A Culinary Tour of Tuscany
  1. T+L
  2. Tuscany

A Culinary Tour of Tuscany

Jasper James Stefano Falorni, an eighth-generation salumaio.
Guided by a culinary expert, Niloufar Motamed tracks down the best artisanal producers in northern Italy-from a cheese guru in Seggiano to a star vintner in Chianti.

The creator of the world's most expensive olive oil is
standing in a dusty parking lot beside Tuscany's
autostrada, hurling glass bottles against a concrete wall.
Thwuck…doink. Thwuck…doink. Remarkably, not one breaks. "See?" Armando Manni says
proudly. "I had these made specially in the
Veneto—the bottle is a half-inch thick. The
manufacturer thought I was crazy."

Crazy is certainly one way to describe Manni, an
Italian film director who happened upon an unexpected
second career in 1997. "When my son, Lorenzo, was born, I
wanted to give him the healthiest food I could find,"
he says. Immersing himself in research, Manni realized that
what manufacturers call extra-virgin olive oil is often of
an inferior grade, compromised by exposure to sunlight and
oxygen long before it's consumed. With the help of
scientists, Manni was able to bottle a "live" oil, which he
claims contains more cancer-fighting agents. He keeps his
product from oxidizing by topping it off with nitrogen; the
bottle's thick black glass protects it from sunlight.
Portions are small (only 3.4 ounces) so the oil stays fresh
from start to quick finish, and each comes marked
with a vintage and a "best before" date. Jean-Georges
Vongerichten, Charlie Trotter, Michel Troisgros, and Thomas
Keller are a few of Manni's devoted clients, each happy to
pay $7 an ounce for this ethereal liquid gold.

Brimming with passion and possessed of impeccable taste,
Manni embodies the term gusto, in both senses. (In
his Comme des Garçons suede jacket and handmade
leather boots, he also looks uncannily like Robert De
Niro.) The Rome native—who spends half his time in
Tuscany, where his olives are grown—recently opened
his black book and took me on a tour of the Italian
countryside. We tracked down vintners, cheesemakers, and
salumai who share Manni's intense enthusiasm and
rigorous devotion to craft, as well as family-owned
restaurants that still do things the old-fashioned way. The
culinary treasure trail starts here.

HONEY AND JAM La Parrina

At this rustic farmstead B&B south of Grosseto, the air
is scented with the same herbs and flowers that
flavor its wild honey—a heady conflation of
rosemary and eucalyptus made even more intense by the
strong sunshine. ("We need to find shadow," Manni
murmurs as we pull in. He's carrying precious
cargo—two cases of oil—and doesn't want it to
overheat in the parked car.) Agriturismi have
proliferated in Italy lately; La Parrina is one of the few
selling high-grade products that are every bit the equal of
the setting. We stop at the farm stand to buy jars of
house-made jams (kiwi, kumquat marmalade,
lemon-and–golden apple), as well as organic lettuces
and herbs grown on the property. The owners also create
fantastic cheeses, including an 18-month-aged
caprino that's rich and dense. A tasting room for
pairings of wine, cheese, and jams makes it easy to decide
which to take home. Km 146,  Via Aurelia,
Albinia; 39-0564/862-626.

PAPPA REALE Ristorante Petronio

"Maremma is like Texas," says Petronio Scalabrelli, dressed
in blue jeans, plaid shirt, and suspenders. At his humble
restaurant in the heart of Italy's cowboy country, the
walls are covered with sepia-toned photographs of ranch
life in the early 1900's. The meal begins with fava beans
and purple baby carciofi, which Scalabrelli plucked
from his garden an hour earlier, served raw with a drizzle
of salted olive oil. Next comes the signature pappa
reale,
a pillow-shaped potato pasta resembling an
oversized, airy gnocchi, lightly swathed in a tart
pork-and-beef ragù. It's followed by a
grass-fed Florentine steak, seared on lava rock. Eggy,
almond-dotted biscotti and house-made limoncello signal the end of the show. And that's just lunch. 74
Strada Statale, Marsiliana; 39-0564/606-345; lunch for two
$60.

CHEESE Caseificio Seggiano

As we drive north, wild fennel overtakes guardrails, and
forests of Mediterranean pine are replaced by endless
fields of red poppies. We are heading to see
Francesco Tamburelli, a cheesemaker who produces some of
Italy's best pecorino di fossa, aged for seven
months in wells lined with straw. Twelve years ago, this
handsome Roman businessman fell in love and moved to
Seggiano to join his fiancée's family
business. Today, the small factory is creating
one-of-a-kind cheeses, including a mellow pecorino
dolce
that inspires compulsive eating. Visit in the
early morning to get a bite of the still-warm, buttery
ricotta just after it's made. Via Privata, Seggiano;
39-0564/950-034; tours by appointment only.

BRUNELLO Siro Pacenti

The road to Montalcino has sweeping vistas of the Tuscan
countryside: ocher-hued villas on hilltops, cypress trees,
neon-green expanses. As we approach a long driveway, Manni
raves about Siro Pacenti's wines, which he loves so much
that he bought a case for his son's future cellar when he
was born. The standout Brunello de Montalcino is a complex
Sangiovese with powerful spice and red-fruit flavors, a
precise marriage of grapes from several plots of land in
Montalcino. It is aged for three years in Sylvain and
Taransaud oak barrels, and then for another two in
Pacenti's cave. Look for bottles from the 1995 and 1999
vintages to add to your own collection. 1 Localita
Pelagrilli, Montalcino; 39-0577/848-662; tours by
appointment only
.


