Friday, April 25, 2008

Tuscany! Week 4

Buon giorno tutti!
A very busy Week 4 comes to a close, as I write to you tonight. This week we studied the foods of Toscana (Tuscany). On Monday and Tuesday we spent our time in the kitchen cooking some regional dishes. In our pastry class we made a cake called Zuccotto. Several of us had successful creations, and they were sent down to the main kitchen to be served at lunch on Tuesday. Perfect timing for Larry’s arrival!

On Wednesday our guest chef was Valeria Piccini from Montemerano, a southern Tuscan town ( It was obvious to all of us that she is some what of a rock star in the Italian foodie world. Our teacher was quite reverent, and other teachers from the school kept “popping” in to say hi. She made some amazing dishes, and was a lot of fun to watch. Larry spent some of the day tooling around Parma, but returned just at the end of class to sample dessert. It was fun to have him experience my day. After class we had the first meeting for our stage. (Pronounce the “a” like “ahh”) I have to start thinking seriously about what region I would like to be in, and what kind of chef I’d like to apprentice under. Decisions – decisions!!

On Thursday and Friday we had a school field trip, and happily Larry was able to come along. (Another glimpse into my world!) We spent Thursday sightseeing Siena. What a fabulous way to celebrate our 4th anniversary! We both remarked all the way to Siena how beautiful the countryside was … just amazing. On our guided tour through the town we saw the spot where the famous Pallio race happens in July and saw the banner of the winner – the Goose Contrada. The Duomo of Siena is quite magnificent and beautiful. Our tour guide took us through that structure as well. Then in the late afternoon we visited a veal (cattle) farm which was quite interesting. We drove back to Siena to stay the night.

On Friday we got to see two wine producers: Castello Banfi ( in the Montalcino, and Isole e Olena, in Barberino Val d’Elsa. They were about an hour from Siena – so another beautiful drive through the hillside. Banfi is quite famous and quite huge. The estate, at the top of a hill, is a huge castle. Their nearly seven thousand acres of vines surround the castle. The second producer was much smaller. He also had a beautiful estate, in the small town of Isole. Both wines were fabulous, but the general consensus was that we all liked the smaller operation better. He was so much more passionate bout his process. It was slightly larger that Castellano, who we visited in Piemonte; but the comparison was the same. The smaller producer puts his heart and soul in to every bottle. Once they get to a certain size, it seems to become more mechanical. I suppose that is the same for most things?

We left the group around 7:00 and headed to Florence. Checked in and went off to find some dinner. We wandered around after dinner and took in the sights. Since we only had a day we decided to think small and see two things: the Uffizzi Gallery and the Duomo. The Uffizzi was amazing. It was once the home of a Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent, a play on words I had to endure all afternoon! (lol) We ended up spending many hours wandering through the most spectacular collection of the renaissance period. We saw several famous Botticellis: The Birth of Venus and Primavera; not to mention Carravaggios and Da Vincis. When we finally emerged we realized we were not going to have time for the inside of the Duomo. (A trip for another time!)

So off we headed for Lucca. It took us a little maneuvering to find the right entrance to the small city, and then the hotel. Lucca is an ancient fortress city that still has a wall around it. It’s said that Caesar, Pompey and Crassus decided to rule Rome as a triumvirate, in 56 BC. It’s also the birthplace of the composer Puccini. Well, we both absolutely fell in love with this beautiful city. So much so, that we decided to put off our side trip to Pisa and wander around all day. After lunch we climbed the 230 steps of the Torre Guinigi (good way to work off lunch!) for a magnificent view of the city.

So that brings me to tonight. After our simply wonderful day in Lucca, we had, what I can only describe as a hellish drive to Cinque Terra. What should have taken an hour and half, ended up taking us four. The autostrada (expressway) was closed for a good portion of our trip and we ended up taking side roads all the way up the coast. All I can say is thank god we had Hertz’ Magellan GPS system in the car. We were able to find roads in the pitch black.

So tomorrow (Monday) we’ll be taking the trail that links the 5 towns of the Cinque Terra and then heading back to Colorno in the evening. This week classes will be dedicated to the Emilia-Romagna Region. I’ll be taking another field trip at the end of the week to see a parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar production. (yum!) Larry will be heading home on Wednesday. (I’m trying to not be sad yet.)

Enjoy the photos and look for my next installment, next week! Ciao!

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