Italy is about the size of California. Tuscany is a region roughly the size of New Jersey and within Tuscany lies an area smaller than the City-County of Denver, which consists mostly of thick forests, along with rocky and hard-packed chalky soil that broke the backs of the sharecroppers who worked the land for the benefit of the barons in the hilltop castles during the past 10 centuries. Today those relatively few acres of unforested ground are planted with grapevines and olive trees which yield the limited and highly-prized twin treasures of Chianti Classico wine and extra virgin olive oil.
I write this article sitting outdoors under the Tuscan sun. I’m inside the familiar image of countless photos and watercolor paintings --- an undulating patchwork of reds, golds, and greens that comprise these hills. I can smell and hear and taste the view. The trees, green-black cypress like giant feathery candles, gnarled downy oaks, and stately umbrella pines that look like Bob Ross dabbed their broad canopy tops onto a blue canvas, are the dense forest habitat of deer, wolves and wild boar. Just behind me a walnut lands with a sharp smack, fallen from the branches above the stone terrace where I sit. Later I will gather some of these nuts and add them to the Porcini mushrooms and garlic with which we will dress our thick strands of homemade pici pasta tonight. The base for this sauce is the extra virgin olive oil pressed ten months ago from the hand-picked olives of these same silvery sage-green trees that surround our farmhouse. While we cook and with our meal, we savor a local wine. How wonderful it is to be here!
It might be hard to imagine a wide variety of interesting meals in a land of wine and olive oil. In reality, Chianti is also home to a small number of the white Chianina beef cattle which produced the now famous Steak Florentine. Our local butcher raises a breed of black pigs with a characteristic white “belt”, and he handcrafts some of the most exciting sausages, prosciutto and salami we have ever tasted. And porchetta, mamma mia! Slow-roasted piggie rolled up with wild fennel, juicy and tender, and the best part -- the crackling crisp skin. This is the land of Pecorino cheese, made from sheep’s milk, wrapped in fig leaves, flavored with black truffles, aged from months to years in cellars that themselves might be more than two millennia old. And speaking of cellars, let’s get to the wine. In my youth, Chianti was inexpensive, unimpressive wine that came in a groovy candle holder -- you know, that straw-covered bottle?
Fun fact: “Fiasco” is the name of it. The bottles long ago were all mouth-blown and
therefore round on the bottom. The straw basket was so they could stand up on the table.
Anyway, in the 1980’s the producers of the extremely tiny Chianti Classico area got together and decided to aim for quality over quantity. The vineyards and wineries are completely organic. There are strict limits on how many grapes can be grown and how the wine may be made, aged and bottled. Yet because of the soils, microclimates and winemakers’ talents, each wine has a unique personality and plays sublimely with the food.
Our Castles and Kitchens family returns to Tuscany as often as we can and many of our guests have heard our stories or sampled the dishes we have learned here. I think we are a little bit like the Chiantigiana people in this way: If you come to us, we are so excited to share with you what we have and what we are so proud of, because we know that you will love it as much as we do.
We would like to introduce Chianti and our Tuscan friends to you, our neighbors, who would enjoy a beautiful landscape, warm people and outstanding wine and food made with love. If you’d like even more, we offer history of ancient Etruscans, stories of medieval battles, the art and literature of the Renaissance, and the musical Italian language. Even our house has a story; the original structure was a grain mill built in the 11th century, converted in the 20th into a home with fabulous kitchens, and it is reserved for us for the month of October, 2019. So for every curiosity you have about olive oil, grape vines, wine, wild boar, castles, cooking, or if life here is really as sweet as you’ve heard, plus all the questions you don’t know you have yet, you can get your answer from the horse’s mouth. We invite you to spend a week -- cook with us, eat and drink Tuscany and live Italy. Contact us for details. firstname.lastname@example.org
Beefsteak Florentine (Serves 4)
This is only for people who eat beef rare to medium rare.
1 ¾” - 2 ½” Porterhouse or T-bone Steak of the best grass-fed and dry-aged (2 weeks) beef you can find.
Take from fridge 20 minutes before grilling. Pat dry. Do not season.
Make a charcoal fire and at its hottest, with rack close to coals, place the steak standing up on bottom bone for 2 minutes, then 3-5 minutes on each side (depend thickness). Rest on plate for 5 minutes. Season then with sea salt. Cut steak from the bone and slice across grain into ½” thick slices.