Although the earliest information about wine dates back to the end of the IV° millennium B.C., in Mesopotamia, fossil evidence of Vitis Vinifera discovered in Tuscany (in the travertine of San Vivaldo) suggests that this plant has a local and entirely autochthon origin.
We have found pre-Etruscan evidence proving wine-making practices, together with further substantiation coming from the tomb decorations and pottery of the Etrurians, who are believed to be descendants of the nearly prehistoric civilization of Villanova.
Wine was the chief protagonist of the convivial banquets.
It was enjoyed by men and women alike: an absolute peculiarity if compared with the Mediterranean context of the time. This habit contributed to the progressive development of techniques and vine varieties.
Besides the use of the classical Tuscan vines, Sangiovese and Trebbiano, new vines gradually came from abroad such as Moscato and Malvasia. Roman rule accentuated this tendency of perfecting the methods used, which remained unequalled until the Middle Ages. During this period wine changed from the favourite beverage of clergy and aristocracy into a wide consumption product, even being recommended as a medical remedy and as an elixir of life. A short time after the year One Thousand, the Vernaccia of San Gimignano was born. Little by little many other Tuscan wines, nowadays well-renowned, appeared. It was the economic power of the Tuscan cities which favoured the spreading of this product throughout Europe, in the traditional flasks covered with straw.
This also gave origin to a long-lived glass industry which is currently being revived (Colle Val d'Elsa and Montaione - Gambassi).
Later on, the supremacy of Chianti over the other valuable local productions began. In the Nineteenth century a great landowner, the Baron Ricasoli, availed himself of the first scientific contributions to the wine sector, in the wake of previous agricultural experiments, such as those carried out by the Marquis Cosimo Ridolfi at the Villa of Meleto in Castelfiorentino and of the advanced studies by the Gergofili Academy of Florence.
Finally, during the Twentieth century, Tuscany took on a leading role among the best wine regions of the world.
The origin denominations and the quality warranties were created; continuous oenological research took place together with an enormous increase in the varieties and mixtures of vines, leading to the masterpieces of cultivation and wine production, which are today renowned as "Supertuscan".
Using a term belonging to the aviation context, these are the fruit of an overwhelming wine supremacy!
The Empoli Valdelsa district, bordered on three sides by wonderful hills (the Hills of Montalbano, the Chianti mountains and the watershed line between Elsa and Era), soon gained a chief role, establishing itself on the front-line with an impressive list of top labels.
There are prehistoric local traces of wild olive.
But as opposed to wine, oil was introduced into Tuscany around the middle of the 7th century B.C. as a result of contact with Greece, where it was already used for cooking (on a small scale), smearing athletes and for sacred functions.
It's affirmation within the Region is documented under Roman rule, who added a new curative function to the numerous uses of the oil. Romans increased its cultivation and commerce.
For the territories of Lucca and above all Florence and Siena, the Middle Ages marked a first significant increase in the olive growing sector. It was encouraged and protected by different norms of the statutes of the cities and country communities.
Until the Sixteenth century consumption was mainly limited to the upper classes. However it slowly but gradually spread also to the poorest classes, deeply taking root in the most varied uses, above all in the kitchen. The reason for this slowness is particularly interesting: Tuscany is at the limit of the area suitable for olive growing. For this reason olive ripening is difficult, since the plant is at the risk of dangerous frost. At that time, this aspect was considered a serious limit to the development of mass production. The really enormous advantage that it represented for the reputation of the product was understood only much later. And the measures for selection and cultivation to enhance the quantitative yield were adopted even later.
The first vast improvement in Tuscan olive growing dates back to the middle of the Nineteenth century, in connection with the flourishing of agricultural studies promoted by the Florentine Academy of Georgofili and the spreading of a new mentality, open to the experimentation of new techniques, among Tuscan landowners.
The second phase of rapid growth continued all through the Twentieth century, from the end of World War One to the recent boom, which led to the worldwide spread of the product. This was not only due to the growing approval by consumers, but also to the general medical recognition of its extraordinary properties for human health, especially if compared with seed oil and animal fat.
A significant presence of olive crops within the area of the Valdelsa hills and in the northern areas of the Sienese district is documented, as from the middle of the Fifteenth century, with varieties called Moraiolo, Leccino and Gramignolo.
The more common crops, for Tuscan oil, currently are: Frantoio (which is prevalent; having a Tuscan origin), followed by Moraiolo, Leccino and (about 10 - 15%) by other varieties (rantolo, Pendolino, Maurino, etc.).
The different ripening phases of the varied typologies of olive, at the time of harvest, accounts for the notable taste mixture. It is a very important factor for the conferral of taste combination typical of this oil, which has a lot of local variance according to the different combinations of the same elements and to the calculated addition of others.
The fruity taste comes from Frantoio, the aromas come basically from Moraiolo, vitamins derive above all from Leccino.
Currently cultivation based on specialized crops has almost entirely replaced mixed crops, which are qualitatively less convenient and which have been connected to sharecropping history and world, from the Sixteenth century to the middle of the Twentieth century.
