Tuscan Women CookMontefollonico, Tuscany Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go
Iolanda Marcocci, an eighty-nine-year-old nonna, has been making pici, the thick spaghetti specialty of southern Tuscany, since she could stand up. To watch her expertly roll out dough on the wooden board her mother once used is a marvel. The moment comes in your Tuscan Women Cook class when youre invited to give a hand at rolling pici and you may feel like its someone handing you a chisel and asking you to give a hand at sculpting the David. Iolanda inevitably moves in to redo your attempts.
Shes just one of the three teachers at this cooking school where local grandmas reign. While Iolandas a rough-around-the-edges type who prowls her five-foot stocky frame around the kitchen holding on to her paring knife she calls mi amore, youll also get a lesson with Dania Masati, a flirty blonde who flits about in stiletto heels and Prada ensembles like an Italian movie starlet. Danias a Michelin-starred chef and cookbook author who owns and operates La Chiusa, a luxury hotel and restaurant that was once an olive press. She takes you strolling through her herb garden and then back to her restaurants kitchen where youll learn to prepare her signature exquisite ragu. To round out the instructor trio, theres Bruna, trim and precise, who turns a mound of flour and egg into delicate strands of tagliatelle, like a demure magician. Each class has a family party vibe, with wine flowing while Christina, the local pharmacists daughter, translates.
Tuscan Women Cook was created by Bill and Patty Sutherland, charming Texans who fell in love with the small town of Montefollonico in the 1980s, and ended up buying and renovating a farmhouse there. Wanting to share their discoveries of the wonderful chefs, winemakers, and craftsmen theyd come to know, they got this school up and running in 2003. Its a week-long program that winds up fulfilling every aspect of a travelers Under the Tuscan Sun fantasy.
The Montefollonico location is ideal: smack in the middle of the Chiana Valley, where rolling hills of olive groves and vineyards present a landscape right out of the Florence galleries. Along with three morning classes followed by lunch, there are visits to nearby towns of Pienza, Montepulciano, Bagno Vignoni, a full-day excursion to Florence, and a tasting with one of the regions most good-looking winemakers.
Dinners are relaxed affairs that stretch late into the evenings, at restaurants where the bounty of the surrounding farmlands is transformed to flavorful dishes--from simple grilled Chiana beef to rich duck spiced with wild fennel.
You stay at Hotel La Costa, a former farmhouse thats now a Montefollonico landmark, where you can relax on the terrace with views of Lake Trasimeno and Cortona in the distance or cool off with a dip in the hotel pool.
The two-via village of Montefollonico (population 700), where the school is based, is so charming you may want to extend your stay after classes are over. This is the kind of place where faces become familiar after only a few days and youll be greeted with cordial buona seras by the signoras who gossip on stone benches in the tiny square.
If you do stay longer and want to experience life on an organic working farm, head to Agriturismo Reniella (www.reniella.com), where hardworking, fun-loving British transplants Bob and Elfride Vaughan offer a large apartment or B&B accommodations. Or to get pampered in luxe surroundings with gourmet food, check into La Chiusa, (www.laristorantelachiusa.it).
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Tuscan Women CookMontefollonico, Tuscany
Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go