San Miniato is a beautiful hilltop hamlet located along the Arno river surrounded by green hills, halfway between Florence and Pisa. As you probably know, it's world famous for its white truffle and proves a favourite Tuscan destination during the annual truffle fair in November. Actually, there is much more beyond this feast, especially for truffle and wine lovers. Here are 5 foodie tips to better enjoy this town (and its beautiful hills) all year round:
1. Go truffle huntingTruffles are fungi that grow underground, in symbiosis with the roots of trees. In San Miniato the famous white truffle is picked from September to December, but you can actually find truffles throughout the year: from November to March you can hunt black truffles; from January to April it’s time for the “marzuolo” variety, while "scorzone" is the name of the summer season truffle.
To find truffles you need a trained dog, a hunter (authorized by the local government) and a special tool similar to a small shovel called a "vanghetto". Since puppies, truffles dogs are trained to find the precious fungus. They are well rewarded when they discover a truffle, so that they learn not to eat it.
A hunting experience lets you enjoy a peaceful walk in the woods. Massimo Cucchiara, for example, organizes many kinds of truffle tours (from 1-hour hunting to full-day tours which combine cooking lessons and wine tasting). "Truffle hunting is an ancient tradition in Tuscany; it's not a job but a passion, and requires only one rule: respect for nature.”
2. Have a cooking class (with truffles)
After a morning hunting in the forest I met Letizia Cucchiara, owner at Cooking Tuscany cooking school, for an interesting cooking class (complete with lunch). Cooking with truffles is quite easy but you need to follow a few rules:
1. No matter what kind of truffle you have, it must be fresh. 2. Raw is better. Truffle needs only a little heat to release all its flavor. The best way to enjoy fresh raw truffles is to shave them onto your hot dish. As for quantity, typically use 8-10 grams of truffle per person.
3. Truffles are well suited to creamy textures. They work best with eggs, butter and cheese. 4. Not only savory dishes. You can create fancy desserts by adding, for example, a touch of shaved truffle to the cream that you serve with your waffles.
3. Taste wine along the Via Francigena
The famous Via Francigena passes through the hills where Pietro Becconcini grows his grape vines for the production of San Miniato reds, whites and Vin Santo. Among the local produce you can find a very special wine made with Tempranillo: a Spanish black grape variety grown to make full-bodied red wines in Spain. It’s said that seeds of Tempranillo were planted in this area many centuries ago.
In medieval times, the Francigena was the main connecting route between northern Europe and Rome, and one of the three major pilgrimages with the other two being the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the “Camino de Santiago”. San Miniato was an important religious place and a seat of a prestigious episcopal curia. Some priests were distributed throughout its territory and were in charge of supervising the farming operations. According to research, they probably planted the first grape seeds of Tempranillo in San Miniato.
4. Visit the historic butcher
If you visit the historic centre of San Miniato don't forget to stop at Falaschi butchery. Since 1925, they have been producing high-quality cold cuts, following the same rules and preparation methods handed down from generation to generation. Their products are exclusively handmade using pork meat of traditional swine reared on local farms.
5. Have dinner
San Miniato boasts excellent food producers and renowned chefs, so I suggest you stop at one of the many restaurants in town to taste some local specialties . Among the best restaurants in San Miniato Vetrina Toscana recommends:Antico Ristoro Le Colombaie - via Montanelli 5 Papaveri e Papere - via Dalmazia 159/d Podere del Grillo - via Serra, n. 3 Ristorante "Genovini" - via Balconevisi, 2 Ristorante Castelvecchio, Villa Sonnino - via Castelvecchio, 9 [Photo credits: Flavia Cori, Tuscany Social Media Team]