Over the last years, notable progress has finally been made in the fine-tuning of the machine for the delicate processing of the oil. Important advancements have been recorded in the techniques aimed at a drastic reduction of the chemical pesticides (above all against Mosca Olearia) and at the replacement of these substances with biological means, free from residues.
The central element of Tuscan oil production is the oil mill: the processing centre where oil is produced only by means of mechanical equipment, without the use of chemical substances.
Nowadays centralized oil mills are highly automated, but they only use cold processing techniques and are submitted to strict hygienic and quality controls.
They have replaced almost all the thousands of mills which until recently were part of every farm.
The oil produced using the methods described above is defined extra virgin olive oil, but it is further divided into quality categories, which is important to know.
Extra virgin olive oil typologies
The current standard establishes the following categories for extra-virgin olive oil:
Virgin oil and extra-virgin oil are intended for marketing and consumption, whereas lampante oil can be marketed only after refining.
The residue of the oil mill processing is a pulp called "sansa" (olive residues). Following a subsequent high temperature processing and with the use of chemicals, it is possible to extract sansa oil, which obviously has poor quality but is suitable for a wide array of uses.
A blackish greasy deposit is further derived.
Fifty years ago Tuscan farmers called it "morchia" and it was used as a lubricant (it was typically applied on the joints of the farm tractors wheels).
Extra virgin olive oil Colline di Firenze D.O.P.R. (Florentine hills)
he climatic conditions, hill soils and production techniques give it an outstanding identity: acidity of less than 0.50%, a fruity aroma, a slight hint of bitterness and a green to golden yellow colour that varies over time.
It is produced in the following municipalities in the provinces of Florence and Prato: Bagno a Ripoli, Barberino di Mugello, Barberino Val d'Elsa, Borgo San Lorenzo, Calenzano, Campi Bisenzio, Cantagallo, Castelfiorentino, Certaldo, Dicomano, Empoli, Fiesole, Figline Valdarno, Florence, Firenzuola, Fucecchio, Gambassi Terme, Greve in Chianti, Impruneta, Incisa Val d'Arno, Lastra a Signa, Londa, Marradi, Montaione, Montelupo Fiorentino, Montemurlo, Montespertoli, Palazzuolo sul Senio, Pelago, Pontassieve, Prato, Reggello, Rignano sull'Arno, Rufina, San Casciano Val di Pesa, San Godenzo, San Piero a Sieve, Scandicci, Scarperia, Sesto Fiorentino, Signa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Vaglia, Vaiano, Vernio and Vicchio.
As delicious as it is rare, the truffle has given rise to groundless myths, such as the one concerning its aphrodisiac properties.
Thus it has reached exorbitant prices within the elite market it pertains to, touching a few thousand euros per hectogram, for the most valued varieties and during the hardest years.
Truffle hunting has always been carried out by a limited number of experts or local amateurs, usually common people, helped by specifically trained dogs (usually poodles, but breed is not central.
Truffle hunting must be carried out with a specific tool, a truffle spade, composed of a small and hard wooden handle, and a small blade, with variable size, fixed on the tip.
The mycelium of the truffle develops at the same time that some arboreal species typical of the so-called maquis (oaks, ilexes, hornbeams, poplars, pine trees, linden, hazels), Tuscany is absolutely rich in.
A considerable number of truffle sellers operate within our area, especially in Valdesla.
They belong to two associations: the "Sanminiato Hills truffle sellers association" and "the Low Valdelsa Hills truffle sellers association", with its office in Certaldo, where the annual spring truffle festival "Tartufo Marzuolo" takes place in March. Similar events take place in the municipalities which are members of the "National Association of the Truffle Cities": Castelfiorentino with the "summer truffle" feast in June, Montaione with the White Truffle market-exhibition in October and Montespertoli, where a thematic event Is organized in November.
Local (but not only) main truffle typologies
White truffle of Tuscany
(Tuber magnatum pico)
Smooth external layer, light yellow or greenish; brown pulp (a few bright red shades possible) and numerous light and subtle veining.
Strong scent a mixture of methane gas and a fermented cheese.
The valuable black truffle of Tuscany
(Tuber melanosporum Vitt.)
Black external layer with small polygonal lumps. Black-violet pulp, with white veining tending to reddish when in contact with air.
Delicate and pleasant scent.
White truffle of Tuscany
(Tuber albidum Pico)
Smooth external layer, blond iridescent colour tending to reddish.
Light pulp or with a dark-violaceous colour, rich in veining.
Black burgundy truffle of Tuscany
(Tuber uncinatum Chatin)
Black, lumpy external layer.
Dark-dusky pulp, clear branched veining.
Can often be mistaken for the summer truffle, however it is usually smaller and has a definitely sweeter scent.
Summer truffle of Tuscany
(Tuber aestivum Vitt.)
Highly lumpy external layer, usually with pyramid al warts.
Bronzed-yellow pulp, characterized by several light branched veinings.
leasant but light smell, similar to that of mushrooms.
