Who is Dario Cecchini? The Butcher of Panzano in Chianti

Are you visiting Tuscany any time soon? If yes, watching a butcher at work may not be at the top of your itinerary but we recommend that you take the chance anyway. Dario Cecchini is not just the most famous butcher in Tuscany. He has been referred to as the world’s greatest butcher and it’s easy to see why when you watch him at work with his various knives and cleavers. He practically transforms the act of butchering into an art. He has been known to attract such personalities as Jack Nicholson, Bruce Springsteen and other such greats. People travel from near and far to watch him in small shop. With only 2 rooms in his shop, you will be lucky to get a spot.

Oh Dario!

Dario the Butcher seem to be very popular – source

His butchery is typical of any Italian butcher only better. All around, on counters, there are different cuts of meat that have been prepared in different ways depending on how they are supposed to be cooked. You will see seasoned meatballs, stuffed pork loin and many more. Dario doesn’t stop there. He ensures that every visitor who goes to see him gets a taste of some meat and some red wine. As you watch him preparing different meats, his small staff walks around handing everyone something to eat and drink.

Dario didn’t get started as a butcher. It runs in his family, with 6 generations before him making a living from this humble trade. He intended to become a vet and even went to veterinarian school to learn the skills of the trade. Life had other plans for him though and they were to transform his life forever. His father, who was a butcher, died suddenly and Dario had to step in and take over the business so as to be able to continue to provide his family with a livelihood. He did prove that he had a knack dealing with meat but vet studies didn’t go to waste. To this day, he ensures humane treatment of animals before they are killed and butchered.

So what makes him so different from other butchers? This famous butcher from Panzano in Chianti sets himself apart through his personality. He is open and welcoming and don’t be surprised if you walk into his shop and he stops what he is doing, cleans himself up and comes out from behind the counter to envelop you in a giant hug. At the same time, he can sometimes be heard reciting lines from Dante’s Inferno as he works. He enriches the lives of those around him with some kind of happy magic that comes from within.

Business has been good. From the 2 room butcher shop, he was able to open an art gallery next door, a Solociccia restaurant across the street. He has also utilized the top and the back of his shop to open 2 restaurants in one. During the day, you can enjoy a juicy MacDArio and if you come back in the night you will find Officina della Bistecca which can only be described as a carnivore’s haven and before each night starts, you will hear Dario shout a poignant question: to beef or not to beef? That is the question.

The Chianti area is also renowned for its wine, you can easily tour wineries with your own car or by a chauffeured mini van if you are travelling with your family or a group.

 

Lardo di Colonnata….a taste of the Good Fat

What is Lardo di Colonnata?

Lardo di Colonnata is a true Italian heritage food; (it is very unfortunate that non-Italians will generally confuse the name with simple lard, which is far from the truth). This product is a deliciously seasoned, cured slab of pure fat from the back of the pig, which has been cured in a particular way, and it is a delicacy in Italy where it can often be seen on a platter of Salumi (Italian cured meats). Lardo di Colonnata is a superior product and it is protected by an IGP designation, meaning that production is restricted to the region around the little village of Colonnata. In addition, the IGP brings with it certain regulations regarding the production, and ensures that the product is matured in a particular way in the Marble caves near Colonnata.

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Lardo di Colonnata – Source

The Marble Caves of Carrara and the Apuan alps

The magnificent mountains that surround the town of Carrara are a sight to behold! In the height of summer they appear to be covered in snow, but it is not snow but precious white marble that is gleaming in the sun. The marble from Carrara has been known since Roman times, and is where the huge block that was the basis of Michelangelo’s famed “David” was hewn. The town of Carrara is a monument to marble, and you will see marble wherever you look – marble benches, marble statues, marble steps and a gleaming marble Duomo (cathedral). Today you can go on a quarry tour to get an idea of how incredibly difficult it must have been to produce the marble here all those years ago, with no equipment! Above the town of Carrara, in the village of Colonnata, you can learn how the marble caves of the area are essential today in the production of Lardo di Colonnata, just as they have been for centuries.
Legend has it that the original Lardo was produced by the Roman quarry workers who needed a nutritious meal to sustain them during their labours in the quarries.

How Lardo di Colonnata Is Made.

Thick slabs of trimmed pork back fat are seasoned with salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic (and sometimes other herbs such as star anise, oregano, coriander, cloves, etc) and packed into specially carved Carrara marble containers, which are porous and allow for the curing process to take place. Production only takes place in winter, and the vats of seasoned fat are aged and matured entirely naturally in the Marble Caves, where the micro-climate is perfect for the job of curing the meat without any additives or preservatives.
The resultant Lardo di Colonnata, shaved into delicate thin ribbons, is a delicate, creamy textured sliver, full of the rich flavours of the herbs, which perfectly complements a slice of grilled Italian bread – crostini. It tastes a little like the fatty part of a slice of perfect prosciutto, but with a lot more flavour! It is generally eaten just as described above, and forms part of an antipasti platter, along with other cured meats (salumi). It can also be used to impart flavour and moisture to roast game birds or other dishes that require a little extra fat.

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The Marble containers where the lardo is cured – source

3 Reasons why Lucca is a Visitor’s Delight

Lucca has such a lot to offer visitors! This lovely town is one of Tuscany’s most outstanding medieval walled towns and a walk around the almost completely intact 4km stretch of ancient fortifications will transport you back in time, as well as help you work up an appetite for some of the lovely Tuscan food you can sample in the town. Lucca also has some outstanding art and architecture to show off, but most people who visit Lucca come to see the walls, the towers or to attend one of the many summer festivals, so we will have a look at these three attractions in more detail.

