has arrived in Tuscany and so has Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani, who joined me to host a special sailing on Riviera
in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. What better way to
celebrate than with fellow food and wine enthusiasts on a Culinary Discovery
Tour in Tuscany!
started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship
for an orientation to the day’s schedule and then boarded our coach for a
short ride to the Mercato Centrale in Livorno.
This market has been a
favorite of mine for years because it yields exquisite products, and I also
love its atmosphere. Like many public
daily markets that we visit, there is a central closed building as well as
individual stalls spilling out on all sides from the main market. As July is
upon us, there were willowy yellow zucchini blossoms, fresh cherries and
fragrant tomatoes. Don’t you just love the smell of a great tomato?
guests were given a shopping assignment, so they set off to experience the
local ambiance of the market. Some stopped for a cappuccino and others headed
to our favorite cheese shop. One couple was celebrating their 50-year
anniversary with us, and this was the perfect beginning to their cruise
enjoyed an hour at the market exploring the meat and cheese counters, vegetable
stalls and fishmongers. Then our sous chefs, Asif and Raj, gathered up our
purchases and returned to the ship to prepare for this afternoon’s cooking class
in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The
rest of us returned to the coach for a miniature picnic of Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano
cheese, focaccia, cherries and fresh mozzarella to fortify us for the day’s
adventure in Tuscany.
have led this Culinary Discovery Tour several times now, and every time we
drive up the long cypress-lined driveway of Torre a Cenaia, I
feel like I am on a film set for a quintessential Tuscan movie! The family is
always so welcoming and happy to see our group from Oceania Cruises.
began with a visit to the winery and cellars, and on this day they
were bottling, which was very exciting. We heard the constant clinking of the
bottles as they left the warehouse to be taken into the cellar for
of the winery, our horse-drawn carriage awaited us. The driver told me
that the horses were quite frisky this morning because the grass is so lush and
green – and they had been eating all night!
we went for a tour of the villa. We saw the sangiovese and vermentino
vineyards, lovely ponds and local pheasants, and everyone enjoyed taking in the
beauty of this authentic Tuscan farm. At the end of the tour, we arrived
at the 300-year-old farmhouse that had been converted into a kitchen with a wood-fired
oven. Chef David was there
to greet us and begin my favorite part of the tour – the cooking!
dough was the first item on the agenda. While making our dough, we learned
that some of our guests were of Italian heritage, so this
was like coming home for them and a great way to spend the first day of their
cruise with us! While our pizza dough rested, we moved on to focaccia. We shaped the dough into an oval shape, punched it down with our
fingers and spread it with olive oil (lots of it!) and sea salt. Into the oven
it went, and while it cooked, we began tasting some wines from the Pitti family
vineyards. We started with a chardonnay–sauvignon blanc blend and then moved on
to two vermentinos, one quite young and the other aged in acacia oak for a bit
longer. Both wines were spectacular, and the second was particularly good with
the family’s salami, which made the perfect complement to our wine tasting.
up was the highlight of our trip – pizza! We took full advantage of
the farm’s bounty and made too many pizzas to count – with vegetables, farm
sausage, cheese, salami and even just plain tomato sauce. At the market I had
purchased some burrata cheese, and we enjoyed it with our pizza, focaccia and,
of course, more wine! This time we tasted a delicious sangiovese, a rosé and a
we sat together family-style around the table, sampling the wines and pizza and
focaccia, we all commented on how this was such a wonderful way to travel. To
meet and interact with locals, share their home and cooking secrets, and relax over
great food and wine – what a blessing!
meal would not have been complete without dessert, so for our final recipe we
prepared cantucci. This sweet bread is often baked twice to make biscotti, although
we would enjoy the original version baked once in the wood-fired oven. We
grated fresh lemon to add to the eggs, sugar, butter, flour and anise
seeds that made up this yummy “biscuit,” as they call it in Livorno.
the cantucci was baking, we strolled back to the winery to sample a late-harvest
vermentino and take in the fabulous surroundings of olive trees, fresh
blooming lavender, sunflowers poking their early green stems from the rich
earth and sensuous flowering annuals overflowing their pots. Soon the
cantucci was ready, and we enjoyed its buttery deliciousness as the grand
finale to our day at this beautiful Tuscan farm. It was then time to say
“arrivederci” and return to Riviera.
a short siesta on the coach ride back to the ship, we met at the Bon Appétit
Culinary Center for a class celebrating the foods of Tuscany and the many
things we purchased at the market that day. We had found some zucchini blossoms,
so we made zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. We also found fabulous cherry
tomatoes and made a batch of Chianti-style crostini rossi. The class
focused primarily on fresh pasta, and I was so proud of all the great pasta
that our students made.
topped off the day with a salted caramel ice cream and a pine nut cake that we
had purchased at the market.
a great way to kick off this 10th anniversary sailing! Kunal had the chance to
visit at length with some guests who were on their first voyage with Oceania
Cruises as well as some guests who had sailed with us before. I always enjoy
having our executives along on Culinary Discovery Tours, not only because they
are true lovers of food and wine but also because they are able to interact
with the guests and see how much everyone enjoys this unique program and the
truly special experience it offers. There are more Culinary Discovery Tours to
come on this cruise, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon!