Cook In Tuscany leaves indelible mark on the culinary and traveling soul
Cook in Tuscany is a cooking school located in a rural hilltop village overlooking the fertile farmlands and rolling hills of Tuscany. This article is based on my own personal experience attending the week-long cooking school, which I found to be the perfect introduction to Tuscany.
Attending Cook in Tuscany is the quintessential experience that everyone dreams about when they think of this incredible part of Central Italy known as Tuscany. The region is the very personification of the country…rolling hills with a terroir that produces the best wine and olive oil the world-over. Warm sunny days with cool breezy evenings. Fine food, rich history and unique architecture with moss-aged roof tiles and stone structures that date back hundreds and hundreds of years.
The Cook in Tuscany experience encompasses Italian cooking classes lead by local chefs. Sightseeing to lesser known areas of Tuscany. Free time to shop and explore. Wine tasting and other activities. Cook in Tuscany has devised an itinerary that perfectly balances the vacation experience.
I attended Cook in Tuscany with my sister Susanne, who had never been to Europe. Italy of course, was on the top of her list of places to visit.
We flew into Rome and drove to Montefollonico where we checked into the La Chiusa Hotel, the host property for Cook in Tuscany. When we arrived and saw the hotel and hilltop views, we thought, “This is quintessential Tuscany!”
We were shown to our room, which was a suite with two rooms located in the oldest part of the building, dating back some 900 years. When we walked into our accommodations through a set of open French doors and looked around…we were enamored. There were actually three sets of French doors in all, one set opening to the entrance, the other two to our own private terrace from each bedroom. The floor was brick with thick stone walls, it was beautifully decorated and would be our home for the next six nights.
After getting settled and freshened up, we went up one flight of stairs to a terrace overlooking vineyards, rolling hills and olive groves for the welcome dinner where we would meet our fellow Tuscany cooking school guests. Each of us took turns telling our stories, such as where we were from and a bit about our backgrounds. Susanne and I seemed to stand out a bit with our story of Six Degrees of Sibling Separation.
Our hosts, Linda, George and Whitney Meyers shared their story of how this American family ended up in Tuscany. We learned about their previous professions/lives and their passion for travel and food, then sharing those discoveries with others.
A common theme I noticed during the week was those we would meet along the way, all seemed to have left a previous profession and had transitioned their lives from corporate careers, to follow their dreams and passions. The people we met were very inspiring. Some of their stories hit home with me as I once worked in the corporate world as a marketer and left to follow my dream of travel. When I started traveling, I had no idea I would actually turn my passion into a profession and become an author and well-known travel blogger.
The welcome dinner was a lovely start to our Cook in Tuscany experience. Over the next week we would visit several neighboring villages, get cooking demonstrations from local chefs, and eat some incredible meals while washing them down with some fantastic local vino.
Here is what our culinary journey at Cook in Tuscany looked like:
Day Two at Cook in Tuscany
We took a private bus to the village of Cortona where we would meet with local chef, Antonietta Wingate of Nettta’s Kitchen. Antonietta took us to a local market where we picked up some of the fresh ingredients we would used to make our lunch. Back in the kitchen we learned how to make fresh pasta along with some other items.
After everything was finished cooking, we sat at a large table in a beautiful arch-filled room where we feasted on what we had helped prepare. During lunch we learned that Antonietta was actually British with Italian roots. She had always dreamed of returning to Tuscany to open a cooking school. Later in life she realized her dream and seems quite happy sharing her passion for Italian cooking with others.
After a bit of sightseeing and shopping in Cortona (which by the way is the town in which the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun” was filmed), we headed back to La Chiusa for a bit of rest. Later that afternoon we headed up the hill to the walled part of Montefollonico where we would have an exceptional meal at La Botte Piena.
Day Three Cooking in Tuscany
After a lovely breakfast at La Chiusa (our hotel), we walked back up the hill to La Botte Piena for a cooking class. Simone & Elena, the couple who own and run the restaurant, told us a bit of their story. Both left traditional jobs to pursue their passions of opening a restaurant. Elena had no formal training in cooking, but studied and experimented, honing her culinary skills. Every dish tells a story, which involves process, knowledge, time and dedication.
