It was dark and we were lost. Driving down a tiny bump dirt track travelling further into what seemed like a forest from The Deliverance, I was wishing we had hired a 4wd. With the help of the owners we finally found the farmhouse we had decided to rent for a week in Tuscany.
The following morning, as the room filled with light and I opened my window, I caught a sense of what it is like to live in a Tuscan farmhouse. The house is in a valley, you can’t see any other houses other than the owners of the property who live in a smaller house a few hundred metres away. I had escaped, I was on holidays!
The old stone farmhouse is very simple. If your holidays don’t invole roughing it a bit then this place is not for you. I mean it is very clean and tidy, linen is supplied and there is a well equiped kitchen (although no oven). It was the end of summer and getting cool in the valley, the house would be great in middle of summer but it was very cold once the sun disappeared. There are two double rooms and a bunk bed room, all with their own bathrooms. My room upstairs was accessed by steep wooden stairs which had seen better days and required careful negotiation after sampling any local wine.
Behind the house was a small running stream deep in the gully, so we couldn’t venture down. The house is owned by an Italian man and his lovely Hungarian wife. They live a seemingly simple life, the husband working very hard to keep their small farm while also travelling to work as a gardener. His lovely wife tending the farm also. They make their own wine, a very interesting Claret and make their own olive oil. The farm didn’t look that big to me so I was surprised how little land is needed to provide a semi-self sustaining life.
There was a hunting shack on the dirt road leading to the farmhouse, apparently there are cinghiale (wild boar) and deer that live in the surrounding forrest. We saw the men gather there one day and heard the dogs as they hunted. We didn’t see any cinghiale as we drove the bumpy track but a deer leaped onto the road late one night.
Their olive oil was amazing. We were invited to their house one afternoon for strong coffee, claret and an olive oil tasting. After bottling their olive oil they put some into the freezer. I didn’t realise that this was common practice for long term storage of olive oil to keep it away from light, air and high temperatures. They had some which they had thawed. It came out cloudy and with a strong peppery taste which I inhailed in the back of my throat, making my eyes water.
We were lucky enough to be given some of the vegetables which were grown on the farm. Nothing can beat home grown fruit and vegetables. They gave us swiss chard, large tomatoes, capsicum, courgettes, and baby aubergines. We had a bit of a forage around the house to find a fig tree (unfortunately with alot of unripe fruit), plums, lovage, sage, lemon thyme, and a grape vine over the entire terrace. The owner caught me standing on a stool picking the grapes one day, thankfully she didn’t mind. They tasted like grapes, do you remember that?? I couldn’t stop eating them.
On our second day we passed through the village, Reggello, to find a lone cheese, bread and meat stand. Our Italian is dreadful but you know we managed to get some food even if it wasn’t quite what we wanted, it all looked great.
We met a nice local man who took a fancy to my travelling companion, he told the guys behind the stall to make us some ‘sandwiches’ made with salame finocchiona and the foccacia at the stall. Salame finocchiona is an Italian salami made with pork and fennel seeds. It’s then air dried for a few months.
I really had no idea what the cheese was but it tasted good. It had a slightly creamy texture, salty, with medium bite. Maybe an aged Pecorino Toscano? If I had my ‘Cheese’ book by Patricia Michelson and it wasn’t in a crate somewhere in the Sydney docks I might have more of a chance to guess what it might be.
We kind of gathered he thought this was the best way to eat it and we had to try it. He then took us to the bakery across the road and pointed to some cannoli, schiacciata (a grape bread) and a few local treats he thought we should also try. How sweet, they’re the sort of encounters that make holidays memorable.
I love to stay in out of the way places away from tourists but with access to surrounding villages and historical places. Reggello is close to the main freeway from Florence to Rome and therefore it was easy to zip on and off the freeway taking us to the small towns and villages around Tuscany.