Travel

A gastronomic tour of Pistoia, Tuscany

16th September 2013

After an intense few months of non-stop working, I am finally getting round to sharing photos from my trip to Tuscany in May. I wonder where the summer has gone, as it feels like yesterday that I was travelling around the beautiful Italian region, tasting delicious wine and local food specialties.

One of the highlights of my holiday was the day spent in Pistoia meeting food producers with tour guide Michela Ricciarelli of Passion 4 Tuscany. I discovered Michela through another blogger and asked her if she was available to guide me on a food tour of Pistoia, her native town.

In the weeks leading to my trip, Michela sent me loads of ideas of foodie things to do – not only in Pistoia, but in general about Tuscany. She is an incredible resource for anything related to Tuscan food, drinks and fashion, so make sure to get in touch with her if you are looking for “the real Tuscan experience”!

We started the day early to visit Maria Tondini at her house on the hills outside Pistoia, where every day she produces Pecorino a Latte Crudo (made with cold milk).

Maria’s 23-year old nephew has joined the family business and works with her full time to look after the black Massese sheeps, milk them every morning at 6am, make the cheese and deliver it to the shops in town.

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It was fascinating meeting Maria and her nephew and watching them prepare the Pecorino in front of our eyes, using only raw sheep’s milk and rennet.

They started by heating the milk to 35-38 °C and when the curd was formed (after about 30 minutes), they broke it into pieces and with their hands squeezed the whey out. Round plastic moulds were filled with the cottage cheese and moved to a refrigerated room to set. The day after production, the Pecorino is removed from the moulds, salted and stored on wooden planks to age for at least two weeks (and up to two months). The cheese is washed and brushed before being sold and eaten.

Our next stop was the roastery of Caffè New York in Pistoia. They started as a small family-run business in 1930 with only a roasting machine at the back on a coffee shop in Montecatini Terme. They have grown steadily over the decades and now they have a roasting plant distributing coffee all over Tuscany and abroad. The company is still run by the same family.

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I have seen coffee being hand-roasted in London and I also visited the Lavazza plant in Turin , where they worked on such volumes that the whole process had to be automated. Caffè New York stands in the middle between small independent roasters and big coffee brands: the roasting process is controlled via computers, but the beans are closely monitored by the staff at every step.

We had a tour of the roastery and the office, where we tasted a delicious espresso and ginseng coffee espresso.

Caffè New York produces different blends for bar and home use as well as fair trade organic coffee blends.

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Around lunch time we drove back to Pistoia, just in time to quickly visit the weekly market in the city centre.

Pistoia is a small and beautiful town, quintessentially Tuscan, but often overlooked by tourists in favour of the more famous destinations of the region. Pistoia has retained its authenticity and is not crowded with tourists, tour guides and souvenirs’ shops. It’s authentic and real.

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For lunch we shared a fantastic spread of charcuterie and cheese and for the first time I tasted coccoli (fried bread balls) with Buffalo Stracciatella and Parma Ham. Delicious!

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After lunch we drove out of town to visit Le Poggiola, a 20-hectare farmhouse (agriturismo) at Serravalle, just outside Pistoia. We arrived in time to watch Lisa, the owner of the farm, baking traditional Tuscan biscotti Cantucci in her kitchen.

Having a big passion for baking, I was very excited to listen to Lisa explain the recipe step-by-step and watch her preparing the cookie dough. We then toured the farmhouse while waiting for the biscuits to be baked.

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Le Poggiola use organic farming methods to produce DOCG Chianti wine, white wine, red wine and IGT Tuscan rosé wine, dessert wine, extra virgin olive oil. In summer, they also grow organic vegetables and fruits, which they use when cooking for the farmhouse guests.

We toured the vineyards and olive tree cultivation, learned about the production of wine and olive oil and admired the vast selection of aromatic plants.

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Le Poggiola offers apartments and rooms to rent for holidays; it’s in a perfect location for a week-long Tuscan holiday, as Pistoia is very close to Florence (and the airport), Pisa, Lucca and the coast. The apartment come with use of the kitchen, but if you don’t feel like cooking yourself, Lisa will prepare a fantastic dinner for you and your friends. When I visited the agriturismo, there was a large group of British guests celebrating a birthday and Lisa was busy cooking for them.

Before leaving the farm, we toasted with locally produced Vin Santo, dipping in the freshly baked cantucci: it was the perfect Tuscan experience!

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Huge thanks to Michela and all the producers who opened their homes and offices to me and my parents. We had a fantastic day discovering Pistoia and learning lots of things about coffee, cheese, wine and oil production.

If you are planning a holiday in Tuscany, don’t forget to add Pistoia to your itinerary!

PS: I’m going to share more posts on Tuscany, Florence and the beautiful towns of the Chianti region, so stay tuned!

 

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