Read more about the product that changed the Italian cuisine...
The truffle is a member of the fungus family. It is a seasonal product, although when dried and bottled in olive oil it is available throughout the year. Truffles grow under the ground in France and Italy. They are found by special truffle dogs, which are trained to find a specific scent that is difficult for humans to smell. In the past, the Italians and French used pigs to find the truffles. However, the pigs often ended up eating the tubers rather than bringing them back! This is why they switched to more trainable dogs.
Due to the difficult process of finding and harvesting of truffles, it is a very costly product. How costly? Well, the most expensive truffles ever sold were two white truffles that together weighed 1 kg. At an auction in Alba, Italy, they were sold for €90.000! No wonder that the truffle’s nickname is ‘diamond of the kitchen’!
Truffles are divided into two sorts: white and black. The black truffle is associated with oaks, hazelnut & cherry and is harvested in late autumn and winter. The white truffle is found mainly in Italy, especially in the Piedmont region and around the cities of Alba and Asti. A similar truffle to the white truffle is the whitish truffle, which is found in Tuscany!
At our Tuscookany cooking classes in Italy, we love to cook with truffle. One of our villas, Torre del Tartufo is even named after the product! The villa got its name from the truffle estate surrounding the villa, making it famous in the area and wonderful for seeing how truffles are found. The villa dates back to before 1700 and is a wonderful place to learn how to prepare tartufo in many delicious recipes. Are you curious about the little truffle dogs and their ability to find the truffles? Every week at Torre del Tartufo we invite a local Italian farmer and his lovely truffle dog to show off his talent and to find the truffles in the areas surrounding the villa. See for yourself how these dogs work their magic trick!
But, if you are not a fan of the product, don’t worry: our chefs know how to cook with and without them and will try to adjust to your wishes!
What recipe with truffle is your favourite? Let us know in the comments!
Hope to welcome you in Tuscany soon!
The Tuscookany team2 comments | Add comment
Do you have a hard time understanding the menu in an Italian restaurant? What are the different courses and what will be served with each?
Italians love their food and dining is one of their most precious moments of the day. This means getting together with family and catching up on the day, combined with a delicious homemade meal prepared by the mother and/or grandmother, and an excellent Tuscan wine. Italian Nonna’s (grandmothers) can spend a whole day in the kitchen for dinner (cena) as five different courses are prepared by her for the family. Imagine doing that every single day!! The Italian course structure provides wonderful opportunities to serve amazing food for a dinner party and makes sure everyone has something to enjoy. In this blog we show you the difference between the courses (piatti); Aperitivo, Antipasto, Primo, Secondo e contorno and Dolce.
The history of the Italian meal structure
Traditionally, meals in Italian families take two to three hours, or even longer, and really focus on the slow life. Italians love food and are passionate about eating. This is especially true of the Sunday lunch, where families gather in a restaurant to eat together. It’s very lively and an important time to catch up with loved ones. It is never rushed. It always starts with Buon Appetito! Wishing everyone a good appetite and a great meal.
Aperitivo & Antipasti – Course one and two
The aperitivo opens a meal and in that way is similar to an appetizer. This is often done standing up and gathering the dinner guests, together enjoying a wine, prosecco, Aperol Spritz or gingero. These drinks are combined with olives, crisps, nuts or cheese. It is the perfect moment to welcome your guests and wait for everyone to arrive. After the aperitivo everyone is invited to take a seat at the table where they will be able to enjoy the second course: antipasto. The antipasti is ausually a cold and light starter such as salami, finger foods, vegetables, salmon or prawn cocktails. This is a perfect starter to awaken your taste buds and get your guests longing for more. Antipasto actually means “before the meal”
Primo Piatto – Course three
Primo means “first” in Italian and is thus directed to the first main course of your dinner. This course consists of a warm dish and is usually slightly heavier than the antipasto. The dishes are mostly non-meat and could comprise of pasta, risotto, soup, gnocchi, polenta or lasagna. There are an endless amount of options for the primo piatto so you will never get bored. It is strange for non-Italians to see that pasta is just the first course in Italy, whereas the rest of the world sees pasta as a main course. This is a mistake often made within the course structure of the Italian kitchen.
Secondo e contorno – Course four
After the antipasti and the primo piatto, the second main course is served. The second course consists of several plates such as your contorno (side dishes), insalata (salads) and your secondo piatto (second course). This course includes different types of meats and fish, which might consist of turkey, sausage, pork, steak, beef, cod, lamb or chicken. This is the most important meal of the Italian course structure. The side dishes of vegetables, which are raw, cooked or grilled and are meant to be shared across the table, (LINK TO VEGETABLE BLOG) and are served alongside the secondo piatto. This pairing makes it easy to serve meat with a robust plant-based dishes, which will delight every guest. The salad is mostly an easygoing salad with some seasonal greens and a simple dressing or frequently you would add your own oil and vinegar to your taste. In this way the salad accommodates everyone at the table.
