If you want to get to know the Italian region of Tuscany intimately, one of the best ways to do it is by immersing yourself in its food culture. Book a stay at Villa Vetrichina, a large, restored country farm surrounded by elegant gardens and the glorious Val d'Orcia, and you can indulge in a wide variety of culinary experiences brought to you by resident chef Francesco Falciani. They range from customized dining and cooking classes to food and wine tours.
Born in Rome, Chef Francesco honed his culinary skills through travel, working in the Tuscan city of Siena, as well as Austria and Switzerland. "Being a cook gives the opportunity to travel and to choose different locations in which to work," he tells us. "It can be on a cruise, abroad, in a hotel, or even in the middle of the road, like street vendors."
Ultimately, however, it was Tuscany that he returned to, setting up his cooking school beside his good friend Patrizia's Villa Vetrichina, and it's there that he creates feasts specializing in the region's cuisine, as well as that of Umbria and Lazio. His appetizers, soups, salads, meats and fish are rich in the colors, flavors, and fragrances of Italy.
Under his guidance, guests can learn how to cook local dishes and visit renowned food and wine producers, farms and markets. Tell him what you want to experience, and he’ll create a tailor-made stay for you.
We reached out to him to find out more about what culinary adventures are on offer.
Where did you learn to cook?
Francesco Falciani: "I started cooking in the historic Roman trattoria districts of Testaccio and Trastevere where traditional dishes were made with genuine and fresh products of the day, with menus that changed according to the season or according to freshness – historic restaurants a few meters from the daily local markets where you had customers of all kinds, actors, shopkeepers, young students, celebrities, families, market workers."
What matters to you about the food that you create?
FF: "Authenticity, where creativity and organizational skills meet, amazing people with flavors that come from the combination of ingredients. A chef has to cook everything, vegetables, fish, meat, in a simple way. The produce you use must be of the best quality available.
"It is almost always certain that if the produce is not good, you will never get a good result. The preparation must be creative and presented in the best, most essential way. A great way to create delicious dishes is to limit the number of steps, and cook quickly. The product must be processed as little as possible."
Is it important for you to shop locally for ingredients?
FF: "Local produce is very important because the processing procedure changes about every 20/30 km, and ultimately this is where the beauty of being a chef lives.
"In my country, Italy, the seasons are marvelous, as are the vegetables from the markets or from farm production: spring onions, carrots, asparagus, potatoes. They have a unique freshness. What I like is cooking a good product that comes from the earth."
How did the idea of creating culinary experiences at Villa Vetrichina begin?
FF: "Given our position in the region of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, Patrizia and I wanted to share the idea of cooking and making the most of local products, fine meats, fresh handmade pasta, cold cuts, cheeses, excellent oil and wine famous all over the world, with the aim of spreading the knowledge of Italian gastronomic excellence.
"We have created a cooking course and exclusive events that allow amateurs, travelers and enthusiasts of the genre to learn about the most delicious products and to taste, taste, and prepare exquisite dishes."
What is the cooking school like?
FF: "The restaurant is located a few meters from the villa, only for guests of the villa. On hot days, you can dine outdoors under the stars with the unique wind of Tuscany. It is called Ristorantino, or small restaurant, because we perform a few covers for our guests in the villa in a homely, welcoming kitchen as if you were in your own home. You can peek at the cooking procedures, smell the smells, and experience a healthy, relaxing meal cooked with natural raw materials.
"Our courses are numerous: food tasting and wine pairing, cooking pizza, pizza party, pasta party, picnic, barbecue, peasant cooking, and luxury tasting with all the highest quality products, paired with wine.
"I teach all dishes of the cuisine of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. We start from the base of the flours to make the pasta, cook free-range chicken, meat, vegetables, seasonings and serve. But we can also accompany guests on food and wine tours, or tours of local markets."
What are some of your favorite dishes to teach guests?
FF: "What our customers want most is to prepare homemade pasta. Our area has many qualities of artisan and historical flours that over time have given rise to historical pastas such as Tuscan tagliatelle, homemade spaghetti pici, gnocchi, maltagliati, and other types of pasta. The homemade pasta recipe remains the most requested, homemade and authentic recipe to make."
If you could create a perfect gastronomic tour for guests, what would it be?
FF: "The Montepulciano local market in the morning. After shopping, the second stop is at a typical Tuscan cheese farm, and then to the Montalcino wine farm or cellars. As a last stop, our structure to relax and dine with all the products purchased – a classic Tuscan peasant or family dinner."
To discover more about the gastronomic adventures available at Villa Vetrichina, book a stay here.