Today was, to say the least, a dream come to life. I had booked a "Tuscan Farmhouse Experience" tour with the company that we used for our Rome Tours (Walks of Italy), and could not have been more pleased with my afternoon.
I took the train from Firenze SMN to Chiusi-Chianciano, which is on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. This was about two hours away by regional train. The station in Chiusi is wicked tiny, so finding my "person" wasn't too difficult. Alina Pinelli, the daughter of the owner of the farmhouse, was there to pick me up and drive me to the villa. She warmly greeted me and before I knew it, we were zipping through the country to end up at the most beautiful farm I've ever seen. The name of the villa is Il Fontanaro, and it is in the town of Paciano. If you are looking for a villa to rent on a Tuscan vacation, you'd be crazy to go anywhere but here.
As it turned out, I was the only person signed up for the cooking portion of the tour, so I got a one-on-one lesson in organic Italian cooking! Not being a cook AT ALL (just ask anyone who has lived with me), this was an amazing experience and it actually took away a lot of the "fear" that I have of cooking. Lucia, the owner of the farm and villa, made me feel comfortable and at home right away. She introduced me to some of her other guests (very nice people from LA and Boston) and brought us to the olive oil and honey mill, where the farm actually makes their own products, bottles, and sells it. She was smiling the whole time, and so passionately talking about what she and her family do at the farm. She says that they work extremely hard, doing a LOT of manual labor, but enjoy every moment about it. They only put out the best product possible, even if it means losing a little bit of oil in the process. She showed us pictures of her family in the olive groves and beehives, smiling as they were working.
Then, it was me-time in the kitchen with Lucia. First, we made the traditional Italian fruitcake. She had picked about 10 fresh apricots from her farm, and told me how happy she was that I was there today because the apricots only last for about fifteen days of the whole entire season. I tried one, and it was better than any candy I've ever had. Sweet is not even the word for it. She pitted the apricots, splashed olive oil in the pan, and sprinkled brown sugar all over. We let it sit for later, because we had to make the batter for the top. Then, it was time to make the lunch. She was amazing- just picked a handful of fresh tomatoes, eggplant, onion, and basil for the fresh sauce. She had me chopping onions and sampling everything as we went through. We made ravioli from scratch, and filled them with fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, along with fresh herbs. Lucia was extremely helpful and complimented my "work" very much as we cooked together. The smells, tastes, and good company were exactly what I needed today. She made an incredibly tasty filet on a bed of rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and basil, and it came out bursting with flavor. We all sat down to lunch together and had a wonderful time. I felt like I had known them for years.
I had just enough time to go in the infinity pool for a while, where I spent some time soaking in the sun (without sweating through my clothes) and visiting with her other guests. I met someone who lives on the Back Bay/South End line, so it was totally awesome talking to him about Boston and our favorite haunts.
I finished my swim, and we ended our visit by eating our amazing apricot fruitcake with some vanilla gelato. I couldn't have been happier with my day, and for sure, this will be one of my favorite memories of this trip. Lucia is a lover of opera, and she may even give me some information as to how to see a performance or two. She even offered to pick me up from the train and go along with me. That, my friends, is true Italian hospitality.
For more information about Il Fontanaro, you can visit the following sites: