Italy’s Most Famous Butcher – Dario Cecchini

Dario Cecchini

Halfway between Florence and Sienna, encircled by the rolling Chianti countryside, is the Tuscan hilltop town of Panzano, home of the most famous Butcher in Italy, Dario Cecchini. Equal parts showman and larger-than-life butcher, Dario’s passion for his craft was featured in Bill Buford’s Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, as well as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Tuscany. A visit to Antica Macelleria Cecchini – which Dario affectionately refers to as “paradise for carnivores” – will be a treasured experience. Dario’s family has owned this shop for over 250 years, and he has preserved it in the style of an 1800s macelleria (butcher’s shop). A quirky juxtaposition of the traditional and contemporary if you happen to arrive on a morning where Dario is blasting rock music from AC/DC.

Set aside at least a couple of hours to take it all in. Dario will welcome you with his beaming smile, holding court from a pulpit-like platform behind the counter. His American wife lovingly serves as translator as Dario expertly wields a shiny knife, sharing his philosophy on the art of nose-to-tail butchery, “having respect of the animal, of its life, of its death, and using everything to the very last tendon with conscience is what I have been doing every day for the past 38 years.” He’s also been known to quote entire passages from Dante’s Inferno as he works his magic to transform a side of pork into superb pork chops. Enjoy a hedonistic spread of charcuterie, olives, pecorino cheese, and oven fresh bread slathered with whipped lardo. Even those arriving first thing in the morning will be offered an accompaniment of robust Chianti from Dario’s own vineyard. Unsurprisingly, the macelleria is always buzzing with a meandering procession of villagers, artists and friends of Dario. Enjoy this slice of Tuscan life, and be sure to grab a bottle of Dario’s “Profumo del Chianti” (Essence of Chianti), a delectable blend of sage, lavender, thyme, rosemary, fennel pollen, juniper and salt that will immediately transport you back to Panzano when sprinkled on steaks or atop grilled bread with olive oil.

For those with a bit more time, snag a seat for lunch or dinner at the lively communal table at Dario’s Officina Della Bistecca. This isn’t an ordinary meal, but an 11 course beef-centric experience to be shared with locals and fellow travelers. Pace yourself, as you won’t want to miss the spectacular finale of the world famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. An extraordinary feast with endless Chianti and a side of raucous laughter guaranteed.

The charming village of Panzano itself is worth discovering. Spend the weekend, perhaps during the four-day Vino al Vino wine festival held the third weekend in September. For about 12 euros you can stroll along the main square sampling wine from local vintners and munching on Tuscan goodies, all to the sound of live music. And don’t miss the lovely Sunday morning market showcasing seasonal produce, cheese, roasted meats and more. Salute!

Taste of Adventure

Best Cooking Classes in Ubud

Ubud, Bali 2014 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Ubud, Bali 2014 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Bali, the “Island of the Gods.” Most people who visit fall madly in love with the warm people, the lush landscape, the almost otherworldly spirituality and the exotically-spiced food. Bali’s agricultural bounty is a treasure, and if you are passionate about cooking, this little Indonesian island is heaven on Earth. Make sure to leave room in your suitcase for treasures like coconut palm sugar, hand-harvested sea salt, pure coconut oil, vanilla pods, rich cacao powder and beans, coffee, tea, cashews, tamarind, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and the unusual Balinese long pepper. The most impassioned cooking fanatics will want to spend time in a kitchen on the island learning family recipes and techniques from the locals. These are Taste of Adventure’s top three options in Ubud.

PAON BALI You will start your day at the bustling Ubud market. Meandering among the vendors, you will be given a full tutorial on all the produce and spices this little island has to offer, with plenty of chances to taste exotic fruit like the rare mangosteen. Once fresh herbs, chiles, spices and vegetables are selected, you will be whisked away to the rice paddies for a brief overview of the painstaking process of growing and harvesting rice, carried on by Balinese families for generations. From there you will be taken to nearby Laplapan Village, the family compound of your host, Puspa, who will welcome you with an energizing drink. The afternoon cooking lesson, which takes place in the outdoor family kitchen overlooking a deep gorge filled with palm trees, is a carefully orchestrated procession of nine traditional Balinese recipes, including Base Gede (the foundation of Balinese cooking) and chicken with fresh coconut cream curry. Sit back, relax and enjoy the feast with your new friends and adoptive Balinese family.