 

The Walls of Lucca.

Nowadays the walls are a popular meeting place for locals, and thronged with walkers and cyclists in summer, but this was not always the case and they have had a turbulent history. The original walls were defensive, and built during Ancient Roman times, and few traces of these are visible today. The original Medieval walls were built in the 11th and 12th century and in the 14th century they had to be extended to accommodate the growing population of the town. The walls you see today were commissioned in 1504 in order to keep up with “modern” military advances, to ensure that Lucca could remain safe from the Medici. These walls were extremely advanced for their time, and required the collaboration of many Military architects from other parts of Italy. They were never breached! Along the 4 km stretch of walls you will find 11 bastions (all different from one another in design) and 3 gates. Inside the ramparts were large rooms to house soldiers, horses and munitions. The walls are always accessible to visitors and children especially will love exploring these ancient fortifications.

The Towers of Lucca

Lucca once had about 130 towers – representative of the power and wealth of the families who built them. Sadly, only 2 important towers remain today, the rest having been demolished long ago. The most recognizable symbol of the city is the Guinigi Tower which has a huge Oak trees growing from its’ roof top garden! You will have a wonderful view of the town from the top of this tower if you can manage the 235 steps to the top!

In the town you will also find the Torre delle Ore, or clock tower. This one is taller than the Guinigi Tower and has provided the citizens of Lucca with a clock since 1390! It is open to the public if you fancy climbing to the top for another great view.

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Festivals in Lucca

The lovely Piazza san Guisto is home to many festivals throughout the year. Some of the most important are the Summer Festival, where live music concerts featuring world-class bands are held every July, the Winter festival featuring Jazz and soft rock, the Comics Festival – all you ever wanted to know about comics – and the Puccini Opera festival in July each year – (Puccini was born in Lucca and is greatly revered in this town.)

Lucca guided tours.

If you have only few hours it makes sense to hire a local guide. By doing so you can explore on the highlights of the city and discover the long history that characterised Lucca. The guides are professional individuals who are trained by the local government, the town can be explored on foot in 2/3 hours. You can reach Lucca from Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Florence and it the the ideal destination for a day trip while you are on vacation in Tuscany.

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Is San Gimignano worth Visiting?

San Gimignano and its surroundings are well worth a visit to enjoy both historical monuments and taste great wines. This town situated on the Via Francigena represents a pleasant stop for pilgrims directed to Rome in the Middle Ages and present visitors looking for ancient medieval towns in Tuscany.

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Beautiful San Giminiano Tuscany, Italy – Source

 

Discover the medieval heart of San Gimignano.

Founded by Etruscans in the III century BC, San Gimignano turned into a fortified town during the Middle Ages, when numerous towers (up to 72!) where erected. If you come from the valley, you will notice the skyline of San Gimignano, dotted with the 13 towers left and palaces dating back to the thirteenth century built by important families to celebrate their power.

San Gimignano enjoyed maximum economical and political glory till the fourteenth century, that’s why you can still admire many historical buildings from the Middle Ages but also new monuments built at the end of the nineteenth century during the Gothic Renovation period.

The city centre being situated on a hill, you will have the chance to take scenic views of the Tuscan landscape, in particular if you have a walking tour along the city walls overlooking the unique panorama of Valle d’Elsa. If you enter the city by one of the gates, the main street will lead you directly to the heart of the medieval San Gimignano. As an example you may start the tour from Porta San Giovanni walking through Via San Giovanni and reach Piazza della Cisterna, the wonderful square dominated by a well, red brick palaces and the impressive Devil’s Tower.

You will find other beautiful point of interests at the adjacent Piazza Duomo: Palazzo Comunale (the City Hall), Palazzo Salvucci, Palazzo Chigi Useppi, Palazzo Vecchio and Torre Rognosa.

If you have an appetite for excellent Italian wines, the tour continues in cellars and wine bars…

Vernaccia di San Giminiano, a unique wine of Tuscany.

Gourmet travellers find San Gimignano to be the perfect place to taste DOC wines – Vernaccia, San Gimignano Rosso and Rosato, Vin Santo, Chianti Colli Senesi – whose grapes come directly from the hundred Tuscan vineyards that you may observe along the way from Florence.

Reach San Gimignano to taste wines praised by artists and poets such as Francesco Redi and Michelangelo Buonarroti. In his L’Aione, Michelangelo describes Vernaccia wine as follows: “It kisses, leaks, bites, pricks, and stings”. Actually, this delicate white wine gained DOCG recognition in 1993 and is characterized by a fruity flavour that will catch your senses.

Much of the wine history and production can be learned at the dedicated Vernaccia Wine Museum located in Villa della Rocca di Montestaffoli on a hilly position overlooking the vineyards. At the Vernaccia Wine Museum you can book a wine tasting workshop and a tour that will help to appreciate the essence of this wine which boasts a production of 9 million bottles per year, sold in Italy and abroad.

A travel to San Gimignano represents a joy for curious eyes and fine palates!

If you want to get to San Gimignano from Emilia Romagna, the best way is to catch a train from Bologna or Pisa directed to Siena, stop at Poggibonsi station, then take the bus to San Gimignano.

 

© Valentina Grassiccia

 

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’. Emilia Delizia offers Chianti wine tours from Florence  via our sister site.

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/

 

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