14 Top Foods In Tuscany You Need To Know About

Are you planning a trip to Tuscany, or maybe just dreaming about one? Any trip to Italy is defined by the food you eat while there. Food (along with wine) is at the heart of Italian culture. Italian life and history all begins at the dinner table, so to understand this magnificent country you need to understand the cuisine.

fresh cheeses and prosciutto at the local market in San Gimignano, Tuscany
Market Day in San Gimignano, Tuscany

First it is important to understand that food here is entirely regional. It is not like “Italian Food” in America, which is typically made up of heavy pasta dishes drowned in cheese and sugary tomato sauce, and doesn’t vary much no matter where you are.

One thing I have learned from years of private tour guiding is that many travelers expect to find lasagna, fettucine alfredo, baked ziti and foods like that everywhere we go. Fettucine alfredo is American, not Italian. Lasagna, although readily available at tourist restaurants is not a national food, and I have never seen baked ziti anywhere in Italy!

My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) has an entire section on foods and wines by region, and tells you what to order, where. The food is vastly different in Florence and Rome for example, and you don’t want to miss out on an incredible local dish because no one told you! My new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome tells you all about what to order in the Eternal City, and goes into much more depth.

If you are heading to Tuscany (ever) you need to know about the cuisine and what you absolutely must try while you are there. Tuscan cuisine is one of my personal favorites. Known as cucina povera, (poor people’s food), Tuscan food is locally sourced (nostrale or ours) tends to be quite simple with few ingredients. It started as a cuisine forced by economy or poverty but has remained that way by choice.

The Top 14 Tuscan Foods You Need To Know

I spend a great deal of time in Tuscany and just love the food there! You see provincial differences as you travel across the region but the following foods tend to be available in most areas and are definitely worth seeking out. Lets start with cheeses:

1. Pecorino

Pecorino cheese from Pienza in Tuscany
Pecorino cheese from Pienza

Every local market will have vendors selling slices of pecorino from giant wheels. It is fantastic on its own or drizzled with a little local honey. I also love the piquant pecorino with peppers or chilis, and the pecorino tartufo flavored with local truffles.

2. Ricotta

One of my friends serves this every time I come for dinner. Don’t confuse Tuscan ricotta with the stuff you buy here at the supermarket – that’s like comparing a beat up ’81 Fiat Panda with a tricked out brand new Ferrari. The 2 ricottas share a name only.

You can find fresh Tuscan ricotta at local markets as well as on the menu in many restaurants. Ideally you want fresh ricotta from the farm. It almost looks like a cake or a jello mold, and you slice it and drizzle fresh local honey over it. Sometimes it is sprinkled with nuts. You will be hooked at first bite – it is unbelievably good!

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Soups

One of the reasons I just love being in Tuscany in the winter or early spring/late fall is because of their hearty soups. Even in the summer if we get an overcast or rainy day I always find my way to a bowl of Tuscan soup. Both the soups below are very traditional and in my opinion can also be filed under Tuscan comfort foods.

3. Pappa al Pomodoro

pappa al pomodoro soup is a tuscan specialty
Pappa al Pomodoro soup

You can’t get more cucina povera than this soup! Yesterday’s leftover oven baked bread, olive oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes. Sometimes it has more of a mush than soup consistency, but however it comes it is incredible.

4. Ribollita

ribollita soup at eataly
Tuscan Ribollita soup at Eataly

This is another peasant soup that will fill you up and warm your soul. This time yesterday’s leftover oven baked Tuscan bread is mixed with cannellini beans and vegetables.

5. Fagioli con Salsiccia

Tuscan fagioli con salsiccia - a must have tuscan food
Fagioli con Salsiccia

This is a soup made of beans and sausage, normally a local spicy sausage.

6. Breads

Every area within Tuscany has its own breads, and really, you should try as many as you can! Before you panic about gluten and swelling up from eating carbs – don’t worry it’s all good! Unlike here in the U.S. wheat in Italy is uncompromised. They don’t have Monsanto filling the wheat with pesticides and they don’t have GMO’s, so even the most sensitive digestive systems seem to do just fine. Personally, I can’t eat bread in the USA, I swell up, get an upset tummy and feel like hell. In Italy I can eat it every day with no problems.

