General

/General

October 2017

Truffles, Truffles and more Truffles—Let’s Hunt!

By | 2017-10-04T10:20:40+00:00 October 3rd, 2017|Feature, Features, food, General, hidden gems, Wine|

Truffles, Truffles and more Truffles—Let’s Hunt!

So, what are Truffles?  They are rare, edible mushrooms with an intense aroma and flavor.  They grow underground and can be difficult to find.  They only grow in certain parts of the world.  Certain experts in the past (and some still do) used pigs and hogs to find them—today, in Italy, dogs are used as they  don’t eat them as soon as they find them!  That was a big problem–the hogs would eat the truffles as soon as they found them before they could be stopped.  The dogs, on the other hand, can be trained not to eat them so they end up being a much better choice for the hunt.

October and November in Italy are great times to hunt and eat truffles.  There’s also the Fiera del Tartufo or truffle market which takes places during this time.  Prices vary per pound each year.  The rarest truffles are the most expensive food in the world.  Did you know that the record price paid for a single white truffle was $330,000.  It was unearthed near Pisa, Italy and weighed 3.3 pounds!

Imagine learning to make hand-made pasta only to drizzle your own creation with a special sauce created by you from the truffles you hunted in the morning!  During our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience, we hunt truffle with truffle hunting experts and their dog.  We walk the hills and with the help of the dogs, seek and find the most delectable truffles we can to use later in the kitchen during our hands-on cooking class.  Heading over to the kitchen, we learn to make Tagliatelle con Tartufo or Tagliatelle with Truffle sauce.  It’s only the start of the week with many authentic recipes to come so pace yourself, pack yourself!

Of course with any Tagliatelle con Tartufo wine is a good complement.  We usually enjoy a Chianti Riserva with this dish as it brings out the best of each.  In Tuscany, there’s always enough Chianti to go around and you certainly can spend your time focusing on wine tasting during The Ultimate Tuscan Wine Experience where we indulge in stunning wineries in Tuscany during tours, wine tastings and exclusive tasting and dinner menus.  It’s all part of living like a local with A Toast to Travel.

If you’ve always wanted to visit Italy or if you’ve already been and have always wanted to go back, now’s the time to pack your bags.  All you need to do is get there and we’ll handle the rest!

July 2017

The Italian Lifestyle—what makes it so special?

By | 2017-07-19T22:02:35+00:00 July 20th, 2017|Feature, General|

Duomo Firenze- A Toast to Travel.

Many of us have had the fortune of travelling and even living in various parts of the world and yet, for those of us who have visited or lived in Italy, it will always hold a special place in our hearts.  What is it about Italy that has us obsessing over living like a local?

I lived in Italy for many years as a student, intern, professional and an adventurer.  Most weekends, I would travel to various cities and get to know the locals.  I travelled all over Italy while living there and one important lesson stood out:  Italians really know how to live.

It’s not just that the pace can be more relaxing or that you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful architecture in the world (although that really helps), it’s that Italians really enjoy every moment that many of us take for granted.  Take a simple cup coffee—there are so many ways to enjoy it.  Sit outside at a street café, enjoy it at the bar, catch up with friends or even your local barista—any way you drink it, it’s social time for you to enjoy not only your coffee but also your friends, the weather,  a moment to relax and people watch.  The same is true for a glass of wine or prosecco during an aperitivo.  It’s not just about the delicious wine or prosecco.  The aperitivo is time for socializing and catching up with friends; it’s about taking a moment and creating a transition between the work day and your dinner and evening.  It’s much more than just a drink—it’s a ritual.

Furthermore, Italy is all about quality not quantity.  If you people watch (and who doesn’t in Italy!), you will see everyone dressed nicely or at least trying to.  One of the things you will notice is the quality of everyone’s clothing and shoes.  Even if finances don’t permit two closets full of clothes, the Italian will always prefer quality or quantity.  Beautifully tailored jackets, a silk scarf, a nicely tailor skirt or pair of pants are essentials.  Also notice the leather goods—from the shoes to the belts, leather in Italy is beautiful!  Mostly, Italians will always have a nice pair of shoes, belt, watch or a purse.  Italians take pride in their look—not too overdone but definitely full of good taste.

In Italy, it’s the intangibles that really matter.  A strong cup of coffee spent catching up with friends, people watching, feeling good about yourself, feeling connected to others, spending time outdoors, enjoying a delicious aperitivo to transition from day to evening, ending your evening with dinner and wine with a group of friends or family, all are part of the Italian way of life and each, make us so obsessed with living like a local and La Dolce Vita!

