Top 5 Food and Wine Experiences in Florence, Italy

Pizza Margherita, Pizzeria Caffé Italiano, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Pizza Margherita, Pizzeria Caffé Italiano, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

A fashion capital, UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Florence offers an abundance of history, culture, art and architecture. But for the hungry traveler, discovering the family-run trattorias and wine shops that dot the city’s twisting sidestreets is an equally alluring draw.

One of the first things that springs to the food-obsessed explorer’s mind when visiting Italy is where to find the best pizza. Purists on the hunt for the perfect pizza Marghertia will be in paradise at Pizzeria del Caffé Italiano. There you will find the quintessential bubbly, fire-tinged crust topped with melted mozzarella, tangy tomato sauce, fresh basil, a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and crunchy sea salt. Mangia bene!


Conti gourmet shop, Florence Central Market

After your obligatory pizza fix, one of the most entertaining ways to delve into the Florentine food scene (particularly for solo travelers), is to book a tour with Florence for Foodies. Nat and Sam — two uproarious guides with a passion for food and wine — lead small groups on whirlwind tours of the city’s most delicious attractions. You will start the morning with a lively discussion of Italian coffee culture while sipping macchiatos and devouring Italian pastries. The sinful feast continues at Florence’s Central Market, with a tasting of cheeses, glazes, balsamic vinegars and more at the historic Conti gourmet shop. After a bit of wine and local gossip, be sure to pick up a bag, or three, of the Sicilian “Pachino” sun-dried cherry tomatoes (fantastic gifts), and a jar of the Crema di Pistacchio. A riotous visit to a local wine shop, followed by a generous sampling of gelato, sorbetto and semi-freddi at one of the best gelaterias in town rounds out the afternoon.

Porcini and Arugula Salad, L'Antico Noè, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Porcini and Arugula Salad, L’Antico Noè

For dinner, seekers of local dining experiences will fall madly in love with l’Antico Noè, a traditional Tuscan trattoria housed in a former butcher’s shop and nestled underneath the Arco di San Pierino. Stacks of wooden crates overflowing with the freshest produce greet you as you enter the restaurant. When in season, try the shaved porcini mushroom salad with wild arugula, salty pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Indulge in the Florentine steak (bistecca alla Fiorentina) or homemade pasta, capped off with Authentic Tuscan Biscotti (cantuccini) dipped in vin santo.

Take a reprieve from your Florentine food fest and drop by Antica Cuoieria to admire the handcrafted leather and suede shoes in a myriad of brightly-colored hues. Florence is renowned for its leather goods, and the offerings here are of the finest quality. Spend an hour or two exploring the nearby boutiques on Via del Corso, which are exceptional.

All'Antico Vinaio, Florence, Italy

All’Antico Vinaio

With your appetite restored, head over to All’antico Vinaio, for what will possibly be one of the best sandwiches you will consume in your lifetime. Take the edge off the long line with a glass of Brunello from the self-serve wine bar. Once inside, select your preferred oven-fresh bread, and for 5 euros, a spirited young man will pile it high with your choice of Italian meats, cheeses and accoutrement like truffles, artichoke spread and roasted eggplant. Your mouthwatering creation is expertly wrapped in butcher paper for easy eating. Grab a seat and another glass of wine and watch the world go by.

Zeno and Edoardo Fioravanti, and Manuele Giovanelli, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina, Florence, Italy

Zeno and Edoardo Fioravanti, and Manuele Giovanelli, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina

Top off a day of sightseeing with a glass of Prosecco at one of Florence’s most lively wine bars, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. Owners Edoardo, Zeno and Manuele will regale you with their extensive knowledge of Italian varietals, and pour you curated selections of Chianti Classico, Brunello, and Barolo from local producers. An accompanying plate of farm fresh cheese and antipasti is the flawless finish to your Florentine food adventure.

