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Torre del Tartufo - Report on a Cooking Course in Tuscany

L.Nightshade Nov 2, 2011 05:56 PM

At the end of a winding, bumpy road up a hill, a few miles from the Arezzo train station, Mr. Nightshade and I finally approached Torre del Tartufo, our home in Tuscany for one delicious week. The beautiful, old (parts of the building date to the 12th century) villa sits on a green hillside overlooking the valley. Barbara, a treasure of a manager, welcomed us, showed us our lovely room (with a big fireplace and idyllic views), and gave us a quick tour of the premises, including the grand teaching kitchen, the help-yourself bar, the always-ready espresso maker, the dining area (with a huge fireplace), the large, comfortable living room (with yet another fireplace) (and a computer), etc, etc.

Later in the evening (after wandering the grounds, checking out the gardens, and taking in the views), we met the other students (one was another chowhound!) over salami, olives, cheese, bruschetta, and prosecco. Shortly thereafter, we were served our first dinner, and the last dinner we would eat without preparing some portion of it ourselves. At this time we also met Franco the chef and instructor. Every day of our stay we would find new cause to marvel at Franco's skills at cooking and teaching.

Our first-night dinner consisted of caprese salad, risotto with leek and speck, Arezzo-style tagliata with rough mashed potatoes, and panna cotta with mixed berries. To accompany, we enjoyed a Pinot Grigio, and a Collepino Merlot Sangiovese (I think. Maybe the other chowhound in attendance will chime in about the wines we had during our stay, as he is far more knowledgable than I.) After dinner a big basket with vin santo, limoncellos, grappas, bitters, etc. came to the table, and we all indulged. This, we soon learned, would be a nightly ritual.

During our classes we divided into groups, each making some portion of the dinner, and in addition, the next day's lunch. Of course, each meal consisted of an antipasto, a first course, a second course (at a minimum - our last meal we had both rack of lamb and osso buco!), and dessert, so plenty of dishes were made. Franco gave the recipes (often with modifications to suit the seasonal availability of ingredients), then outlined and demonstrated techniques. He and his assistants, Paola and Ryan, then buzzed about the kitchen offering further instruction, encouragement, and assistance to all of us. While students here arrive with different skill levels, from self-professed non-cooks, to enthusiastic home-cooks, to those with professional experience, Franco made every dish attainable, informative, and fascinating for all. And at every meal we were amazed with what we had made. (By the way, it is so much fun to cook when you have someone else constantly cleaning up after you!)

One big pleasure of the experience was simply enjoying the ingredients. Many things come directly from the grounds: truffles abound (hence the name), a local hunter supplies wild boar, herbs grow in the garden, honey is made from chestnut and acacia trees. And of course, wonderful local wines are in constant circulation.

The photos below show the villa; our room; the view from our window; the great kitchen; some of the fresh ingredients; Franco at the pizza oven; three of our pizzas (we each made our own). Most of my food photos were unsuccessful, as we sat down to the final products accompanied by firelight and candles. What I have pictured here includes eggplant pudding on a bed of green peppers with anchovy and capers; butternut squash and ricotta tart over zucchini pesto with red onion relish; pork sausages; rack of lamb stuffed with pecorino atop onions, sundried tomatoes and pine nuts; and the panna cotta from the first night.

Dishes of note that are not pictured, included wild boar stew with polenta, butternut squash ravioli, lasagne with white duck ragout, chicken breast stuffed with pecorino and truffles, zabaglione, and oh, too many to list.

If you want to investigate further, this is the website for both schools run by the same people (we might have to try the other one in the not-too-distant future):
http://www.tuscookany.com/

I realize this is a pretty glowing review. Lest anyone think this is a shill post by the school management, please look at my Chowhound history. I've been posting a while. This was my first trip to Italy, and I have no association with Torre del Tartufo other than my recent stay there. Maybe I should say something negative so this looks more believable. Well, the water didn't get steaming hot in my shower at night. But it's all solar heated. And the bathroom is all marble, with brass fittings, and a window into a beautiful courtyard. And I could step out of the shower and sit by the fireplace that took up most of the bedroom wall. And look out the window at the moon over the Tuscan hills. And sip a glass of grappa. Really. Can't complain.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  1. twodales Nov 3, 2011 08:05 AM

    I am CHARTREUSE with envy at the moment. Considering asking the child to cease her college studies so I can redirect her tuition payments to go take this course. Would that be wrong??????

    5 Replies
    1. re: twodales
      L.Nightshade Nov 3, 2011 09:25 AM

      Aw, better keep her in school. You can drop hints that this is the gift you want when she gets a great job!

      1. re: L.Nightshade
        twodales Nov 3, 2011 11:36 AM

        She is going to a very highly regarded (translation: expensive) art school so probably won't have a great job. But she will be doing what she loves hopefully and that is worth quite a lot..

        1. re: twodales
          L.Nightshade Nov 3, 2011 01:42 PM

          What a good parent you are to support her goals. You are right, doing what you love is priceless!

      2. re: twodales
        c
        chad o Mar 29, 2012 02:54 PM

        You must go it wouldn't be wrong, how about she takes the semester off and goes with you. Ok you can't go but it was fun thinking about
        Chad

         
        1. re: chad o
          mariacarmen Mar 30, 2012 11:34 PM

          very fun! and Linda's too nice - Chad's right - go! and take your child with you - as good an education as any!

      3. p
        piero Nov 3, 2011 01:42 PM

        Since the portion of the website indicating "prices" is under construction, could you please tell us how much your week cost?

        1 Reply
        1. re: piero
          L.Nightshade Nov 3, 2011 01:50 PM

          It's possible they are changing prices. We paid so many months ago. It's not cheap, but SO worth it for what you get. Try this link:
          http://www.italiancookerycourse.com/i...

        2. linguafood Nov 3, 2011 01:51 PM

          Gorgeous pics, and it sounds like a fantastic vacation! I love zucchini blossoms, and what better to place to make / eat them than in Tuscany...

          2 Replies
          1. re: linguafood
            L.Nightshade Nov 3, 2011 01:58 PM

            Zucchini blossoms are one of my favorite things. I ate them every chance I got.
            I thought of you several times in restaurants. Do you do Italian? There are so many menus out there that need your services!

            1. re: L.Nightshade
              linguafood Nov 3, 2011 02:10 PM

              One of the best meals my man and I had was in Tuscany 10 years ago on some hill top near Siena with a wonderful view of a valley with pine trees & the sunset -- a 7-course spring menu. One of the courses was fried zucchini blossoms. Heaven on a plate.

              But I don't remember having a single bad dish during that vacation. Even when we (a group of Bard college buddies) were cooking ourselves. Must go back.

          2. inaplasticcup Nov 3, 2011 01:53 PM

            Nightshade, I am jealous, jealous, JEALOUS in the best way over your trip!!!! Gorgeous setting, gorgeous food - I am SO thrilled for you that you got to enjoy this.

            Truffles, wild boar, that view - I die.

            Thanks for sharing the pics. Vicarious heaven!!!

            1 Reply
            1. re: inaplasticcup
              L.Nightshade Nov 3, 2011 02:07 PM

              Thanks ina, so nice to hear from you! It really was the vacation of a lifetime. Food, wine, setting, all perfect!

            2. l
              lairrah Nov 4, 2011 07:22 AM

              As you mention, the glowing review seems almost too good to be true, however, I too can attest that it is all true. I was fortunate enough to go for a week in August of 2010 as a solo traveler and had one of the best trips of my life. I am trying to plan a trip to go back soon. I can't say enough about Franco, Barbara, and Paola - they are fantastic. In fact, I am making some lemoncello here at home (since I finished what I brought back) for Christmas gifts this year. I have pictures and blog entries posted from my trip to Torre del Tartufo as well at whereisL.blogspot.com (just go to posts from August 2010).

              1. c
                chad o Nov 13, 2011 07:43 AM

                We went with some friends two years ago and it was simply awesome. Franco was the best accomadations grea. Tour in the morning, cook in the afternoon, eat and drink at night. We loved it and made some new friends who by the way sent us your article. If you like to cook don't miss it if you don't like to cook take your spouce and you nap or read or hike in the afternoon thats what my wife did and she loved it. Thanks for the memory Keith..

                1. k
                  Ktmhusker Mar 29, 2012 08:37 AM

                  What a beautiful post -- and I can attest that everything said is absolutely on point. My husband and I were lucky enough to spend a glorious week at Torre del Tartufo in mid October 2011. ( If you posted shortly after you returend then we were likely there just before you and you stayed in "our room"!) Torre del Tartufo truly is an amazing place to spend a week. Barbara is a delight and catered to everyone's needs seemingly without effort. Though I know it has to be incredibly difficult to keep both households running and all the guests happy. Franco is a wonderful chef and instructor. He has quite the personality and was able to account for all differnet levels of cooking ability and varied personalities. Ryan and Paola were also so much fun and were a big part of the experience. We met some wonderful people during our week and ended up ditching our plans to go sight seeing on the mornings of the days we had class as it was so beautiful at the villa and was so much fun to relax with our housemates. The food was amazing and we've been throwing Italian feasts ever since we returned. I've become quite the gnocchi expert! I highly recommend this exerience to anoyone who enjoys cooking and fabulous food. We will definitely go back and hope to bring some foodie friends with us.

                   
                  1. mariacarmen Mar 29, 2012 12:32 PM

                    how the hell did i miss this??? Fabulous report, L.! i don't know how you forced yourself to leave. the food looks wonderful. that's it, i'm packing my bags, not for Tuscany, but for YOUR place, since we know you can cook like this!

                    But seriously, if i ever get the chance, I'd love to do this.

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