June 2017

Visiting an Italian Food Market

By | 2017-06-22T12:01:47+00:00 June 21st, 2017|Feature, food, General, hidden gems, Italy Shopping|

Italian Market
Italian food market

Visiting an Italian Food Market

To really live like a local, you need to shop like a local.  Generally, Italians do not stockpile.  They are generally not visiting a Costco and buying large quantities of food in bulk to store for lengthy periods of time.  Fresh is the name of the game and there’s no better place to find fresh food than at a local Italian food market or “mercato.”

The markets are full of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, cheeses, salumi, bread and more!  It’s an embarrassment of riches and a way of life at the same time.  The prices are reasonable, goods are seasonal and it’s the perfect time and place to sample the local cuisine.  As you walk through the beautiful market and take in all the scents, sights and people, notice how relaxing the experience can be.  It’s what living like a local is all about.  For an authentic Tuscan experience, visiting a local market is essential.  You can soak up the culture and rub shoulders with the locals.  Watch the many different colorful personalities selling their goods—the local farmers, cheese-makers and artisans come to sell their goods every day.  While at the local market, you usually can enjoy other culinary delights like fresh pasta, desserts and even, sample some wine .

I personally use the farmers market not only to buy fresh produce and cheeses but also to socialize with friends and acquaintances.  It can be an adventure, a time for socializing and practicing or keeping up your Italian language skills.  You can also get the latest on all your questions from the locals—ranging from recipes and the best produce to buy right now to politics and elections around Italy and more. Everyone has an opinion!  Italian food markets are weekly, bi-weekly or even daily.  It depends on where you are located.  Most Italians frequent the food markets regularly as a means of buying their fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, breads and even desserts.  Much of the shopping is done before lunch so that the food purchased at the market can be incorporated into the lunch menu and is supremely fresh.

For me, visiting a local Italian food market is much more than just buying fresh tomatoes, burrata and basil even though I usually make a caprese salad right after my visit!  It’s an essential part of Italian life, shopping with the locals, seeing old friends and making new ones, maybe stopping for a coffee after and generally catching up on life.  It’s a feeling of connectedness that is hard to find in a US grocery store with lists in our hands and little time for enjoying the moment.  I always leave the market with a fresh perspective and a smile on my face.  I look forward to experiencing a local food market each time I am in Italy.  It reminds me of what’s important in life.

We invite you to join us on our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience so you can experience Italian food markets, an essential part of local life!

March 2017

So Much Wine, So Little Time… Part 1

By | 2017-03-06T15:31:58+00:00 March 6th, 2017|General, hidden gems, Wine|

Hi Everyone,

For those that follow me, you already know that I LOVE Italian wine, specifically Tuscan reds.  So, it is with great pleasure that I speak to this delicious topic.  I drink red wine year round, and that is typically all I drink with the exception of the occasional glass or bottle of sparkling.  Natalie on the other hand tends to stick with sparkling when it is warm and switches to red when it turns cooler.

What is with all those letters on a bottle of wine?

If you drink Italian wine, I am sure that at some point you have noticed a seal with letters.  Such as DOC or DOCG.  These are formalized grading standards for Italian wine.  In a nutshell, you have IGT, DOC and DOCG.  IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica ) is the lowest formal standards and has loose standards with regards to the grape varieties that are allowed from the area that the wine comes from.  DOC (Denominazione Origine Controllata )  is the next step up.  And at the highest level is DOCG (Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita).  DOCG is meant to represent the most legendary wines in Italy.

There are way too many types of Tuscan wine to discuss each one, so I will touch on a few of my favorites.  Now, to decide on a few favorites – This is a very difficult decision.  I love the king of Italian red, the Brunello di Montalcino but I equally love Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and a of course a good Chianti.  I could probably list about 4 more very easily, but I will stick to these for this series.

Brunello di Montalcino-

Brunello is a medieval village in the province of Siena, and the winemaking region is to the Northeast.  Brunello tends to be more expensive than most other Italian reds.  This is primarily due to the smaller production area.  The Brunello di Montalcino area is roughly 3,000 acres while Chianti has about 40,000 acres.  Brunello di Montalcino is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, which is also the dominant grape in Chianti.  The difference in these grapes is that due to the higher and dryer climate, the grapes ripen at a more consistent rate.  This wine also must be aged for 5 years after harvest.  Because this is a heavy red, it is an amazing wine to pair with the king of steaks, the Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

We visit amazing wineries on our Tuscan Wine and Culture Experience as well as our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Cooking Experience