The first two courses are often served combined with white wine; this third course is mostly served with one of the well-known Tuscan red wines made from the Sangiovese grape.
Dolce – Course five
If the above four courses haven’t blown your mind, this one will! Dolce means sweet in Italian and thus refers to the dessert. I can’t help but recall all the Italians desserts I love when thinking of the word “Dolce”. The most popular desserts are Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Torta della Nonna and Panettone. The desserts are often accompanied by a scoop of homemade Italian gelato or sorbetto and, of course, let’s not forget the Vin Santo (dessert wine), which regularly accompanies it. Dolce differ in taste nationwide, but the ideas are mostly the same. They are often followed by a coffee, used as a digestive, which is served as a very hot espresso in a small cup. After the coffee the ammazza caffe is served, which concludes the meal. This of course comprises of the famous Italian liquors such as Amaro, Limoncello, Grappa or other herbal drinks.
Cooking Course in Tuscany
During an Italian cooking course at Tuscookany the chefs will teach you all types of dishes from aperitivo to dolce. You will learn to prepare and cook all five of them, so you will really get to understand the difference! We start with an Aperitivo on the lawn, which is often an Aperol Spritz. Following this you might be surprised to see a millefoglie with vegetables served by the chef and then, of course, comes the primo; fresh and homemade pasta. The secondo could be a nice braised beef in red wine, complemented with a vegetable tart and fresh salad. The dolce is served together with a selection of Italian liquors and the Italian almond cookies; Cantucci.
During the cooking lessons, the most fun part is that you will be paired up with different cooking partners; so you will be able to get to know the whole group and prepare these delicious courses together. Sounds a bit daunting? Don’t worry; the chefs will always be there to help you. The chef will also show you how to present your food to show it off to its best and during dinner you will be given the opportunity to tell the rest of the group what the secrets are to your dishes success.
Buon Appetito and share this blog if you think it was interesting!
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Do you know what the difference in shape and size tells you about the taste of Olives?
When you visit Italy you might get a little overwhelmed by all the different varieties of olives as they come in all sizes, shapes and colours. Olives are either cured or used for one of the core ingredients of the Mediterranean cuisine: olive oil. As the oil is used in almost every Italian dish it is not surprising that Italy is the 3rd largest producer of olives worldwide. It produces over 2 million tonsnes of olives per year! Holy Molive!
Luckily, at Tuscookany Cooking Vacations Tuscany we have chefs that know all the ins and outs about olives and even better: they will teach you the best recipes to pair them with! As we have over 1000 olive treas in the gardens of our villa's we could really say we know all the ins and outs of this precious snack.
The olive tree is amongst the oldest cultivated trees in the world, being grown even before the written language was invented. Olives have been harvested for over 7000 years and there are many myths and stories about olives in the ancient times. A story by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, goes that a vine, a fig tree and an olive tree grew in the middle of the Roman Forum, and the olive tree was planted to provide shade. Moreover, ancient authors commented on the olive as one of the most perfect foods!
An olive can be distinguished by its size, shape or colour. What many people don’t know, is that an olive gets its colour from the moment it is picked from the tree. In other words, if every type of olive was left on the branch; they would all, eventually, turn black!
For an olive, it is all about the cure: the process that turns the naturally bitter fruit into a deliciously salty snack. Just like olive oil, curing olives is a time consuming and detailed process. Olives can be cured by water, sun-dried or brined, all creating different flavours and textures. The difference in curing will show on the olive’s skin: brine-cured olives have smooth, plump skin where salt or oil cured olives are lightly coated in oil and have wrinkled skin. Did you know that an olive is considered a fruit? It has a stone, just like a nectarine or an avocado!
Below you will find out about three types of olives in order of intensity of flavour:
1. Bella di Cerignola
This olive is from the south of Italy, specifically in the Puglia region. The olive is part of the ‘Denominazione D’Origine Protetta’, meaning they can only be cured in a certain method in this specific region, making it the champagne amongst olives! The Bella di Cerignola is a huge olive and has a firm texture. Whether it is green, red or black, it is mellow in flavour and pairs well with fruit and cheeses from the middle and south of Italy.
These popular dark purple or black table olives are from the Lazio region. They are typically brined and then stored in oil. In contrast to the Cerignola, the Gaeta olive has a tart, citrusy flavour. Due to their fresh flavour, the olives are perfect to pair with dishes like spaghetti, salads or chicken breast. The chefs at our Tuscan cooking schools know how to cook with them and will teach you how to use them in some lovely fresh recipes.
These are usually from southern Mediterranean regions, such as Sicily. The oil-cured olives get their black colour through oxidation in the curing process. They have a chewy texture and a pleasantly bitter flavour. This flavour goes well with strong cheeses and ricotta, as well as on top of a homemade pizza or focaccia!
At Tuscookany, we use olives in all kinds of recipes. During our cooking classes in Italy, you can have olives as an aperitivo or on top of your own homemade pizza! Moreover, some of the lovely spaghetti, ravioli, or risotto dishes can contain olives too! During the cooking course you will learn all you need to know about these tiny but delicious fruits.
What is your favourite kind of olive? Or do you prefer olive oil instead? Let us know in the comments!
The Tuscookany Team0 comments | Add comment
There’s more than just the food on Tuscookany’s menu
George Muller quipped that the only problem with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you are hungry again! Perhaps it is true that often, Italian food is rich and delicious, but if one starts off thinking that a week spent cooking in Tuscany is only about feeding one's stomach, that's the start of the problem. At Tuscookany, the food is only one part of the menu. Other ingredients are the camaraderie and the juicy memories, the fragrant friendships and the mouth-watering and delicious experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Bringing food to the table is a means to bring people to the table too; if you think of almost any celebration, across all cultures, food is right there, centre stage. Many peoples’ fondest memories revolve around food. Paola, Tuscookany’s chef for the Italian cooking course at Casa Ombuto, clearly remembers rolling out the pasta dough with her mother every Sunday morning. As she got older, and more skilled, she remembers her mother sending her to their neighbours to roll the pasta dough for them. What better example of how food brings people together?
Food for thought….
There is something so liberating and altruistic about cooking for others. It's a kind of elemental impulse: to feed someone else, to nurture them and to look after them. It makes one feel that one is being the best of all humans. It is no wonder that grown men and women go all misty eyed when they remember their grandmothers’ meat ragu.
Walking into the kitchen of a chef at work; full of delicious aromas and flavours can transport you to another time, another place: a memory of someone or some occasion that can instantly bring a smile to your face. By reconnecting with your past, you’re allowing yourself a moment of nostalgia in which you can relive the same happiness you felt at that moment. Each of Tuscookany’s chefs share recipes with you that they grew up with, and that they remember making with the special people in their lives. While all our chefs are sharing their memories of cooking, you have a chance to create your own memories with both new and old faces during your cooking classes.
Cooking with people allows for bonds to form and relationships to develop. Arguably, the best relationships develop over working together to achieve a goal – and what better goal to work towards than serving up a delicious dinner after an afternoon of cooking classes in Tuscany!
Tuscookany: a winning recipe
At Tuscookany one cooks with an entire chorus of new found friends: like-minded, excited to be learning and experiencing, and full of enthusiasm and goodwill - all nourished daily by fresh, homemade and traditional Italian food. Using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients has long been the logic of Italian food-making: it cannot help but be a celebration of the here and now, the local, the colourful and the delicious.
Spending a week cooking in Tuscany is a winning recipe: good food, like-minded people, staggeringly beautiful surroundings and plenty of time and guidance to make this an unforgettable memory.
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Get to know the ins and outs of cooking with wild mushrooms in Tuscany and what to pay attention to.
The sound alone has you guessing that “funghi” mushrooms are an Italian delicacy, however cooking with these funghi is not as easy as you think. Funghi is a word used to describe all types of wild mushrooms including well-known Porcini and Chanterelles mushrooms and truffles. The Italian kitchen is famous for the use of wild mushrooms in their Pasta’s, meat dishes and Pizza’s. Cooking with fresh wild mushrooms is definitely an experience you should try at least once while cooking an Italian dish. The exquisite difference taste between the cultivated mushrooms and the wild ones is remarkable. But never go outdoors to find these funghi by yourself! Always use a guide to help you “hunt” these mushrooms that has knowledge on the mushrooms and is trained in recognizing the most sought after varieties and discerning the poisonous types. And even though you come back from the hunt empty handed; this is also part of the adventure.
The most common wild mushroom types are Porcini (known for their reddish-brown colour and woodsy flavour), Chanterelles (known for their trumpet shape), Pioppini and morels (known for their spongy look). A nice fun fact is that the ancient Romans called the Porcini mushrooms hog mushrooms as pigs were overly fond of the Porcini mushrooms as a food source. Therefore Porcini literally means “little pig” in Italian. Wild mushrooms are used in an infinite variety of dishes within the antipasti, primi piatti and secondi piatti. Even in the contorno (side dishes) Italians love to add mushrooms to increase the flavour and texture of the main dishes. But mainly the wild mushrooms are used in pasta and pasta-filled dishes such as tagliatelle, Fettuccine ai funghi and lasanga. The rich, heady and meaty mushroom flavours make the wild mushrooms a versatile ingredient for numerous dishes. As they give grace to an elegant stew or source as well. Therefore the dishes are often accompanied by a graceful red wine such as a Barolo.
