunday lunch, we were full, perfectly satisfied by the great meal and thoroughly enjoying the wonderful company.
Despite the fact that we had spent several hours together already, the conversation showed no signs of petering out.
We had dined on a great starter of Tuscan prosciutto ham and salamis, some delicious cheese, home-pickled onions and olives picked from the trees outside and preserved in home-produced extra-virgin olive oil. The bread was from the nearby town baker who puts aside a loaf of ‘Pane Toscano’ (Tuscan bread) every Saturday afternoon for us.
Then there was a home-made lasagne, with hand-rolled pasta and a traditional meat ragout that had simmered on the stovetop for many hours. The main of roast meats was served with grilled vegetables sprinkled with fresh parsley and a drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil.
To help survive such a feast, Italians will often conclude the meal with a ‘digestivo’ – a digestive shot of grappa, limoncello (lemon liqueur made from Sorrento lemons) or Vin Santo sweet dessert wine.
On this particular day, we reached for the Vin Santo since we had recently been given a home-made bottle of this treasured amber liquid.
There are, as with any great Tuscan tale, several versions of just why Vin Santo – ‘Holy Wine’ – is so called. Vin Santo is made by leaving the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes on the vine a little longer to allow the sugars inside the grapes to intensify. They are then hand-picked and carefully hung out to dry not in a cellar, but in the attic – that is, close to the saints. Vin Santo is the juice of choice used in mass, and this is possibly the most likely reason why it is called ‘Holy Wine’. Then there is the great legend that during the 1300s, the sweet Tuscan wine was given to help cure the sick who found this ‘miracle cure’ worthy of the title. Bottling also occurs at around Easter time, giving yet another holy association to this delicious Tuscan wine.
Once pressed, the small amount of liquid that remains is intensely sweet. It is then placed into a particular barrel known as ‘caratelli’, in which is kept for even up to a decade.
Vin Santo is traditionally enjoyed with Biscotti di Prato – crunchy biscotti that are dipped into the sweet liqueur for the simplest and most delicious of Tuscan desserts.
Biscotti di Prato is the traditional name for the cookie, but if you alter the original recipe, you must also change their name – either to ‘Cantucci’ or ‘Cantuccini’ (little Cantucci).
We are regularly given a bag of freshly-made cantucci by the local baker who is a great friend of ours. Whilst we like anyone who gives us food in general, he is possibly one of the sweetest people in the entire Tuscan region, and his biscuits are, without exaggeration, on par with the best we have ever had*.
And so it was, we sat at the lunch table in a small town in Tuscany, as the light dimmed and the sun set over the rolling hills beyond. In true form, we sipped away the Vin Santo and nibbled at the biscotti until there was little remaining of either (there were a fair few of us we should add!), and chatted until it was time to head home and start on (a very light!) dinner.
* Not to brag, but the other best biscotti we made ourselves during our hands-on cooking class in a Tuscan villa!
To learn about food and have fun learning discovering tasty ways to use seasonal Italian ingredients to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.
If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan culture, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni too, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence – Best of Tuscany small-group tour.
Join us to have fun on an exhilarating bike ride from Florence to the Tuscan countryside, whizzing up and down the rolling Tuscan hills that form the stunning Tuscany countryside as you tour to a great Tuscan villa wine estate to visit their wine cellar for a Tuscan wine tasting, and dine at an award-winning Tuscan restaurant. During the warmer months, you may want to add a splash of extra fun to your Tuscany bike tour with our unique Tuscany Bike Ride with a Villa Swim. Should you wish to skip the Tuscan bike riding altogether and head straight pool-side, we have our Wine Tour and Villa Swim with lunch or simply enjoy a Villa Swim and Lunch in Tuscany.
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.
If you would like to have a private guide accompanying you, we have 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.
To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.