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7 (Mostly) Foodie Activities in Castelfalfi, Tuscany, Italy

By alison - January 10, 2014 (Updated: November 18, 2014)

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Castelfalfi.
Food Activities at Castelfalfi, Tuscany, Italy

Wine, truffles, Olives and game – foodie experiences in Castelfalfi.

Wine, olive oil, truffles and rustic Tuscan cooking – Sound tasty? These are just a few of the foodie experiences you can enjoy in Italy at the Toscana Resort Castelfalfi.

You may recall, back in November, I spent four packed days exploring the Castelfalfi resort in Tuscany, Italy. When I wasn’t tromping through building sites and exploring the restoration of the castle and village, the kind folks at Castelfalfi kept me busy doing things I love to do, namely exploring regional food traditions.

There are deeply ingrained food customs all over Europe, but nowhere more so than Tuscany. Castelfalfi encourages its guests to dive into the cuisine and culture with a variety of unique activities. The following seven were my favourite (mostly) foodie activities at Castelfalfi:

1. Wine Tasting

As I mentioned in my last post about Castelfalfi, a vital part of the project was recovering the vineyards and olive groves around the resort. In fact, when discussing Castelfalfi’s wine and olive oil, with CEO, Stefan Neuhaus, his eyes lit up and he spoke passionately about the project. It’s evident the agricultural heritage of the area is close to his heart.

At the moment, Castelfalfi produces three red wines, and who better to taste them with than Il Rosmarino’s chef, Francesco Ferretti, and manager, Elisa Franzini?

We began with the Rosso Toscano IGT, a combination of San Giovese and Merlot grapes. From there we moved to the richer Chianti DOCG, which combines the same grape varieties, but is aged in the bottle longer. The third and final wine, the Rosso Toscano IGT Poggionero, is the star of Castelfalfi’s wines and my favourite. It is rich, spicy and bold, and pairs perfectly with the game meats abundant in the region.

Tasting Castelfalfi's 3 wines

Tasting Castelfalfi’s 3 wines

Tenuta di Castelfalfi produces only 8000 bottles of each type of wine. You can purchase them at the resort and, of course, pair them with the delicious meals in the restaurant. You can also arrange a tour of the vineyards with Castelfalfi’s agronomist, Marco Soldani, to learn more about wine production in the region.

2. Olive Oil Pressing and Tasting

Castelfalfi’s other main agricultural activity is olive oil production. There are 8000 olive trees, of different varieties, and you can taste their bounty at Il Rosmarino. Fresh, crusty bread, dunked in Tenuta di Castelfalfi’s extra virgin olive oil is the perfect start to any meal.

But, even though I cook with it daily, I knew little about producing olive oil and how to select the best one. I was lucky enough to be present, at Castelfalfi, for a tasting by an olive oil expert.

Tasting olive oil is similar to tasting wine, in that you engage all of your senses.  However, with olive oil there are much stricter criteria. The first oil I tasted seemed fine, at first, if a bit bland. When I tasted the second, Tenuta di Castelfalfi’s extra virgin, the difference was clear. It was vibrant, spicy and intense. What a difference!

Tasting olive oil at Castelfalfi

One of these oils is not like the others… But how do you know which one?

In addition to tasting, we also learned how to properly store and care for our oils, and which types to use for particular purposes. Of course, we had to pair those beautiful oils with food too.

Olive oil features in these Tuscan dishes at Il Rosmarino restaurant

Olive oil features in these Tuscan dishes at Il Rosmarino restaurant

Even more fascinating was my first trip to an olive oil press. This was one of the resort’s major investments in the community and, when I visited, several local olive growers were waiting for their turn at the press.

Olives at Castelfalfi are cold pressed between two giant millstones, which reduces them to a paste. The smell is amazing! The liquid is strained from the solids and then a centrifuge separates the oil from any excess water. Then, voila! You have olive oil.

A peek inside Castelfalfi's olive pressing facility

A peek inside Castelfalfi’s olive pressing facility

Except at Castelfalfi, it’s not quite so simple. In order to attain the ‘extra virgin’ designation the press uses ‘cold extraction.’ This means the oil is carefully maintained under 27-28°C. All of the olives at Castelfalfi are handpicked, to keep them intact. They must be pressed within 12 hours of harvesting, to become ‘premium extra virgin.’ Now that’s harvesting under pressure!

Tasting the oil as it trickled out the end of the press, the difference was clear. It’s incredibly spicy, rich and intense. No wonder Tuscans still take a spoonful of olive oil as a tonic!

