In our travels through the region we have enjoyed many memorable meals, recommended by, and often shared with, locals. When planning our most recent Bella Toscana tour we turned our eye to family farms whom open their doors to travelers. We wanted to get to the marrow of the Tuscan culinary experience, the local farm that eats only what it produces, and taste the fruits of their hard labor. After careful research and several conversations with owners we chose two to include on our itinerary.
The first, Fattoria Poggio Alloro, located about 5 km outside of San Gimignano, has been owned by multiple generations of the Fioroni family. GPS in Italy seems to be hit or miss and our unit decided that the coordinates we gave it were in the middle of a random field and the directions we had told us to be on the lookout for a small sign on the right of the road. The result was having to call for further directions. After our trek through the country side, we weren’t sure what to expect, imagine our surprise when we finally arrived and found quite a commercial, and much larger than expected, enterprise.
There was a large parking space with even larger buses awaiting the return of their passengers. Apparently lots of folks were seeking the same field to table experience as our small group. The farm was spread over many hectare below the hill on which the dining areas were set up. The hill also afforded us a spectacular view of San Gimignano, its towers majestically soaring above the verdant green of the vineyards and olive groves. The operation itself is a well oiled machine. We were greeted by Sarah, the daughter of the family, and led to our table. Sarah and her team were very aware of the bus tours and made every effort to ensure that small groups such as ours were not disturbed by the larger groups. We were seated at a small table at the edge of the terrace with the stunning view a very welcome distraction.
Our “light lunch” consisted of bruschetta, pasta, fresh green salad, cheeses, prosciutto, salami, red and white wine, and for dessert Vin Santo e cantuccini. Every one of these items, with the exception of the cheeses, were produced on the farm. The food was wonderful but the view was the star of the show.
Our second choice was a vastly different experience. Our pick for exploring the production of the famous pecorino di Pienza was far less commercial and much more agricultural in feel.
We chose Podere Il Casale, located almost exactly half way between Pienza and Montepulciano. While the signage for this location was no better than the first, our GPS seemed more up to the task on this particular day and we arrived with no complications. We were greeted by the resident peacocks and the unmistakable smell of a working farm. Lacking the polish of our earlier meal, we were immediately enamored of the rustic charm that Podere Il Casale possessed.
Owned and operated by Sandra and Ulisse and their many helping hands, the farm and the resulting food is laid bare to your analysis; there is no pretense here. Sandra was enthusiastic in her praise for the slow food movement and verbose on the topic of natural, seasonal and organic farming. She led us through a short tour of the cheese making operations before settling us at the edge of a terrace overlooking Pienza and the surrounding Val ‘Di Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
Lunch consisted of meats from their pigs, home baked bread from their grains, an amazing farro salad, pappardelle with boar ragu, house wines and chocolate cake and espresso for dessert. The star of the show, of course, was the wonderful assortment of cheeses. Fresh ricotta and Chianti aged Pecorino di Pienza, a cheese aged for more than a year in the musk left over from Chianti wine production, were joined by the more humble but equally delicious Pecorino di Pienze fresca and others.
When traveling through Tuscany, take a break from the obvious. There are hundreds of small, family run farms that welcome visitors for lunch. Many have simple wooden signs with an arrow and others are more elaborate, do a bit of research and step off of that beaten path and enjoy the authenticity that they offer.