Food + Wine

A Culinary Tour of Italy

by Faith Willinger

Tuscany

Tuscan cooking is austere, elemental—don't look for elegance in this region. Grilled Florentine steak and arista' roast pork are served without sauce. Soup is preferred to pasta. Beans are the Tuscan vegetable of choice. Pecorino sheep's milk cheese, fresh or aged, is found on most menus. And extra virgin is the Tuscan idea of dressing, used on vegetables, salad, and bread—never served in a bowl for dipping. Bread is saltless, which may take some getting used to. Don't expect dessert to be the high point of the menu. Exigent enophiles will have a great time, with Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Bolgheri, and Carmignano wines to taste.

While in Florence, dine at one of the places in Fabio Picchi's empire, close to the Sant'Ambrogio market. Choose between the restaurant Cibrèo (full menu but no pasta, best service and table appointments, most expensive), and the trattoria (shorter menu, communal dining, paper placemats, half the price). Or join Picchi's CircoLo del Sale, a private club (breakfast, lunch, or dinner buffet laid with cold and hot dishes, including pasta and wine for a bargain price). Expect home-style cooking. Garlic and spicy chili pepper flavor many dishes. At 9:30, the dining area is cleared for an hour of live music, poetry reading, comedy, or debate on the theater stage.

A myriad of cooking schools await a gastronomic visitor in Tuscany, mine among them! Participants in my market-to-table sessions (held in my 18th Century kitchen in the center of Florence) experience one day of total immersion into Tuscan cooking and cuisine—starring seasonal organic produce. We shop the local market for top-quality fare and taste essential ingredients like extra virgin and real balsamico. Everyone works together to prepare a ten-course lunch of these fresh, superior ingredients—enjoyed with appropriately fantastic wines. Participants receive a gift bag packed with important products they've sampled. My assistant, Jennifer Schwartz, conducts Food Lovers' Tours of Florence, guiding gastronomes on foot to the city's caloric wonders. Stops include a food market, our favorite food and houseware shops, a tripe or truffle sandwich tasting, and a trattoria lunch. With either program, you're guaranteed a great introduction to a capital of Italian cuisine.

Panzano is the epicenter of the Chianti Classico area, and Dario Cecchini, master butcher, is the heart of Panzano. Visit his shop for first-rate salumi, cheese with spicy mostarda, or a taste of herb-roast pork, served with the local beverage of choice, Chianti Classico. Anyone with access to a kitchen should purchase a Florentine or boneless Panzanese steak to grill. Otherwise, buy Dario's special salt, profumo del Chianti, or a few jars of mostarda. Carry your goods in a basket woven just up the road by Dario's sister Marina.

Cibrèo città aperta
ristorante, trattoria, caffè, teatro, negozio
Via a. del verrocchio 8r / Via dei macci 122r
Firenze
Tel. +39-055-234-11-00
Fax +39-055-244-966

Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Via XX Luglio, 11R (next to the post office)
Panzano
Tel. +39-055-852-020
Closed Wednesday, open Sunday 10-2

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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