Weather conditions are the key factors in producing a good mushroom season, which requires a perfect combination of rain, sun, warmth and humidity. Therefore the peak season for mushrooms hunting in Italy is from April to early November. But as it stays warmer longer in the south, areas such as Calabria and Sicily seem to have great tasting mushrooms until late December even. Different mushrooms can be found in different places in the forest and in different types of forest. For instance; porcini and chanterelles mushrooms are mostly common in chestnut, pine or oak forests as these seem to have the most ideal habitat for the wild mushrooms.
When you go out for mushroom hunting there are some things you should be aware of: always use baskets and not plastic while gathering mushrooms, mushrooms should not be washed when cooking them (just clean of the dirt), most wild mushrooms must be cooked before consumption and some even should be boiled before cooking.
In Italy, wild mushrooms are dried at home, often using wooden crates used for transporting fruits and vegetables. These mushrooms are spread out in the boxes and left to dry in sunny and warm places. Most important is to keep the mushrooms in a dry place, as humidity is the enemy of all dried mushrooms! Hope these tips help you to get your wild mushroom cooking spot on so you can amaze everyone with your new learnt skills. Want to practically learn how to gather and cook Tuscan funghi and get to know what dishes are best combined with these funghi? Try one of our Tuscan cooking classes by our Italian chefs, they will know all the tips and tricks and help you through the hassle. But do not forget; the fact that the adventure contains a whiff of danger and guessing is part of the allure.
Have fun cooking!
The Tuscookany team
Find below our delicious Mushroom risotto recipe for 6 persons:
- 400 g arborio rice
- 1 small onion
- 100 g porcini mushrooms
- 1 l chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 small bunch of chopped parsley
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- 100 g grated parmesan
- 2 Tbs olive oil
1. Soak the Porcini mushrooms in lukewarm water for half an hour. strain and reserve the liquid.
2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms, parsley and fry gently for a few minutes. Season to taste. Reserve.
3. Heat the stock in a saucepan.
4. Chop finely the onion, brown in a skillet with olive oil, add the rice and let it toast for a few minutes, stirring.
5. Add the wine and the Porcini liquid and let it evaporate stirring all the time.
6. Add the mushrooms and a few ladles of hot stock just to cover the rice. Simmer, stirring always until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid. Continue to add more stock as soon as the previous addition has evaporated.
7. When the rice is cooked ( 35 minutes or thereabout ), remove the pan from the heat, mix in the parmesan and serve immediately.1 comment | Add comment
At Tuscookany, you will learn everything about coffee: from pronouncing, to preparing and of course enjoying!
Even though coffee may have been invented in Ethiopia, Italy is where the magic is at for true coffee lovers. The Italian word for coffee is ‘caffè’ and this may refer to either an espresso or a European coffee bar. The Italians are well known for their special attention to the preparation, the selection of the blends and the use of accessories when creating many types of coffee, which basically makes Italy the coffee capital of the world! Interested in the origin of the espresso, 10 ways to prepare an espresso or how you can enjoy an espresso in the Tuscan hills at one of our cookery schools in Italy? Keep reading!
As you may or may not know, coffee is made from coffee beans from a coffee plant. The most popular kind of coffee is Arabica, from the Coffee Arabica plant in Ethiopia. Did you know that Arabica coffee makes up approximately 60% of coffee production worldwide? The second most popular coffee is Robusta, which is made from the Coffea Canephora plant, which also has its origins in Africa.
There is a whole process that goes by before you can enjoy your cup of coffee. After plucking the beans from the plant they first have to be peeled, cleaned and dried before they can be being roasted. These roasted beans can then be ground. The roughness of this the grind will be determined by the preparation method. For example, Turkish or cold brew coffee have a thick grind, whereas espresso is made from the finest grind. After grinding the beans, you can use a French press, a Drip or, of course, an espresso machine, to prepare the perfect cup of coffee! At our Italian cooking classes in Tuscany, we have a great espresso machine that you can use whenever you wish!
Did you know that the modern steamless espresso machine was invented in Milan, Italy in 1938? No wonder the Italians love their espresso!
Achille Gaggia was the first to invent a machine that forced water to flow over the coffee grounds at a high pressure, which produced the unique creamy top layer of the espresso called the crema. From applying for a patent in 1938, the invention spread in coffee bars and restaurants across Italy and the rest of Europe quickly. The Italian-based company Gaggia, named after its founder, still produces espresso and cappuccino machines to this day.