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Taste of Italy: Authentic Tuscan Biscotti (Cantuccini)

Homemade Tuscan Biscotti, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Homemade Tuscan Biscotti, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Featured in Five Must-Try Food and Wine Experiences in Florence (And a Shopping Detour), biscotti — also known as cantuccini — are a traditional after-dinner dessert hailing from the Tuscan city of Prato.  Serve these twice-baked treats with vin santo (an Italian dessert wine) for dunking.

  • 3 cups of cake flower
  • 1 cup sugar + extra for sprinkling
  • 1 cup of whole almonds
  • 3 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg, beaten, for brushing
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely grated orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons vin santo

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place almonds on a cookie sheet and toast in oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove.  In a large bowl, mix the 3 whole eggs, 2 yolks, vin santo, 1 cup of sugar, orange zest and sea salt.  Add flour and baking powder gradually.  Kneed dough on a lightly floured surface and work in almonds.  Divide the dough into three parts and form each into a log (approx. 12″ x 1.5″). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.   Place logs well apart from each other, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes or until golden and slightly firm.  Cool for about 30 minutes on the baking sheet.  While still warm, transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut crosswise into 1/3-inch slices with a serrated knife.  Arrange on two parchment paper or baking mat-lined baking sheets, cut side down, and return to oven to bake for 25 minutes, turning once.  Cool and serve with vin santo.

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A Soul-Satisfying Sojourn to a Tuscan Kitchen

MezzalunaIn Italy, it is tradition to give a young woman a mezzaluna and a wooden cutting board when she marries. Once the board becomes worn and a hallow emerges after years of use in the kitchen, she is considered a skillful cook. The once flat cutting boards in the kitchens of the four Tuscan “mammas” who founded Tutti a Tavola look more like bowls these days. With the cooking skills they will teach you, and a few years of patience, you too will proudly display this trophy in your kitchen.

The mammas will welcome you into one of their rural farmhouses in the village of Castellini, Radda or Gaiole in the Chianti region of Tuscany, each offering an old-world setting for the rustic dishes they will teach you. In Mimma’s kitchen, the soft glow of the sun at the golden hour filters in through the kitchen window as she offers you a bubbly glass of Prosecco. A duo of crostini (garlicky Tuscan white bean, and spicy mortadella and ricotta) are quickly assembled and the first glasses of Chianti are poured. You quickly find yourself gathered around Mimma’s long wooden table, chopping onions and garlic while enjoying homespun stories. The menu focuses on straightforward Tuscan fare using the freshest local ingredients, like The Best Italian Lemon and Rosemary Chicken Ever, farfalle with caramelized leeks and tomatoes, pan-roasted zucchini, and tiramisu with farm fresh mascarpone.

For those with more time, the mammas will host you in one of their homes and take you under their wing for a two-day culinary experience. You will be in food-lovers utopia with an extra virgin olive oil tasting, a local market tour, a wine cellar visit and tasting, and hands-on afternoon cooking classes that roll into unforgettable dinners overflowing with laughter and camaraderie. There are few experiences in life more soul-filling than enjoying the company of new friends and superb food and wine as you dine al fresco overlooking the Chianti hillside.

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Taste of Tuscany: The Best Italian Lemon and Rosemary Chicken Ever


Italian Lemon and Rosemary Chicken, Chianti, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Don’t let the simple ingredient list fool you. As Mimma might say, this chicken keeps marriages together. Adapted from the Tutti a Tavola cookbook, and featured in A Soul-Satisfying Sojourn to a Tuscan Kitchen. Serve with oven roasted potatoes, sautéed zucchini and a glass of Chianti Classico.

  • 1 small chicken, whole
  • 2 tablespoons very finely minced lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons very finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tablespoons of sea salt
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 rosemary sprigs
  • lemons cut into large wedges (enough to almost overstuff the chicken)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Combine the lemon zest, minced rosemary leaves, sea salt and black pepper. Massage the chicken with the olive oil and the seasoned sea salt mixture. Stuff the chicken with the rosemary sprigs and lemon wedges (no need to truss). Place the chicken on the rack of a roasting pan and roast for 70 to 90 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced. Let rest before carving.

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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!

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