December means, for many, that Christmas is coming. It means family get-togethers, delicious food, and (sometimes) overeating. Now, we all know that Italy is famous for its delicacies, but maybe you might not be aware that Italian traditions for Christmas time are also very interesting, and yummy! The most amazing thing is that despite being such a small country, Italy’s regional differences in terms of traditional food are apparent even for these kinds of traditional meals.
Every region, sometimes even every specific city has something traditional that is different from other parts of the country when it comes to setting the Christmas menu. This article is about three of the traditional Christmas cakes in Italy, if those sounds delicious to you, they are just the beginning!
Emilia-Romagna: Il Certosino Di Bologna
The typical Christmas dessert of the city of Bologna is called “Certosino”. It is part of those types of desserts that in Italy are known as “panforte”, literally “strong bread” because they can be enjoyed only after a long preparation time and some “resting periods”. Those resting periods are essential for the dessert, that needs to be prepared before the middle of November to be eaten at Christmas.
This dessert is a long tradition, dating back to Medieval times. The Certosino is a dessert that is made out of flour, honey, raisins, and almonds. Despite the ingredients sound quite simple, the preparation is quite difficult. However, you can buy Certosino in Bologna in almost every bakery in the city, do not forget to try it out!
Tuscany: Ricciarelli Di Siena
Tuscany, or better, the city of Siena has a different dessert that cannot be missing on local Christmas dinners. This dessert is called “ricciarelli”, a sort of biscuits (but calling them like that is rather diminishing) made or almond flour, eggs, and sugar. They are eaten at the end of the meal, usually accompanies by some vin santo (sweet wine) or amaretto.
The preparation of this dessert is quite long and tedious, but the final result is so yummy, you will never get enough of this wonderful dessert! The origin of this dessert can be found in the 15th century, where almond paste in the form of marzipan was very popular. If you are in Tuscany around Christmas time, you’ll easily find ricciarelli in every bakery or food-related shop. Just give them a try and you’ll quickly fall in love with this delicacy!
Veneto: Il Pandoro Di Verona
This is the king of Italian desserts when it comes to Christmas. I know we said that each region has its specialty, but Pandoro is just so yummy that it is the dessert that really will be present in every Italian house for Christmas dinners and family meals. Soft and simple, it is loved by everyone. The secret of its delicious taste lies behind the apparent simplicity of this dessert. Its dough is very soft and golden-colored because of the eggs, and biting on it, not only you’ll love the texture, but also, you’ll discover a wonderful flavor of vanilla.
The shape of Pandoro is traditionally conical, with edges that resemble a star, usually with eight points.
It is really hard to make a good Pandoro at home, but the good news is that Pandoro is so popular you will be able to find it everywhere! Traditional brands are making them industrially, such as “Bauli” or “Melegatti”, or you can also find artisanal pandoro in many bakeries. No matter what you choose to buy, trust me, you’ll love it!
The origins of this Italian traditional Christmas dessert do not come from the country, In reality, it seems that Pandoro was first originated in Austria, where it was called “Vienna’s Bread”. Today, the name Pandoro means “Golden Bread”, and it will probably be one of the tastiest desserts you’ll ever try for Christmas.
Here was a brief list of some of the most popular Italian desserts for Christmas time. As we’ve already mentioned, Italy is a very interesting country, not only for its amazing and strong culture but also for its diversity. With that, it means that wherever you are in Italy, you might find some different traditions. In any case, you should try everything you can, as Italian food is rarely not satisfying!
When the word Chianti is mentioned in almost any conversation it is usually associated with the exquisite wines and historic region which both proudly share the name. Chianti, in Tuscany Italy, stretches between Florence and Siena. There are only a few regions of the world, which are not limited to a location on any map and are measured as more of a window through time, Chianti is one of them. These select few “glimpses” of many decades and centuries past, are not recorded by traveling miles or kilometers, but recognized as days and weeks spent in a place which standards of distance do not apply.
If Tuscany is truly the center of culture and refinement, which it is considered to be my many world travelers, then Chianti is the heart and its grapes are the life which flows from it. It would be reasonable and ordinary to notice the breathtaking scenes throughout the region, but traditional words do not apply. When the morning sun begins to smile upon the glorious valley which hosts the best chianti wineries, one feels required to discovery the surroundings.