Whereas most people think of filter coffee or cappuccino when ordering a cup of the black gold, the Italians have tens of sorts of coffee, all made with their lovely espresso. We’ve listed the 10 most popular types of espresso for you:
10 types of Espresso drinks
The list leader is the classic espresso, and its name means expressly prepared. Order a caffè in Italy and you will get a small cup with a very concentrated coffee. In need of a lot of caffeine? Try ordering a ‘doppio’, which means a double espresso!
Thought an espresso was small? Ristretto, which means restricted, is only 15-20 ml, which is roughly two sips! The amount of ground coffee is the same in both espresso and ristretto, only less water is added in the process.
This is a very popular drink in Italy and it means stained. You make a macchiato with 2 oz espresso and steamed milk.
Cortado is the Spanish baby brother of the macchiato and this type has equal parts of espresso and warm milk, which makes the cup ‘cut’ in half.
Probably one of the most popular espresso types is the americano: espresso with hot water. The espresso is extracted on top of the water, which gives it a milder and sweeter taste than a regular espresso. The story goes that American G.I.’s in Italy would dilute espresso with hot water during World War II, to imitate the coffee they were accustomed to at home.
At Tuscookany, we love cappuccino. The coffee, named for the color after the colour of the Capuchin monk’s robes consists of 1/3 part warm milk, 1/3 part milk foam and 1/3 part espresso.
Latte, which means milk in Italian, is made with 3 parts milk to 1 part espresso. It is regularly served in a tall glass.
- Flat white:
This is the lovechild of a latte macchiato and cappuccino and the flat white is made with espresso and warm milk. If you think a latte macchiato has a great taste but too much milk and a cappuccino has too much foam, you definitely have to try the flat white!
The mocha is the perfect drink for chocolate loving coffee drinkers. It is made with espresso, milk and chocolate and definitely worth a try when you are in Italy!
Mezzo means half and this drink combines an americano with milk. Perfect if you’re not a coffee drinker or if you like your coffee mild and with milk!
Are you excited to prepare your own espresso, macchiato or americano and drink it with a view of the Tuscan hills? Come to our Tuscan cooking vacation and enjoy your caffè all week long! Indulge in coffee at our cooking classes in Italy, whether you like yours early in the morning or after cooking classes in the afternoon! Drink coffee at breakfast, during the cooking classes or at the pool: at Tuscookany we understand that there’s never enough coffee! Especially if it’s Italian coffee J ! You will even be working on your health, as drinking coffee can also have a healthy effect on your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing!
What is your favorite Italian coffee? Let us know in the comments!
The Tuscookany Team
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At Tuscookany, we love aperitivo: it is impossible to imagine the Italian cooking culture without it!
The Italian lifestyle is all about moments with friends and the Classic Aperitivo is no exception to the rule. According to Italians, having a pre-meal drink whets your appetite and this typically bitter cocktail goes well with salty snacks. Bars and cafés offering Aperitivi will be busy from about 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm and during this time you will either be brought a plate of Italian snacks and appetizers, or you will have complimentary access to a full buffet. Although the snacks are not meant to replace dinner, they certainly can. For example, if you are having plans in the evening to go to the ballet or royal opera, you can definitely indulge in an Italian cocktail with some snacks before entering your evening program. Although Aperitivo is a traditional northern Italian phenomenon, the trend is catching on in the southern part of the peninsula as well. Florence, Arezzo in Tuscany and even Rome all have Aperitivo scenes and they are a great way to start your evening or wrap up your Tuscany cooking class!
Antonio Benedette Carpano who created one of the first types of Vermouth in 1786 is said to have invented the Aperitivo. The distiller claimed that his combination of white wine and spices stimulated the appetite and was therefore more suitable to drink before dinner than red wine. Antonio certainly marketed this aperitif effectively, as his vermouth automatically became one of the most popular Aperitivi. Did you know that in Milan they have their own version of the Aperitivo invention story? According to the Milanese, it was not Antonio Benedetto Carpano who started the tradition, but the Lombardian Gaspare Campari, the inventor of the, yes, you’ve guessed it, the famous Campari.
When walking into an Italian Aperitivo Bar you will be amazed by the displayed foods ranging from bruschetta and olives to platters full of focaccia and even quiches and pizzas. Also indispensable in the Aperitivo scene are the finest cured meats and cheeses. Curious about the different kinds of cured meats? Among the most popular are Coppa, Cacciatore, Bresaola and Prosciutto crudo. All usually smoked and cured with a variety of spices, herbs and wine. They are definitely worth a try during your stay in Italy. More into cheese? Italian cheese platters are among the best in the world, with fresh burrata, pecorino and parmigiano. Want to learn more? Our cooking classes in Italy offer the ins and outs on the most delicious Aperitivo bites!
