Our incredible private tour and cooking class in Chianti with Italy Unfiltered

Our incredible private tour and cooking class in Chianti with Italy Unfiltered

After spending a day on our own exploring beautiful Siena, Italy, our hosts Deb of Italy Unfiltered and her husband Massi the Driver picked us up at our hotel and we began our complimentary tour of Italian food, wine, and culture in the Chianti Region. As we got in the car, Steve confided in me that he’d already set his belt one notch looser in anticipation of the day.

Deb of Italy Unfiltered and her husband, Massi the Driver.

Of course, our first stop of the morning was for an espresso. This is a very Italian thing to do when you are having what Massi likes to call an “espresso deficiency.” I’m used to my Americano style coffee and still need a bit of milk in mine, so I ordered a caffe macchiato which is espresso with a dollop of foamed milk on top, typically served in a something that resembles a shot glass.

Cafe machiatto was a great cure for our espresso deficiency.

Now with the proper amount of caffeine in our systems, we headed down winding roads and up and down hills into the Chianti Clasccio region of Tuscany. The drive was incredibly beautiful and we were thankful that we had a personal driver and tour guide to not only tell us about the food and wine of the area but to actually get us there as there is no way we could have found this place by ourselves.

The family home where we did our cooking class and explored their winery.

The family home where we did our cooking class and explored their winery.

When we arrived at our destination, Deb and Massi greeted the owners who appeared to be old friends and they welcomed us into their home and winery. Our time with there began with a private cooking class.

Steve and I laced up our aprons and we got right to work. Our first lesson was in making traditional tiramisu, one of my all-time favorites.

We "mostly" separated six eggs for our tiramisu.

We “mostly” separated six eggs for our tiramisu.

We mostly separated six eggs and began beating the egg whites with an electric mixer. Sadly, we had spilled just a touch of yoke into the whites which was enough to ruin it. No worries. We started again and the second time around was successful.

As you can see, the the little bit of yolk that accidentally fell into the white ruined the process.

As you can see, the the little bit of yolk that accidentally fell into the white ruined the process.

Steve beat the egg yolks with a bit of sugar and then we folded the whites and yolks back together along with some mascarpone cheese.

Next, we dipped individual lady finger cookies in cooled espresso and placed them in a small, square dish. Then, we added a layer of the cream filling and sprinkling of cocoa powder before repeated the process again.

Our tiramisu, ready to set in the refrigerator. We marked each our creations with a colored band so we could see which one turned out the best.

Next, our instructor insisted that we take a few of the extra lady fingers and dip them in the left over espresso, then dip in the cream filling, and eat! Of course we had to try, I mean, we wouldn’t want to offend our host.

Then, because we’d worked so very hard on our tiramisu, our host broke out the Prosecco and served it with some fried pizza dough that had been sprinkled with sea salt. Prosecco and a snack? This was my type of cooking class.

Steve got very happy when the glasses of Prosecco and the fried pieces of pizza dough came out for a snack.

Steve got very happy when the glasses of Prosecco and the fried pieces of pizza dough came out for a snack.

Next, we learned to make fresh pasta using semolina flour, farm fresh eggs, and just a touch of Tuscan olive oil.

We kneaded the dough before rolling it into a ball and covering it with a bowl to prevent it from drying out.

Next, we used a rolling pin to roll our pasta out into a long rectangle. Once the dough was smooth and thin, we rolled it like a scroll from the top to the middle, and then up from the bottom so the rolls met in the middle.

After kneading and rolling the dough, we rolled it up from each end until they met in the middle.

Then we cut the rolls into small strips, separated them with our cutting knife, and voila — we have pasta!

Next, we cut the rolls into thin strips with a sharp knife.

The fun part was slipping the knife under the noodles and lifting in the middle to see them all unrolled.

Our third and final dish was traditional Tuscan bruschetta — that’s pronounced bru-sketta–which is an antipasto dish consisting of grilled bread topped with garlic and olive oil or other fresh things like tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella.

Tomatoes, basil, and garlic are the main ingredients in tomato bruschetta.

