Maude’s Journey through Tuscany Italy
Riding barebacked, jockeys atop horses teemed around the Piazza del Campo in our Tuscan basecamp as we descended upon Siena. It was an exciting day to arrive in the walled city, as August 16 marks the Palio di Siena, a horse race held twice a year. Remorex, a nine-year old mare, who threw his rider called “Tittia” halfway through the race while rounding a curve, moved from fourth place to first on the inside track during the final seconds. It was the second time this horse won the race – riderless. It had us wonder, was this foreshadowing of our research ahead?
Among the throngs of revelers pridefully adorned in their district colors following the race, we took refuge from a day a travel for a recuperative dinner at La Taverna di San Giuseppe, complete with an introduction of iconic dishes of ribollita, wild boar ragu, and bistecca alla Fiorentina. The following morning, we embarked on a loop from Siena to Prato, Pistoria, Lucca, and Liverno. A quick stop at a horse butcher following the previous day’s festivities, confirmed the unlikely probability of an equine course on the fall menu. Lunch at Ristorante Giglio, manned by a third generation of three chefs, served as a guide to contemporizing classic dishes for a modern palate. Driving down the coast past a fish market and through Livorna, where the cuisine is heavily influenced by its Jewish descendants, brought us back to our temporary medieval Italian home. Sunday was spent in the Tuscan capital of Florence. With meals at Cibreo and Bottega del 30 as well as our fair share of gelato, we were struck by the act of chef serving equally as maître d, communing with guests and fashioning meals to suit our preferences and appetites.
The following day was spent at Poggio Etrusco with chef and cookbook author, Pamela Shelton Johns, in her farmhouse just outside of Siena with views of the ancient towers of the historic areas of Montepulciano and Chianciano Terme. Amongst her fig trees and garden, our culinary tutorial included handmade pastas including pici, the local specialty, and a boar ragu. Headed back to Siena later in the afternoon, we happened upon Antonio at Di Miccoli, an old school butcher with a high-tech charcuterie room who was all heart. Tuesday ushered in a full day of wine tasting starting with a visit to La Gerla which lies on the Montalcino hill and specializes in modern, bold, and fruit-forward Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso de Montalcino. The vines of Le Ragnaie enjoy the highest elevation of any vineyard in Montalcino. Winemaker Riccardo Campinoti ages in Slovenian and Allier oak barrels. Avant-garde meets slow food tradition at Silene, where dinner was prepared by Roberto and Lella, who have cooked side by side for the last twenty years.
Our final day in Tuscany included visits to Monteraponi - a winery where a natural amphitheater of vines and olive trees is sheltered from the north winds, Fontodi in the heart of Chianti Classico – where the white cows of Tuscany, Chianina, are used to fertilize the vineyards, and finally to Istine, an up-and-coming family producer housed in a converted stable, who specializes Chianti Classico and also produces a serious vermouth.