We’ve fallen absolutely, totally and head over heels in love with Tuscany. Florence, the region’s capital, is a beautiful city… rich in culture, full of things to do and with an arts scene that isn’t just flourishing now but has been for almost a millennium.
We owe a great deal to a few people here who’ve made our stay incredible. Firstly, Vanessa (a couchsurfer) showed us around when we arrived and took us out for apertivo… secondly Anna & Claudio took us into their home and made sure our stay was unforgettable.
On Friday Anna took us to the leather market and Elyse used the bargaining skills she recently tuned in Thailand to buy a leather jacket and a hand bag. We then ducked behind the stalls and Anna took us to this wine bar and panini shop that you never would have found! The panini’s were nothing like the horrible toasted sandwiches we get at home. Mine had mackerel in a white wine sauce with artichoke and it was sensational!
That night Anna and Claudio took us to a festival event (a few art installations and a concert). The musicians were Hauschka & Samuli Kosminen a piano and percussion duo that were great, Hauschka was putting all sorts of things inside the piano to create sounds we’ve never heard. There is nothing like watching people do exacty what they love. For me though, the high light was probably the main art installation. The event was held in an old train station, so basically like a huge abandoned warehouse sort of space… Everything was blacked out and then in the spotlight there was a whole bunch of shoes & boots in rank and file rigged up to little machines to make them move. They were marching in time and dancing around making a fantastic noise in the huge old building. So cool! I’ve never seen anything like it.
We found out today though, again thanks to Anna & Claudio, that the Tuscan countryside is on par with Florence! Claudio had used his excellent observation skills to discover my love for meat and had planned a nice little surprise; a trip to the Chianti region of Tuscany to visit Italy’s (maybe the world’s) most famous butcher, Dario Cecchini.
If you think Italian food is all about pizza and pasta then you need to repent.
It was a half hour drive to the village of Panzano in Chianti were Dario plies his trade. He’s got a butcher shop that’s a Mecca for foodies and a restaurant out the back. The place was absolutely bustling when we arrived and we couldn’t get a table. I wasn’t disappointed though because the butcher shop itself is a wonder. Dario was behind the counter and the staff were dishing out Chianti (the wine) in tumblers and samples of salami and lardo on bread. When Dario found out we’d come from Australia he proudly whipped out his presenter’s lanyard from the Melbourne Food & Wine festival and suggested that although it was overcast and cold we were welcome to take a seat in the outdoor area that hadn’t been opened. (He then came and set up some portable heaters for us himself, what a modest guy!)
Dario descends from a long line of butchers and has recreated an antique-style butcher shop on the site of the family shop which was destroyed during the war. As well as being an extremely creative butcher and an excellent cook, he’s a showman who has done a lot to promote Panzano and traditional food.
We took our seats outside in the cold and started to put on the warm blanket of a good Chianti wine. First course was vegetables with olive oil, salt & herbs; Italian’s seem to have this gift for turning the simplest things into great pleasures. Before long our plates were loaded up with a Tuscan beef tartine dubbed the “Sushi del Chianti” and various cuts of chianina beef cooked to perfection including the famous “bistecca alla fiorentina”. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face it was that good!
I haven’t even mentioned the scenery! If you have a chance to visit Tuscany don’t pass it up.