kc goes to tuscany
Long weekends mean road trip somewhere fun. Inspired by a NY Times article, Mr. KC and I took advantage of the long Easter weekend to drive down to Tuscany–a 6.5 hour drive. Almost 11 hours later, we finally arrived. Between waiting 1.5 hours at a toll booth in Milan, detours and more RVs and trucks than you could shake a stick at, we learned that road trips in Italy are probably best avoided on holiday weekends.
The destination made up for the journey though. We checked into our amazing agriturismo outside Montefollonico. The view of Montepulciano in the distance was fantastic and I can only imagine that the landscape would be even more beautiful in the summer and fall when the vines of the surrounding vineyards fill out.
Sadly, there was little time to rest, we headed out for our first meal of the journey. 11 hours of traffic nightmares were undone in just under 2 hours courtesy of the most amazing steak I’ve ever eaten. Bistecca fiorentina is taken to new levels by Osteria Acquacheta.
This photo isn’t an exaggeration of what to expect. The small, narrow restaurant leads to the focal point of the kitchen where you see these slabs of beef on display. When you order the steak, Giulio (featured above) asks “small or big”. Small comes in at 1.1 kg (2.42 lb), the big coming in at a whopping 1.7 kgs (3.74 lb), but comes with filet. As much as I wanted to be able to take on the 1.7 kg steak just to try the filet, we knew better. So, the 1.1 kg for the two of us it was. Giulio hacked off a slice, came over to show us. A few minutes later, our beautifully charred steak arrived with two contorni of baked pecorino fresco and mashed cauliflower with shaved truffles. Washed down with a 1/2 liter carafe of red, the traffic and stress of bad Italian drivers seemed but a distant memory.
The next day we awoke to breakfast overlooking Montepulciano and I was introduced to a cheese I fell in love with, marzolino. A soft, white cheese sold year-round, but that comes into its own only in the spring when the sheep graze on the first grasses. I spent the rest of our weekend on the hunt for marzolino only to find that everyone was sold out (I had to settle for an herbed version I finally found).
We then headed out to our tour of the Avignonesi winery, home of a very famous, yet very expensive vin santo. As someone who lived in Florence as a college student, I know vin santo as a strong, fortified dessert wine. Not here. Using the best grapes of each harvest, allowing them to dry for 6 months laid out on bamboo and aging the wine for 10 years (yes, a decade) in small oak barrels, this vin santo takes on the consistency of maple syrup and a taste that for someone like me is nearly impossible to describe. One half bottle will set you back a cool 210€. We settled on splitting a 25€ glass, making it the most expensive, yet most memorable glass of wine I’ve ever ordered. Of course, it came after three courses of great food, each paired with amazing wines (including a chardonnay that made me realize that perhaps I don’t hate chardonnay after all), which didn’t hurt. Lunch isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny and I would come again for a repeat performance any day.
The rest of our weekend was spent jumping from one amazing meal to the next. But, what made the trip was the weather, the views and the fact that being spring, it wasn’t full of tourists. Being Easter weekend, we certainly weren’t alone, but it was the perfect balance of the cities feeling abuzz without being overly crowded. The only downside was that we had to leave. But not without a little over a kilo in cheese and a new kitchen toy (to be revealed later).
Where to stay:
Follonico: Stunning property that has been restored with an incredible eye to detail. Fabio and Susanna strike the perfect balance between being service oriented and giving you your space. Prices are about 125€/night when you book ahead regardless of season–a deal for that area. Free wi-fi to boot.
Where to eat and drink:
Osteria Acquacheta: Well-done steak eaters need not apply. Your only choice is small or large and everything is cooked to the chef’s liking–is there any other way? The meat is local, beautiful and the coarse salt it’s rubbed with compliments the flavors beautifully.
Avignonesi: Afternoon wine tour complete with lunch (arrive at noon and leave at 3-3:30). The wine and food are enough to induce a coma, but the bill will sober you up. It doesn’t run cheap, but given you’re made to feel like you have your own kitchen staff and vineyard grounds for 3.5 hours, it doesn’t seem so bad. 50€/person for 3-course lunch complete with more wine than you can(should) drink.
13 Gobbi: Relatively unremarkable compared to our other dining spots, but their signature dish (tagliatelle cooked slightly pasta al dente and then mixed around in a well aged pecorino rind) offered some entertainment. A good spot if you’re at Follonico and don’t want to travel far. Not worth the trip otherwise.
Il Leccio: Another highlight of our trip. A destination of area wine makers and aficionados alike as they supposedly boast the largest selection of Brunellos in the world. We ordered a Banfi Brunello 2004 and loved every second of it. Order the large antipasto plate–an amazing selection of cheese, vegetables, pate and meats. A meal in and of itself.
Osteria della Porta: My only regret was that we didn’t come for lunch which would’ve allowed us to take in more of the views of Monticchiello. The enoteca boasts an incredible balcony overlooking the road up to Monticchiello. Reservations a must.