Tuscan bread has a prominent role among bakery products. Our area comprises about seventy bread production firms. The biggest and most renowned one is located in Montaione, which is titled the Bread City, together with Montespertoli.
The peculiar characteristics of Tuscan bread refer to the natural rising method used, the baking process which takes place at low temperature, the notable size of the bread and above all to the absence of salt (insipid bread).
The latter feature dates back to the thirteenth century, that is, at the beginning of the hard wars between Pisa and Florence, due to which the proud Marine Republic interrupted the commerce of salt with the inland regions.
The size of the bread and the rising and baking procedures are strictly connected to the social organization of the ancient Tuscan rural society, where numerous and isolated households, lived far away from one another.
For this reason the bread cooked by women, once a week, should be in such quantity as to fill many hungry mouths until the following week.
Poverty and parsimony (attention to wastage) are the origin of the several and delicious uses of stale bread, which characterize Tuscan cuisine, which by now has developed and refined itself (panzanella, ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, acquacotta, fettunta, cabbage soups, etc... but also for example cacciucco!).
Moreover, the religious tradition demanded bread to be blessed, deeming it a sin to throw it away.
To protect consumers against poor products, often bad adaptations from other traditions, Tuscan bread has been given the D.O.P indication (protected designation of origin PDO). D.O.P. Tuscan bread can have a rectangular, near-oval or rounded shape. It is about 5 - 10 cm thick and has a minimum weight of 500 g up to 2 kg. The crust is brown-reddish; it can be more or less friable and crisp. The soft part is not towy. This bread has a high content of water, which is kept even a few days after baking (it is a very "well-done" process, using only water and high quality soft wheat flours!). It has an ivory-white colour with a slight scent of toasted nut.
The taste is rigorously "insipid" since salt is not used at all.
Tuscan chestnut production is not a significant one for the Empoli Valdelsa district. Chestnut trees can be found atop the Montalbano ridge and in some Woods on the hills between Val d'Elsa and Val d'Era (Montaione and Gambassi Terme). Nevertheless there are not enough to allow the development of local production.
However this rustic and woody fruit is widespread in other areas of the region. It ripens at the end of October and therefore it lends itself to be the protagonist of fairs and market-exhibitions.
On such occasions it is possible to taste roasted or boiled chestnuts (also called ballotta). It is also possible to taste the traditional chestnut cake "castagnaccio" with pine-seeds.
Maybe the most noteworthy event is the market-exhibition of Montaione, lorded by the chestnut, and dedicated to both chestnut and truffle. It is highly recommended to visitors, because of the rich harvest of rigorously local high quality deliciousness presented: wine, extra-virgin oil, typical Tuscan bread (Montaione is one of the Bread Cities), truffle and delicatessen.
Its presence in the Etruscan and Roman countryside is documented by some frescos. However some prehistoric depictions (graffiti) seem to suggest an earlier existence.
It is important to remember that until the middle of the last century, these animals - rather common in the ancient world - have been used as pack or draft animals, due to their natural sturdiness (it is the biggest ox in the world).
Meat was used only when oxen became old, or in some cases, on the occasion of special celebrations.
People who today are more than 50, surely remember two important cattle fairs: the first one was held in Fontaccia (a ridge in proximity of Gambassi Terme, San Gimignano and Volterra) and the second took place at the current sporting area of Castelfiorentino (other fairs where held in the Empoli district, too).
These events were almost entirely dedicated to these animals and highly frequented by farmers.
Symbolic was the presence of the "brokers", who mediated the transactions imposing a typical handshake between the contractors.
This kind of chianina meat was surely really good, but it was dark and fibrous and full of nerves, as it was normal for bests of burden.
Maybe this fact was the source of the tradition of cutting out a valuable piece of meat, up to 5 cm thick, from the back of the animal (this piece included the bone and was characterized by abundant "lumps of fat" around it) and cooking it through a quick "underdone roasting", in order to keep the softness of the meat as much as possible and avoid the contraction of the nerves.
It is the famous Florentine steak, inconceivable without the chianina meat.
Nowadays the innovations in the breeding and feeding techniques, which are still based on wild or semi-wild modalities, in connection with grass or rigorously vegetal supplements (calves must be suckled by the mother until complete weaning), have improved the quality of the meat, leaving the characteristic taste, which many of us remember, untouched.
The breed, which was connected to the rural activity of ancient sharecroppers, above all Tuscany and in Central Italy, had almost disappeared about two decades after the last war. It was rescued only thanks to the obstinacy of a few lovers.
It was one of the first I.G.P. recognition in Italy and it may be acknowledged only to specific animals born and bred within the territory of the following provinces: Bologna, Ravenna, Forlì, Rimini, Pesaro, Ancona, Macerata, Ascoli Piceno, Teramo, Pescara, Chieti, L'Aquila, Campobasso, Isernia, Benevento, Avellino, Frosinone, Rieti, Viterbo, Terni, Perugia, Grosseto, Siena, Arezzo, Firenze, Prato, Livorno, Pisa.
This meat is branded by slaughter supervisors. It is for sale in sealed packages (authorized workshops) or by the slice at the selected and certified shops.