To dovetail the food, Simone took his passion for wine, went to school and became a leading sommelier. In addition to selecting all of the wines for the restaurant, Simone also collects wine and buys them early from producers, betting on their value increasing over time. This dynamic duo has created a wonderful dining experience.
After lunch we headed to Bagno Vignoni, which is a village situated on a hill above the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany. It is a popular destination known for its hot springs. During our visit, there was an art installation on display in the main spring. Water leaves a walled off pond in the center of town and works its way down the hillside. Many people will stop and soak their feet in the warm water, which is exactly what we did.
We then went to Pienza where we had some of the best gelato I’ve ever eaten at Buon Gusto Gelateria. They serve up many unique flavors, such as Spinach and Kiwi (just one example). This is another story of someone who went after their dreams. The owner worked in a Michelin star restaurant and left his career for his passion for Gelato. He now has several stores and loves waking up in the morning to see what new creation he can come up with to put a smile on his customers faces.
After strolling around Pienza for a while. We went to La Bandita Townhouse for dinner. This was another exceptional meal paired with some great local wines.
Day Four Cooking in Tuscany
After breakfast at La Chiusa we went back to the kitchen to get a class from Della Chiusa a former Michelin star chef, cookbook author (La Cucina Toscana) and former owner of the La Chiusa hotel. This was a very special treat to get instruction from such an accomplished chef.
The energy at each of our cooking classes was palpable. There was often music playing and dancing was encouraged. One of the things we made this day with chef Della was spun sugar, where we took hot sugar and stretched it out to make a garnish for one of the dishes. The dancing that ensued with this activity had everyone in stitches.
George, Linda and Whitney are from New Orleans with some wonderful Southern hospitality charm that makes all the guests feel welcome. We all started out as strangers, but by the end, had left as friends.
After lunch we went to Montepulciano before heading to the Andreucci Tenumenti vineyards for a truffle hunt, wine tasting and dinner. This was such a wonderful experience as none of us had ever been truffle hunting.
We were honored by one of the country’s top truffle hunters who explained the process and took us out into the forest with a couple of his truffle hunting dogs. It didn’t take long for the dogs to pick up the scent. As a matter of fact, we had five truffles in maybe ten minutes, which was a very fast harvest we were told.
We went back to the vineyard where a stupendous meal was prepared, including one pasta dish that used our fresh truffles. Each course of our meal was paired with a different wine, in a different glass that was specifically selected for the varietal. By the end of the meal and tasting, our wine glass was nearly big enough to stick our head into. Flavio, the wine master and 7th generation family member to run this winery, shared the reasons for the different size and shapes of the glasses. Essentially, the larger glasses are to open up the mouth to fully experience the wine in every aspect of the palate, which is important for red wines.
Flavio and his team are not only carrying on the traditions of producing world class wines since 1794, but he is also a very funny and charismatic individual. So much so, that one might mistake him for a movie character…he can play the role of the stereotypical Italian playboy quite well. Flavio is extremely handsome and had fun teasing one of the guests in a playful manner. We all got a kick out of his antics. The entire experience was one of the many highlights of the week.
Day Five Cooking in Tuscany
The next day we went to Il Casale Azienda Biologica, a fantastic agro tourism farm located in the hills of Monticchiello. Here we got a tour of the farm and learned how they make their cheese, while also getting a lesson on how to make focaccia bread in a wood-fired oven. This was followed by an incredible lunch in the shade overlooking the hills of Tuscany. This is a place with more than big tractors and machines, it has a buzz the exudes a relaxed harmonic balance of life.
Day Six at Cook in Tuscany
We went back up the hill to La Botte Piena where we had a wine tasting and lunch. Then we strolled the small village of Montefollonico before heading back to the hotel where we had a final dinner and said goodbye to our new friends.
Cook in Tuscany was an experience that surpassed even that of this seasoned traveler. From learning how to make homemade pasta, cheese, sauces, gelato and other Italian cuisine and ingredients—to the social interactions with chefs, personnel and other guests—to seeing rural villages and the Tuscan countryside, attending Cook in Tuscany is an experience that will leave an indelible mark on the culinary and traveling soul.
If you have any questions about my Cook in Tuscany experience in Montefollonico, Italy, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’ve ever attended a Cook in Tuscany class, leave a comment and share your experience. If you’d like more information about attending Cook in Tuscany, click here.