FOOD, WINE AND COOKING LESSONS

The best traditional Tuscan food and wine in Florence

Tuscany is famed for its excellent food with roots deep in its history, and for producing wines famed worldwide.
Tuscany may be the region of Italy in which its cuisine most intricately bound its culture and tradition. You can't say that you've had a full Tuscan experience if you didn't try at least a few of its specialties.

Traditional dishes

Florentine steak: This is one of the most famous dishes in Tuscan cuisine, grilled "bloody rare." Made of Chianina beef with a T-shaped bone in the middle (hence the English name T-bone steak) with the fillet on one side and the sirloin on the other. The history of Florentine steak is at least as old as the city itself. Its name is tied to celebrations of the feast of St. Lawrence and the Medici family. For the feast of St. Lawrence on August 10, Florence was lit up by big bonfires on which great amounts of beef were roasted and given out to the people. At the time of the Medici, Florence was a major crossroads where travelers could meet from all over the world. It is said that at a feast of St. Lawrence, seven English knights were present and were given roasted meat from the fire. They called it "beef steak" referring to the type of meat that they were eating, which they say is the origin of the current Italian word bistecca.

Salami, coccoli and crostini boards: No Florentine table can be without our famous chicken liver crostini, a mixture of chicken liver, butter, capers, anchovies, onion, and broth, spread on warm bread. Traditional local cold cuts include finocchiona (a sausage like salami but flavored with fennel seeds), Tuscan salami, and prosciutto. All are accompanied by delicious coccoli (round pieces of fried bread dough).

Cantuccini: Dry almond cookies from the Tuscan tradition, to be enjoyed with a sweet wine liqueur called "vin santo."

Panzanella: Stale bread soaked in water and vinegar and flavored with onions, cucumbers and other vegetables, all raw. This is a popular summer dish among farmer families, who put their stale bread and garden herbs to good use.

Pappa al pomodoro: The star dish of "humble" Tuscan cuisine from the farming tradition. This dish is also based on stale homemade Tuscan bread (unsalted) with tomatoes, garlic cloves, basil, extra virgin Tuscan olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Ribollita: A traditional "humble" dish of peasant origins, its name — literally "reboiled" — is because farmers' wives cooked large amounts of it and then "re-boiled" it in a pan the following days. This winter dish's main ingredients are Tuscan black kale and beans.

Florentine street food

Tuscan cuisine is based on simplicity and offers a wide selection of “on the road” options. “Il Pollini” (via de'Macci corner with Borgo la Croce) is definitely one of Florence's most famous tripe stands, with years of serving lampredotto and tripe with an extra helping of good humor. Another famous tripe stand is in the San Lorenzo area is “Lupen & Margo” (via dell' Ariento - stand n. 75) which also serves tripe and lampredotto. At the Mercato del Porcellino, there is “Orazio” (piazza Del Mercato Nuovo corner with via Capaccio) serving prosciutto and other cold cuts in addition to tripe and lampredotto. By the Duomo, "Fiaschetteria Nuvoli" (piazza dell'Olio, 15/R) serves sandwiches and crostini to go with a classic pre-dinner drink to rediscover the flavors of Florence. In via dei Neri, 74/R, don't miss "All’Antico Vinaio," a local sandwich shop serving traditional foods with excellent flat brad and glasses of wine. Also noteworthy: “La Prosciutteria” (via dei Neri, 54/R) which shares the same style and the same street. By Ponte Vecchio, in via dei Georgofili, 3R/7R, is "Ino", a neo-modern sandwich shop cordially serving top-notch food. And if you're in the mood for fish, Florence's only fish & chips shop is on the ground floor of the Mercato Centrale, called “L’ultima spiaggia” (inside Mecato di S. Lorenzo stand # 3) with a variety of fried fish. Then head to the luxury delicatessen “Alimentari Mariano” (via del Parione, 19) with a great variety of wines to sip with top-quality Florentine sandwiches.

