Stay in a villa with your own kitchen to mess around in, and you can enjoy the produce of an area to your heart’s content. L’Oliveta at Montebuoni, booked via To Tuscany, had a compact, user-friendly kitchen with, joy of joys, sharp knives and a decent set of pans, plus a dishwasher and three different pieces of coffee making equipment: drip filter, moka pot and caffetiere.
A terrace with vineyard views and a wood-fired barbecue at the bottom of the garden makes this an ideal rental for eating at home, even entertaining. Montebuoni, set on an old wine and olive oil producing estate, is a sleepy, beautifully kept borgo (hamlet) of stone cottages and apartments with a private pool and tennis court and a series of stunning views over Chianti. It’s within easy reach of Siena and Florence and only a short drive to local shops and amenities.
Drink local wine: Chianti is famous for it’s wine, particularly chianti classico, grown and made in an area of approximately 100 square miles between Florence and Siena. The communes of Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti are all located within the area and you’ll see plenty of signage with the black rooster seal of the Consorzio Chianti Classico on it.
Since 1996 chianti classico must contain 75-100% sangiovese grapes, up to 10% canaiolo and up to 20% cabernet sauvignon, merlot or syrah. It may no longer contain any white grapes, but some I.G.T wines (85% of the grapes used must come from the designated territory) produced still do and wine producing families often make some white wine table wine to drink themselves. Chianti superiore is a DOCG wine that must be aged for at least 9 months. You’ll find local wine in all the food shops and on sale at the wineries. The Chianti Classico festival takes place on the 2nd weekend in September each year.
Taking a wine tour is the best way to acquaint yourself with local wines, and a visit to a small winery such as Casanuova di Ama near Radda and Gaiole gives you the chance to talk to producers. Daniella and Luciano make their wine and olive oil alone with a little help from their family. Be warned: if you’re going for a full tour don’t eat lunch before you go or book dinner afterwards, because you’ll be very well fed. Daniella explains Chianti wines and gives a brief tour of the premises, and after that you drink your way through all the wines they make, each matched by a separate dish.
Luciano cooks bruschetta over coals outside to go with the Mattutino white table wine, and there’s also salumi, Tuscan chicken liver dip served over a flame (one of those ugly recipes that tastes divine), roasted peppers, cheese and lots of bread and crudités to go with the Vespero vino da tavola, Com’era I.G.T. The meal finishes with homemade biscuits and their Il Rosignolo vin santo, and one of their grappas if you still have room. The Casanuova di Ama olive oil is worth taking home if you can fit a bottle in your luggage.
Eat pici: thick, bouncy spaghetti dressed with wild boar ragu at La Grotta dell Rana in San Sano. Run by the Pomorolo family, this local restaurant has a very good selection of local Chianti Classico wine (that you can also buy in their tiny shop next door), and a roundup of local cucina casalinga (home cooking) dishes such as wild boar or beef in umido (braised), maccheroni della nonna (grandmother) and panzanella. Sit on the terrace and watch the San Sano comings and goings – it’s glorious at sunset.
Shop local: wherever you shop you’ll find local produce, and there are shops in most small villages that have a good range of produce. Casa Porciatti in Radda, Chianti is a superior deli and wine shop, where you can buy home made salumi including lardone (lard), tonno di Radda, and good quality pasta such as the bright yellow packs of Martelli pasta made near Pisa. Casa Porciatti Wine Shop is across the road situated in the undercover medieval walkway.
Visit a food market: Radda in Chianti market is held on the 4th Monday afternoon of each month; Castellina in Chianti’s is every Saturday morning; and Greve in Chianti main market is also on Saturdays.
Eat proscuitto at Macelleria Falorni in Greve in Chianti. This butchers shop is an institution and has been operating here since 1806. Wander under the hanging hams and gaze longingly at the salami and other products while wishing your suitcase was bigger. Eat in the deli as a consolation.
Buy bistecca alla fiorentina at Dario Cecchini in Panzano. The equivalent of a giant T-bone or porterhouse, this steak doesn’t come cheap. But one will easily serve 2, as it should be three fingers thick. Order in advance as Mr Cecchini sells the rest of the cows in proportion to how many steaks he sells (he can’t abide waste). Or eat in – MacDario burgers (there goes the rest of the cow) are a speciality.