I have always enjoyed traveling, even if it meant sleeping in a tent when I was younger. I prefer hotels and cruise cabins now, but the motivation is the same...an adventure waiting to happen. Sometimes you will find me traveling with my husband and/or family. Sometimes I will travel alone, and sometimes I will travel with friends. I hope you find it entertaining to keep up to date with me as I explore the world around me. Warning...I like to take pictures of food so don't read if you're hungry. More adventures await...see ya soon...Amy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Day in Tuscany

Le Follie di Arnolfo-chocolate factory

the kitchen where the chocolate magic happens

Antonio the chocolate chef talks to us about the cocoa bean

the cocoa beans found inside the cacao pod

vintage chocolate molds

me and Antonio

the Dark Chocolate sample plate

The Dark and Milk Chocolate sample plate

enjoying our chocolate tasting

the shop in Colle Val d'Elsa where we tasted and learned about olive oil and balsamic vinegar

our olive oil samplers

the 10 year old Balsamic Vinegar

the 12 year Balsamic Vinegar

the 15 year Balsamic Vinegar

Beautiful Tuscany

San Gimignano up on the hill...the Manhattan of Tuscany

the beautiful medieval town of San Gimignano

Forme d'Arte where we tasted different varieties of Pecorino Romano cheese

Rebecca talks to us about the wine of the region

Evan and Leela at their organic Saffron farm, Il Castagnolino. This is where we ate our fabulous lunch!

their olive trees

olives not ready for harvest

fresh herbs grown right here

semi outdoor eating because of the rain

our appetizer plate...fried sage, pecorino and pear tart, cauliflower souffle, onion tart, bruschetta with tomato, bruschetta with black cabbage.

Tortelli filled with ricotta and mint with a Saffron cream sauce

Evan tells us about the harvesting of Saffron from the Crocus plant

Leela prepares our dessert

Saffron ice cream accompanied by peaches soaked in Vin Santo

Vin Santo or Mintocello

The Cappella Saint Andrea vineyard

Ripening Olives

Red Grapes ready for Harvest

nibbling on the organically grown grapes

Jumping for Joy....we are having so much fun!!!

these snails were everywhere

the "bunker" where the old grapes are made into white wine

Fermenting grapes. Sticking your nose down in this will burn your sinuses!

Flavia and her husband Francisco

Vintage tanks still used today

wall of bottles. they pick a different artistic design every year for a label

the vineyard also makes lotions, soap and other body products out of their grape skins

the tasting room

the cross that the vineyard is named after

set up for tasting

Flavia swirls wine in the glass first to remove the soap and water odor. She let us smell to smell the difference.

Ready for tasting. We also had bread soaked in the olive oil they produce in the vineyard

The label was drawn by Flavia's husband in honor of her

Rebecca on the left and Flavia in the middle with the ladies

Saying goodbye to San Gimignano way up on the hill

the view of Florence from Piazalle Michelangelo

Such a fun day!

