by Cathy Scott, Departures Travel –
Although often thought of as one of the world’s most delicious cuisines, Italian food has surprisingly simple ingredients. Most of the cuisine has evolved from what the local resourceful cooks could afford to buy or grow themselves. From plentiful olives, lemons, garlic and tomatoes to the decadent truffle, the Italians’ rustic approach to food delights the senses!
On a recent trip to Italy, I had the pleasure of spending a day outside of Florence on a century-old truffle farm. Joining an experienced truffle hunter and his talented dog, we went in search of the elusive treat. Experiencing the rigorous hunting process and seeing how carefully the delicate truffles are harvested to avoid bruising gave me a whole new appreciation for the effort that reaping them requires. After successfully hunting and gathering these local delicacies, we went back to the farm and dined on a delectable feast where all the courses contained fresh truffles.
Highly prized and considered one of the most expensive foods in the world, the truffle is the ultimate foodie’s treat with food lovers swearing by the intoxicatingly pungent smell and the earthy, flavourful taste. You either love them or hate them; the response is seldom in between. I loved them!
Another day was spent on a working dairy farm where we learned how to make delectable soft unripened cheese from the sheeps’ milk that the farm produces. We finished off with a mouth-watering lunch sampling various local cheeses which included an award-winning pecorino. The stunning vistas and superb local wines added to our unforgettable day.
Of course, nothing says Italian food like pasta! So, a cooking class in Siena, Tuscany featuring homemade pasta was also on the agenda. Delicious and relatively simple, homemade pasta is worth the time it takes to make. Fresh locally-sourced ingredients, handled with care, create this authentic flavourful dish. Finished off with a local specialty, panna cotta, which means “cooked cream” in Italian, made for a perfect Italian cooking class.
A trip to Italy is not complete until you have tried the locally-made lemon liquer called limoncello! Traditionally made with the zest of Sorrento lemons which are steeped in grappa or vodka until the oil is released, limoncello is delightfully fresh. Found in abundance throughout Italy, it is usually served chilled as an after-dinner “digestivo.” I think any time is the perfect time for this refreshing drink!
It may be a relatively small country, but Italy is one of the world’s largest producers of wine and is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions. The word Chianti, meaning both a geographical area and a wine, is now becoming a synonym of Tuscany too. I enjoyed my first Italian Chianti in a 14th-century villa amidst the most spectacular gardens overlooking the picturesque Tuscan vineyard covered hills. I am not sure if it was the Instagram-worthy surroundings or if the wine was spectacular, but it was a memorable experience!
My culinary journey of Italy was one of the most enjoyable trips I have been on and is one I look forward to experiencing again.