Pecorino di Pienza – tour the jewel of the Val D’Orcia

The Val D’Orcia (Valley of Orcia) South of Sienna is the absolute epitome of what we all expect Tuscany to look like … a landscape of green valleys surrounded by rolling hills and a horizon punctuated by rows of lonely cypress trees. You really should take the time to visit this beautiful area of Tuscany and get to experience some of its’ wonderful artisan foods and wines at their source. The area is best known for the wonderful Pecorino di Pienza, made exclusively in and around the town of Pienza which is situated close to the wine producing towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano, home to the Tuscan classic wines.

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Val D’Orcia in Tuscany

What is Pecorino di Pienza Cheese?

Pecorino, famous all over the world, is named for the milk used to create it…Pecora is Italian for a ewe, and this cheese is made exclusively from whole, raw ewe’s milk. Pecorino is made all over Italy, but the Pecorino from Pienza is unique and special; the sheep who supply the milk are a tough breed, mostly the Sarda, originally from Sardinia, and are well adapted to the terrain of the area which is not suitable for crop farming, but wonderful for sheep! They feed exclusively on the indigenous vegetation of the area, a mixture of grasses and wild herbs including wormwood, meadow salsify, broom, juniper and burnet and it is this diet which makes the cheese special, as traces of herb can be detected in the cheese. It is a seasonal cheese, made only during the Summer when the milk quality is at its’ best, so you will only find young Pecorino in Summer; the mature cheese can, however, be enjoyed all year around.

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Pecorino making in Tuscany – province of Siena – source

To a certain extent the cheese has become mass-produced; demand has exceeded supply and has led to milk from other areas being “imported”, resulting in a change of the original character of the cheese. However, there are still at least two family-run Pecorino makers near Pienza where the cheese is still produced organically in the age-old way, and these are the two you should try and visit: Podere Il Casale and Cugisi.

Pecorino di Pienza Cheese tour at the local dairy.

The raw milk is mixed with rennet  to curdle it. The curds sink to the bottom of the container and are scooped out to dry before being placed in a  salt solution. The set cheese is then formed into “heads” or rounds. These are then wrapped in walnut leaves and placed in a cool humid cellar to mature. The rinds are periodically dampened with olive oil (Tuscan, of course!) and then grease and wax. At the moment there is no discipline in the production nor there is a PDO in place so production might vary from producer to producer. The only traditional pecorino is the one aged in wooden barriques.

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Visit a pecorino dairy in Italy – Source

Eating Pecorino di Pienza.

Pecorino is eaten either as a soft cheese after about 40 – 60 days’ maturation, or left in the cellar for up to 15 months (5 – 12 months is the average). When young,(Pecorino Fresco), you can expect the cheese to be soft and creamy, with a spicy undertone and the herby diet of the sheep really comes to the fore. The rind will be a creamy colour.

A more mature Pecorino will have a darker rind, generally red or black, and the texture is soft and crumbly on the palate with a slightly tannic after-taste; at this point the spicy tones are no longer evident. It is generally believed that Pecorino does improve with ageing, as it acquires more character and structure.

In Tuscany, the cheese is not often used in combination with other foods or used for cooking, but rather enjoyed in its’ own right. The Fresco (young Pecorino) is eaten with a light touch of great Tuscan olive oil or a little of the regions’ chestnut honey. It is sometimes served with sliced pears or raw fava beans and prosciutto as a lovely simply anti-pasti. The matured cheese, (Stagionato) is great to grate! Serve it over a wonderful pasta or risotto, or in thin slices with Proscuitto and other cured meats..

Of course, you need a really lovely wine from the region to complete the feast; the Rosso di Montalcino is just the perfect match. This is a young, unmatured Sangiovese, (only up to a year in the cask) and “baby brother” to the famous Brunello di Montecino, for which the region is famous. Another good wine from the region to try with the cheese is Rosso di Montepulciano; this is also a young, fresh tasting wine comprised of mainly Sangiovese grapes. If you love dessert wines try the Moscadello di Montalcino, a fine late-harvested Muscat which makes the most perfect simple ending to a great Tuscan meal; serve it with fresh seasonal fruit, local honey and some Pecorino Fresco. A perfect way to savoir the essence of the Val D’Orcia!

Emilia Delizia food tours in Tuscany.

If you are set to discover Italian foods, our company would be delighted to organise a cheese tour departing from Siena or Florence and go the Val D’Orcia to experience the production of Pecorino and Tuscan wines.

 

Tuscany Cooking – A Time When Poverty Has Become The Great Culinary Invention

Tuscany food has always been considered as ‘cucina povera’ or ‘cuisine of the poor’ closely interconnected with peasant traditions. The poor roots of this cuisine though caused by the poverty of the people of this region in the past, today has become the land of superb food and wine.

 The Art of Cucina Povera – The poor man cookery style.

If you ask me to give few attributes to cucina Toscana than two will be the best to describe it, simplicity and ingenuity. As many other regional cuisines, the Tuscan was and continues to be attached to rural traditions using a range of excellent natural ingredients.
It’s not a secret that other Italians still call Tuscans ‘mangiafagioli’ (bean eaters) – an unjust label, but refer to the region’s simple ingredients. Not all the food in Tuscany has humble roots.

Fresh borlotti beans

The Borlotti beans are a Tuscan classic and part of the Italian agricultural heritage. Image source

Florentines will tell you proudly that they invented many of the great dishes of French cuisine. Of course this is attributed to Medici family, more precisely to Catherine de’ Medici after her marriage (1534) to Henry de Valois, the future king Henri II of France. As an excellent connoisseur of Florence food she had transferred some typical Florence dishes at the France court.
Thanks to Catherine some Florentine dishes were assimilated by France court such as ‘papero alla melarancio’ (duck in orange sauce) which became ‘canard à l’orange’ or ‘zuppa di cipolle’ (onion soup), in France become ‘soupe d’oignons’. Beside these dishes Catherine also introduced to French court how to use two essentials of the modern table – the fork and the napkin.

Tuscan style cookery in the modern times.

Today’s Tuscan food contains plenty of sophisticated dishes that that wouldn’t dishonour to tables of restaurants in London, Paris or New York. Most of this food is seasonal and locally produced, and it only appears at the time of the year it is grown.
To give you an idea of Tuscan food delights, we can start from breakfast that consists of simply coffee and croissant (brioche). The lunch and dinner begin with starters or antipasti like bruschetta or Florence crostini (slice of toasted Tuscan salt less bread) topped with olive paste, chicken liver pate and a variety of hams, cheese and salamis.

The ample use of beans, lentils and legumes.

As the first course in Tuscany, pasta is less used than in other parts of Italy, instead soups are more popular as minestrone (vegetable soups), zuppa di fagioli (beans soup) or famous ribollita (reboiled) white beans and cabbage soup, papa al pomodoro (bread and tomatoes soup).

Among classic pasta meals we must mention ‘pappardelle alla lepre’ based on home-made pasta with a hare sauce. The game meat has very important role in Tuscan cuisine, particularly wild boar and hare. This list wouldn’t be complete without uncontested king of Florentine main courses, ‘bistecca alla florentina ‘ (T-bone steak).

Bistecca alla fiorentina

The Tuscan sweets.

When we come to desserts than the winner is gelato (ice-cream). Gelato means ‘frozen‘in Italian, so it embraces the various kinds of ice cream made in Italy. It’s not a secret that the best gelato you can taste in Florence. There is also a Firenze Gelato Festival from in May from 23rd to 27th, important event to taste the best artisan ice cream. It’s worth mentioning some of the many regional specialities like ‘panforte di Siena’ a rich cake made of cocoa, walnuts and crystallized fruit dating from 13th century.

