Tag Archives: Tuscany

You’re going truffle hunting?

As part of our City of Florence class, we’re each supposed to create some kind of final project that investigates a particular aspect of the city. The guidelines are pretty open to encourage us to take whatever direction we want, and projects in the past have ranged from cooking classes to interviews with the artist behind all the graffitied street signs in Florence.

Julia and I played around with several ideas, until I was browsing TripAdvisor one day and inspiration struck. A company offered Truffle Hunting Tours just outside of Florence, and for whatever reason, people were raving about their experience on the tour. I love the taste of truffles, and I was always curious how these mushrooms could be so expensive. In Florence, truffles show up quite frequently on restaurant menus when they’re in season, and the area of San Miniato just outside of the city holds a famous truffle fair every November. So why not see what this whole truffle business is about?

And so, we booked our tour and arrived in San Miniato on a Sunday morning after a short 30-minute train ride from Florence.

Our guide, Francesca, picked us up at the train station along with another couple from the Bay Area, and drove us to her family farm, Fattoria Collebrunacchi. We quickly met our truffle hunting dog for the day, a shaggy 7-month-old Lagotto Romagnolo named Ciocco.

We then headed out into the woods to let Ciocco do his job.

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It was such a beautiful day!

Once we got to the woods where truffles tend to grow, Ciocco began putting his nose to work.

Quickly, he found his first truffle. They grow just below the surface, so Ciocco would sniff out the scent then begin digging towards the truffle until Francesca distracted him with a biscuit.

Once Ciocco found one, he kept finding more and more––lucky for us, because it’s not always guaranteed that he’ll find them that day. March is just the right season to find Tuscany’s bianchetto truffles, which are smaller than the more expensive (and larger) Italian white truffle. Even right out of the ground you could already smell how it would taste! The dirt around it also smelled like truffles, full of spores that would hopefully then grow into another truffle later on.

Good dog!

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We ended up finding around 8 or so truffles before heading back through the Tuscan countryside.

Back at Fattoria Collebrunacchi, Francesca gave us a tour of her family’s farm, where they produce a wide variety of products: wine, grappa, olive oil, honey, and, of course, truffle products. Francesca and her mother do most of the work on the farm along with two other employees, and her father and brother help out on the weekends.

The farm sits around the ancient manor of the beautiful Villa Formichini. The Villa even has its own chapel, dedicated to San Jacopo al colle.

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We got to take a look at an old beehive.

They also had a small circular grove of trees, used for to keep birds for hunting. Different types of trees were planted in concentric rings: pine, oak, then hazelnut.

We also got a small tour inside the Villa as well!

Then it was time for our “tasting,” as the tour website had called it. In actuality, this “tasting” was quite the feast––first, a gigantic spread of antipasti! There was all types of prosciutto, sausage, cheese, and a wide variety of different types of crostini, with both white and black truffles.

Then, we got a heaping serving of pasta with truffle oil and gigantic shavings of the truffles we had just found in the forest before.

Afterwards, we got dessert! (And caffè, of course.)

Once we were done with our leisurely lunch––or, I mean, “tasting”––we had time to explore the grounds a bit more.

At the end, Francesca drove us back to the train station, where we said our farewells.

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In the end, truffle hunting could possibly be the best thing that I’ve done so far––when else can I stomp through the woods, find some mushrooms in the ground, then eat them in a gigantic lunch?

Until then, I’ll just keep on forging far from the well-beaten tourist path.

“Life is Beautiful” in Arezzo

 

Buongiorno, principessa!

In 1999, Life is Beautiful won big at the Oscars, taking home the awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Music, and Best Foreign Language Film. In addition, it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Film Editing at that year’s awards. Indeed, Life is Beautiful, or La vita è bella as it’s called in Italian, is a masterful film, combining comedy and tragedy to follow the story of a Jewish man who uses humor to have a wonderful romance, yet must use that same quality to protect his son during the Holocaust.

