I never understood why some people would return to the same places over and over again when traveling. With a whole world to explore out there and so much to see that no human could do it all in just one lifetime, how could anyone ever justify going back to the same place twice? That was before I ever made any profound connections to the people at a certain place, a vacation spot, before I met my favorite chef in the world, before I drank my favorite wines and fell in love with the peace and joy a certain place can bring. That was all before Torraccia Di Chiusi.
Over three years ago, Roberto and I first had the opportunity to visit the Agro-Turismo,Torraccia Di Chiusi. We had a wonderful time there soaking in the beautiful landscapes, visiting medieval villages, eating amazing food, meeting wonderful people who would become friends. While that was all happening, other important changes were going on internally for both of us that were helped along by this visit to this amazing place. Some places give you peace of mind, time away from the grind to have a quiet place to listen to the stirrings of your soul. Torraccia di Chiusi is one of those places for me, where I feel at home, away from home.
Three years ago, we were still living in Florida, planning to move to Vermont and begin our homestead lifestyle. We were full of big dreams and super excited for the change. La Torraccia was like a place of confirmation. Donatella and Stefano, the owners and all the people like Grazia and Bruno, that make the place what it is were already doing the kinds of things we wanted to – raising animals, fruits and vegetables for food and making artisanal products out of those labors of love. Their place, ideas and philosophy were truly beautiful and inspirational, a bucolic dream. We spent time after dinner each night talking about the simple, good life. Just being there and talking to everyone made us see that these dreams we had were very possible. Not just possible, but in many parts of the world very normal. This touched us both deeply and firmly footed us in our dream moving forward.
Things began to change after that trip. First and foremost my food philosophy changed after I met Bruno, my favorite chef, who cooks the amazing dinners at Torraccia di Chiusi. He is truly a master of simplicity. Pasta sauced with butter, oil, cheese and sage was a revelation. Bruno is the true personification of simple is better, and if you want simple, you better get the best ingredients. Bruno doesn’t understand fine dining where the portions are too small, and you leave hungry. He doesn’t see the point. Better to fill people up and really nourish them with good, healthy and soul filling food. He does this, every night at La Torraccia. His integrity when it comes to cooking and life really, I have never seen surpassed. I have to say that Bruno, along with Grazia, Stefano and Donatella are inspirations for Roberto and I, and the way we are now living out our lives, with purpose.
(photo courtesy of Bruno and Grazia)
I would highly recommend Bruno and Grazia’s cookbook, Cucinar Cantando* which is a mixture of food philosophy, artwork (he is also a painter) and words of wisdom, as well as recipes. Well worth it. Not only that, but it was entirely produced by Bruno and Grazia themselves – the writing, the translations from Italian to English, the illustrations, etc. I am the lucky recipient of one of the original 11 copies, each of which have unique covers. The production of those original editions were paid for with all the tips Bruno and Grazia had received from guests over the summer before, another labor of love, to be sure.
When I returned to my own kitchen after that first visit, I really started paring it all down to the basics. My dishes became much more rustic, and I began to rely on simple herbs, good oil and salt to season food, instead of my array of exotic spices I had always relied on before. I had a new and profound appreciation for butter and stock as well as the art of braising and slow cooking. I learned that you can never really use too much olive oil and that local and fresh produce is paramount. If it is not in season, and not fresh what is the point in preparing it? It will never be as good as something that is in season. In Tuscany, you would never think of preparing a dish without local products, let alone produce from another country. Why bother? When dishes start getting too out of touch from these simple philosophies, I summon Bruno in my mind and I am put back on track. Simple is best, simple is art.
Bruno and Grazia especially have become our good friends over the years. We have stayed in touch via facebook and email, and we even did a giveaway of their cookbook Cucinar Cantando on The Foodie Blogroll and there is another one in the works soon! I came to find out that my posts about our visit to La Torraccia has brought them business over the years, and for that I am profoundly pleased because they definitely deserve it. Due to this fact, Donatella and Stefano invited us to be their guests at La Torraccia for a few days to thank us for our support over the years. How could we say no?
We spent 3 wonderful nights and 2 very restful days there. The first day all we did was rest, nap, eat, and spend time walking around the farm seeing all the changes and improvements they have done over the three years. I can tell you, I did not build up the place unrealistically in my mind. It was even better this time around! One of the biggest changes is the developments in their wine-making, which I will talk about in another post. But we had a great time seeing how much they had done in just 3 years!
The second day we took another attempt at walking the Via Francigena to San Gimignano. It was a perfect sunny, cool day and we didn’t get lost! We spent the day in San Gimignano eating (of course) wonderful cheeses, and we went back to Beppone to have a repeat of the meal we have been thinking about for years -stewed wild boar, perfect gnocchi in truffle cream sauce and we topped it off with what I believe to be the best gelato in the world.
La Torraccia and Tuscany hold a very dear and special place in my heart. The people are committed to their local food traditions and the landscape with all its farms and trees remind me so much of Vermont. I just wish we could grow olives here! If we did, my life would be perfect.
*If you wish to order a copy of Cucinar Cantando (and I highly recommend it!) please contact Grazia and Bruno at firstname.lastname@example.org