Explore the incredible food from the region that lives under the Tuscan sun.
In the North-West, from its coastline hugging the Ligurian Sea, inland through joyful fields of sunflowers to the magical city of Florence, Tuscany enjoys it all. A country of truly distinct regional cultures, Italy wasn’t united until 1861, and though we might think of Italian food as one thing, from region to region there are delicious difference worthy of investigation and celebration.
Like all traditional Italian cuisines, along with local produce, olive oil, cheese, cured meats – salumi – and pastas, history is an influential ingredient. With a prominently fruity flavour, Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil IGP (Olio Extravergine di Oliva Toscano IGP) is produced – grown, crushed and packaged – entirely in Tuscany. Each bottle is labelled with a unique alphanumeric code that allows you to trace its entire production process from start to finish. Tuscan food, especially its bread, has been less salty or even unsalted, since the 16th century, when a tax was placed on salt. And, just like in the rest of Italy, Tuscan cooks need only look around them to savour nature’s bounty: wild boar (cinghiale), hare, pheasant, and other game are staples here; chestnuts, seafood, wild mushrooms, as well as Tuscan Chianina cattle, the source of bistecca alla fiorentina. Tuscan cuisine may look humble or simple, but it is flavourful, satisfying, and healthy. And of course, this is the home of such iconic wines as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the Super Tuscans.
Tuscan cheeses can be divided into five large families with many brothers and sisters. Goat cheeses called caprino, pecorinos from sheep’s milk, raviggiolo made with cow or sheep milk, ricotta made from either sheep, cow or goat milk, and caciotta from cow’s milk. A soft, semi-hard paste cheese, Pecorino Toscano DOP is made exclusively with whole ewes’ milk from local farms. The milk is curdled, drained and hand pressed or steamed in order to retain its shape. Pecorino Toscano DOP is either sold fresh (soft, creamy and sweet) or aged (harder and more intense in flavour). After that, there are various makers, ages, and flavourful additions. It’s safe to say you can live to be a hundred and still find new Tuscan cheeses to taste! Ditto for Tuscan salumi; seek out and experience these cured meats: finocchiona, a pork sausage with fennel seeds, soppressata a cooked-then-cured pork sausage, and lardo di colonnata, made from cured pork fatback seasoned with garlic, herbs, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper; perfect for dressing up a slice of grilled, unsalted, Tuscan bread. One of the most famed cured meats of Tuscany is Prosciutto Toscano D.O.P, a salumi with a long history and tradition. Using only the finest cuts of pork, the meat is naturally cured and slowly aged. It pairs perfectly with sweet fruits, cheese and Tuscan bread.
We can’t leave Tuscany without a taste of pasta. Pappardelle – a luscious wide ribbon cut – is the perfect noodle for a rustic ragù of wild boar. Pici is a hand-rolled, extra-long pasta often dressed with a simple tomato and garlic sauce. Tortelli and tordelli are filled pastas, much like ravioli, but sometimes, just the filling of spinach and ricotta is boiled – without the pasta ‘skin’ – then it’s known as gnudi.
Authentic Tuscan-made ingredients are fairly easy to find in North America, so visit an Italian grocer, cheese shop, or salumeria near you to stock up on everything you’ll need to create a meal fit to eat under your Tuscan sun. Oh, and don’t forget to finish with a sip of vin santo, a few roasted chestnuts, and cantuccini a Tuscan almond biscotti for dipping – yes, dipping! –into the vin santo.