The beginning part of the movie is set in Arezzo, a town in Eastern Tuscany that often gets overshadowed by its more famous tourist destinations in the region. However, at one time, it was one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany, producing gold jewelry for shops all over Europe. Today, it’s well-known for the gigantic, sprawling antiques market, when over 500 vendors set up shop in the city for the first weekend of each month.

What kind of place is this? It’s beautiful: Pigeons fly, women all from the sky! I’m moving here!

Several weeks ago, the owner/artist of a recycled furniture shop recommended that Arezzo has the best market around, so we added it to our list of day trips for the semester. The night before, Julia, Liz, and I watched Life is Beautiful to prepare, before catching a train the next morning to the town along with Staci. And, needless to say, la vita è veramente bella when you get to spend in wandering alleys in a new town.

We wandered the streets, ducked into churches, browsed the hundreds of tents, and ate at a wonderful trattoria for lunch. What more could you want?

After an afternoon of walking around, we caught the train back to Florence and ate dinner in the city.

La vita è bella, no?

Benvenuti a Firenze

I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I signed up for this. And I mean that in the best way possible––I never imagined that on this Tuesday morning* I would be sitting in an high backed leather chair in a 100-year-old library, sipping my tea with a view of Florence and the Villa gardens. I savor these moments because they are accompanied with the scary realization that I don’t know when else I will be treated this well again. After you spend days wandering around the winding streets of Florence, is it only downhill from there?

Philosophical waxing aside, it’s been a whirlwind couple of days as I’ve settled in, adjusted to the effects of jet lag, and began classes for the semester. I’ll write more on that later, but first it’s time to recap how I got here.

I left San Francisco on an early 6 o’clock flight to Chicago on Wednesday morning, before connecting to my transatlantic flight to Frankfurt. Luckily, despite the weather woes that plagued most of the United States, I managed to make both of my connections. My flight in Chicago was delayed two hours––a nerve-wracking experience when your connection is only two hours to begin with––but we managed to make up enough time in the air so that I was able to reach my gate in Frankfurt with time to spare.

I finally arrived in Florence early on Thursday morning, after watching the sunrise over the peaks of the Alps. When the plane broke through the cloud cover to land in Florence, I was captivated by the rolling green hills and farmland of the Tuscany countryside. So this is it, I thought to myself.

I collected my luggage and got a taxi to Fiesole by myself, as the two others who were supposed to have been on my flight had been delayed elsewhere. The taxi driver raced up the winding road to Fiesole, which lies on a hill above the city of Florence. He’d repeatedly accelerate madly to try to make a green light, then laugh and look in the rearview mirror to see my reaction. “Vroom, vroom,” he laughed at me, as we sped through a narrow one-way alley. I nervously laughed and gripped the side of the car.

Finally, we arrived at Villa le Balze itself, whose name literally means “Villa of the Cliffs” after the cliffs it is situated on.

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Street view of Villa le Balze

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After arriving, I met the Villa staff, processed some paperwork for my permit to stay in Italy, and got a tour around the grounds themselves. Exhausted, I then promptly fell asleep as I waited for the others to arrive.

Around lunch time, I met Taylor, who will also be doing a home stay this semester. (There are only three of us out of the group of 14.) After having some lunch, we decided to explore the gardens. Of course, my camera was in tow:

Afterwards, we decided to walk further up the hill towards Fiesole, where we heard there was a fantastic lookout. And indeed, there was:

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At dinner, we had our first group meal in the dining hall as everyone struggled to stay awake after days of travel.

For me, it’s strange to be embarking on this whole experience of study abroad once again––thrown into a whole new group of people after I had been so accustomed to other eight with whom I lived, studied, and traveled in Turkey. Once more, I’m living amidst unfamiliarity, with a group, a country, and a language that I don’t quite know. But at the same time, it’s exciting to embrace this change one more time.

Ciao!

* At the time I’m posting this, it’s currently Thursday evening. Unfortunately (and fortunately), it can be hard to find time to figure out how to upload all the photos to WordPress when one’s days are filled with class and afternoons are filled with exploring Florence by foot.