Now, where was I? Oh, of course – Italy!
I have to be honest here and admit that I’m very fond of Florence – something about that city resonates with me and I almost feel as if the Medici’s are still there somewhere, just out of sight. I first went there three and a half years ago with my eldest daughter and one of the best things we did on that trip was a food tour which I had booked online before we went. I enjoyed the experience hugely and had harboured secret hopes of doing the same tour again, so when this trip was confirmed one of the first things I did was to hunt it down and book The Husband and myself in.
Taste Florence is run by Toni Mazzaglia, a delightful ex-pat American of Sicilian origins who now resides full-time in Florence. With a passion for food and realising that many tourists never get the opportunity to experience the genuine tastes of Tuscan specialities, she began the tour company four years ago. She began with offering her fabulous tours of some of the local, traditional, specialty producers and the wonderful San Lorenzo food markets, but now also offers an exclusive wine tasting dinner as well. Figuring we had to eat somewhere, I wasted no time in booking us in for the exclusive dinner, followed by the tour the next day.
On arriving in Florence we settled in to our accommodation in the city centre (admiring the stunning views across the rooftops of the city) and made our way across the Ponte Vecchio to Enoteca Pitti Gola E Cantina, on the south side of the Arno river and directly across the road from the imposing Pitti Palace. The tiny Enoteca is run by a group of madly passionate young men who purchased the business from their previous employers and have turned it into a very stylish wine bar, serving (pre-booked) meals, local, hand-crafted wines by the glass and – for the lucky few who know about it – the most amazing food and wine tasting experience you could hope for.
Our evening was hosted by the very attentive Edoardo who carefully explained the history of each wine and the back-story behind each of the small wineries who produce them. The tastings are accompanied by traditional dishes made of fresh local ingredients. Each is a relatively small serve but believe me – there is no way you are going to leave here hungry. We enjoyed the local version of pate served on the traditional unnsalted Tuscan bread, a deep-fried goats cheese that was sublime in it’s freshness and simplicity, a fish pasta dish with hand-made, square spaghetti and several other fresh, home-made pasta dishes; eating until we could fit no more in. During the course of the evening we developed a small understanding, but large appreciation for Brunello and Chianti and came away with a much better informed palate and the desire to investigate further. The enthusiasm and generosity of our host was striking, but eventually we had to call time. Edoardo was very keen to share some of his dessert wines along with dessert but, after seven courses and 14 different wines, we had to admit defeat and happily, but slowly, made our way home.
The next morning it became clear to me that I had made an error in judgement in booking the walking tour on the day after the dinner. However, it is at least a four hour tour on foot so we skipped breakfast entirely and headed off to meet our guide.
The tour begins in front of the old Norcineria, a treasure trove of smallgoods and salumi with a large selection of cinghiale – wild boar salumi and sausage. From there we were led in and out of a range of local food businesses, all of which are family owned and have been for several generations, tasting, sampling and frequently meeting the owners and producers of the food we are enjoying. We visit the bustling San Lorenzo markets where we jump the significant queue and tuck into the Bollito di Manzo sandwiches served with salsa verde and sals piccante and the porchetta which are the popular speciality of Nerbone’s who have been making Florentines their lunch since 1872, enjoy vertical pecorino and balsamic vinegar tastings and olive oil samplings and are let loose to wander around. This gave me the opportunity to inflict a little damage on the credit card by purchasing a couple of bottles of aged balsamic to bring home. We then move on to a wine bar, owned by the same family for many generations, for a little tipple -with a snack – before finishing off at Vestri, an artisan chocoaltier producer and gelateria, where we bravely manage to stuff a final few morsels in.
I enjoyed my second Taste Florence tour every bit as much as my first and heartily recommend it if you are planning a visit to Florence. Toni supplies a map of the area with the names of suggested restaurants, wine bars, cafes and specialty shops and we used it every evening after the tour. I’d advocate making her food tour the very first thing you do in Florence so that you are well armed with good dining advice and can avoid the ubiquitous tourist eateries thus making the most of your Tuscan food experience. Toni suggests that her guests only partake of a light breakfast before the tour because of the quantity of food on offer during it. I’d suggest that NO breakfast is the wiser option if you wish to really enjoy all that is offered.
Enoteca Pitti Gola E Cantina
Piazza de Pitti,
16 Firenze 50125 Italia