Happy not Monday! We are back in L.A. after 24 hours of traveling to get home (which, oddly enough, wasn’t as bad as it sounds). And there is MORE I want to tell you about Florence.
But FIRST… you must tune in TONIGHT to One Big Happy Family on TLC at 10 pm ET/PT to watch the Coles family continue their weight loss adventure. (Hubba Bubba is Executive Producer so look for his credit!) And speaking of weight loss adventures (har har)…
Back to Florence. My friend Mark Marinaccio, who is really smart and funny and cool (Hi, Mark) left a comment on the blog the other day telling us to check out www.tasteflorence.com. We did, and we signed up for a tour the next day. Let me tell you something. If you ever go to Florence and you love food, you must do this tour. The tour company is run by an American woman who lives in Florence and wanted to show tourists the way that Italians really eat. It’s not hard to see that the Italians don’t flock to the touristy spots so readily available along the main thoroughfares; it is hard, however, to figure out where they do go. Taste Florence tells you. They keep it small, allowing only 9 people per tour. We got extra lucky and it was just the two of us, one other couple, and the tour guide.
Our first stop was a little store called Forno (which is Italian for “oven”) where we sampled schiacciate ripiene, which is basically a flat piece of bread stuffed with something delicious — in our case, cheese and ham. Since I am unafraid to sound like a total redneck, I would liken it to the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had. We quickly realized that this tour was no joke.
Next we headed to a fabulous little bakery…
I am really bad, y’all. I can’t remember what they were called, but they were ah-mazing. Filled with custard and surrounded with the loveliest, crunchy puff pastry, each bite does this nice little dance on your palate before melting away. Toni, the genius who started Taste Florence, will be reading this blog entry… Toni, maybe you can leave a comment and tell us what these are called?
And then we took a little walk down the block till we got here.
This is the market where real live Italians do their shopping.
I’m pretty sure it’s the inspiration for Reading Terminal Market, for all you Philadelphians. Here we sampled some boiled beef that was fabulous.
We had a choice between beef or tripe (which is cow’s stomach lining). How I wish I were one of those brave souls who enjoy offal. But… I chose beef. And it was fantastic. Then we visited the gentleman who sells the beef. Here is his marketing sign:
Basically it translates to, “Eating boiled beef makes for good sex.” You should see his business card. I took a photo of it, but since my mother reads this, I won’t show it.
We continued to wind around the market…
… until we arrived at Conti, where they sell beautiful produce.
Conti is where we did a balsamic vinegar tasting and an olive oil tasting, which was super fun and very informative. Kentuckians, you can liken balsamic vinegar to bourbon: strict stipulations define it, there are wooden barrels involved, and when you get the REAL stuff, it’s delicious.
Our tour guide also threw a few other delectable morsels our way — including these cheese samples paired with various condiments, ranging from the sweet (pear) to the savory (onion) — and some artichoke spread and tomato truffle spread.
That Tuscan bread you see hosting the olive oil and the spreads is totally unsalted, btw. Back in the day, salt became so expensive, the Tuscans gave it the finger and decided to make their bread without salt. That’s just how they roll.
Then we rolled over to a gelateria called Perche No! (“Why not!”) that remained opened throughout World War II, when ingredients were hard to come by, especially for a non-essential such as gelato. We only got to sample 8 different kinds of gelato, so Mike and I went back later for more. Obvi.
Our final stop on the tour (sniff sniff) was this snazzy little wine shop.
Here our guide taught us that Prosecco whets the appetite by making you salivate (which is why restaurants like to give you a complimentary glass when you walk in the door), while drier reds do the opposite and pair nicely with meats. We learned a lot more too… all about the laws that have been passed to guarantee various wines, why older generations look down their noses at chianti, and that Italian wines are not named by grape varietal (as in California) or by region (as in France). It’s a little bit more loosey goosey. Anyway, it was FUN, and our guide had this nifty little device:
It aerates the wine and pours out a perfect tasting amount. I want one.
And of course there was more food. Bruschetta in the foreground, and fennel salami in the background.
After four hours of continuous tasting, the fabulous Taste Florence tour was concluded. Our guide patiently answered all of our questions (both relevant and random), and graciously offered to make us dinner reservations at a recommended restaurant. Seriously, if you are ever in Florence, sign up for this! I should add that there was no bartering involved here. We paid full-price for the tour and were so glad we went!
Many thanks to Toni, who started Taste Florence, and Christine, our tour guide.
I’m getting back in the kitchen soon, I promise. And I’m thinking about cake…