If you mention gourmet food, most likely two countries come to mind: France and Italy. But if you take a step back, you'll discover that much of the French traditions have their origins in Tuscany, from when the Firenze chefs followed the French court of Caterina de'Medici in the 1500s. Tuscan cooking has a deceptively simple quality to it, based on purity and the natural taste of ingredients, rather than trying to mask the flavours with seasonings and sauces like in other cultures. Gourmets in Tuscany are in for a real treat, but what can they expect to sample while abroad?
The varied geography of Tuscany contributes to the flavours you can expect to enjoy. The area mixes mountains, villages, cities and sea-coasts. Near the sea, you predictably can enjoy a huge selection of seafood, the highlight of which is Cacciucco - a famous soup with a flavour that varies depending on the catch of the day. Elsewhere in the region, you'll find local meats grilled over open fires. One of the best known dishes in Tuscan cooking is Bistecca Fiorentina, perfectly done T-bone steak served with a splash of olive oil. With the Tuscan hills home to pheasant, rabbit, partridge and wild boar, game has also played an important part in Tuscany's gourmet cuisine throughout the years, if you manage to grow tired of farmed meats, and the warm Mediterranean weather if of course perfect for vegetables to grow and develop a rich, full flavour. Many of them have had such a strong growth that they can be delicious eaten raw, or steamed and drizzled with olive oil and a little garlic, but to me the best way to enjoy these luscious legumes is a local method called ‘saltare’. Saltaring involves steaming the vegetables, and then sautéing them in olive oil, chili peppers and garlic.
Of course, herbs and spices are a huge part of Tuscany's gourmet cooking, and once again the varied local terrain means that aromatic herbs can be sourced locally with very little trouble. Rosemary and sage are favourites in Tuscany's food and both can be found in abundance in the local hills. Alongside all the ingredients-waiting-to-happen you will see as you explore the Tuscany hills, you will notice an abundance of olive trees. The olive oil from these is considered too good to be used for frying, and is more commonly used as a condiment - drizzled over meat, vegetables and the local salt-free bread.
Said salt-free bread (it was believed that bread kept its freshness better without) is best accompanied with the pecorino cheese - a sheepsmilk cheese with a variety of age-dependent flavours, perfect to conclude a gourmet Tuscany meal.
You may have noticed the complete absence of pasta from this list of Tuscany's food, and that's no mistake. It's not actually an integral part of the Tuscan dining experience, but occasionally fresh pasta does sneak onto the menu. Pappardelle topped with meat or tomato bases sources will be on some menus if you miss the staple, and Pici - hand rolled small pasta made from flour and water - is quite common throughout the south of the region.
The wines are well worth an article in their own right, but to be brief, the Chianti proves a big draw to people looking to take luxury holidays in Tuscany. First invented back in 1860, nowadays bottles are distributed across the world from the region. Chianti Classico is only bottled in the area between Florence and Sienna and each bottle shows the growers’ logo: a black cockerel against a gold backdrop.
The food of Tuscany still manages to set the standards of Italian cuisine. At times Tuscan cooking appears basic, but behind that lies a real love of food and wine, using only fresh local ingredients. If you're looking to experience the authentic food of Italy, you could do much worse than a luxury holiday in Tuscany!
Antonio Cresce is the Italy Specialist for Key2Holidays, a travel company that can help each individual customer plan their own perfect luxury holiday in Tuscany They also offer luxury holidays to South Africa, Dubai, Mauritius, Cuba, the Far East and many other popular destinations. Wherever you want to go, Key2Holidays has a dedicated team of experienced travel consultants to help you to plan and book your ideal holiday.