I’ve made bruschetta many times before, but a new tip in our class is to leave any extra tomato seeds and juices on the board after cutting the tomato. These hold much of the acidity of the tomato and can make the bruschetta too runny.

After our cooking class was finished, we wandered outside where Massi and Deb told us more about the gardens and vineyards on the property. We had fun checking out 50 year-old wisteria and some 100-year-old grape vines. The property was just beautiful — full of color and life.

One of the 100-year-old grape vines.

The property was filled with beautiful flowers and plants, including lots of fresh lavender.

Then, we walked up a view steps to a patio where the table was set for the most amazing wine tasting and lunch. My jaw must have dropped when I saw the view. It was just incredible.

This view was just stunning.

We began tasting wine, made right there on the property, along with the bruschetta we’d made and some other cured meats and cheeses.

At lunch, we tried the bruschetta we’d made along with other pizzas, cured meats, and cheeses.

Then, two types of pasta arrived, both using the noodles we’d made just a few minutes before. One dish had a mild tomato sauce with fresh torn basil while the other had a spicier red sauce and thyme. Both were delicious.

The pasta we made!

Throughout our intimate lunch, Deb and Massi shared their expertise about Tuscany and tradition. We learned so much about Chianti Classico wine, food preparation, and everything that goes into owning and operating a small, family winery in Tuscany.

The black rooster is a quick and easy way to spot a Chianti Classico wine.

After a long and relaxing lunch which ended with sweet bites of our tiramisu, we headed into the winery where Massi told us all about how the wine is made, stored, and perfected. We had ample opportunities to ask questions and take photographs, things we don’t always have the opportunities to do when traveling in group tours.

Chianti Classico wine.

As we headed back to the car, I couldn’t help but think that this opportunity would not have been possible without the help of Deb and Massi. They knew this family personally and were able to provide us with a Tuscan experience that is not easily found on TripAdvisor or in a Google search. The personalized experience they gave us made our day special, and it was all the more special because we only did things we wanted to do.


While the tour and transport services were provided to us free of charge by Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver, the opinions in this post are our own. To learn more about Deb and Massi’s services, email them at dlarsen5@icloud.com.

Watch a video about our day in Chianti with Deb and Massi at the link below.

PIN FOR LATER

How we learned how to cook like an Italian on our trip to Tuscany.

 

The Joy of Sidewalk Cafes

The Joy of Sidewalk Cafes

I have always loved travel. As a Spanish teacher, I thought it important to share my love of travel with my students. So, together with a German teacher colleague from across the hall who shared that belief, we planned a European tour for our students. It was hugely successful, and we resolved to do it again. Over the course of eight years, we actually wound up leading four school-sponsored European student tours together.

Outside the palace in Monaco on my fourth guided tour with students.

Outside the palace in Monaco on my fourth guided tour with students from the school where I taught Spanish.

I can’t say enough about the tours’ educational value for our students. The trips opened eyes, expanded world views, taught history and art appreciation, showed incredible sights, and provided much fun for all participants. But for me, personally, a critical element was missing.

On each of those trips, we’d walk past sidewalk cafes and I’d see people sitting in the sun on a beautiful day enjoying foods of their choice and some of the best beers and wines the world has to offer. I, however, was with other people’s teenage children on a tour, and our meals were planned, usually in the back corner of some restaurant’s basement. While the food was good, the menus were set, and it wasn’t appropriate for me, a teacher/school administrator leading students on a school trip to sample the beers or wine.

On our trip to Europe last summer, Ann and I went alone with no students by our side. This opened up a world of freedom I’d only dreamed about on those trips with the kids. I eagerly anticipated wandering the streets, looking for that perfect spot in the shade to have a wonderful meal.

We found just such a spot our first full day in Rome. We sat down and savored an amazing pasta lunch and sipped a pitcher of the house wine –some of the best wine we’ve ever had — in a meal that lasted a blissful two or three hours. (Let me pause a moment to say that in Italy, France, and Spain the wine is plentiful, wonderful, and cheap. Seriously, I’ve seen bottles of decent wine for less than the cost of a bottle of water.) It was so nice to have the freedom from student travel to pause where we wanted for the time we wanted to order from a menu and eat and drink what we wanted. Wine. Caprese. Foot-long sausages. You get the idea.