LEBONG CULINARY EXPERIENCE The chance to spend the afternoon in a spectacular Balinese compound would be enough for most people, but food and culture enthusiasts will be spoiled by Sang Made and his family. After a brief tour of the local food market, you will be transported to Lebong, where four generations work together to provide an unforgettable experience. While enjoying rich Balinese coffee and golden banana fritters, you will learn about the compound, the shrines and other cultural tid-bits about Balinese life. The cooking experience takes place in a beautiful outdoor pavilion. The air quickly fills with aromatics like shallots, garlic, kaffir lime and lemongrass, as you work your way through the seven-course menu while sipping on refreshing Jamu Kunyit. There are a few more surprises after lunch that make the Lebong experience extraordinary. You will cherish every drop of the thoughtful departing gift of fresh coconut oil made in the Lebong kitchen over a wood-burning fire from coconuts gathered from the grounds.

CASA LUNA: SUNDAY TWILIGHT SMOKED DUCK CLASS Although Casa Luna offers a number of cooking classes throughout the week, the Sunday Twilight Smoked Duck Class is a special opportunity to prepare, and devour, the ceremonial Bebek Betutu in the stunning Honeymoon Guesthouse. This is a dish not easily replicated at home (as it entails wrapping a spice-smothered duck in Betel tree bark and smoking it over fiery rice husks), but cooks will quickly find themselves dreaming of inventive hacks to recreate the dish in their own kitchen. You will depart stuffed and inspired.

Taste of Adventure

Four Fitness Vacations That Will Change Your Life

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1. WILDFITNESS Kenya, Spain, Greece, Tanzania and England

Imagine arriving at a private villa ensconced in palm trees steps away from the warm Indian ocean in Kenya, or savoring freshly prepared lamb and farm fresh vegetables at sunset while you overlook the mountains on the Greek island of Crete. The Wildfitness locations and accommodations alone would be enough for most travelers, but add in a carefully-crafted program of physical activities, nourishing meals, and the camaraderie of like-minded “tribe members” from around the globe, and you have something truly life-changing. A team of highly-skilled coaches will motivate you through outdoor sessions focused on “wild” movements like running, swimming, boxing, agility, and a few other surprises. There is also plenty of time for rest and relaxing massages. Meals showcase the best local ingredients with a focus on meat (Pan Roasted Chicken in Whole African Spices), fish and an abundance of vegetables in multiple preparations; there are even a few “wild” treats like Avocado Chocolate Mousse.  Best for: Those of any fitness level looking to completely disconnect from the outside world and get back to their “primal” nature.

2. BIKINI BOOTCAMP Tulum, Mexico

Located at the Amansala eco resort on one of the most beautiful stretches of white sand and turquoise water in the world, Bikini Bootcamp is a “tune up for the mind, body and spirit.” The six-day all-inclusive camp offers a mix of fitness classes (zumba, boxing, circuit training, yoga, dance) with top instructors, superb massages and local excursions. Extras include sessions with Mayan healers, a temazcal (sweat lodge), tarot card readings, and more.  Meals focus on healthy fare like tropical fruit and housemade granola, grilled seafood and colorful salads (those who tire of the menu can find solace at nearby hotspots like Hartwood, Posada Margherita, Casa Banana, El Tabano and Restaurare).  Famous Bikini Bootcampers include Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon and Demi Moore. Best for: Ladies looking for a girlfriend getaway or a safe solo excursion who don’t mind casual beach accommodations and a bit of disorder.