3. Truffle Hunting

Hunting for truffles has been high on my foodie experience bucket list for years and Castelfalfi made it happen. White truffles are a Tuscan delicacy and fetch extremely high prices on the international market. The reason for the truffle’s high price is its inability to be farmed. The only way to harvest truffles is to go out and find them where they like to grow.

Fortunately, truffles love the rich clay soil around the Castelfalfi estate. That’s how I ended up bumping along a pot-holed road in a tiny car with Castelfali’s PR Manager. We were in hot pursuit of the resort’s gamekeeper, Giovanni Gallerini, and his uncle, an expert truffle hunter.

Our truffle experts had brought along one tool, vital to finding truffles and I’m not talking about the shovel.

The truffle hunter and his dog

The truffle hunter and his dog

The Lagotto Romagnolo dog has mostly replaced pigs as the top truffle hunter in the area, because it has no interest in eating the harvest.

We stopped in a wooded area, behind the golf course, and clambered down the steep, muddy creek banks, in pursuit of our truffle-detecting canine. It wasn’t long before we were all digging.

Digging for truffles

Digging for truffles – we let the dog do the hard work first.
Tuscan White Truffles

Tuscan White Truffles – They may look like muddy blobs now but they are delicious (and expensive!)

It was incredible to watch the relationship between the truffle-hunter and his dog, as they worked together to uncover a handful of bounty. This was definitely one of the highlights of my visit.

I just loved the relationship between this man and his dog

I just loved the relationship between this man and his dog

4. Tuscan Cooking Class

The other highlight of my Castelfalfi stay was getting in the kitchen with chef, Francesco Ferretti, for a lesson in Tuscan cooking. Chef Ferretti graciously opened Il Rosmarino’s kitchen and shared the secrets of three of their dishes.

First up was Pappa Al Pomodoro, Tuscan bread and tomato soup. This rustic soup was traditionally made to use up stale bread, and tomatoes. Dressed up with a variety of fresh, local, herbs, it’s extremely colourful while it bubbles away in the pan. It’s also super easy to make! I’ll definitely be making this at home this winter.

Colourful and delicious Pappa Al Pomodoro

Colourful and delicious Pappa Al Pomodoro

Our second course was Spezzatino Di Cinghiale, wild boar stewed in red wine. Like the soup, this stew began with the trifecta of celery, carrots, and onions and capitalises on local herbs. The wild boar is rich and only slightly gamey; closer to beef in taste than pork. In fact, Chef Ferretti told me you can replace the boar with beef or lamb. The whole thing is stewed in red wine – you can guess where it comes from. Our stew received a hearty drink of my favourite Castelfalfi Poggionero.

Chef Ferretti with the trifecta

Chef Ferretti with the trifecta – carrots, onion, celery (and Castelfalfi olive oil of course).
Spezzatino Di Cinghiale Boar stew in the making

Spezzatino Di Cinghiale – Boar stew in the making.

For dessert, I learned how to make Cantucci, almond biscuits, which date from the 16th century. I can see why this recipe has stood the test of time. They are perfect with coffee or traditional, vin santo, an after dinner wine particular to the region. (I’ve already made a batch at home, since my lesson!)

Tuscan Cantucci biscuits

Stage one of my Tuscan Cantucci biscuits

Of course, the best part of my cooking class was eating it all for lunch once it was ready!

Traditional Tuscan food

Cooking it all was fun, but this was the best part…

5. Eating with Game Hunters

Speaking of lunch, I took part in a very special one, during my stay at Castelfalfi. This is the one activity on my list, not normally open to the general public, but I had to share it. The Castelfalfi estate includes over 350 hectares of woodland. Game hunting is an age-old tradition here and, every weekend, the hunters gather for a feast in their clubhouse.

If you want to see and taste truly traditional dishes, this is where to find them, all cooked by one man on a tiny stovetop. Crowded at a table of more than a dozen hunters, all shouting, laughing and feeding me things, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

Lunch with the game hunters

Lunch with the game hunters (That’s the chef in the bottom left… look at his tiny kitchen!)

I have no doubt they were teasing the ‘journalista’ in Italian (and there were a few jokes my guide laughingly refused to translate) but the feeling of camaraderie and timelessness was extremely special.