I love buying breads at local markets to take home to my apartment, but if you’re not doing the vacation rental thing at least make sure you always at least try the bread in restaurants.

7. Panzanella

Before we leave breads behind you need to know about this bread salad. Once again it uses yesterday’s bread, this time soaked in olive oil, mixed with fresh tomatoes and basil and dressed in olive oil with maybe a little vinegar. I’ve had it with olives in there too – I think it varies depending on where you go. Sometimes when lunching at friends’ homes they have served up variations on the traditional panzanella with sliced red onion, cucumber and lettuce. However it is served, it’s fantastic!

panzanella is a tuscan salad made with bread, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil
Panzanella salad
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Pasta

Each area of Italy has its own types of pasta. The size and shape of any given pasta is based on the type of sauce it is served with. One traditionally Tuscan pasta that you will find on almost every restaurant menu is pappardelle. This is a wide, ribbon type pasta, served with heavier meat sauces.

Tagliatelle is another local pasta seen on menus everywhere. Also found all over neighboring Emilia-Romagna, tagliatelle is a narrower ribbon than pappardelle.

8. Pappardelle con Cinghiale

the king of tuscan pastas, pappardelle con cinghiale. This is a wild boar sauce served with flat ribbon pasta
Pappardelle al Cinghiale

This is the king of pastas in Tuscany! Cinghiale is wild boar, the taxidermied versions of which you see everywhere. Don’t panic – it doesn’t taste gamey, it’s just incredibly hearty. Every restaurant has its own recipe and way of preparing its cinghiale, so you can have it every day (as my son has done) and never have it quite the same way twice. This is really, really good, and if I were to recommend only one traditional Tuscan food for you to try, Cinghiale would be it.

9. Tagliatelle con Tartufo

Tuscany is truffle country, so when truffles are in season you will find this dish everywhere. Again, each restaurant seems to have their own recipe, so you can eat it everywhere you go and it will always be different, but also will always be super good.

tagliatelle al tartufo i a must eat food from Tuscany.
Tagliatelle con Tartufo

About pastas: I’ve seen cinghiale served with either pappardelle or tagliatelle, so it may also be a restaurant’s personal preference.

Italians typically eat multiple courses, way more than I can handle. If I am ordering pasta I normally don’t order anything else. That bowl alone will fill you. Also, if planning on ordering pasta I exercise extreme caution with the antipasti when it comes out – it is so easy to fill up snacking on meats and cheeses and olives!

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10. Bistecca Fiorentina

bistecca fiorentina, tuscany's steak from Chiana Valley
Bistecca Fiorentina

You will see giant steaks in restaurant windows all over Florence and nearby town. These are the famous steaks from the Chiana Valley. Each one is 3 to 4 lbs on its own – they really are enormous! So big in fact that they not only cook them front and back but also on the sides. If you are a meat eater this is a must try food.

11. Cacciuccio

This is a Tuscan fish stew, and you are more likely to find it closer to the coast, especially around Livorno. Traditionally it has 5 different types of seafood, from fish to shellfish, one for each C in the name. Fishermen would clean out their boat at the end of market day, and whatever was left in the bottom would be thrown into Cacciucco. The stew would have broth, garlic, pepper flakes and red wine vinegar and would be served over toasted bread.

cacciuccio seafood stew from Livorno Italy
Cacciuccio from Livorno

To this day it is served the same way, the bread soaking up the broth. If you love seafood, this one is amazing.

12. Tuscan Pizza

Pizza is different everywhere you go in Italy, from the chewy base in Napoli to Rome’s super thin crust to Tuscany’s not-quite-as-thin crust. Always cooked in a wood burning oven, you have to try pizza in Tuscany at least once. This could not be more different to typical American pizza. Not drowned in sugary tomato sauces, and not weighed down by heavy melted cheese, Tuscan pizzas tend to be fresh and light.

pizza in tuscany
Tuscan pizza

Don’t expect American pepperoni – pepperoni in Italian means giant bell peppers. Don’t be surprised to see raw rocket (arugula) scattered across the top of a pizza. It tastes so amazing!

Most of the time you won’t find pizza served at lunchtime. Pizza is prepared in wood burning domed ovens that take hours to heat up to the correct temperature of 485 Celcius/905 Fahrenheit. When thinking about having pizza plan it for no earlier than 8:30 at night, and ideally at a restaurant with an outdoor patio.

My favorite evenings in San Gimignano are spent on the terrace at Il Trovatore around a large table with my Glam Italia Tour ladies or local friends, eating their insanely good pizza, drinking jugs of wine, and talking all night long.

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Sweet Things

I have 2 favorite sweet foods in Tuscany, one is a day time food and one happens at the end of a long, satisfying Tuscan dinner.

13. Panforte

This is not a strong bread (pan-forte), it is a spicy cake. Its origins date back to 1205 when servants had to take it as gifts to the nuns of Montecelso Abbey in Siena. Overtime it became a Christmas gift to the nuns and a treat aristocrats would enjoy on special occasions. Made from sugar and honey and nuts and dried fruits with pepper and spices (cloves, ginger, cinnamon) panforte is typically cooked in a shallow pan, dusted with powdered sugar, and served in narrow slices with coffee.

Panforte di Siena
Panforte

This is a Sienese specialty, and in my humble opinion it is a crime to go to Siena (or Florence) and not at least try it. Panforte is my favorite thing – I love it with coffee in the morning. Despite the sugar and honey it is a guilt free food because you walk so much over there you burn it off before lunch!

Note: you can actually eat it all day and night. The morning thing is just my favorite. If I allow myself one sweet thing, in a toss-up between having a gelato at some point in the day or a slice of panforte, the panforte will always win.

14. Cantucci

At the end of a long Tuscan dinner you may be served with a couple of cantucci and a short glass of dense dessert wine called vin santo.

Cantucci are small crunchy almond cookies that look like mini biscotti. (The word for cookie in Italian is biscotti, so if you want to get technical, they are biscotti). You dip the cantucci (or cantuccio?) into the vin santo ad then take in your final calorie hit of the day, as if your tummy wasn’t already about to explode.

cantucci and vin santo, the perfect way to end a meal in Tuscany
Cantucci and Vin Santo

I have learned over the years that I cannot eat like an Italian. As in I can’t do all the courses they do. I’m good with just antipasti! Truth be told, on most nights out in Tuscany I don’t have room for cantucci unless I have planned it in advance. If you, like me, feel like you cannot possibly ingest even one more mouthful, then I am sorry my friend because at least once while you are there you’re going to have to take one for the team and at least try cantucci and vin santo

Traveling to Florence? Download my free Secret Florence PDF and find out which are my favorite restaurants, the best secret bars, secret jewelers and other fantastic things to see and do in Florence. Any of the items on this list will take your trip from great to completely fantastic! Download your copy here

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Why You Need To Know About Direct Flights To Bologna!

Do you find flying into Rome Fiumicino Airport a bit overwhelming? If you are looking for a low drama alternative to using Fiumicino or Milan Malpensa airports but still want to be taking a direct flight from the USA, American Airlines has a new flight route opening in June of 2019.

Disclaimer: I do not have any sponsorship or business relationship with American Airlines. I just fly them often. This post does contain affiliate links.

Starting this summer American Airlines will now be offering direct flights from Philadelphia to Bologna.

american airlines plane in the sky above the clouds

Bologna is a wonderful city in Emilia-Romagna, the food capital of Italy. It lies roughly midway between Rome and Milan (give or take) and gives you easy access to pretty much everywhere you want to go.

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central historical bologna
Beautiful Bologna

You will probably want to devote some days to experiencing Bologna and all it has to offer before heading out to see the rest of Italy.

bologna food streets
Bologna street market via Intrepid Travel
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Bologna is a hub for high speed trains traveling north-south. You are around an hour and a half from Venice, 35 minutes from Florence, 2 hours from Rome and 3 ½ hours from Naples.

A Single Stop for European Rail Travel

Bologna’s Marconi Airport is roughly 6km from the central train station, so 10 minutes by taxi or 20-30 minutes by shuttle bus. Shuttles run every 10-15 minutes.

Bologna Marconi airport Italy

The airport is small and very easy to navigate, making it an ideal choice to fly into. One advantage of using a small airport is that it is much quicker to clear customs and baggage claim as there aren’t multiple huge planes all arriving within minutes of one another.

