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Tuscany – Under The Tuscan Sun

July 24, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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Two weeks in Tuscany with my entire family going to all the quaint little Tuscan towns, visiting beautiful wineries, taking cooking classes, eating amazing food, and relaxing by the pool was exactly what I had been looking forward to after all of our big city visits throughout Italy thus far. Tuscany is a beautiful region, filled with sunflower fields, olive groves, grape vines, and gorgeous landscape that varies as you drive throughout the area. It’s an amazing region to visit, and all you need is a car, some time, and of course a couple euros!

Our first morning in our quintessential Tuscan villa up on a hill surrounded by fig and olive trees and sunflower fields with a garden in the front, I woke up to this and realized how much I’ve really missed my family the past six months! What a perfect way to start off our two week adventures eating and driving our way through Tuscany!

You can’t visit Italy with a passion for cooking and not take a class to learn a little about how this delicious food is made. So us girls set off for an amazing cooking class day while the boys went to enjoy an Italian golf course. Our cooking class was an amazing experience. The two chefs were an older married Italian couple who had been cooking up these traditional Italian recipes for years. We learned how to make a typical and super delicious five course Italian meal.

For the first course, or antipasti we made a delicious warm bruschetta. We learned how bruschetta is made differently throughout the year due to the ripening of tomatoes and what region of the country they are coming from.

Primi, the pasta course. We learned how to make gnocchi with tomato sauce and tagetelle pasta with duck ragu from scratch. The fresh, just made gnocchi melted in your mouth! As one of my favorite Italian dishes I really don’t think I had ever tasted fresh homemade gnocchi, and the difference is amazing. I didn’t think it could be any better, but it is! The duck ragu sauce was also to die for. It was the best ragu I’ve ever had as well, and I think we all agreed on this one.

Secondi, the meat course. We made braised beef that tenderly fell apart with the touch of your fork and roasted potatoes that were just picked fresh from the ground. Delicious!!

For desert we made tirimisu. This dish was surprisingly much easier than we had all expected, and delicious. Many recipes at home are much more complex and many said don’t taste near as good. What an amazing day and experience.. Ohh the tricks we learned! =)

During our time in Tuscany we visited two great wineries, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and Castello del Terriccio. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia located in Bolgheri region, is a well known super Tuscan producer. The winery is considered one of Italy’s leading Bordeaux-style red wines. The estate also produces a second wine, Le Serre Nuove, the blend La Volte, the merlot varietal labeled wine Masseto, and grappa and olive oil as well. The vineyards of the estate were planted in 1981 producing their first vintage in 1985. Their modern winery was built in 1987. The winery is owned by the six Frescobaldi brothers and was partly owned by the Robert Mondavi winery from 1999 until 2005 when the Frescobaldi’s bought the remaining shares to own the whole estate. The scenery of the vineyards in between the Italian coast and mountains is incredible. Our tour through this winery was unique, as we were able to see the bottling process in action, which only happens an average of two weeks out of the year.

The Castello del Terriccio was also a gorgeous estate to visit. The extensive 4,200 acre property is located in the costal area at Castellina Marittima in the Livorno province. The winery is owned by Dr. Gain Annibale Rossi di Madelana Serafini Ferri OR Pucci, his nickname which is a lot less complicated! Until 1995, Castello del Terriccio principal production was cereals such as wheat, maize, and barley and olive oil. In the early 90’s the dominace of cereals started to give way to to viticulture. The first vines were planted in 1989, and as of 2000 they cover over fifty acres. This was a beautiful winery and the friendly Italian hospitality there made for a special day!

Its impossible to visit Tuscany without taking a couple of day trips to all of the beautiful and old Tuscan towns. However, you need patience and good driving skills to get on these crazy roads with all the wild italian drivers. Thanks to Travis and Tyler, and NO thanks to our GPS’s getting us crazy lost, we made safely out or Italy. During the two weeks we visited Florence, Siena, Lucca, and the balsamic vinegar town of Modena north of the Tuscan region.

Siena is a really unique medieval town with tall stone walls all throughout the entire town. We happened to visit this neat town during Palio di Siena, which is an enormous bareback horse racing event which takes place twice a year. The entire town participates in this big event, and people come from all over to be a part of it. There are ten horses and riders representing ten of the seventeen city wards. It was really neat to see the entire town gather in the Plaza del Campo and cheer on the horses as they made their way around the plaza. During our visit there we also ate a wonderful restaurant by the name of Antica Osteria da Divo. The wine cellar type charming atmosphere and delicious food made it a dinner to remember.

Lucca is another charming little town to spend a day wandering through with a big wall surrounding the old town and narrow cobblestone paved roads. Unique characteristics including an oval city square and a walkable city wall made this town a fun get away for the group. Surprisingly, for a town this town there were several boutique shops and gastronomic speciality stores which made this town a real treat.

One of my favorite day trip experiences we had was in Modena, in the Emilia-Romagna region north of Tuscany. The town is famous for it’s balsamic vinegar production, and being a foodie family, we ate this experience up! We visited the Giorgio Barbieri family, who has been making vinegar in the garret for several generations. In Modena the magic is made under the roofs of their homes. The space directly under their rooftops, the attic, is where time works it’s best magic transforming the wine into vinegar. The summer heat and humidity of this specific area is conducive to the ripening process. Modena balsamic vinegar must age for either 12 or 25 years, or longer to receive the tradizionale label.

The vinegar making process has no exact rules and each family produces the vinegar as they please. The only one rule is for the vinegar to be traditional, it must reach the point of harmony, and if it hasn’t reached that point in 25 years the process will continue. It is not chronological, it’s sensory. The vinegar is produced in barrels of various sizes, and consists of 5 to 12 barrels in each lineup which is decanted from the larger barrels to the smaller ones in a process over time. There are different types of wood such as cherry, oak, chesnut, mulberry, and ash for the different flavors. It is a passionate process, an art, and without doubt an affair of the heart.

While we were in Modena, we also had an amazing dining experience at one of the top rated restaurants in the world, Osteria Francescana. The outstanding and creative chef Massimo Bottura created an unforgettable meal with his innovative dishes. His speciality being fois gras pate on a stick covered with chocolate and nuts.

Looking back, our Tuscan vacation was filled with so many incredible experiences, beautiful scenery, and delicious food. I’m so grateful to have spent two weeks in such an amazing part of the world with my family!



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3 thoughts on “Tuscany – Under The Tuscan Sun

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