Despite the name of the company, we didn’t do much walking during our Walks of Italy tour — the few metres between the farm’s two kitchens was the furtherest distance we travelled by foot.
We’d signed up for the Tuscan Farmhouse Experience cooking class at Fontanaro Farm in the charming Tuscan village of Paciano. Since we were staying in Rome, we had to get to Tuscany, but Walks of Italy took care of all the logistics: we were met at Termini train station in Rome by a friendly representative, who gave us our tickets and made sure we got on the correct train. At the other end of the 75-minute journey, we were picked up by Alina, our hostess for the day.
She drove us the 12km to the farm and introduced us to the rest of the participants: one was staying at the farm, another had come down from Florence, and a family of five had incorporated the course into a road trip around Italy.
We all donned the aprons provided during Alina’s talk about the characteristics of good olive oil, which was followed by a taste of the oil the farm produces, then moved into a slightly larger kitchen on the other side of a small courtyard.
Here, Alina got us all mixing eggs into flour for the pasta dough. While this was in the fridge, her mum stepped in to teach us how to make tiramisu (it’s mostly whipping eggs). Soon it was back to pasta: we had to roll it out, add flour, roll it up, cut it, unravel the strands. By this point Alina had moved to the stove to make a ragu sauce (bolognese if you prefer) as well as a mushroom one; another employee took her place to show us how to make a saffron risotto. Alina’s mum took some of us out to the garden to collect herbs, which we arranged around pork loins; these were wrapped in cooking foil and slow roasted. The cut pasta was carried to the first kitchen to be cooked and mixed into the warm sauces, the pork loin was cut into slices, the risotto was served — in short, everything was ready and we ate it outside in the sunshine. It was delicious. All of it.
I’d imagined a cooking class would be carefully structured, that we’d be focussing on one thing at a time. Thankfully, this course wasn’t like that at all — it was much more Italian! We jumped from one thing to another as we prepared many dishes at the same time, just like you do in real life. We all got our hands dirty, as the chefs encouraged us to have a go, and we felt like friends helping prepare an Italian feast rather than students learning how to cook.
Too soon, it was time to jump back in the car to catch our train; though there was time for a glass of limoncello and a visit to the olive oil mill before we left, recipes in hand. It had been a fantastic day, and we left feeling enthusiastic about using our newfound skills back at home.