6. Horseback Riding

When I found out Castelfalfi offered horseback riding, through the nearby Il Gelsomino Ranch, I jumped at the chance. On the day I was set to have my ride, I was more hesitant. The rain had been lashing down throughout my stay, and despite frequent sunny interludes, the ground was incredibly wet and muddy. It was uncertain whether a cross-country trail-ride would be possible for safety reasons. In the end, the skies cleared again and we decided to go ahead.

I haven’t been on a horse for many, many years. So I was relieved the ranch specialises in Western style riding. In fact, the American West memorabilia looked a bit out of place in rural Tuscany, but at least I felt at home in the saddle.

Horseback riding near Castelfalfi

Horseback riding near Castelfalfi – The rainy landscape is near where I rode.

My guides were excellent and patient with my inexperience. Unfortunately, we did have to cut our ride short, when the storm clouds rolled over again. We made it back to the ranch just as the heavens opened.

I’d love to show you photos of the stunning landscapes we rode through, but honestly, I was too busy trying not to fall off my horse, slip on the soft, muddy ground, or let my horse enjoy the buffet of greens he wanted to nibble. You’ll just have to take my word for it – it was wonderful.

7. Photographing the Tuscan Landscape

While my photographic excursion wasn’t an organised activity during my visit to Castelfalfi, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention photography as a highlight of my stay. The landscapes around the resort are stunning – exactly the stereotypical image of Tuscany we all have.

Pinochicco set

Like something out of a movie… Actually it IS from the set of the Roberto Benigni movie Pinochicco.
Pinochicco set

This looks like a crumbling farmhouse, but it’s actually the Casa di Pinocchio, a fake set for the movie.

Off in the distance, you can catch glimpses of the mountains, while in the foreground are the rolling hills, dotted with farms and villages. The light and colours are constantly changing and there is always a new scene at which to aim the camera.

Something to photograph at every turn at Castelfalfi

Something to photograph at every turn at Castelfalfi

While these seven activities were the highlights of my trip to Castelfalfi, there are many more to discover (I only had four days after all!) Swimming in the resort’s pool complex, golfing the world-class course, hiking or cycling the estate’s 75 miles of trails, or using Castelfalfi as a base to explore other towns in Tuscany, are just a few of the ways you can pass your time here.

Of course, you could just relax, eat, drink, and enjoy a quiet, Tuscan vacation. The choice is yours at Castelfalfi.

I spent 4 days at Castelfalfi, as a guest of the resort. However, all opinions are, as always, entirely my own. I would like to thank Cecilia Sandroni and the rest of the Castelfalfi staff for their warm hospitality during my stay.

Read more from Cheeseweb.eu
Series: Castelfalfi

Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She is currently slow travelling through Europe in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
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4 comments

  1. Comment by Someone

    Someone January 10, 2014 at 10:46

    I spent a summer in Montepulciano a few years back. It was a very relaxing holiday. We rented quite a large house between 4 families of friends and did a lot of exploring and visiting. Tuscany however is not a place to go on package holidays nor bus tours . Trying to fit it in as one of the stops on a “see the whole of Europe in 3 weeks” holiday will not make it memorable at all. You need at _least_ 10 days to get into the rhythm of the place.

    What I remember most vividly was the vineyard and the almond grove next to the property. Picking grapes and letting them dry in the sun for a few days. The typical worn hills. One of our group was en archaeologist so a few times he made us stop the cars where he saw a patch of “red” on a hill side where he was sure a roman villa stood a few hundred years earlier. We did find pottery fragments and the likes when looking around. ( he did a lot more of this on his own though) As for food, a lot of regional specialties, I loved the chianina beef although generally Italy impresses me more with it’s starters than the main dishes. The different kinds of pecorino were great as well.

    Like a lot of places in Europe Tuscany gives a feeling of continuity. it feels lived in , you can see the generations upon generations having lived there in the buildings and roads , it’s all crumbling in one corner and being added to in the other.

    I spent 5 minutes staring at that Cantucci biscuit and am considering going to ghent this afternoon to buy some. There are 2 very good Italian speciality shops there.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison January 14, 2014 at 12:16

      Montepulciano has been on our ‘list’ for some time now… mostly because we love the wines from there. I agree, you really need time to explore the area and relax into the rhythm of life there. Tuscany and Umbria were both places we fell in love with last year and we can’t wait to return and spend more time soaking up the culture (and eating more of the amazing food.)

  2. Comment by Adriana

    Adriana January 10, 2014 at 17:57

    Superb! what a great trip! Drooling over the food.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison January 14, 2014 at 12:17

      It was busy but wonderful. Next time I hope to spend a bit more time relaxing! (and eating!)

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