We make caprese salad all the time at home, but it tastes even better eaten with fresh mozzarella at a sidewalk cafe in the heart of Rome.

We loved the food in Spain, including this foot-long sausage rolled to perfection.

A day or so later, we hopped aboard the Celebrity Equinox and cruised the Mediterranean for a week. We disembarked in Barcelona, and checked in to our hotel. After settling in, we decided we’d like a bite for lunch so headed up the block and found another sidewalk cafe. We sat, sipped wine and beer, and indulged in a delicious meal of Spanish delicacies. We liked the spot enough that we went back for dinner that night, only we ate inside this time to better escape the Spanish heat. Once there, sitting among a multitude of delicious looking Spanish hams hanging over the bar, it hit us: we’d eaten in this place with students on our school-sponsored tour two years before.

Who could forget these hams?

Who could forget these hams?

Could it be true? Yes! The restrooms were in the basement as I remembered, and I even saw our downstairs table in the back corner next to them. Suddenly, my beer tasted a little better and the tapas we’d selected were a little more rich. And then karma served up the most delicious entree, yet: A tour of high school students walked in (and down the stairs). Glory day! I was so excited that I was able to enjoy a meal of my choosing without worrying about kiddos that Ann took a video of me to commemorate the occasion.

Through my schadenfreude, I did feel a little sorry for the adult sponsors, and tried (unsuccessfully) to express my sympathy to them.

Simply put, sidewalk cafes in Europe are all they are cracked up to be. Great food, good drinks, and a relaxing atmosphere where you aren’t pushed through your meal so the restaurant can seat the next group. I know that our future European trips will include slow, relaxing meals in sidewalk cafes–and frankly, I can’t wait.

[well]This blog post is part of a series about the “20 Things We’ll Remember Most About Our Summer Vacation.” Up next: Our Look at the Leaning Tower. [/well]

Thanks, Paul and Connor!

Thanks, Paul and Connor!

Last summer, my brother and nephew took a father/son trip to Italy and did lots of sightseeing, exploring, and even took an Italian cooking class.

Paul (center) and his son Connor (right) enjoyed learning how to make fresh pasta and sauces from experts in Italy.

Paul (center) and his son Connor (right) enjoyed learning how to make fresh pasta and sauces from experts in Italy.

While their schedules were busy, we really appreciated them taking time out to find postcards to send to us, even when it meant several unexpected stops or delays to find a stamp and mailbox. It was so fun to hear from them as they explored new places together and see Europe through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy.

In Rome, they took a Vespa tour of the city and toured Castle Sant Angelo (Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum) along with the Vatican museums.

Connor pointed out that the Vatican has over four MILES of museums! Another favorite of theirs from Rome was the Pantheon, a truly remarkable structure [read more about Rome and the Pantheon here].

Another stop on their trip was in my brother’s favorite Italian City, Florence. Paul spent a semester studying art history there, and has told many tales of the city’s wonders. Connor told us that if we ever go to Florence we must see the Pitti Palace.

Paul’s list of must-sees is a little more complete (as you’d expect from someone who spent a semester there), and includes The David, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, and The Uffizi Gallery. Finally, Paul said a highlight of this trip was getting to walk on the Vasari Corridor.

On their trip, they also visited Venice. Looking at the gondolas pictured on the postcard one can imagine gliding down the canals of the city in the evening, perhaps returning to a hotel after a dinner out.

Paul pointed out the Venice has 120 churches because the city is made up of 120 islands, and each has its own church. Paul and Connor also shared some things to see in Venice, which include the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Cathedral, and the Tintoretto’s.

Paul and Connor returned to the U.S. raving about their trip and all they saw and did. Clearly Italy has a lot to offer and we look forward to getting back there again someday.

[well]When you’re traveling next, be sure to send us a postcard at Postcard Jar, P.O. Box 334, Crete, NE 68333. We’d love to hear from you![/well]