Among the famous Aperitivo drinks is the Negroni; its strong and fruity flavour is almost an inseparable part of the Italian culture. But did you know that Aperol Spritz is also one of Italy’s most famous aperitif cocktails? The Spritz, invented in the 1950’s by the Aperol brand to increase the sales of the liquor, made its comeback in the 2000’s when actress Amanda Rosa Da Silva used the phrase “Happy Spritz, Happy Aperol” in TV commercials worldwide. Aperol is now among the best-selling liquors in Italy.
Making an Aperol Spritz is simple: fill a wine glass with ice, pour prosecco halfway up the glass, then pour Aperol to the rim of the glass and top with soda water. Garnish with orange to create the authentic Spritz. This 3-2-1 recipe is easy to make, yummy to drink and therefore perfect for late afternoon drinks in summer!
At Tuscookany, we understand the Italian kitchen but also the traditions. During the cooking classes in Tuscany, our chefs will teach you how to prepare a classic Aperitivo and even better: also, to enjoy them. Learn how to make the perfect Negroni or Aperol Spritz and accompany your cocktail with prosciutto, homemade focaccia, or bruschetta. After the Italian cooking course but before dinner there is room for a dip in the pool or time to relax and refresh. As the saying goes, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, we know that this time is also great for some Aperitivi while watching the sun go down under the Tuscan hills.
Enthusiastic about this Italian tradition? Come and learn to cook with us at Tuscookany cooking school while enjoying an aperitif accompanied by delicious Aperitivo bites.
The Tuscookany Team
What would be your favorite Aperitivo at our cooking classes in Italy? We would love to hear from you in the comments!2 comments | Add comment
See Tuscany as you have never seen it before - combine cooking and hiking in the Casentino valley!
Immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of Tuscany. At Casa Ombuto we are now offering, for selected weeks, a combination of cooking and hiking. Learn to cook authentic Italian dishes, have fun and make friends for life, all while staying in Casa Ombuto and hiking with a professional guide in the beautiful Casentino Valley
The hikes are given by the professional, English-speaking Guides of In Quiete. They will give you more information about the landscape and its history. These Guides have known the Casentino valley since they were children and know the best spots for amazing hikes. The Hikes are organised on Monday and Friday morning and the drive to the start of the hike in the Nature Reserve of Casentino is included. The hikes are E Catergory, which means they are easy for persons who do some physical activity. Together with the group you will be able to explore the nature and history of past and present human life. The first hike will be in the surroundings of Casa Ombuto, both in Quota and Raggiolo, the second hike is a bit longer and will be in the national park of Casentino. After the hike there is enough time to grab a snack or a light lunch and get ready for the cooking lesson, given by Paola in the afternoon. We have hiking shoes, Nordic walking sticks and rain ponchos available at the villa Casa Ombuto, free for your use.
The valley is part of the province of Arezzo, which is one of the most well-known provinces of Tuscany. The Casentino Valley is rich with history, art, good food and numerous outdoor activities. Lying approximately 50 km to the east of Florence, this isolated valley offers opportunities for visitors of all ages to visiting castles, trekking through centuries-old forests, taste authentic recipes and discovering many of the best kept secrets from locals. The mountains of Casentino have attracted great saints such and St. Romuald and St. Francis of Assisi. The largest communal towns in the Casentino valley are Bibbiena and Poppi. The villa Casa Ombuto lies in a small glen above the beautiful town of Poppi.
Casentino is a narrow valley between the Apennine ridge and the hills of Pratomagno. The hilly part of the valley has been the home of the Arno River and many farms for decades. The landscape is characterised by sedimentary rock, predominantly sandstone, intercalated with marl, which in Romagna frequently appears with characteristic stratified escarpments or with bare ridges. The structure of the South-East area of the park is different: here the distinctive feature of Mount La Verna rises up with its calcareous crags from a landscape of broad, rolling hills interrupted by badland erosions, revealing the presence of clay. From a naturalist viewpoint, the Park stands out as one of the most prized forest areas in Europe. At the heart of the park is the Foreste Demaniali Casentinesi [State Casentino forest], within which the Riserva Naturale Integrale (Integral Nature Reserve) of Sasso Fratino, founded in 1959, can be found.
The territory has towns and villages which are rich in history, artistic and architectural heritage. They present themselves to the visitor in a wonderful natural frame, rich in flora and fauna, including the most important population of the Apennine wolf, as well as the exceptional presence of five species of ungulates (mammals with hooves): wild boar, roe deer, fallow deer, common deer, and mouflon (mountain sheep). Inside the park, there are two points of great interest and spiritual importance: the Sanctuary of La Verna and the Hermitage of Camaldoli. The forest has also represented the only true wealth of this territory, since it provided wood of the best quality and thus gave the mountain people a means of living. The Park includes an area in which people have always lived and worked, this is the reason for the presence of many ruins and abandoned villages within the park territory. As a result of the mass exodus that took place starting from the Second World War, the number of actual inhabitants of the Park has dwindled to about 1,500. The protected area can be visited making pleasant excursions on foot, mountain bike and horseback or, in winter, on cross-country skis along a path network of approximately 600 kilometers.
