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Paradise in Tuscany


Spending time on a farm in Tuscany has been my dream for a very long time and this past September, that dream was realized. I searched AirBNB for the perfect place and my dreams were beyond fullfilled. Nestled in the hills of Tuscany, south of Sienna and north of Grosetto, near the tiny hill town of Pari, is a very old farm owned by Viola. She is a breadbaker, baking with centuries old methods using a wood-burning bread oven. We had an apartment to ourselves with a beautiful, big kitchen, a long hallway with a view of the hills and farms nearby and a charming bedroom and bathroom. It was rustic but comfortable and beyond magical. 

On our first night, we drove to Pari and had a wonderful meal at the local restaurant, La Cecchia, where we sat with the locals and had freshly made pasta, a salumi platter and local wine.

The next day we ventured a bit further south to the larger town of Civitella Paganico to buy groceries. I tried out my extremely limited Italian to order Parmesan cheese, salumi and bread, at the COOP grocery store where we also picked up pasta, fresh produce and some grappa, and then we wandered the town stopping for an afternoon espresso. That night, Terry made dinner of tagliatelle with a spicy tomato sauce with a arugula-radicchio salad and local white wine. 

The next day after a breakfast gleaned from a the basket Viola put together for us of muesli, yogurt, espresso and eggs from her hens (which lasted us the entire 6 days we were there) we went downstairs to watch Viola and her helper Barbara bake. Terry donned an apron to help, while I shot photos and videos. Viola, we find out, went to University in Wales and so speaks fluent English. 

She started by making a kind of fig biscuit that she called biscotti made with locally-milled flour, cornmeal, millet and spelt flour. She and Barbara work as a well-seasoned team, seamlessly moving from one task to another. Viola has been baking for 20 years, and though she calls herself an amateur, she is clearly an expert at her craft. She was baking for the Sienna market two days hence. 

Next were the gluten-free cookies topped with orange rind processed with sugar. I was surprised, and a bit dismayed, to find out that even in Italy there is a gluten-free craze. But I have to say, the cookies were really delicious. She is not only preserving old world methods and products, but addressing current day dietary concerns as well. We also watched her make a hard round cookie that reminded me of Greek koulouraki that my mother makes. Viola has a modern wood-burning oven and an industrial mixer in her small, but efficient baking kitchen. She also has a very old wood-burning oven outdoors which she uses to bake her bread. 

Next: A fabulous lunch and gelato in San Gimgiano, bread baking and the farmer's market in Sienna...

Categories: travel to Italy
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