Eating in Italy from Tuscany to Parma

It seems that every time we visit Italy we experience something new and this trip was no different. We flew into Florence, rented a car and drove to meet friends at their house at “Castello di Casole”. Castello is a fractional share project, including a hotel open to any guests and several beautiful farm house villes restored to their original beauty. These houses are part of a fractional ownership that our friends invested in and invited us to visit and explore the country side with them.
The hotel,, offers a beautiful spa, 2 restaurants and a large pool and grounds overlooking the country side of Tuscany. It seems that every restaurant is at least a 30 minute or more drive from the house since the small roads wind across the country side, through vineyards and farm land dotted with olive trees and tall cypress.
We ventured out the first night to a small place called ‘Il Colombaio” in the village of Casole d’elsa. This charming bed and breakfast has been owned by the same family for years. The restaurant holds 1 star and it was well deserved. We had one of the tasting menus and ordered a bottle of wine with the help of the owner.
The next day was my birthday so we had reservations at a beautiful property called “Borgo San Felice”. The main restaurant was closed for the season so we sat outside in a lovely patio and shared a typical Tuscan lunch of several cured meats, cheeses and grilled vegetables. A bottle of local wine, for 70 euros, and baskets of bread is always a good way to begin a 2 hour lunch. The hotel is charming as well as the gardens, so if you are in the area this is a good place to spend the night. They produce a nice wine and offer several selections in their own wine shop.
We had taken time to tour the Barone Ricasoli winery in the Chianti area on our way home so the only thing left was a nap and simple dinner at home.
You realize that every place you go is about an hour drive along winding roads. This is why you will need a GPS or you will spend way to much time trying to fine the next winery or restaurant. My belated birthday celebration was in the village of Colle di Val d’else, an hour+ drive. We had reservations at the 2 star restaurant, “Arnolfo”, I had read about this family owned and run restaurant and was thrilled to have the opportunity to dine. We arrived for our 1 pm reservations and were greeted by the chef Gaetano. Gaetano’s brother manages the small dining room and is there to answer every question about the menu and the large wine list. There are only 9 tables in the main room so be sure to make a reservation, especially for dinner. The menu offered several tasting options, 8 courses your choice fish, meat or vegetable or you can order ala carte. We chose different tasting options and were amazed as each dish was presented. the dishes used were so interesting before you even consider the simple, but spectacular foods being presented. The chef offered 4 different tastes before our menu even started to be presented.
Our lunch was over 3 hours and cost around 700 Euros, a memory for ever. After winding our way back to the farm house we just relaxed and talked about every dish served, especially the rabbit course on the meat menu.
We were about an hour outside of Florence so the next day we drove into the city to meet friends and once again share a great lunch. This vacation was not about site seeing or shopping unless it was a winery or castle in a vineyard. It was all about friends, food and wine. Our friends reserved the private room at “Cibreo on via del Verrocchio” in the Sant’Ambrogio quarter. There is parking about 2 blocks away so you can walk and enjoy the crazy market and locals mixing with the tourists. We were not presented with the menu because the owner came out to explained each dish, all we had to do was remember what he had explained with such passion. After we place our orders they presented the table with a large array of antipasti including an amuse bouche of things like turmeric yogurt, many pickled vegetables and baskets of bread. The amazing mushroom soup as a starter was delicious, but I have to say that my carpaccio of beef with white truffles shaved on top was the best dish of the meal.
When we got home we just sat outside and read our books and watched the sunset. We knew that the next day was another adventure in eating and wine tasting so we needed to save room. We did do a major walk the next morning and Carl went to the pool and swam his 45 minutes of laps. The next day we drove about an hour to “Osteria di fonterutoli in Castellina, the Chianti region. The village is Mazzei and the restaurant is the main attraction in this small place. We sat in the garden under pieces of fabric that kept the sun off our table. There were 12 of us and the 2 men that waited on us never missed a beat. We were taken care of like we were the only table and there must have been 10 other tables full. They were known for their huge T-bone steaks and pasta dishes, but we were focused on sharing the antipasti on large wooden boards and pasta. It was the end of the season for the local tomatoes and cheese so we could not resist, along with the last of the melon and local parma ham.
Then we walked down to the Fonterutoil wine shop and bought a couple of bottles to save for a later meal. This village is worth the drive and they do have their own bed and breakfast if you want to spend the night.
Back at the house we had the hotel service group come light our pizza oven and we made pizzas for dinner like we were real Italian pros, tossing the dough and spreading the toppings like it was our last meal.
On our last day in Tuscany we chose the small village of Gaiole in Chianti for lunch and a tour of the art installations in the village. The wine of this area is know as Chianti Classico and the winery here was called “Castello di Ama”, sitting in a small walled village they have a restaurant that served a light menu to showcase the wines. They have a good wine shop and a covered deck for lunch. As you walk down the hill to see the art installations you can look out over the many vineyards of chianti and the breathtaking views toward Siena.
We headed North to the Poe valley to visit our friends in Fridenza, the home of Parmigiano-reggiano cheese and Culatello ham. After about 3 hours on the road and getting settled at our friends home they announced we were going to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. They had no idea how much we had eaten in Tuscany, but this was a different cuisine and they were exited to share their restaurant. The restaurant is “Giovanni”, http://www.dagiovannicortina, the whole place was a vision for the eyes as well as the taste buds. We had not had much in theway of fish so this menu was a welcome change. The red shrimp served raw on a slate board with powdered ginger and soft cheese was an amazing start. If you want risotto this is the place, especially when they shave black truffles on the top. Lunch outside on the enclosed patio is also a beautiful way to spend the lazy afternoon.
We spent the next day walking the local village and bought our dried porcini mushrooms to bring home. Dinner the next night was at our friends restaurant, Antica Corte Pallavicina in Polesine, I have written about Massimo before but there is never enough words to describe the food. Massimo is famous for the ham, Culatello and the different aged parma ham. The walk from the parking area through the gardens as the fog was settling in along the Poe river sets the stage for the evening ahead. While we waited for the table to be set we gathered in one of the small rooms and shared a glass of champagne along with two long wooden trays of different cured meats that they produce in house. We were seated in the lovely dining room when Massimo came to greet us and give our friends a quick over view of what was on the menu for the evening. Since we do not speak Italian and he does not speak English we allowed our friends to translate. It was simple we would choose the wine and the chef would prepare a couple of pasta dishes to share then choose our main dish. I had frog legs so tiny and delicate that nothing could have been better. Carl had a small veal loin and others had the guinea fowl. Every bite is perfect including  the presentation of each dish. The wine list is extensive so you will have a broad choice of Italian wines.
They are building several new rooms to add onto the ones they already have, so think of this as a great escape if you are in the region. We had one last lunch the next day before we headed home and this hidden gem was the best way to remember Italy and all the food it has to offer. We went to a local place outside of Fridenza in the town of Fornio, called “Osteria di Fornio.” The platters of parma ham, culatello and parma cheese arrived first, followed by 5 different plates of pasta to share. The best porcini mushroom pasta I have ever tasted. Each dish was better than the last and the finish of in house ice cream, was like a soft serve with fudge sauce. More chocolates along with several bottles of wine would close this chapter of our 2014 food adventure with amazing friends in Italy.
We drove to Melpenza airport to spend the night, we only ate  a bowl of soup at 9 pm in the Sheraton and got ready for a nearly morning flight.


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