Its panorama is recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Here Ridley Scott, in the film “The Gladiator“, shot the scene of the meeting in the Champs-Elysées, in which the protagonist reunites with his family. The great Franco Zeffirelli set “Brother Sun, Sister Moon“, the film about San Francesco. Bernardo Bertolucci used these landscapes for “Stealing Beauty“, Anthony Minghella for “The English Patient“.
Val d’Orcia, a large valley located in Tuscany, in the province of Siena, and next to Umbria, is a fairytale place. Not only at the cinema but also at the table.
In the Renaissance some great painters portrayed its vast expanses, interrupted here and there by rows of cypresses, as places where man and nature lived a perfect symbiosis. That harmony has been preserved and has been passed down to the present day.
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A harmony that is often found even at the table. Some say that here the culinary tradition is characterized by the creativity of those who have known the misery of a demanding land, in which abundance was sometimes synonymous with waste and the equivalent thrift of skill.
Sit in one of the many restaurants or in one of the typical taverns among the wonderful picturesque villages of the valley, such as Montalcino and Pienza, to enjoy an unforgettable experience also for the taste.
Among the excellences of the area there are certainly the Pici. It is a poor dish of the peasant tradition: a handmade pasta, similar to spaghetti but wider. The real recipe does not include the addition of egg, recently introduced in some variations, but only the use of water, flour and a little salt. The most classic seasoning is with Aglione sauce, rabbit liver sauce or, more simply, “crumbs”, or topped with Tuscan bread crumbs fried in extra virgin olive oil.
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The bean soup is also a unique dish which, in the Montalcino area, goes perfectly with full-bodied wines such as Brunello. The ingredient of this other poor dish of the same peasant tradition are white beans.
As an appetizer, serve the Pecorino di Pienza, a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is among the oldest cheeses in the world. It conquered the limelight of the New York Times because it tastes sweeter than pecorino romano. At the Marusco and Maria wine shop, on the course of Pienza, they will show you the aging cellars.
It is excellent as an appetizer, but it can also accompany a plate of bean soup, Cinta Senese ham. The peculiarity of the ham lies in the raw material: only animals raised in the wild are used. They are dark-skinned pigs that give dry meat, thick fiber with little fat, but very tasty. Excellent that of Sergio Falaschi from San Miniato.
For lovers of the second … well jump on a Florentine steak. The origins of this breed have been known for over 2000 years. The cut, very precious, offers an absolutely irresistible guarantee of taste.
To top it off, ask for Panforte. Today it is completely covered in sugar but was once simply based on pepper and spices. Its preparation, not surprisingly, was entrusted to the apothecaries who mainly used almonds, oranges, lemon, melon. It was also called Panpepato because it was covered with a layer of black pepper and it was a very tasty dessert that is still produced in some areas of Tuscany on the occasion of the Christmas holidays.
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Panforte itself was born when Queen Margherita visited Siena and it was decided to create a version of the typical dessert without using melon tanning and with a coating of icing sugar instead of traditional black pepper.
It is also an object of play, tournaments and revelry. Voluminously packed like a disc, it is thrown onto a long table. The aim of the game is to position the cake as close as possible to the opposite limit from the launch point, making it crawl along the wooden planks. The best players manage to make Panforte stop precariously and thus fix the hut. In the end, the challenge makes everyone happy, defeated and winners, in the general pax augustea which sees tasty slices served equally divided. The Panforte Game Tournament is held in Pienza every year, as well as in Castiglione d’Orcia.
Among the slow food certified restaurants “Know your meal” we recommend La Taverna del Pian delle Mura in Vivo d’Orcia. They serve organic and seasonal products and handmade pasta with ancient grains. Try the viterbese leprino rabbit raised in the open, boned and stuffed with Cinta Senese ham from Podere BioAmiata and aromatic herbs from the garden.
To eat good cacio di Pienza, but also for a snack with friends, stop at Podere S. Polo by Ernello Armellini. In a former old dairy in San Quirico d’Orcia, you can make the real Tuscan snack at La Bottega di Cacio.
A true innkeeper, of those of the past, can be found at the Sette di Vino counter, in the Spanish Steps in Pienza. His name is Luciano and he will be your guide at the table and not. The raw material is excellent and it is processed little to sublimate its smells and flavors.
In San Quirico d’Orcia, knock on the Bottega di Portanuova. Cold cuts and cheeses are served together with a passion for food. Local beers are also excellent.
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Then, if you love dining outdoors, enjoy a Cinta Senese ham sandwich in the shade of the Checche oak, a monumental tree named after a bird, the magpie. It is more than 300 years old, about twenty meters high and has a trunk of almost 5 with a crown of over 34 meters in diameter. The beautiful Val d’Orcia kissed by the sun here hides the “first green monument of Italy“.
I definitely got hungry! What about you?