Wondering where to go in Chianti for a memorable and spectacular experience, is best answered by “everywhere.” When traveling through a land which bears a name synonymous with great wine, it would be nothing short of a sin to not venture out among the vineyards of the world-renowned Sangiovese grapes and experience the wineries which produce the finest Chiantis in the world.
It made the most sense geographically to start with the oldest winery and work from the bottom of the map to the top.
The Start and the Beginning: Chianti Classico is the oldest and most historic section of the area and is world renowned for the Chianti Classico wine. Chianti Classico, as a region is deeply rooted in cultural and history, recorded as far back as the 12th century. The founder of the Chianti blend, noted for its high ratio of Sangiovese grapes, is legendary and his family still operates the winery.
Barone Ricasoli Spa: Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio is known to be the oldest winery in Italy, dating back to the 12th century, the famed Brolio castle rebuilt many times, still stands to reflect the passing of the centuries with exquisite and historic majesty. It was Baron Bettino Ricalosi who invented the Chianti blend in 1872 and his great grandson who now runs the fourth oldest family business on the planet. For the best place to understand how the tradition began there is no better point than from the birth of the wine and the oldest winery in the country. For those who love the traditional taste of Chianti Classico in all of its glory-the flavor has remained traditional and “earthy” and the excellence is still present.
Castello Di Ama, Siena A winery rich in history and culture, was first and the next stop is almost completely the opposite of Ricasoli. Instead of the castle it is a much more peaceful and modest area and the scenery seems more of an “old country” feel with a modern day twist. The families who revitalized the company came together to form a team in the 1960’s. Unlike the first stop, there is more of a modern feel and the art of the local contemporary artists is celebrated and combined for a new approach less dipped in old culture and more trimmed with present day. The modern selection of wines is really quite extraordinary and it is easy to forget they are relatively new kids on the block.
Livernano S.S. – Azienda Agrituristica – Agriturismo If stop two was a trip forward to the contemporary we really fell back in time, dating back to an area inhabited 2500 years ago this little “charmer” of a winery is the definition of quaint. The surroundings are magical shadows from many centuries ago and it is easy to understand why the feeling of humility blended with pride seems to be the order of the day. Even the labels are understated and almost subtle in their approach to presenting an ancient prize which illustrates the precise feel for the surroundings. Flavors are very unique and the place is adorable.
Recine S.S. – Agricultura Vino Owned by a Monastery until the 20th century, this ancient wine farm from the 12th century is rustic and almost a back to nature setting. The views across the hills are some of the best scenes in Chianti. Revitalized in the 1970’s and then carefully staffed by a group of wine experts from several countries of the world during the 1990’s this team has put together a great selection in a setting which should be painted with canvas and oils as opposed to digital cameras. The feel is as if the spirits of the monks never left, almost they are walking about, unseen making sure the scientists of wine keep making them proud.
Azienda Agricola Casanova – Sas Di Aldo Furini & C. Started by an alchemist in the 1800’s the feel of the winery is the feel of a refined country family of the 19th century. The thumbprint was set deep by the Abbott whose religious philosophy of carefully preserving the history is present throughout the grounds. The wines seem to have a more bold flavor than many of the other stops, more of a bite, but not too intense, still flavorful and the staff was very proper but friendly at the same time.
Fattoria Castello Di Volpaia This is the first instance where the entire village seems to be a part of wine making. Many of the homes and churches in the vicinity are actually housing wine cellars. The ground for the vineyards is admittedly some of the best in all of Chianti, even by competitors which seem to enjoy implying that the reason the wine has such success is its prime location. The selection was very good and each was noticeably more aromatic than others tasted. More info.
Azienda Agricola Festeggiata Of all of the places we stopped this one seemed to be the most reclusive, It was our first in Panzano and they seemed very quiet and more to themselves with their history and tradition. It was almost as if they had some type of “recipe” which made them stand out among the others. The wines seemed more rare in vintage and there was not a lot of information on prices in print. They did not appear to produce a very many bottles, but their wine may have been some of the best flavor in all of Chianti.
Azienda Agricola Monte Bernardi S.S. Dating back to roots from the 11th century this area seemed noticeably different, the wines were not sold to the public until the 1990’s and were only available to local farms. Panzano provided a different scenery that the other areas. A river is one of the key differences in the flavor which seems to somehow bring another element into the vines. It sounded like a bit of local lore, but the flavor was noticeably different especially in the Chianti Classico. Winery website.