Tuscan wines

Between Florence and Siena are the famed hills of Chianti with its vineyards predominantly of Sangiovese and Merlot grapes. This is the reign of Chianti Classico A pleasant, not too heavy wine, made from Sangiovese grapes (at least 80%). Among the many excellent labels, we'd mention Principe Corsini from San Casciano in Val di Pesa, making a "soft" Chianti Classico and the more full-bodied Riserva Don Tommaso, both of which pair perfectly with Florentine steak.

Another label in Chianti, Panzano to be exact, is Livon, a winemaker with Friuli origins that "emigrated" to Tuscany because of its love for this land. It makes a fabulous Chianti Classico called Borgo Salcetino. The Livon family's passion for wine can be tasted in every sip.

In addition to Chianti Classico, the Super Tuscans are also made here. As they are not bound to specific blend rules, they mostly make more full-bodied wines, often cask-aged, and then aged for months or years in the bottle before being put on the market.

The first and best-known Super Tuscan is Tignanello (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc) from the Marchesi Antinori. It is the first Sangiovese aged in barrels with varieties not traditional for the hills of Chianti. Another Super Tuscan from the Antinori family, also grown in Chianti Classico, is Solaia, a wine that is both elegant and austere, expressing the qualities of its land of origin.

Another major label is Siepi, a Super Tuscan from the Chianti Classico area, from the Marchesi Mazzei winery.

San Gimignano is home to the vineyards of the famed Vernaccia, wine, the most important white of these areas, made since the early 13th century. Dishes made with saffron (also made in this part of Tuscan) go perfectly with this wine.

Moving from Siena to southern Tuscany, we come to the medieval village of Montalcino and its noble Brunello, a robust, warm, and well-orchestrated wine is made of 100% Sangiovese grapes, specifically Sangiovese Grosso ("fat") grapes. It is excellent enjoyed with local specialties, such as wild boar salami. To mention some of the many wineries making Brunello: Biondi Santi, Le Chiuse and Castello di Banfi.

The Tuscan wines made in Livorno are world-famed, especially Bolgheri. A few of the best known are Sassicaia della Tenuta San Guido, based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the wines of Ornellaia and Masseto, Guado al Tasso, Le Macchiole, Grattamacco, and Michele Satta.

In Florence, the Enoteca Alessi wine shop (via delle Oche 27/29/31 R) reserves a special place for Tuscan wines, carrying about twenty labels from wineries in Chianti Classico and about 30 labels of Brunello di Montalcino.

Historical Cafés

Paszkowski and Gilli (both located in Piazza della Repubblica), or Rivoire (Piazza della Signoria) have become full-fledged Florentine institutions. You can't pass up a coffee or a thick hot chocolate in one of these famed cafés.

Giacosa (via della Spada, 10/R): fine chocolate creations from Roberto Cavalli.

Caffè Florian (via del Parione, 32/R): this great cafe' has a retro atmosphere and puts on contemporary visual art exhibitions. They serve excellent cocktails to enjoy a drink in the heart of Florence, yet away from the hubbub. It's the twin sister to the older, famed Florian in Venice.

Rinascente Bar (piazza della Repubblica, 1): not historical, this café is on the top floor of the La Rinascente department store. It is well worth a visit to enjoy the view from the scenic roof terrace and is the perfect spot to have a quick lunch, snack, or just stop for a breather.

Bar degli Uffizi (piazzale degli Uffizi, 6): inside the Uffizi museum, this café affords a beautiful view of Piazza della Signoria.

Gelato and Florence

Gelato plays a key role in Florence's history. In the 16th century, a man named Ruggeri, a Florentine poultry seller, who liked to cook as a hobby, took part in a competition put on by the Medici between the best chefs of Tuscany for the "most original dish ever seen." His "sorbet" ended up winning over all the judges and he and his recipe gained instant great fame.

Also in 16th-century Florence, Bernardo Buontalenti, a famous architect, sculptor, and painter, who also loved cooking, was asked to prepare lavish banquets. His delicious zabaglione cream and fruit were an enormous hit, the start of the famous "crema fiorentina" and “gelato buontalenti” still around to be enjoyed in all of Florence's top gelato spots.

Venchi (via dei Calzaiuoli, 65/R): a gelato made with select ingredients, like hazelnut (exclusively from I.G.P. Piedmont hazelnuts) and the famous "Venchi" chocolate they make themselves.

