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July 6, 2012

A MAGICAL DAY IN THE TUSCAN COUNTRYSIDE

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I am so excited about all of our new Culinary Discovery Tours; some of the experiences we have had have been truly magical. Such was the case on a recent tour in Livorno. Because it was a Sunday and the market was closed, we boarded our bus and headed to the Torre a Cenaia winery in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. As we approached the winery on a gravel driveway lined with cypress trees, it was clear this was a very special place. I felt like I was on a Merchant Ivory movie set! 

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The first stop was the quaint winery and cellars, which were impeccably kept. We were shown an oxygen release system on the old barrels that we were told was invented by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. The Pitti family has been making red, white and rosé wines for centuries, and the primary grape is the Sangiovese – my personal favorite of this region of Italy. In one part of the cellar, the private reserve bottles were stored in a unique triangular pattern. We wondered if it was for theft prevention, like oranges at the market – if you take the wrong one, the whole display comes apart!

 

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L1040524After a half hour in the winery, we were treated to a carriage ride behind a two-in-hand team of beautiful draft horses. There were 24 of us, so we divided into two groups, and two carriages took us to the stone field house where we would have our cooking classes and lunch.

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As we approached the little stone house, we could see it was set for our meal – so inviting and lovely. Tables were set in the middle of a field of wildflowers and tall cypress trees, like a Tuscan painting. The house had been converted to an open-air kitchen, complete with a large working table and a wood-fired oven.

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Our host, Chef David, was well prepared to begin his first dish, a focaccia made with olive oil and farina.
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He asked for help from our guests, who were happy to dive right in.

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After a good dousing with olive oil the dough went into the white hot oven, and then out it came for us to taste with a lovely white wine made from grapes grown on 200 of the 1,000 acres of vines the family maintains.

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The next item on the menu was pizza. While we waited, we were treated to salumi made from pigs that were raised on the property. L1040549

Fortified, we dove into pizza making with vigor.

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Sitting on top of the refrigerator was a bunch of arugula that had been picked that morning. We couldn’t help but sneak a few leaves, and we were impressed with how zesty and peppery they were. With the pizzas sauced and ready, in they went to the blazing oven, hot enough to create a perfectly crispy, caramelized crust with an intense tomato flavor.

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Not a lot of toppings were needed here! Happy with our accomplishments, we moved to the picturesque lunch setting to sip Brunello di Montalcino and munch on pizza. 

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After our lunch, the carriages took us on a 30-minute ride around the property while Chef David prepared our dessert – a family recipe for cantucci, a semi-soft cake made with anise. As we took in the amazing scenery, we all noticed a white horse following us. He entertained us on the entire carriage ride by coming close and then venturing off to torment other horses in their fenced-in paddocks.

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When we returned, Chef David was waiting for us with a cooking demonstration and dessert. I could not resist getting in on the action and helped Chef David with the cantucci. L1040568

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You can see Chef here with his anise liquor and his flat of eggs. He was kind enough to share the recipe with us: 1 pound butter, 2 pounds sugar, 14 eggs, 1 packet of yeast, 2 pounds flour and ½ cup anise… You’ll have to come on a future tour to see how it is made!

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One of our guests, a physician from the Northeast and a great friend of Oceania Cruises’ culinary centers, made friends with the white horse, who became our unofficial escort for the day.

 

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After dessert and a lovely dessert wine, we were taken back to the cellar and allowed to purchase wines and delicacies.L1040612

It was sad to say good-bye, especially when there was a family wedding celebration taking place with children running about and delicious pastas and braises coming out of the home-style winery kitchens.

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Back at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, we had a class on pasta making, and it was such fun!

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The magnificent pasta dishes that were being served to the wedding guests at the winery inspired us all!L1040636


It was a perfect Sunday in Tuscany and one I will not soon forget. The wine, the food and the hospitality – as well as the new friendships – are what make these tours so special. I’ve said many times, “I have the greatest gig in the world!” And this was one of the days that makes that statement an indisputable fact.

 

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Oceania Cruises rock!

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