While eating well in Tuscany you can also drink well whatever the time of day and whatever the season. Good coffee is must have in almost every bar and café, from the breakfast cappuccino or café latte to the after dinner espresso. Don’t miss fresh squeezed orange, lemon or grapefruit juice (spremuta). Closer to sundown you may want one of the classic aperitif such as Campari or Negroni, during Happy Hour.

The Tuscan wines are the kings of the dining table.

While eating you will probably ask for a bottle of good Tuscan wine, like Chianti, Tuscany’s most famous red wine or some “super Tuscans’ reds. Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are the big names that perfectly match all Tuscan dishes. After dinner you will need one of the Italian digestives as Grappa, a spirit distillated from grapes, Amaro ‘bitter’ made of herbs and ‘secret ingredients’.

After all these food and drink offers we hope you are convinced that eating is a passion for Tuscany that visitor can easily share. We are sure it will be experience as memorable as visits to the best museums and galleries.

Elena&Pero
Easy Florence Travel Guide

http://www.easyflorence.com/

 

Gourmet food tour from Florence

Emilia Delizia famous food tour can be taken from Florence, below you will find a guide about departing from Florence and participate at the 3 gourmet food tour.

gourmet food tour from Florence

Cheese food tour from Firenze

While Tuscany produces wonderful wines, cheese and hams, a lot of people are attracted by Bologna, Modena and Parma because of the Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, Parma ham and Lambrusco wines. In this brief guide we explain how to tour the 3 foods with us while your made your base in Florence.

Timing of production of the Parmesan cheese.

Because of its nature the cheese is only made once a day in the morning, therefore participants need to get to the dairy early enough. Roughly we will depart from Bologna at 7.15/7.30 and from Modena at 8.20 am. Of course we can organise a tour for a later time however you might need to book a private tour and the cost might considerably higher for small parties.

How to get to Bologna or Modena by car.

If you are coming to Bologna or Modena by car, you can easily take the autostrada that connects Firenze to Bologna. Since you are driving your won vehicle, our guide will meet you directly at the cheese dair. Please plan ahead and keep in mind that to reach Modena it will take you 2 hours. Plan for traffic and toilet breaks. A GPS is a fundamental tool for self drive tours as our locations are mostly in the country side. Emilia Delizia does not take responsibility for not being able to locate the meeting point on time.

How to get to Bologna or Modena by train.

From Florence Bologna is served by frequent high speed trains at any time of the day till late at night. For more information about the train time table you can consult this page.
However in the morning the only option would be the Freccia Rossa 9500 that arrives in Bologna at 7.37. Rather than attempting this mad dash on the same morning, we always suggest to take a late train the evening before (even after a nice dinner in Florence) and stay at one of the the high quality hotels right in front of Bologna station. Namely the La UNA HOTEL, STAR EXCELSIOR, and MERCURE HOTEL. The following morning you will be ready to go to the Parmesan tour FRESH AND RELAXED.

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Organising a private food tour from Florence.

A private tour is the perfect solution if you want a customised tour four family, friends or company activity. You can decide the timing, and other details of the day that suit the most. We can organise a car or minibus that comes to your hotel directly in Florence. The departure time in this case it is around 6.30 and the return time is around 5 pm. The tour from Florence can be substantially more expensive than starting from Bologna, however it would be recommended for larger groups as the cost of the transport can be shared between the participants.

ageing Parmesan cheese

Parmesan cheese tour from Florence

A culinary tour of Florence gastronomic tradition – Bistecca alla Fiorentina

How to cook the Italian t-bone steak Bistecca alla Fiorentina to perfection.