Vivoli (via dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7/R): Florence's oldest gelateria, featuring sophisticated combinations as well as gluten-free options.

Dei Neri (via dei Neri, 9/11): a great variety of flavors, including some original ones, and gelato-based creative pastries.

La Carraia (piazza Nazario Sauro, 25/R): a secret, exclusive recipe, all natural, makes its gelato one of Florence's most famous.

Grom (via del Campanile, 2): fresh fruit only, from the farm of the owner, uses no dyes, flavorings, preservatives, or emulsifiers for a gelato like "the days of yore."

Shops specialized in local food

-Eataly (via dei Martelli, 22): an international chain of markets devoted to traditional Italian food. Right by the Duomo, Eataly is the perfect place to buy top traditional Italian foods. Plus, you can also stop and take a break and enjoy the diverse flavors served in its restaurants. Slow Food is "on the menu" with its restaurants serving fish, pasta and meat, open for lunch and dinner along with an excellent selection of wine and beer.

- San Lorenzo Market (piazza del Mercato Centrale dell'Ariento/via dell'Ariento): a quick eat and quality cuisine. A perfect spot to try local foods any time from breakfast to dinner. A laid-back meeting place open from 10:00 am until 00:01. In addition to delicious Chianina hamburgers, there are a variety of cold cuts and meat selections from the local tradition, or try some fresh fish and pizzas, choosing from a wide selection of wines.

- Procacci (via de’ Tornabuoni, 64/R): founded in 1885 Procacci quickly became acclaimed among Florentines, especially for its culinary specialties with truffles and its famous sandwiches. It is considered one of Florence's oldest delicatessens and a favorite meeting place for Florentines. Right in the heart of Florence, on its famed Via Tornabuoni, its interior decor maintains its early 20th-century furnishings.

- Falorni (via Matteo Palmieri, 35): the Falorni family has been delighting Tuscans with its specialties and traditional local food for more than nine generations. In a space that not only sells cold cuts, hams, and variety of sausages, you can also eat dishes prepared on site. Macelleria Falorni is open every day from, without closing, and is right in the historic center.

COOKING CLASSES

A trip to Florence is a chance to try the classic local dishes that make it one of the top gourmet destinations in the world...so how about taking a cooking class so when you go home you can treat yourself to some of the experiences and flavors of Tuscany? There are a great variety of schools organizing cooking classes, ranging from simple and inexpensive to Michelin Star classes.

MamaFlorence (viale Francesco Petrarca, 12)  organizes cooking classes for all tastes and preferences, from vegetarian dishes to pizza, meat pasta, and includes creative and classic cooking styles. The classes are taught by famous chefs, some with Michelin stars, like Valeria Piccini and Luciano Zazzeri. MamaFlorence also organizes wine and craft beer tastings, kids' classes and gluten-free cooking classes.

La Cucina Lorenzo de’ Medici (inside Mercato Centrale - piazza del Mercato Centrale on the first floor) is located in the prestigious, innovative Mercato Centrale, making it in close touch with fresh ingredients and farmers. Professional chefs teach the classes in a high-tech kitchen, equipped with innovative tools, tablets for each student to directly write down the teacher's instructions, recorded by a dome video camera. Deep knowledge about ingredients and the chef's professionalism make for a complete learning experience. Covering everything from preparation to plate presentation, students enjoy the meal cooked around the chef's table in a laid-back atmosphere, to discuss the results together.

Desinare at Riccardo Berthel (via dei serragli 234/R)  an exclusive location and top professionalism are the key features of this cooking school. Pastry and dessert classes are organized with master pastry chefs for devotees and newbie food lovers, plus table image classes, to improve your personal cooking and food style, including "Food Photography" and "Table Design" classes. Morning classes are targeted at visitors who want the full experience, starting from finding and choosing ingredients in neighborhood shops and markets and then "hands on" making recipes, and ending by enjoying what they cooked.

Caf Tours organizes cooking classes in a warm, friendly atmosphere, supervised by expert chefs who teach aspiring cooks how to make homemade pasta (stuffed or not), or how to make a complete meal (appetizer, first course, main course, and dessert) and serve it with the right wine.

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