What is artisan food and where can you get it in Tuscany? As someone who has lived in Italy for quite some time, I’m a natural skeptic: the adjective “artisanal” is (wrongly) applied to everything from commercial gelato to leather bags that were most definitely not made in Italy. Especially when it comes to food, I want to know where it comes from, who made it and how. So let’s start with a definition. The word “artisan” makes most sense when applied to locally-made handicrafts with an emphasis on quality and uniqueness – on this blog you can read some examples of artisan workshops in Florence and jewelry artisans in Tuscany. We can define artisan food as being made by hand, in small batches, and with a particular emphasis on preserving traditional techniques local to an area. Here in Tuscany we are really lucky because producers are proud as punch to share their slow food roots and there are many that can safely be called artisans of comestibles.
My grandma Ruth, mother of six kids, used to bark at me over the noise of my many cousins: “you are what you eat Georgette” as we picked pecans from a huge tree in her front yard in rural Texas. Grandma, of course, is always right. That’s why, to create this article, I spoke with Monika Filipinska, chef of Dievole’s Ristorante Novecento near Siena about some of her favorite producers she uses and lucky for us she agreed to share some of her beloved culinary finds that I’ve compiled here along with a personal list of my favorites. Use this list of artisan food makers to plan a tasting trip around Tuscany!
La Maremmana – Where Buffalo Milk Reigns King
This historical dairy farm in southern Grosseto is home to hundreds of animals living in an absolute serenity in their spacious and very green surroundings (this farm dedicates itself to sustainable energy thanks to an energy plant that produces renewable energy from animal manure, leftovers from cheese production and dedicated crops). They are especially known for their buffalo milk production that goes into their lovely ricotta, yogurt, mozzarella di bufala and many other products that Monika uses in her kitchen to create lovely, one-of-a-kind meals for the lucky diners at Novecento. La Maremmana has a dairy shop with regular opening hours where you can load up on fresh and aged cheeses and also taste their incredible buffalo milk gelato. Visits to the animals can be arranged in advance.
“Santa Margherita” di Ville di Corsano – Happy Goats Make Superb Cheese!
This organic farm was born is owned by the lovely Maria and Fiorentino who abandoned their urban lifestyles to create this biodynamic goat cheese paradise about 15 km south of Siena, in the municipality of Monteroni D ‘Arbia, near the town of Ville di Corsano. Together with their daughter Lisa, they farm in the total respect and rhythm of nature as their goats are milked by hand and produce excellent quality milk that goes into their vast array of goat cheese products including cheeses infused with natural herbs. In fact, they are part of the member of the Living Agriculture Association, an association of farmers who apply the practical method of Biodynamic Agriculture as indicated by Rudolf Steiner and subsequently developed by Alex Podolinsky.
Azienda Agricola Casamonti di Castellina in Chianti – Cinta Senese Fans Listen Up!
I have always been a huge fan of Casamonti on social media so I was really delighted to know that this agricola is also one of Chef Monika’s favored producers of Cinta Sensese in the Castellina in Chianti area of Tuscany. Agricola Casamonti specializes in the Cinta Senese breed of pigs (you may recognize them for their black coat with a white sash), producing the typical pork products so famous to Tuscan tradition. Once endangered in the 1990s, the animal has been given the value it deserves, thanks also to being awarded the DOP classification from the European community as a product of high quality tightly tied to tradition here in Tuscany. Consider Casamonti a top salumificio in the area selling a variety of drool-worthy salumi such as Prosciutto di Cinta Senese, capocollo di Cinta Senese, salame di Cinta Senese, finocchiona di Cinta Senese and much more! Get yourself the whole lot and put out a plateful with some Chianti Classico and your night is made!
Santino Corbeddu di Montaperti – Pecorino Cheese Like No Other!
You won’t find much about Santino Corbeddu di Montaperti online but rest assured that this is one of the top artisanal pecorino (sheep cheese) producers in Tuscany from three generations of cheese-makers that call the area of Monteaperti home. They keep strict to the traditional way of making cheese and sell their pecorino fresh, semi-aged and aged 6-12 months; served together this makes for the perfect cheese plate, perhaps a dollop of local chestnut honey or marmalade. It might come as no surprise that they’ve won numerous awards for their excellent cheese, and have been featured in several Italian TV programs.
Fattoria Poggio Alloro – Saffron from San Gimignano
Watch saffron being harvested and you’ll have an entirely new respect for the delicate “red gold” that is a precious spice beloved since the Middle Ages. My friends over at Poggio Alloro organic farm near San Gimignano are well-known saffron producers in the area. The family gathers every November to harvest the delicate saffron flowers which are then cleaned by hand and the stigmas dried near the fireplace in one very exhausting but exhilarating day. Saffron is sold on site in tiny packets and with just a little you can make a delicious risotto. Their shop, on the main road into town, also sells other farm products, like their delicious organic pasta and cookies.
Pastificio Artigianale Fabbri – Pasta “The Way It Was” from Chianti
Five generations of pasta makers have continued their craft at Fabbri in Strada in Chianti in the way that the original founder Giovanni Fabbri would appreciate, staying true to tradition in 100 years of pasta-making using the finest semolina (milled durum wheat) on offer. Thanks to a museum on site, visitors can follow an itinerary about the preparation of wheat in past times: from working the land to harvest time, moulding and of course the sale of the finished product, pasta. The Fabbri factory has coined a special drying method, a low temperature process that ensures the wheat is never cooked before it hits a pot of boiling water. Well worth a visit, you will delight in the passion that they have for their pasta and the wide variety of shapes on offer. We have only one demand, cook the pasta al dente per favore!