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Save When You Bundle Your Trip!  Take up to $15◊ off with Promo Code VP30 Book Now!

For now American is only offering the service from June through September but if it proves popular may end up making it permanent. I found discounted flights with American Airlines on Cheap O Air, (linked above. This is an affiliate link.)


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Shopping In Rome ~ Why You Need To Know About The Mercato Monti

If you are looking to do really fabulous, one of a kind, fashion shopping while in Rome I have the place for you.

The Most Stylish Market In Rome

Every weekend one of the hippest neighborhoods (or Rione) in Rome, the Monti, hosts the most chic, avant garde fashion markets you will find anywhere.

the fabulous Monti Markt in Rome

On Saturdays and Sundays the bottom floor of the 1970’s style Hotel Palatino becomes a showcase for Rome’s up and coming designers and artisans. Almost everything here is handmade and quite unique, making it a favorite of fashion stylists and sophisticated shoppers.

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There are some home goods available here as well as some sweet stuff for kids, but if you are a fashion shopper there are some incredible items to check out.

homegoods at the monti market in rome
Monti Market, Rome
Hey! No photos!
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You will find handmade Italian shoes from young local designers who are in that space between being unknown and having major presence in big stores.

designer handmade italian leather shoes at the Monti Market in Rome
stalls with handmade leather shoes line up next to stalls with chic designer sunglasses at the Monti Market in Rome

Cool designer sunglasses, also not yet in stores, which makes them even cooler. Last time I was there a movie costume designer/wardrobe stylist was picking out sunglasses for a film she was working on – this place is next level cool.

sunglasses designers at the monti market in rome

You will also find really fantastic leather handbags, different from the mass market merchandise you see everywhere in the street markets and in stores.

designer leather handbags at the monti market in rome
Leather handbags from local designers at the Monti Market in Rome
leather handbags in Rome's Monti market
not my photo, this is from www.likealocalguide.com

The clothing at the Monti Market is very one of a kind euro-chic with a slightly vintage vibe. These are pieces no one will have back home, with the cut, quality and fabric choices that make them items that will not only last forever but that you will love forever.

vintage fashion at Monti Market in Rome
tourists and locals at the Monti Market

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Along with the new designers you can also find some very cool vintage jewelry at Mercato Monti.

Italians take their fashion seriously. You will notice that everyone from rich to poor, looks put together. They have an innate sense of style, and never look sloppy or careless. They value having a few well chosen, good quality pieces over a closet full of cheap fast fashion. Which is why you will spot a very cosmopolitan crowds perusing the racks here.

This is a great place to spend some money, both because you can get some really special pieces here but also because you are helping out young, emerging Italian fashion designers. You get to chat with the designers – generally they are manning their stalls. The whole experience is very cool.

Be sure to check out their website www.mercatomonti.com and also their Facebook page, to see what’s on the agenda each month. (I go to the market if I’m in town on the weekends regardless of which designers are showing, but I check the Facebook page anyway!)

Also check the website if you are in Rome during June and July as they also have a presence on Isola Tiburtina after 7 pm.

the Monti district or Rione Monti in Rome is full of pretty little streets and incredible eateries. It is also home to the fabulous Monti Market
Wandering the streets in the Monti neighborhood in Rome

Plan your trip to the Mercato Monti / Monti Market around meal time – the Monti district is one of the big foodie areas in Rome with endless fabulous little eateries everywhere. Also allow time to just wander the neighborhood, it is full of darling little streets you will want to take a thousand photos in!

My new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome has a chapter on the best markets in Rome. Whether you want to know where to find the best flea markets, really cool food markets, art markets or where to score a fantastic Fendi handbag, it’s all in the book! Order your copy on Amazon.com from April 21st 2019

Bonus Info

Do you find the idea of shopping in Italy a little unnerving? Does the language barrier have you confused or worried about how to ask for your size or what something costs? No worries my friend – I have made a PDF for you with all the main things you want to ask or say in Italian and how to pronounce them.

Download it to your phone or print it out and take it with you. If you feel uncomfortable trying to say the words, no problem! Just point to them and show the sales person. Get your free How To Shop In Italian! PDF here

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