Fattoria Le Fonti Di Vicky Schmitt Vitali This was the most unimpressive yet stunningly simple of all of the wineries. Very basic and functional with no frills. It was not by accident or due to lack of success, it was the way they intended to preserve the tradition. The location was very close to the other two in the Panzano vicinity and the wine was just as striking as the somewhat fancier operations. Having the three close together validated the location of the soil theory which we had heard on our other stops. Replanted in 1994 they are simple in appearance and complex in quality. Link here to their site.
Castello di Verrazzano Our last stop was a thousand year old castle. It is like we started at one end with a bang in Chianti and concluded at the other with fireworks. This was a remarkably self contained almost little village in and of itself. Not nearly as grandiose as the castle overlooking the Ricasoli vineyard but more of a functional castle not so much smoke as fire. Functionality through tradition, mixed with the modern scientists of wine making. The last glass of Chianti from the tour was as unique and splendid as the first.
After the Ball: After 5 days in the wine country of Chianti, there was certainly nothing which could even come close to the individual universe each of of stops exhibited. Even though they were in the same region, the traditions and history of each ranged from ancient to modern in philosophy and approach. There is much to be said for the wonderful selection of accommodations in the area. Ranging from extravagant to very simple and functional, each had their charms, exactly like the wineries of the highly acclaimed section of the world. Amazing was the word for the adventure, one taste of culture and a single sip of grapes at a time.
Cristiano Savini will be the guide of this special report.
Today’s mission is the research of truffles in Tuscany. To be more precise, we are in the province of Pisa, in a green area that stretches from the inland of Tuscany to the hills of Chianti. It’s called Boscone di Forcoli, it’s an enchanting and silent wood where you won’t find many tourists. Get on your boots and a pair of comfortable trousers, and you will be ready to enter this magic place with Cristiano, Luca, an expert truffle seller and Giotto, the uncontested four-legged star of the company.
The Job of the Truffle Hunter.
To better know Cristiano Savini and his job, first of all he tells us that he knows this wood by heart, and that in 2007 he found exactly here, a white truffle that incredibly weighted 1.450 Kg. When he doesn’t travel by reason of work, he wakes up at 3 at night, as well as the 650 truffle sellers who have joined his family-run business, well known all over the world.
He goes on saying that the first one who understood the value of this special but underestimated tuber was his grandfather Zelindo, in the 60s. He used to wander on a Vespa, which their grandchildren still treasure, looking for the truffles-diggers of his town but soon he started to travel in the direction of Milan and the Piemonte region with his beloved tubers and the commerce of truffles finally becomes his own job. Savini tells us that the White truffle, Bianco is typical of winter; then in March we find the so called Bianchetto (or marzuolo) and finally we have the Black one, called Nero Liscio and the Scorzone. It clearly means that we can find fresh truffles all the year and that, by reservation, we can try an amazing truffle experience like this one. In fact, while we move forward, many treasures of the wood, if we can call the truffles like that, comes out with their inebriating fragrances that changes according to the type of ground where they’re hidden. The fragrances are very strong and intense and they have the power of transporting you through space and time.
As we said before, Giotto is the protagonist of this research of truffles and it’s a crossbred, but Cristiano explains us that the perfect breed for this job is the Lagotto Romagnolo. However, what’s really important is to personally train and educate the dog, so every dog with short paws, great musculature and a pronounced nose will be perfect. Furthermore, it’s essential to remember that for them it’s not a job but just a game!
Once we’re back we discover that seven companies are there to spend a day of sharing; and they’re not there by chance; they are seven producers, precisely Forcoli, Ursini, Biscottificio MatteiDeseo, Pasta Mancini, Il Borgo del Balsamico, La Via del Tè, La Nicchia di Pantelleria who, together with Salvini Tartufi, have created a group of Unique friends producers who have two main targets in common: the high quality of the products and the novelty of the image.
Truffle hunting Experiences in Italy For you too.
Experiences like this makes you understand that we’re blessed to be in Italy. If you are looking for a truffle hunting experience in Italy you can also have a look at this page. Contact us if you would like to arrange a truffle hunting experience during your stay in Florence or Sienna.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wine estate visits
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.
Abbadia Ardenga and Altesino winery
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.
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.