I (Rob) recently had the opportunity to take a gastronomic tour of Florence, directed by Florence Tasting. Having lived here for two years my knowledge of the city, restaurants and markets of Florence is solid, but not expert. Thus, I went on the tour as a sort of Sophomore with a chip on my shoulder, not willing to be impressed easily, but hoping for something memorable. Predictibly, I was put in my gastronomic seat right away.
Here's what happened on our Florence food tour...
Florence Food Tour: First Stop, Coffee
Our first stop was Chiaroscuro, a coffee shop that is well-loved by locals and local expats alike. My first thought was that at the very least I would get a good espresso. However I was very pleased to get a lesson in espresso from the caffe owner, Massimo. Massimo is dedicated to serving good coffee and his dedication shone through in the morning's coffee lesson. The lesson began with tastings of two types of roasted beans Arabica and Robusta. Having tasted the different flavors of the beans we tasted them each as espresso. Massimo told us that each cafe blends Arabica and Robusta in different proportions, which accounts for the differences in flavor from location to location. After the espresso and the discussion on blends, we had a cappuccino to see how milk changes the coffee's flavor. Looking back on it, I enjoyed all of the flavors, but what I really came away with is a much better understanding of the different kinds of coffee grounds that are available in stores here and the U.S.
By the way, if you're counting, that's three shots of espresso in about an hour. Add this to the one I had at home and by the time we left Chiaroscuro I was very enthaustic about our next stop.
Florence Food Tour: Next up...truffles.
Next on our tour was a stop at Procacci, the famous truffle sellers here in Florence. Procacci is probably best described as an institution. It's been around since 1885, it's on via Tornabuoni and it's possibly the only place around that sells almost nothing but truffles. That said, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that truffle sandwiches were on the menu that day. Truthfully, I'm not a truffle lover. Plenty of my friends are, but I've never developed the taste. So it was with great pleasure that I handed over my truffle sandwich to Tommaso, of previous fame. Tommaso tells me it was fantastic. A Florentine's endorsement is enough for me to say it was great.
Florence Food Tour: Wine and Cheese
After the truffles we sampled more typical Tuscan fare at La Divina Enoteca. Here, I had my eyes opened. The first tasting was a white wine paired with a slice of pecorino cheese topped by grappa & pear jam. I like all of these things - save the white wine - separately, but would I like them together? The answer is yes, a lot. I never choose white wine but this white, from I Veroni, was great and I plan to have Kate recreate the cheese & jam combo for dinner one night. The other pairings were great - reds with Tuscan meats - and while I would usually remember them I left the enoteca thinking that I should re-consider my position on white wine and cheese pairings. Or, more accurately, form an opinion on white wine and cheese pairings.
Florence Food Tour: To Market, To Market
The next stop was, I'm sure, a group favorite: the central market. Any good Florence food tour needs to feature a stop at one of the city's food markets, and the central market didn't disappoint. Our guide had us sample bread, cheese, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and vin santo. All of the food was fantastic and by the end of the central market portion of the tour I had finally eaten enough to overcome all of the caffeine from earlier.
Florence Food Tour: Gelato Time!
The last stop on the tour was Le Parigine, a great gelateria not far from the Duomo. Everything they serve is made fresh that day and is fantastic. Typically, I couldn't decide on one flavor, so I combined coffee and cream, because I hadn't had enough coffee flavor in my day yet.
I would recommend the tour without hesitation. I think it is a great way for anyone who wants to experience Italian/Tuscan culture both through food and by meeting the owners of the stores we visited. Our guide took us on an easy walk through famous and less-often-traveled areas of the city. While we were out I couldn't help but notice that the tourists on our Florence food tour were experiencing Italy in a way they probably wouldn't have without Florence Tasting. It's a nice way to get out of museums and into the city life. I highly recommend it!
To learn more about Florence Tasting, visit: www.florencetasting.com