3. BACKROADS Worldwide

Backroads is your one-stop shop for a turnkey active getaway, with a seemingly endless selection of adventures. Whatever your dream (a gourmet walking tour through the Tuscan hill towns; a walking and hiking tour of Bhutan; a trekking tour in Peru), Backroads likely has the perfect trip to make it a reality. A focus on high-quality trip leaders, impeccably-designed itineraries, authentic local experiences, and above-and-beyond service makes Backroads an industry leader in group travel. Best for: Those with little time or patience to plan and orchestrate an unforgettable trip and willing to pay a premium to have someone else do the work.

4. NINJA CAMP Canggu, Bali

Located on the magical island of Bali, Ninja Camp is an exclusive health and fitness retreat located in Canggu that embraces the mantra “eat well and play hard.” Ninja Camp is an immersive fitness experience, offering a variety of training activities, tailored nutrition and local adventure activities to small groups of fitness lovers. Freediving, mobility training, yoga, surfing and CrossFit are all on the menu, as are scheduled blocks of free time to rejuvenate. A private chef sources local ingredients and prepares Paleo meals and snacks focused on lean meats, fish and vegetables. “Ninjas” stay in a spectacular, modern villa on beautifully maintained grounds with rice paddy views. Program expansion plans include Guatemala, Iceland, the Philippines and Japan. Best for: Thrill-seekers with a fairly strong baseline level of fitness.

Taste of Adventure

Top Food Markets to See Before You Die

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1. FERRY PLAZA FARMERS MARKET San Francisco, California

Not too far from the epicenter of the organic food movement popularized by renowned chef, food activist and writer Alice Waters, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market has a seemingly endless offering of organic fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and prepared foods from over 80 Bay Area producers. While the farmers market is open three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), the Ferry Building Marketplace, open daily, is a destination in its own right. Must Try: Ethereal beignets from Boulettes Larder, burnt caramel hazelnuts from Recchiuti Confections, and almond brittle with dark chocolate from Alfieri Farms.

2. MERCADO DE LA MERCED Mexico City, Mexico

The largest market in Mexico City, La Merced sprawls across four city blocks and offers an boundless bounty of Mexico’s finest provisions from over 3,000 vendors, including dozens of dries and fresh chiles, moles, Oaxacan cheese, nopals (cactus paddles) and avocados. Pick up the freshest ingredients for this unforgettable guacamole. Must Try: Rich, spicy, fragrant Mexican vanilla, and homemade grilled masa cakes.

3. LA BOQUERIA Barcelona, Spain

Dating back to 1217, La Boqueria is one of the oldest, and arguably finest, markets in Europe. With a dizzying array of produce, meat, seafood, cheese, olives, spices and much more, you could easily spend a whole day here, winding down with a glass of cava and tapas at Bar Pinotxo. Or book a class at La Boqueria’s cooking school. Must try: Iberico ham, manchego cheese, and one of the myriad brightly-colored fruit popsicles.

4. TSUKIJI FISH MARKET Tokyo, Japan

The main attraction at Tsukiji Fish Market is the early morning tuna auction, where visitors (capped at 120 a day) line up at 5:00 a.m. to observe the spectacle. Must try: Incomparably fresh sushi and sashimi at Daiwa Sushi.

5. COURS SALEYA Nice, France

Nestled among picturesque buildings and mere steps away from the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, Cours Saleya is one of the most beautiful markets in France. Although largely a flower market, you will find a generous offering of the freshest fruits and vegetables in Southern France, including the elusive and fragrant fraises des bois (wild strawberries). Must try: Sundried tomatoes and vanilla sea salt.

BONUS: WAIMEA TOWN MARKET Waimea, Hawaii

Undoubtedly the best little market you’ve probably never heard of, the Saturday Waimea Town Market is a relatively undiscovered gem nestled among the gently rolling hills of the upcountry. Over 30 vendors offer beautiful produce, meat and prepared foods from the Big Island — most produced within miles — including exotic items like lilikoi (passion fruit), ginger, coconut, papayas, and rambutans, which can be difficult to find as fresh stateside. And if all this wasn’t enough, the market is run on a volunteer basis and has raised over $150,000 in the last six years for Parker School. Must try: Macadamia nut tarts and pineapple and toasted coconut macadamia nuts from Ahualoa Farms

Taste of Adventure