Culinary Tourism: Experience Authentic Tuscany through Slow Food

Slow Food is a global movement that recognizes the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture. Started by Carlo Petrini, of Italy, in the 1980’s, Slow Food International defends food traditions and a slow pace of life. Reviving the lost arts of home-grown and made-from-scratch connect a region to its heritage and culture.

 

Webster’s defines “authentic” as being true to one’s personality, spirit, or character. With that definition in hand, it makes perfect sense that a tasty food experience could lead to discovering the true character of a region.  The tourism industry started to embrace this fact in the late 1990’s. The United Nations tourism arm declares that:

By combining travel with these edible experiences, food tourism offers both locals and tourists alike an authentic “taste of place”.

                                                           *SOURCE: UNWTO Second Report on Gastronomy Tourism

The Tuscany region of Italy has become known for its culinary tourism opportunities. Tuscany has taken the experience of tasting new foods into a deeper educational realm.  Through learning about the culture of the cuisine, the people involved in producing and preparing it and the food system enabling access to those foods tourists become intimately knowledgeable about Tuscany.

 

 

Slow Food Travel

My father and I joined a group of Culinary Students from the College of DuPage on a cooking workshop to Tuscany Italy. For two weeks we were immersed in the food culture of this beautiful region. We stayed in a villa just up the hillside from Lucca. Wine vines and olive trees covered this incredible property.  We had complete access to the industrial-sized kitchen and renowned local chef Gian Carloluca Pardini.

Slow Food
Chef Gianluca Pardini showing us how to filet the fish we picked up at market that morning.

The mornings we spent in the kitchen under Chef Gianluca Pardini’s tutelage. By midday we were ready to partake of our creations. Several days we took side trips exploring the food culture of Tuscany. We experienced the Slow Food Movement at a grass roots level.  The wonderful people we met shared their heirloom ingredients and cooking traditions passed down for generations.

culinary tourism
Tasting our morning’s creations in the courtyard of the villa

 

 

Markets

Each day we bought local seasonal ingredients from the market. Chef Gianluca taught us to create with what was in season. This philosophy avoids purchasing mass-grown, out-of-season produce. Something lost on Americans who purchase hard tasteless tomatoes year round.

 

 

 

Vineyards

The picturesque landscape of Tuscany is famous for its vineyards of olive trees, fig trees, and wine grapes. We tasted wine, olive oil, olives and fresh figs across the countryside.

 

Tuscany
Tuscany!!!

 

The bottling truck travels around to the small family wineries near Lucca, Italy.

 

 

Our Local Hosts

The people of the region were in love with their life, their food and the opportunity to share it. They were gracious and generous hosts, welcoming us into their homes.

A sprawling sheep ranch
culinary tourism
The owner of this sheep ranch gave us a tour of her 17th century home. Then she served us fresh ricotta cheese and strawberries. I can still taste the joy.

 

These adorable ladies shared their stone-fired chestnut bread and their personal Chianti

 

 

Tradition in rural Italy is for 3 generations to share a home. The youngest live upstairs and the oldest on the ground floor. This family served us a picnic of fresh fish, fruits, honey and cheeses.
My Dad the historian loved meeting and sharing with our Italian hosts.

Cinque Terra

We had the opportunity to visit the Cinque Terra. It is easy to understand why this has become such a popular destinations for tourists.  These five quaint coastal villages appear to tumble into the Mediterranean. We spent several hours sitting and chatting with locals over food and wine.

Cinque Terra, the little fishing boats appeared ready to ski right out into the sea.
Yes there were some global politics being discussed
A special treat to end the evening with strawberries in Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.

Culinary Tourism

Culinary tourism can include cooking classes, meeting local food producers and chefs, or tasting unique ingredients. The Slow Food Movement has evolved to include the concepts of sustainability and  clean food. All of these give the visitor the chance to experience the culture and heritage of a region on an intimate and yet global level. My cooking skills have been forever changed from this trip. My observations of local cuisines are far more focused and inquisitive. For instance,  I would love to plan a follow-up that would explore the cuisine of the entire Mediterranean. Many of these countries use similar ingredients in vastly different styles. Why is that? A question for another trip…..

I prepared a whole fresh fish like this my first night home. My family had some doubts. LOL
cooking classes
Cooking in Tuscany

See our post of Travel Ideas: Culinary Tourism, for more ideas.

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