Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Chianti is a really nice day-trip to take to get away from the hustle and bustle of Florence.  Chianti is actually a REGION, not a city, and it spans from south of Florence to right around Siena.  It is best known as the region from where the famous Chianti wines are produced.  I would give you a more detailed explanation of the region and its wines, but if you're that interested, head over to Wikipedia.  

We made a trip over to Chianti recently and I must say, it was a fantastic experience!  First of all, the landscape.  You will be greeted with rolling hills and mountains, covered in trees, grape vineyards, and olive orchards.  It is truly magnificent to drive or ride a bicycle if you are so inclined (and in shape...because...wow...there are some steep hills!).  When on top of a hill, it seems like you can see forever!

Panzano in Chianti...and Dario Cecchini

Our first stop was to Panzano in Chianti to visit Dario Cecchini, probably the most famous butcher in the country.  I had seen him on television before where he completely butchered an entire leg of beef in minutes and was excited to be able to see him in person.  When we approached the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, we were greeted with rock and roll music and offered a glass of Chianti wine as soon as we walked through the door.  Dario was working behind the counter and there was a spread of Tuscan bread slices with olive oil, a huge dish of lardo, plate of salume...all to try for free.  The lardo was magnificent, in my opinion.  I could have stood there all day and munched on that!  The shop is rather small, but one whole side of it is lined with bottles of his sauces, olive oils, jars of his seasoning mixes and other whatnots.  There's a large bust of Dante there as well.  Dario is a huge fan of Dante, and according to Simone, he has memorized the entire Divine Comedy. 

Outdoor dining at Doc Dario (he has another restaurant "Officina" that is indoors)
Within a few minutes, we were ushered upstairs to his restaurant, Doc Dario, which is one of the main reasons we went! We were seated at a communal table outside on the terrace underneath the shade of a couple large umbrellas.  I had the Mac Dario...a 250 gram, thick, juicy hamburger patty, encrusted with bread crumbs (I had mine rare, just like I like it), garlic and sage roasted potatoes, and some red onion in olive oil and a couple slices of fresh, ripe tomato.  It was absolutely superb!  The meat was cooked perfectly and was so moist, juicy and flavorful...I really didn't want it to end!  I ate half of it with only a sprinkling of Dario's seasoned salt mixture, then I tried some of his sauces: Mediterranean mustard, mustard and Chianti ketchup.  My favorite was the mustard, which was rather sweet.  There was bread and water (both sparkling and still) on the table as part of the meal.  After we finished and paid (mine was only 10 euro), we headed back down to the shop, where I was able to shake Dario's hand and thank him for a wonderful meal.  He is a really nice guy who is just larger than life.  I admit it, I was a bit starstruck!  I didn't even think to take a picture!!  

I highly recommend visiting Dario's shop and his restaurant.  It's fun and delicious!  The restaurant is only open from noon until 3pm, Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday), and prices range from 10 euro all the way up to 50 euro (but you get a LOT of food!).  You can order some wine or beer if you so desire, or bring your own bottle of wine (they don't charge a corkage fee if you do, unlike a lot of places).  The server that we had spoke fluent Italian and English.  I don't know, but I assume they probably speak a few different languages.  The butchershop is open every day from 9am until 4pm. 

Greve in Chianti...and a lot of wine

Main piazza in Greve in Chianti

Photo op...I love Chianti
After we filled our bellies at Dario's, we drove over to Greve in Chianti.  Greve seems to be a big tourist destination, seeing as I heard a lot of English speaking people there...even more than when I go to Florence! There's a nice piazza there in the center that is surrounded by various shops and restaurants.  There is another famous butcher shop there - L'Antica Macelleria Falorni - run by the Falorni family.  Falorni also owns and runs the Museo di Vino (Wine Museum) and a wonderful cantina (La Cantina di Greve in Chianti)  where you can try and buy wines and olive oils.  The cantina is over 100 years old and is a lot of fun to visit if you enjoy tasting wine.

One of the wine tasting stations
The way it works is this:  you purchase a wine card in an amount that you desire (10, 15, 20, 25 euros), then you take the card to one of the many stations found throughout the cantina.  Slide the card into the slot and it will display the amount of money you have remaining on your card.  Take your wine glass (that is given to you when you purchase the card) and hold it under the spigot in front of the wine that you want to taste.  Push the button above the bottle selected (you can choose a tasting size up to half of a glass) and the machine will dispense it and deduct the amount from your card.  Tasting amounts range from around 70 cents on up (I saw one rather expensive bottle that cost over 5 euro to taste!).  They have all sorts of wines, reds, whites, sparkling...even grappa and limoncello.  Along with the wines, they have a selection of olive oils, packaged meats, pastas, and other assorted things.  You can try the olive oils (with little pieces of bread found at the cashier's counter) for free.  If you feel a bit peckish, they have some cold dishes for sale, along with some sweet pastries and desserts.  The cantina is open from 10am until 7pm daily.

Free Olive Oil Tasting Station

Plenty of comfortable seating

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I'm back!

Sorry for the lack of posts for the past few months.  I was in the US for awhile, but made it back to Florence a few weeks ago.  Now that I'm settled back in (and recovered from my jet lag!), I plan to make these posts more frequently.

I arrived at the very end of April to FABULOUS weather.  Temperatures were around 80 degrees Fahrenheit/26.5 degrees Celcius with a lot of sun.  Then something happened and it got cold.  Today it only got up to around 54 degrees Fahrenheit/12 degrees Celcius!  And rain!  So much rain today!  It has definitely been a cooler May here in Tuscany!

Speaking of May, there are so many things going on right now in and around Florence!  If you plan to be in town now or any time this summer, there are constantly fun and exciting things going on.

Right now, until tomorrow, there is the big Gelato Festival going on in Florence.  The festival covers 3 piazzas and includes a ton of gelato to sample, cooking classes, etc.  If you're not in town now, don't worry...there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy gelato here!  Grom is a chain, but one of the best in the city and is very close to the duomo.  Every time I've been, there has been a line out the door...but it is completely worth it!

Caffe', Nocciola e Fiordilatte (coffee, hazelnut and sweet cream flavors)
Various sagre (festivals) are going on this weekend.  The final weekend of the cinghiale festival in Montebonello/Rufina is going on.  Here you can have a two, three or four course meal featuring the cinghiale...tuscan wild boar!  We went last weekend and really enjoyed the food.  In case you're wondering, it tastes more like beef than pork!

Also going on this weekend is the sagra del tortello e della bistecca in Luco-Grezzano.  A festival centered around filled pasta (think large tortellini) and the amazing tuscan "bistecca" (steak) can't be all that bad!

The first weekend of the Festa Medioevale Malmantile (Medieval Festival in Malmantile) is this weekend as well.  Knights, food, and fun can be found in this town located about 25-30 minutes south of Florence.

More to come...stay tuned!