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It was a whirlwind week-long trip with stops in Florence, the Tuscan countryside, Umbria and Lake Como. I'll blog about some of the other highlights in the next few days, but I wanted to start off with probably my favorite memory from the trip - a cooking class in Umbria at an agriturismo called Il Fontanaro. The experience was organized by Walks of Italy.
This is the second time I've taken a Walks of Italy tour and it definitely won't be the last. They do such a great job of tracking down truly authentic experiences that are more than worth the money. We were at Il Fontanaro for almost a full day of olive oil and wine tasting, and a hands-on cooking class.
Lunch was served with plenty of wine (made on the farm!) and overflowing plates of handmade tagliatelle and ravioli. They even urged us to kick back and swim in the pool after lunch! But, alas, we had to get back to Tuscany. I wish I could have jumped in!
There's an obvious amazingness that comes with a farm-fresh pasta and wine lunch (oh, with homemade tiramisu for dessert!), but my visit to Il Fontanaro was eye-opening for other reasons. Like my visit to Singh Farms in Scottsdale last year, I left Il Fontanaro with more of an understanding about how important it is to eat real, wholesome food. When we talk about "eating healthy" here in the U.S., it's so often associated with counting calories and depriving ourselves of certain foods.
But what if, instead of constantly telling ourselves "NO," we learned how to say "YES" to foods that are nutritional and delicious? Real meats, real pasta, real cheese, real fruits and veggies. I just feel like we have the cravings that we do for a reason and if you're filling your body with a balanced diet of non-processed goodies, there's nothing wrong with a bit of quality cheese for breakfast. Or lunch. Or a midnight snack. No?
Any way, I could go on about this topic forever because I've become passionate about it over the past few years, but I won't do that here! Instead, what I will say is that Alina (owner of Il Fontanaro, winemaker, olive oil sommelier and all-around bad ass) and her mom Lucia opened our eyes to just how easy it can be to eat real and homemade meals. When your ingredients are fresh, you don't really have to do a whole lot to them.
The day started a bit off-kilter because we were so late to meet our group (Italy traffic!), but as soon as we stepped out onto the gravel in front of Il Fontanaro's stone farmhouse, all panic and stress faded. Alina and Lucia were there with the espresso. There were hugs, genuine smiles...a feeling like I was having a reunion with family, not arriving at a stranger's inn. Alina and Lucia's family friend from the States, Carolyn, was there and hung out with us off and on during the day.
We talked life, travel, food (and wine and food). I felt like I knew them for a lifetime, not for an hour. There were a lot of laughs. Lots of hard work (beating eggs by hand for tiramisu takes muscle!), and a lot of reward once we sat down on the open-air patio to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Nothing but sun, trees, rolling hills and the family dogs and cat in sight. It was absolutely unforgettable.
I've done a couple of similar tours in the past for work, some have been amazing like this one at Il Fontanaro and others haven't been worth the trip. When you're coming into a person's home, especially, it can sometimes feel awkward. Or, occasionally you leave feeling like the experience wasn't worth what you paid. But that just wasn't the case here.
Alina, Lucia and Carolyn were so warm and welcoming. The wine flowed freely, there was cheese, olive oil and bread to snack on throughout the whole day, and our final lunch was more food than you'd get at any restaurant, that's for sure. Even at home, probably!
I honestly think this speaks to the quality of Walks of Italy. They really vet out every one of the experiences and tours that they offer. You can tell they have personal relationships with their vendors. The difference in tours I've taken with Walks of Italy and some other companies is astounding. I honestly can't say enough good things about them.
The day's full syllabus (yes, because you learn a lot as you go), included an olive oil tasting with tips on how to spot the good stuff, cheese and honey tasting (they just started caring for their own hives), pasta and sauce making, a brief tour of the farm, and of course the lunch and wine.
At one point Alina pulled out a truffle the size of my fist and asked "Are you guys OK if I shaved a little bit of this on the pasta?" and I almost fainted from happiness. I'm pretty sure I salivated. THE THING WAS HUGE.
Any way, Stjepan took so many great photos from our farmhouse visit and I had a hard time editing them down, so...there's a lot to see here. Enjoy!
MORE INFO: Walks of Italy
PHOTOS BY: Stjepan Alaupovic