It’s no surprise that Tuscany is one of Italy’s most popular regions, especially for the foodie aficionado. Tuscany is famous not just in Italy, but around the world, for its simplistic way of cooking. The region is well situated with the perfect climate for growing fruit and vegetables and farming (primarily) beef and pork. Its western coastline also provides a good supply of fish and seafood.
With such plentiful options, Tuscan cooking is all about taking good quality ingredients and doing as little to it as possible, ensuring the true flavours have a chance to shine. The cuisine stems from la cucina povera, the ‘kitchen of the poor’. Locals have always used basic ingredients to create what is now many of their iconic regional dishes over the years. Here’s our guide on how to eat like a local in Tuscany!
From the ocean
The fish and seafood quality from the Tyrrhenian Sea is top notch. The best fish soups and stews are found in places near the coastline, like the regional classic cacciucco. This tasty number is made with octopus, squid, mussels, monkfish, and clams – five types of seafood for every ‘c’ in its name! If you’re after something lighter, try calamari in zimino (calamari braised in a soffritto) or salted anchovies on some crusty bread.
From the farm
There’s no doubt that you would have heard of the famous Florentine steak – bistecca alla Fiorentina. The steak is from the local Chianina cattle, an ancient breed native to Tuscany. Cooked with the bone in over a grill, the end result is an extraordinarily juicy steak. Wild game is also popular in Tuscan cuisine, as is offal street food – making sure that no part of the animal goes to waste.
Cow and sheep milk is also used to produce some delicious regional cheeses. Pecorino della Garfagnana is a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, perfect for grating as a seasoning or into salads. On the other side of the cheesy spectrum, make sure you try boschetto al tarfuto. This is a semi-soft cheese made from a combination of cow and sheep milk and aged for up to 60 days. Served alongside some crusty bread and prosciutto, it’s taken to the next level with white truffle shavings throughout.
From the vines
Tuscany is home to some of Italy’s finest winemakers with more than half of its hillside vineyards planted with Sangiovese grapes. Full-bodied reds make up the bulk of production with Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano the most popular drops. If a red isn’t your wine of choice, that’s okay! Tuscany also produces several varieties of white wine including a delicious dessert wine called Vin Santo. Organic and natural wine growers are also becoming more prolific which only adds to the richness of Tuscan wine country.
From the garden
Tuscany lends itself to a variety of fruit and vegetables all grown in an ideal climate with rich soil. Take costoluto fiorentino for example – these beautiful heirloom tomatoes are popular amongst locals. At their ripest, they have an almost meaty texture which makes them perfect for rich tomato-based sauces or soups, or as thick slices in a fresh salad.
A sweet variety of chestnuts are also a favourite amongst locals. Marrone del Mugello are rich in flavour with a subtle hint of vanilla in every bite. While they can be enjoyed fresh, locals also like to ground the chestnuts into flour so it can be used in a myriad of savoury and sweet dishes.
From the oven
Bread is ingrained as part of the Tuscan diet. The irresistible scent of pane sciocco – fondly translated to ‘stupid bread’ because it’s baked without salt – can be smelt from the oven every morning in towns and villages. Locals then use it as crostini, in a panzanella salad, or in acquacotta (bread soup) …the list goes on!
For a sweet treat, we can’t look past a torta della nonna. While it is common throughout Italy, its roots lie firmly in Tuscany (although many still debate this)! A creamy lemon-scented custard is sandwiched between sweet pastry and topped with crunchy pine nuts. This is a true reflection of simple ingredients used to create a delicious combination of sweet and savoury.
Feeling hungry? The Cosmos Gourmet Tuscany tour is 8 days well-spent in this glorious region, taking you right to the heart of local kitchens, cafes and restaurants.