Ponte Vecchio

Sunset view from the Ponte Vecchio

Sara Beth with a Calzone bigger than her head

Antipasti plate


Tortelli with Sage and Butter sauce
Wow! What an amazing day!! As we were preparing for our trip, I did some research into Tuscan wine tours and found what I thought would be the perfect tour company….Tuscan Wine Tours run by Grape Tours. They can be found at www.tuscan-wine-tours.com. Beware of imitators as I hear there are many. This company had excellent reviews on TripAdvisor so we bit the bullet and went with them. We paid for a private tour because the semi-private tours were full. This was considerably more money than we originally intended to spend, but we now all agree that it was 100% worth every penny. Rebecca and her husband own the business and Rebecca was our tour guide for the day. She told us to meet her at 9 at a particular spot on the Oltrarno side of the Arno River and we were right on time and so was she. Once in the very comfortable air-conditioned van that seated 9, we were whisked away to the San Gimignano region of Tuscany. The first stop on our tour was at an artisan chocolate maker, Le Follie di Arnolfo where we met with the "chocolate chef", Antonio, and discussed his process for making his delicious chocolates. We also met the owner Milena and one of her daughters. We then sat down to a chocolate tasting and cappuccino. We each had a selection of chocolates with mine and Danny's being all dark and the others were mixed as they didn't have a preference. It was wonderful to be able to order a cappuccino decaffeinato as well.  From there, we drove to Colle Val d'Elsa to taste olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This may sound like something that would not be very much fun to do, but we learned a lot about olive oil and balsamic vinegar and now I can pretty much tell you that what we buy at our local grocery at home is not too tasty compared to this. We tasted 4 different olive oils made in Tuscany and then we tasted 3 different balsamic vinegars that were amazing. We learned that balsamic vinegar is made from grapes that have been cooked for 24 hours without fermentation and then cooked down to a concentrate and aged in open barrels for several years, or at least the good stuff is made this way. We tasted vinegar that was 10 years, 12 years, and 15 years old and it was all sweet, syrupy and amazing. Nothing like what we buy at the grocery to make our dressings with. From there we went to the medieval town of San Gimignano. San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture and towers. Rebecca jokingly called it the Manhattan of Tuscany, but it really did look like city skyscrapers from afar. We stopped at Forme d'Arte for a cheese and salami tasting (with wine of the region). The cheese we were tasting were different varieties and ages of Pecorino, a sheep cheese. The Italians cannot make the "sh" sound so it sounds like they are saying "cheap cheese". I preferred the older pecorino as it lost it's "sheepy taste". For those who like goat cheese, you would enjoy the younger pecorino. We tasted pecorino coated with ash, coated with hay, mixed with pear, and mixed with Grappa. We tasted 3 different salami's, one of them made with wild boar which is a pest of the vineyards. We also drank the white wine of the region, Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Having had our fill of all of these yummy things, we had about 20 minutes to quickly look about the village before moving on to lunch, as if we were even hungry!! Every spot we went to became our favorite but I think that lunch was really unique and truly was our favorite or at least it was mine. We ate lunch at a local organic saffron farm run by Evan and Leela, the most adorable couple. They live on this farm in a rustic old farmhouse and we were told that everything we were going to eat was produced on their property. The house is surrounded by a delicious smelling herb garden and olive trees. The crocus plants, where the saffron is harvested from, is grown in between the olive trees. Our lunch was just absolutely delicious. We were first served a plate containing fried sage, bruschetta with black cabbage, tomato bruschetta, onion tart, cauliflower soufflĂ©, and pear and pecorino tart. I had just about eaten the entire plate thinking it was my lunch when it was announced that the next course was coming! Apparently what we were eating was the appetizer and it was an entire plate of food! The next course was Tortelli pasta filled with ricotta and mint with a Saffron and Cream sauce. It was out of this world delicate and delicious. For dessert we ate homemade Saffron ice cream with peaches soaked in Vin Santo which is an extremely sweet dessert wine. I never in my life would have dreamed that saffron ice cream would be delicious but oh my goodness it was good. We were also offered an aperitif of mintocello or Vin Santo after dessert but before coffee. I tried the homemade mintocello which is like lemoncello but made with mint. It is very fragrant and very very strong. A tiny sip was about all I could handle. From there we went to a wonderful family owned vineyard and met Flavia and her husband, Francisco. The Cappella Saint Andrea vineyard has been in Flavia's family for several generations and is now run by the two of them. She and her husband decided to turn the vineyard into an organic vineyard. Flavia gave us a history of the vineyard and showed us the red grapes that we waiting for harvest. Because the grapes are organically grown, Flavia let us pick and taste them. She took us to see where they ripen the white wine in a bunker and let us smell the fermentation of the grapes which really opens the sinuses. We then walked back down to the house and tasted several wines and their olive oil that they produce. Flavia was a delightful hostess and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing how her wine is produced with a lot of love while preserving her family's heritage. Rebecca took us back to Florence, stopping at my request at the Piazalle Michelangelo for an overlook of the city. We had so much fun today and are so glad that we found Rebecca and will recommend this tour to anyone who is interested.

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