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Bistecca alla Fiorentina – Emilia Delizia Food tours

Italian cuisine is not just about carbs such as bread, pizza and pasta but we have aslo good meat dishes. In Particular in Tuscany we find the Bistecca alla Fiorentina a meat dish from Florence, a massive t-bone steak that should be at least 4 cm tick and one kilo of weight. The perfect Fiorentina steak comes from cows of the Chianina breed. A native cattle of Tuscany which is reared outdoor and fed with grasses according to a strict discipline. The diet of the animals will confer high nutritional values to the beef. When buying the meet from the local butcher in Tuscany you should make sure that the cut has enough fillet, as they tend to cut it out and sell it apart, however the best Fiorentina steak must have plenty of fillet attached.

How to cook bistecca fiorentina.

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How to cook bistecca alla fiorentina

The cooking of the steak is rather simply but you should follow the traditional steps if you want to obtain the perfect results. First of all it should be grilled on noble woods such as ash or oak which will confer the best flavours. When the coals start to ash the fire is hot enough. Spread them with a tool in order not to have an open flame or the meat will burn. Then position the stainless steal grill on the coal and use it only when is very hot.

To cook bistecca alla Fiorentina you will not need neither salt, nor oil, of course you can add a little seasoning at the end of the the cooking.

Once your “Griglia” is very hot, place the steak on each side for 3/5 minutes until nicely browned and a crust start to form. The following step is to cook the inside of the meat with the passive heat from the coal fire. So place the steak upright, sitting on the bone for 15/20 minutes. The traditional way wants a steak that is raw inside, but if you do not like your meat that way you can continue cooking it on the sides until it stops bleeding.

How to serve bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Once it is done, you can carve it on a wooden board and serve thin slices of the steak to each guest. A kilo portion will feed 3/4 people easily. Do not forget to get your best salads out and nice home made bread to go with. Of course you should serve Chianti Classico wine with the Italian T-bone Steak.

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a tour into Florence culinary traditions

A tour in the hearth of the culinary tradition of Tuscany

by Gabriele Monti December 3rd, 2012

The gastronomic heart of Tuscany is found on the Tuscan hill: the Apennines with the flavours of the mountains, and certainly by Tyrrhenian Sea with seafood. Tuscany is mainly a hilly land and with lots of vineyard and olive trees, sunflowers, fruit orchards, woodland and pasture. A lot of elevated ground of various kind distributed over a vast territory. It is mostly cultivated and full of small scattered villages such as the Chianti area. This land is covered in lush green raging from chestnut trees to the blonde cereals in Garfagnana, then it is sometimes barren and mostly made of clay such as the Maremma which is also wild and fascinating.

It is equally varied in its basket of agricultural products that benefits from a benevolent climate influenced by the sea and by a widespread environmental integrity. Wine and oil are the main typical Tuscan food: the former with labels that will make you dream, such as Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, the latter with a production that has no equal for culinary tradition. Then we should talk about the cattle breeding. Both traditional breeds of cattle, Chianina and Maremma, provide meat for the grill and the classic cooking in clay. Also pork is important, namely Cinta Senese. Breeders are there to restore an antique flavour of meats to be used fresh or cured as prosciutto and finocchiona. As for the cheese it is worth to mention the local productions of Marzolino of Chianti.

Other agricultural products are also worth to mention as they are really outstanding For example the beans of Sorana and Pratomagno, are so important for traditional Tuscan cooking, and they are fundamental for the pasta e fagioli.
There is also the Garfagnana spelt. A wheat with an ancient history, it used for soups and it is worshipped by the health-conscious. Going along we should also mention the the saffron of San Gimignano, which was a source of great wealth in medieval times, and today it is used to rediscover of ancient recipes.

The food and wine tour begins in Florence, which provides a complete overview of the regional cuisine ranging from ribollita, Florentine steak, pappa al pomodoro to pappardelle with hare and the devilled chicke. There is also a great tradition of grilled dishes such as truffled pasticcio pie and the use of offal deriving from the medieval cuisine. There is so much choice in a region that has a very long vocation for tourism and gastronomy. Along the sea we find Prato with its Medici villas and the Carmignano wine, and the cantucci biscuits. Then It is followed by Pistoia and Lucca, famous for the olive oil production, and the traditional cuisine from Versilia and Garfagnana.

By the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea lays Massa-Carrara, on a double gastronomic border, with accents of the Liguria and the Lunigiana cuisine. Walking down the Via Aurelia through the scenarios of the Maremma you will touch Pisa, Livorno and Grosseto with a cuisine between the sea and the inner land. The standard fare is the famous fish soup and wild boar based dished, in its various preparations. If we move inland, near the territory of Siena, it lies the southern portion of the Chianti hills, with all that follows in terms of wine and oil. Further south there are undulated, barren and clay perfumed hills. Here you will find the most popular sheep in the region of the Mount Amiata, where the woods come to the border with Umbria. From there you can start investigating Arezzo and its province including Val di Chiana which is the home of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and the mountains of the Casentino. Here the cooking is done mostly with meat, mushrooms and game.

Rustic Italian food

Montalcino wine tour from Florence or Siena

Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wine estate visits

by Gabriele Monti November 28th, 2012

wine in tuscany

ash barrels with 2011 Brunello di Montalcino

Montalcino is a pretty hill top town in the province of Siena Tuscany. It takes about 2 hours from Florence and 1 hour from Siena to get there, so it makes an ideal day trip from one of these 2 main towns.
The main attraction of Montalcino is its world renowned red wine. As many traditional Tuscan wines the main grape used here is the Sangiovese variety which produces 2 main wines: Brunello di Montalcino DOC and Rosso di Montalcino. The latter is normally a younger wine with lots of freshness and berry tones. The regulation of the consortium to make Rosso di Montalcino are less strict compared to the Brunello, in fact Rosso di Montalcino will spend only one year in the wooden barrels before bottling.
The real king of the these gentle and sunny hills is Brunello di Montalcino. The wine is aged at least 5 years in large oak or hash barrels. Compared to its younger version it has more complexity and structure. Sometimes it has mineral and pleasantly bitter tones and it is the perfect match for meat dishes such as the succulent heavy weight Fiorentina but also recommended with Pecorino di Pienza, or the peppery prosciutto toscano.
During our tour we would recommend to visit 2 wineries in the area such as Abbadia Ardenga and Altesino winery. The former is an ancient 15th Century fortified abbey with secret underground passages and a passion for wine making dating back several centuries. Here at the winery you will taste 4 wines with the accompaniment of local food. Our tour will continue to another nearby wine estate namely: Altesino Winery. Here our guests will have Tuscan style lunch which will include tasting of Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello. The lunch ends with Torta della Nonna accompanied with Vin Santo.
Upon request we can also visit the town of Montalcino with a qualified guide to discover the history of this beautiful hill top fortified settlement. Our guests can also learn about the disputes between Florence and Siena for dominance during the renaissance.

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Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Not far from Montalcino, and a easy reach from Siena it is also possible to visit wineries making vino nobile di Montepulciano made nearby in the homonymous town. The noble wine of Montepulciano is also made from Sangiovese grapes (minimum 70%) and aged 2 years or 3 years for the reserve. For those looking for a younger wine it is also possible to taste Rosso di Montepulciano, which is less sophisticated yet easily enjoyed on it own or with a light lunch.

Pecorino di Pienza.

Many foodies know Pecorino very well for its fragrant spiciness and full body. Pienza not far from Siena and Montalcino is another gourmet destination where interested travellers can visit the production of this cheese which is aged for at least 90 days in barriques of ash wood.
For those interested in food and wine tour from Florence and Siena, the area has plenty to offer. The main dedication of the area is red wine which can be matched with cheese and ham experiences. However In Tuscany the wineries are the one which should be of main interested of the food traveller, of course with the possibility to match the experience with local food such as the wonderful Fiorentina steak.

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vin santo grapes in Italy