For "foodie" travellers on small group holidays, Italy is one of the world's most sought-after destinations. While the basic staples (the ubiquitous pizza and pasta) are consistent throughout the country, every province has its own regional dishes and specialities that have been passed down through the centuries. |
Of all the areas in Italy, Tuscany is the most famous for its cuisine. Its fertile landscape gives rise to an abundance of fresh produce and, of course, the grapes used in its renowned wines. While not quite as simplistic as the cucina povera of the southern Italian region of Puglia, Tuscan food is good, honest fare, allowing the quality of the earthy produce and olive oil to shine through.
Here are a few tips and tastes to help you savour the experience of eating like a Tuscan local.
Sharing Tasters to Start
For the Tuscans (and all Italians), every meal is an event, and every event tends to start with the very sociable sharing platter. Sharing is a wonderful way to loosen up the mood and can be an endless source of inspiration for conversation. For foodie travellers it's a chance to sample some of the more unusual tastes, such as the very popular (and extremely more-ish) lardo di colonnata. This is pork lard cured in marble and it's usually served alongside the crusty bread known as crostini. Another delicious starter is crostini toscani, which is bread topped with a creamy chicken liver pâté.
Primi – First Courses
Italian primis are quite often a modest serving of pasta, but in Tuscany there are some hearty traditional dishes as an alternative. Ribollita is one of the most famous: a rustic, thick soup consisting of seasonal, fibrous vegetables, cannellini beans and torn chunks of white bread. Panzanella is a lighter, summery primi, made from fresh tomatoes, onion, basil, balsamic soaked bread and tossed in the best quality olive oil.
Secondi – Main Courses
Secondi are the serious part of the meal (so you’re advised to leave plenty of room after your primi) and usually consist of some kind of a meat dish. Wild boar is a true Tuscan speciality; cinghiale in umido is a deliciously rich wild boar stew with a strong flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture. The reputation of the traditional bistecca alla fiorentina often precedes it – many say you haven't eaten the true taste of Tuscany if you don’t face the challenge. The dish consists of a mammoth rare beefsteak, served with roast potatoes and beans. The steaks are often in excess of three to four pounds so it's a good sharing dish. Or maybe not…
You know that strange human appetite trait that always leaves a little room for dessert? After all the amazing food that's served up as primi and secondi, in Tuscany you'll only need to save a small space, because the traditional way to finish is surprisingly light. Meals are quite often simply capped off with some cantucci (crisp almond biscuits similar to biscotti) dipped in a glass of smooth, sweet vin santo. Of course, if there is still a space wanting to be filled, you could try a slice of castagnaccio, a traditional local cake made with chestnut flour.
Enjoy the Experience of Eating Like a Local on Small Group Holidays
For those looking for a genuine foodie experience, the best way to explore Tuscany is on intimate group holidays. Well-organised small group holidays allow travellers to be fully immersed in the culture of the region you’re visiting, not simply tick off points on an itinerary. For food lovers this means discovering smaller, out-of-the-way family-run trattorie and restaurants and getting the opportunity to eat authentically, just like the locals.
Elle Scotter is the Marketing Executive of Back-Roads Touring, a company with 25 years' experience creating tailor-made small group holidays that go off the beaten track to delve a little deeper into the true heart and soul of a destination. Travelling in comfortable mini-coaches with a tour size of generally no more than 18 people, their holidays provide a flexible, friendly and relaxed way to tour. On itineraries across Europe and the UK, you'll experience the road less travelled with Back-Roads Touring.
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