PINCI Osteria Le Potazzine

We wander Montalcino's winding cobblestoned streets, and
after a stop at the medieval fortress, we come upon the
family-owned Osteria Le Potazzine. Manni quickly secures
the last available outdoor table (that Italian charm) and
we order a gran piatto di affettati tipici del
territorio
(a platter of cured meats) from Carlo Pieri,
an area salumaio. The sausages are spicy, well
balanced, and flavorful. Next up, Manni suggests a
local specialty: pinci fatii a mano, pasta rolled by
hand to resemble thick spaghetti. The pinci arrive
perfectly al dente, in a fresh pomodoro sauce
redolent of basil. I can't say for sure that this is the
best plate of pasta I've ever eaten, but having it in a
square, with church bells tolling in the distance, makes it
a contender. 10 Piazza Garibaldi, Montalcino;
39-0577/846-054; dinner for two $66
.

SALUMI Antica Macelleria Falorni

Falorni is an institution: its salsicce and
prosciutto have been made artisanally for eight
generations. To walk into the salumeria is to walk
into a world where all things porcine are prized. The
intoxicating scent of pepper and smoked meat permeates the
space; prosciutto with the tail still on hangs from the
ceiling. A place of pride is reserved for products from the
cinta senese, an indigenous wild black boar. The
jovial, mustachioed co-owner, Stefano Falorni, can be found
behind his fire engine–red Berkel slicer giving
customers tastes of garlicky capocollo or
paprika-tinged salame piccante. But the signature
sausage of the macelleria is the finocchiona
sbriciolona,
a richly marbled salami spiced with wild
fennel seeds. Accompanied by a bottle of Chianti, Falorni's
velvety prosciutto Toscano is ideal for a picnic in
the piazza. 71 Piazza G. Matteotti, Greve in Chianti;
39-055/853-029
.

CHIANTI Il Molino di Grace

Manni drives with the abandon that only Italians can pull
off, often overtaking cars on the hairpin turns. We are
heading to Panzano to meet Frank Grace and his wife, Judy,
who are living out the Tuscan dream: owning a winery in
Chianti. Avid art collectors and travelers, they have
shaken up the Italian wine establishment. In their sixth
year of production, they received a prestigious Gambero
Rosso award for best emerging winery. Il Molino's
powerhouse is the 100 percent Sangiovese Super Tuscan,
Gratius, the kind of wine you want to chew rather than sip.
Save room for a bottle (or two) in your carry-on.
Localita il Volano, Panzano; 39-055/856-1010.

STEAK Antica Macelleria Cecchini

It's not often that you run across a butcher who wears
Prada shoes and spouts Dante and poetry while slicing meat
in a book-lined space. Dario Cecchini's shop doubles as the
town hall in Panzano. Sure, people come here to buy
bistecca Panzanese, or Florentine beefsteak, but
they mostly come to gossip and catch up on the town's
happenings. Though his personality may not win you over (he
admits to not liking American visitors because they don't
buy enough), he is nonetheless the consummate host. Bowls
filled with olives with sliced oranges and free glasses of
Chianti greet customers. 11 Via XX Luglio, Panzano;
39-055/852-020.

Manni olive oil is available exclusively at
www.manni.biz.

NILOUFAR MOTAMED is a senior editor at T+L and a host of
the Travel Channel show
Travel Spies.


Where to Stay

Il Pellicano A Relais & Châteaux property
on the Maremma coast. Sunset drinks on the terrace and a
dip in the saltwater pool are a must. Porto Ercole;
39-0564/ 858-111; target="_blank">www.pellicanohotel.com; doubles from
$830, including two meals.

Tenuta Villa Gaia Idyllic three-suite inn on the
slopes of Mount Amiata. Rooms overlook olive groves and
medieval villages in the distance. Seggiano;
39-0564/950-642; target="_blank">www.tenutavillagaia.com; doubles from
$125.

Castello di Spaltenna This medieval castle has a
bell tower dating back to the year 1000. The courtyard is a
lovely spot for dinner. Gaiole in Chianti; 39-577/ 749-269;
"_blank">www.spaltenna.it; doubles from $255.

Where to Shop

As with artisanal food purveyors, high-quality, handmade
Italian leather goods are becoming more difficult to find.
Armando Manni shares his secret sources for custom shoes,
jackets, and accessories.

Il Riccio Brothers Nicola and Michele Rossi make
handmade shoes, belts, and briefcases that compete with the
best bespoke leather goods in London or Rome. Pick from
vacchetta toscana, alligator, ostrich, emu, or shark for
your customized piece. The most prized skin?Reindeer
salvaged from a shipwrecked galleon sunk in 1786. 36 Via
Damiano Chiesa, Grosseto; 39-0564/ 417-593.

Carlo Fagiani This airy boutique in the center of
Panzano is filled with colorful buttery-soft driving shoes
and moccasins that have classic details such as contrasting
stitching. Shoes and jackets are available in everything from
suede to calf to crocodile. 17 Via G. da Verrazano;
39-055/852-239.

More from T+L
 
Advertisement
Advertisement