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Episode #089: Harvest in Tuscany

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This week, we head to Tuscany’s gorgeous Chianti region to talk about an important and exciting season – harvest-time. At this time, grapes are harvested for wine, olives for olive oil, and truffles and porcini mushrooms are foraged for in the woods. Villages and towns hold festivals to celebrate the abundance of wonderful produce. 

Show notes

In this episode, we talk to our friend, local Arianna Cini based in Chianti just outside Florence. Arianna and her husband Alessio run tours and experiences company KM Zero Tours and they are passionate about sharing the unique traditions, artisans, and culture of their very special part of the world in any season, but particularly in autumn or fall. 

What you’ll learn this episode

  1. The fall/autumn in Tuscany is a great time to visit. Days are still long and it’s still warm but not too hot and also, with the harvest comes gorgeous food and lots of activity and sagres (food festivals) in the towns and villages
  2. The harvest starts with the grape harvest in September with late September for the truffles and then in October the olive and saffron harvests
  3. The production of olive oil is equal to the production of wine in Tuscany and the olive harvest is a big deal
  4. There’s a real abundance of food at this time – you can go truffle hunting in the woods but also come back with a stash of tasty porcini mushrooms as a bonus 
  5. The sagre de porcino sounds particularly tasty, with every dish prepared with porcini as its star ingredient
  6. Sagres at this time of year include lot’s of wine festivals. The Chianti Classico collection happens in the main square of Greve in Chianti, a quaint medieval town. You are given an empty glass and can walk through the town and try the wine offered by the wine makers themselves. They even give you this special little bag for holding the glass
  7. At this time of year the bakeries will all have Castagnaccio – a chestnut flour cake made with new olive oil, raisins, and pine nuts which happens to be gluten free and vegan as well as utterly delicious. 
  8. The San Martino festival stems from on the 11th November, being when the peasants would settle their dues following the harvest and re-establish their ‘sharecropping’ contract for another year
  9. The new wine is a simple, less high-quality wine to be enjoyed at this time of year, conversely, the olive oil at this time of year is at the highest possible quality because with olive oil, over time the olive oil becomes flat and it loses its characteristics. So the earlier you buy the olive oil is when it’s at its best
  10. The new olive oil can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways, from Fettunta bread, as part of Pinzimonio, on boiled potatoes as well as Tuscan kale and chickpeas
  11. The harvest of the olives is mostly done by hand and involves lots of team work. You have nets all around and you comb the lower branches to get the olives down, but the trees can be pretty big, so someone has to reach the higher parts by using a ladder or for the more adventurous – climbing up top. There is one piece of machinery which some use, which is like a gentle, giant arm to reach higher areas to comb the olives. 
  12. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is from the first press with very low temperatures.
  13. There’s no waste in the olive oil production process. So the watery leftovers and the skins are collected and are processed to create a bio gas used for the cars to run on
  14. Another bi-product is the Nocciolino di Olive Toscane – the discharged stones of the used olives still contain a little oil, so these are turned into pellets to use in wood stoves for heating the home
  15. The Chianti villages of Panzano and Greve are worth a visit in September, in particular, because they have these sagras/events – they are decorated the whole time with flags and colorful decorations. 
  16. A sagre in Pienza that should be on all our radars is the Pecorino di Pienza, with a festival dedicated to this wonderful cheese, made into many delicious dishes

About our guest – Arianna Cini

Meet Arianna & Alessio, the faces and souls behind KM Zero Tours:

Arianna was born and raised in the Chianti region of Tuscany, and is deeply connected and passionate about her beautiful countryside, its people, and its traditions. She studied abroad in Russia and Australia, and graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in Foreign Languages and Literature. In addition to Italian, Arianna speaks fluent English and Russian.

Arianna is a qualified tour guide and began her career working in international business, including wine exporting. In 2014 she and her partner Alessio Di Genova (from Abruzzo region) started KM Zero Tours – Slow Travel Tuscany, an innovative boutique travel business focused on creating slow and cultural travel experiences aimed at discovering Tuscany from a deeper, authentic and personal perspective.

Alessio, Arianna’s husband and partner of KM Zero Tours, is a qualified sommelier and he graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in Agricultural, Food and Agri-environmental Sciences. After having spent 6 years working as a pastry chef in Bologna he also graduated as an official Sommelier at AIS (Association Italian Sommelier). He was born in Abruzzo but he now lives together with Arianna in San Casciano, a hilltop Chianti town.

They both can’t wait to welcome you in their home in Chianti, and to introduce you to their best friends and favourite places there. Andiamo!

Find out more about Arianna and Allessio’s gift boxes to keep the dream of Chianti, Tuscany and Italy alive (and tasting good) while you can’t visit.

You can find Arianna on these channels:

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Places to visit mentioned in the show

  • San Gimignano – picture-perfect Tuscan village, worth adding to any itinerary
  • Greve in Chianti – a hub of the local wine industry in Tuscany
  • Montepulciano – Montepulciano is a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, famous for it’s wines
  • Panzano in Chianti – with an interesting history and holding some great local festivals and wine tastings
  • Pienza – gorgeous hilltop town in Tuscany, find out more in our guide to Pienza

Chianti food

  • Chianti Classico – grape
  • tartufo – truffles
  • castagne – chestnuts
  • porcini – a delicious type of mushroom – often enjoyed at harvest time as Porcini Fritti- simply fried with a little salt
  • schiacciata – comes from the Italian verb schiacciare and is the term commonly used for most focaccia in Tuscany
  • schiacciata di Uva – Tuscan Harvest Bread made with the focaccia dough and small, sweet, black grapes – uva fragola
  • cinghiale – wild boar
  • ribolitta – a hearty Tuscan bread and vegetable soup, including locally grown cavalo nero (black kale)
  • vino novello – literally Italian for ‘young wine’ – it is a light, fruity, red wine
  • olive Nuovo – lasting from the harvest in October when it’s at it’s best, until Feb/March where it has become much milder in tast
  • fettunta – Tuscan bread. Feta means slice and unta means oily so it’s an oil covered, grilled slice of bread with some garlic rubbed over it
  • pinzimonio – raw, seasonal crudité style vegetables to dip in the olive oil(dates back to the Renaissance) 

Resources

  • Sagre – a local food festival in Italy

Resources from Untold Italy

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Transcript

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