Tuscany is one of the most visited regions in Italy, for a reason. It is where some of the best Italian wines come from, it is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and its seemingly endless fields of sunflowers have been immortalized in more than one film. Of course there are far more things to love and on my most recent trip to Italy I discovered what I’ve been missing. I hope by sharing them, you can learn a thing or two as well.
In the more mountainous portion of Tuscany, where Villa Panna lies on a 1,300 hectare reserve that dates to the time of Florence’s Medici family, the source of Acqua Panna bottled water can be found. Tuscany’s natural spring water has been bottled there since the Medici family owned the land and used it for a private hunting retreat. Now deer roam wild and are protected just like the water source is and the company is careful to never over bottle their own version of liquid gold. The smooth, delicate water is favored around the world by chefs such as Carlo Cracco and sommeliers like Andreas Larsson.
At Villa Campestri, Gemma Pasquali is a professional Olive Oil Taster and Gastronomist who educates consumers and chefs alike about an oft-misunderstood element found in kitchens across the globe. Though olives are grown and harvested all over Tuscany, it was only at Villa Campestri that I finally learned how important it is to use olive oil within a certain amount of time after harvesting, how to tell a perfect olive oil from one which is already past its best use date and how to do an official olive oil “tasting”. It has forever changed the way I will shop and cook. Olive oil is also used in the resort’s spa. Any consumer or chef can take the course and the resort is a wonderful place to get a different view of Tuscany than the standard wine tour offers.
In the charming town of Scarperia, craftsmen have been making knives by hand since the 14th century. It’s a lesser-known industry in Tuscany but I found it incredibly fascinating to learn about. Once there were hundreds of manufacturers in the town but now there are only three. Today, Saladini and the other manufacturers use machinery to aid in the process of creating a knife however they know the ancient methods and witnessing a demonstration really helped me appreciate a tool I so often take for granted. I also learned about an Italian tradition whereby when you gift a knife to someone, the recipient must then give you a gift of money in return; it is thought to be a way that the recipient can offset the “bad luck” of being given something that could be used as a weapon! What discovery did you make on your trip to Tuscany?