Florence Food Tour
As many of you know, Italy and Tuscany in particular is known for its love of food and great cuisine. This is very evident in its food markets and shops, big and small, which display local seasonal food to its plethora of eateries, whether they are called trattoria, osteria, ristorante, birreria, spaghetteria, pizzeria, tavola calda, rosticcerria, café, taverna—-seriously a bewildering series of names —not sure what the difference is.. what is consistent, is a love of good food.
So with this awareness of Tuscany, I had decided to seek out a cooking class. The website offered a lot of choices…eventually I landed on a tour offered by Walkabout Tours Florence https://www.walkaboutflorence.com/ . The tour offered a food tour through old Florence followed by a cooking lesion at a nearby Tuscan Farm House.
What a treat this turned out to be!!!! At 10 am on a Friday morning, 15 people met at the appointed meeting place. We met Elisa, our food and tour guide. My group consisted of visitors from Perth and Sydney Australia, Hong Kong, several cities across the USA (Denver, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina to name just a few), ranging in age from 20 to 60+. The group was friendly and eager for a great experience and Elisa was determined to give it to us.
Having collected we were off, following Elisa to discover Florence’s historical food market, visit the local baker, butchers and market stalls. Knowledgeable, Elisa shared with us a great deal of Florentine ‘food history’ , all while conversing with the local sellers as we purchased the ingredients that we would later need in our cooking class. On the journey Elisa and Frank ( one of my fellow travelers) loaded up food bags with local tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, pork loin, ground meat.
On the way, we learned that Florence was an important city in the wool trade in the middle ages given its location on the Arno River. Florentine merchants develop the first coin the Florin and the first bills of exchange –this enabled the merchants to pay debts without transporting cash and of course extend credit—hence the establishment of a robust banking system in Florence.
We learned that salt, used to preserve food in the days prior to refrigeration was also a ‘golden’ commodity and extremely expensive. The bread of Florence is not salted—yes it is quickly one of the things you notice, although I did not immediately twig onto that it tasted different because there is no salt in it. There are two stories as to why. The first is that salt was so heavily taxed, the people of Florence couldn’t afford to add it to their food and started to make unsalted bread and continue to do so to this day. The second story is that in the 12th century, Florence and Pisa were rival cities. The Pisan army blocked shipments of salt reaching Florence to force a surrender to Pisa. Florentines simply eliminated salt from their cooking and did not surrender. According to Elisa, a rivalry still exists today between the Florentines and Pisans.
We were introduced to the methods of selling wine in early Florence. The picture here is of Elisa telling us the history of the ‘wine tabernacle’. This small opening that you see ( most today are closed off, as the one in the picture) was just the right size for a bottle of wine to fit through. Locals would come to these small wine tabernacles- holes in the wall, and purchase their wine directly from the seller. A curious wine vending approach only found in Florence—they are called ‘tabernacle’ because they have a similar appearance to religious tabernacles also found on many a street corner. Deb a fellow traveller rather wished she could still purchase a bottle today.
A final stop was to a typical Florence coffee shop for our morning coffee. We were instructed in the varying forms of Italian Coffee, espresso, caffe normale, cappuccino, machiatto, caffe correto and so on( a latte, by the way in Italy is hot milk and has no coffee). There seems sot be a coffee drink in Italy for every time of day, need and mood. A caffe correto is drunk the morning after. It has a shot of liquor to set you to rights again..although another explanation was also given— that the Italians get up at the crack of dawn, labour in the fields and by mid morning need a shot of something in their coffee. Whatever it all seems to work. We also were advised there is no sitting with your morning coffe…the north American tradition sitting at the starbucks with your coffee and paper of computer, is NOT the way to drink coffee in Florence. And indeed I have yet to find anything resembling a starbucks type establishment.
Coffee is drunk standing up at a narrow counter, you drink it ( and as you know an espresso does not take long to consume) and you go! Coffee drinking Italian style!!
Armed with our purchases, coffee to sustain us we departed via mini bus to our Tuscan farm house.
My next blog will take you through our cooking experience.