Casentino looks forward to showing you its charm!
The Tuscookany Team
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Tuscookany serves delicious Tuscan wines, but what is it that makes these wines so special?
During our Tuscan cooking courses we serve a selection of great Italian wines, with an accent on wines from Tuscany, but what makes these wines such a big global success? Is it the grapes, the climate, the knowledge or the love Italians put into producing these wines? One thing is definitely clear; you cannot eat pasta without a glass of wine to accompany it. After Piedmont and Veneto, Tuscany produces the third highest volume of quality wines in Italy. Over the last 50 years the quality and popularity of these wines has risen exponentially.
Types of grapes
Sangiovese grapes are the very soul of Tuscany. The fruity, aromatic fragrance is present in almost all of Tuscany’s top wines. 80% of all wines produced in Tuscany are produced with red grapes, the vast majority of which use Sangiovese as a grape. The white wine is produced using the Vernaccia grape, these grapes are local grapes tend to be hyper-local and are rarely grown outside of Italy. The Sangiovese wines range in flavour from tart cherry-like and jammy strawberry to more vegetal tasting, such as ripe tomatoes and roasted red peppers. After harvesting the grapes during the La Vendemmia (the harvesting of grapes) in September, the grapes are oaked (riserva) in wooden barrels, which start from two years up to ten years.
History of the Tuscan wines
Tuscany is one of twenty regions in Italy, located in the central part of the country. The History of Tuscany is known for the Renaissance including the Medici family, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The Tuscan grapes were cultivated by the Etruscans nearly 3000 years ago, grown in such wide abundance that they were often sold abroad and quickly became the areas most trusted cash crop. From the fall of the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries in the region were the main producers of wines made from these grapes. During the Middle Ages the sharecropping system evolved, also known as Mezzadria, in Italian. The system took its name from the arrangement whereby a landowner provides the land and resources for planting in exchange for half (mezza) of the yearly crop. This resulted in the landowners turning half of their grape harvest into wines, which were sold to merchants in Florence. In the 14th century, an average of 7.9 million US gallons or 30 million liters of wine was sold every year in Florence and in 1685 the Tuscan author Francesco Redi wrote a 980-line poem devoted to Tuscan wines. After World War II Chianti wines became famous all over the world, as Italian restaurants proliferated. It is needless to say that the popularity of Tuscan wines is inherited in our veins.
Tuscany’s location, which contains terrains from the Mediterranean Sea to more hilly parts, is what the wines benefit from greatly. Moreover, the temperature fluctuation due to the typically warm and sunny climate to continental influences the grape’s taste. The regions Chianti, Bolgheri, Montepulciano and Montalcino are well known for their excellent wines. The hills in Tuscany serve as a tempering effect on the summertime heat with many vineyards planted on the higher elevations of the hillside. The grapes perform better when they receive direct sunlight, which is a benefit of the hillsides one can find in the vineyards of Tuscany. The majority of the region’s vineyards are found at altitudes of 500-1600 feet. Moreover, the higher elevations also increase the temperature variation, which helps the grapes to maintain their balance in sugars and acidity, as well as aromatic qualities. So the climate does indeed play a big role in the taste of the well-known red and white wines!
Variation of wines
The high quality, delicious red wines are called “Super Tuscans” and were developed by some Tuscan producers that came to believe that the legal rules governing the production of Chianti were too restrictive and decided to set up a new legal appellation giving the producers more flexibility in the 1970s. This resulted in wines becoming very modern, big and rich and have changed the wine industry in Tuscany ever since. The wines included in the Super Tuscan wines are Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The well-known wine regions that apply these regulations are Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano and Chianti. For Tuscan white wine the most well known types are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which are produced from the native Vermentino grape. Moreover, Moscadello, a sweet and sparkling wine, is used as a dessert wine. Not only is Moscato a famous Tuscan dessert wine; Vin Santo is too! The sweeter type of wine known from the red and rose style Sangiovese grape is a perfect paring with a Cantucci biscuit after dinner.
Wines at Tuscookany
All in all, we think it is a combination of the climate, the grapes and the knowledge learnt over the years that makes these great Tuscan wines what they are now. At Tuscookany we serve you the best wines of Tuscany, chosen by our chefs Franco, Laura, Alice and Paola. Every season the Tuscookany chefs carefully pick the best red and white wines to serve to our guests combining old favourites with new and promising wines, matching them with the weekly menu. The accent is of course on Tuscan wines, but we will also introduce to wines from other regions in Italy, both the north and the south, so that you can compare. In this way you get to see how real Italians celebrate their dinner! The white wines are often used for the aperitivo and primi piatti, whereas the red wines are served for the secondi piatti and the Vin Santo is served during dessert. As part of the culinary excursion we offer you will visit one of the best Tuscan wineries, Villa La Ripa. Villa La Ripa has a broad range of wines including red, rosé and white wines for you to taste. As you can see, wine runs deep in Tuscany, woven as it is into the cultural identity of this central Italian region. Therefore it is very important to us that you immerse yourself into this cultural identity. We can even see that the cooking skills are increased with a glass of wine and have therefore changed our 5 ‘O-clock “coffee break” into a “wine break”!!
Are you ready to immerse yourself in these fantastic wines? Come and learn to cook with us and enjoy your meals with delicious wine pairings.
The Tuscookany Team1 comment | Add comment
It requires patience to bake this Medieval leavened fruitcake, but you can really call yourself a Tuscan chef when it works out!
Have you ever been given a Panettone for Christmas? If you have, you obviously you have friends or family with good taste. This dome-shaped sweet bread loaf originated from Milan in Italy. It is usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year. It takes three days to bake this medieval cake, also known as the “tall, leavened fruitcake”. It is mostly large enough to share, but will be gone in no time because the Panettone melts in your mouth and then all of a sudden it's gone, leaving you longing for more! Its fluffiness and hints of sultanas have been around for decades and are mostly baked for Christmas and New Years dinner parties.
The history of this Christmas cake lies in a Medieval City in Northern Italy. The name “Panettone” is short for pane di Tonio, which can be translated into Tonio’s bread. Tonio was a poor Milanese baker and invented the loaf for his daughter after she fell in love with a nobleman. He needed to bake a cake to show his love, but he didn’t have enough money to bake one of the well-known desserts. Everybody loved the cake and they enjoyed it so much that the family asked for its name, this is when Tonio came up with his own bread and the name has not changed since. Due to World War II people got to know this Christmas sweet. It was cheap to produce and gave people hope during the Christmas period. The loaf was often combined with hot cocoa or liquor and its popularity brought the Panettone to the rest of Europe and even South America and Australia. Nowadays Italian food manufacturing companies and bakeries produce over 117 million Panettones and their sister Pandoro cakes every Christmas. Not only Italians, but also Americans ,have discovered this luxury Panetonne is something you want to serve at Christmas.
Variations of Panettones
There are over a hundred types of Panettones you can bake for the Christmas table. Basic ingredients added to the bread dough are sugar, butter, raisins and tender citrus peel. These are added over a couple of days, resulting in a light-as-air texture. After this the dough is left to prove for 10 hours; upside down! This is the basic mixture, but other famous flavours include; Prosecco, double chocolate, Tuscan honey, cherries and Tiramisu. We recommend you try the Finettone once; it is made with juniper, rosemary and gin-soaked olives. The saltiness from the olives is combined with an orange infused Gin & Tonic. But most of all Panettone is known from its delicious festive flavours of light and sweet dough filled with fruits and its amazing tastes. Served with a large dollop of creamy mascarpone and a splash of amaretto it is absolutely divine. During the Christmas season you can find Panettones in every grocery store or bakery, but have you ever tried to make one yourself? Note: you need some patience and baking skills to get the desired taste, shape and feeling.
We, at Tuscookany, know the smell of a great bake and all the scents that come free in the kitchen. It reminds one of a mother baking and having to be patient to unwrap Christmas presents (read: tear open!). The perfumed smell of candied citrus peel, dried fruit, butter and sugar are about to indulge in your home for three days when baking the Panettone. This fluffy and versatile Panettone is delicious enjoyed for breakfast or dessert or a mid-afternoon snack to get you through the 4pm slump. In our opinion we cannot think of a time that a slice wouldn’t be appropriate for a slice. A hint from one of our chefs of the Italian cooking classes in Tuscany is to serve this sweet bake with either a hot beverage or a sweet wine like Moscato. Serving this combination not only looks good but will also open up the playing field for some charades during the Holiday season festivities.
Now it is your turn to decide; are you going to bake it yourself or buy it in a store? One thing you should never forget is that a party without a cake is just a meeting, so get the most of the Holidays this year. We from the Tuscookany team and everyone from the cooking classes in Italy, wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hope all your cooking wishes will come true next year. If you really want to know how to bake this Panettone please fill in the enquiry form and add your email address and Panettone in the remarks and we will send our favourite recipe to you by email. You could also ask our chefs to teach you during one of the Italian cooking courses, they would be happy to help! We hope to see you next season!
Have fun cooking!
The Tuscookany Team
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