The way to most travelers’ hearts is through their stomachs, and when it comes to Italy, this is one of the world’s most delicious food meccas! But not all Italian food is created equally.
Italian cuisine is highly regional; each region has their own special recipes and traditional ways of cooking. And, despite popular belief, Italian food isn’t all about pizza and pasta. I know – shocking!
From a mouth watering Florentine steak paired with a fine Chianti wine, to the heavenly bliss that is gelato, Florence offers a wide range of delicious flavors to tempt your taste buds, while providing the ideal base for exploring the greater food bowl that is Tuscany.
And if you’re a serious foodie, trust me when I say that you want to spend time in Tuscany!
While Florence is the beating heart of the region, basing yourself here also makes it easy to arrange trips from Florence to Pisa or Florence to Siena to explore the culinary scenes offered by these Tuscan cities.
Hungry? Read on to discover some of the top foods and wines you NEED to try in Florence and greater Tuscany.
Fill up in Florence: Food and Wine You NEED to Try in Tuscany
Food: What to Eat in Florence
You’ll find many exceptional restaurants serving up traditional Florentine dishes around the city’s main attractions like Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo, and the Uffizi Gallery.
You can also attend Italian cooking classes or pay a visit to a local market such as Florence’s Mercato Centrale, where you’ll find all the ingredients you’ll need to create your own edible masterpiece.
That said, if you’re dining in Florence, the following are some of the most traditional, and mouthwatering Florentine foods you should eat.
Image: Bistecca alla Fiorentina by McPig / CC BY 2.0 / via Flickr
No visit to Florence would be complete without slicing your way through a juicy Florentine Steak. Known locally as Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florentine steak will definitely satiate even the hungriest traveler.
Portion sizes start at a kilo and only go up from there, making it wise to bring along a friend or two to help you devour a single steak. Steak Florentine is sourced from Italian breeds of cattle such as Chianina or Maremmana varieties and cooked over a wood or charcoal fire.
Don’t even think about asking for your steak to be medium or medium-well, as Florentine steak is served but one way, RARE!
The giant T-bone steak is generally simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but may be accompanied by lemons or cooked over roasted chestnuts to give it a smoky flavor.
While eating fungus may not sound appetizing, people pay big money to enjoy the taste of truffles. Even the blandest of meals are made exciting with a bit of shaved truffle.
Tuscany offers up around half a dozen varieties of truffles, each with their own distinct flavor. You’ll find a number of dishes that use white truffles as well as the highly prized black truffles.
In Florence, give a truffle panini or truffle gnocchi a try if you’ve never tasted truffles before. Another local favorite is tagliatelle funghi porcini e tartufo whose recipes calls for both truffles and porcini mushrooms.
In addition to finding truffles served shaved over hot dishes in restaurants, you can arrange day trips from Florence into the surrounding woodlands to enjoy an adventurous truffle-hunting tour.
Accompanied by a professional truffle hunter alongside his highly trained dogs that sniff out the truffles, you’ll learn the history of these culinary delights and what makes them so special.
Another typical Florentine dish that may not sound appealing at first is actually one of the best street foods you’ll find throughout the city. Lampredotto is made from cow stomach, which is often referred to as tripe.
One of the best ways to sample lampredotto is to have it thinly sliced and placed in a sandwich after it has been cooked in a vegetable broth. Herbs and spices along with a spicy red sauce or salsa verde help to make it go down easier for many.
You can find lampredotto sandwiches being sold at local market food stalls as well as from street vendors.
Image: William Held [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Papardelle al Cinghiale
Pappardelle pasta noodles originate from Tuscany and are somewhat similar to fettuccine noodles. The wide and flat noodles go exceptionally well with a wild boar ragù which is known as ragù di cinghiale.
Together, they create papardelle al cinghiale.
The wild boar meat is usually marinated in red wine overnight and presents a strong intense flavor. Those wanting a milder taste may want to opt for farm pork shoulder instead of the wild boar meat.
Other variations to the dish include substituting the boar meat for rabbit or goose. A nice hot papardelle al cinghiale is especially delectable and more prevalent during the winter months.
Bread lovers will want to try schiacciata. A flat bread topped with olive oil and salt, schiacciata is often referred to by many as focaccia.
Throughout Tuscany, there are roughly five types of schiacciata. Some are made so as to allow for cold cut meats to be stuffed inside them while others are very thin and crispy, almost resembling Sardinian bread. However, the tastiest schiacciata is made using special local flours.
If you prefer a bit more sweetness, try schiacciata all’uva with its baked red concord grapes and dusting of raw or powdered sugar.
Unlike the flattened shape of traditional schiacciata, schiacciata di Pasqua is more like a cake that is served during Easter in Florence and it incorporates flavors of honey, orange, and lemon.
Image: Rollopack [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Pair your schiacciata bread with a vegetable soup made with dried chickpeas, chard, and olive oil.
Chickpea cacciucco is a classic Tuscan soup recipe that is packed with carbs, protein, and numerous vitamins. It is one of the region’s top comfort foods.
Desserts: Tuscan Treats You NEED to Eat
The Best Gelato in Florence
Sicilian born Procopio dei Coltelli is often credited with inventing gelato, but it was most likely Florence’s own Bernardo Buontalenti who laid the groundwork for the delicious frozen treat in the 16th century.
Bernardo Buontalenti was a notable architect and artist that somehow managed to find time to create the dessert and today you’ll even find a gelato flavor named after him.
In addition to gelato being delicious, it is lower in fat than traditional ice cream, as well as being silkier and less dense. You’ll find gelato being sold throughout Florence, but the key is to seek out the shops selling artisanal varieties known as gelateria artiginale.
These are often located far from the main tourist streets and don’t feature the vibrant colors that entice most visitors. When it comes to fine gelato, less flashy equals fewer unnatural ingredients and a more exceptional taste.
Image: Alexandra E Rust / CC BY 2.0 / via Flickr
A very traditional after-dinner treat in Florence is cantucci. Also known as biscotti, these crunchy twice-baked almond flavored biscuits are often served with a Tuscan dessert wine or coffee.
They originate from the Tuscan city of Prato but can readily be found in restaurants around Florence. Other varieties of cantucci see the almonds replaced with pistachios, chocolate chips, fruit, or hazelnuts.
Image: VD [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
A somewhat rare Italian dessert you probably haven’t heard of is zuccotto. Originating in Florence, zuccotto is similar to a sponge cake and its appearance resembles the dome of Florence Cathedral.
Fillings may include whip cream, ice cream, sweetened ricotta cheese, candied fruit, or nuts. It is served semi-frozen and goes down very easily, even when you believe you may not have any room left in your stomach.
Wine: The Best Wine in Tuscany
Tuscany is famous for producing fine Chianti wine. The wine takes its name from the Chianti region which ranges roughly from Florence to Siena, but not all wines from the Chianti region are considered to be Chianti.
There are strict regulations in place for a wine to be given the Chianti label. Some of these restrictions include limits to the number of vines that can be planted, how much wine can be produced in a set area, and a minimum maturation period.
Some of the best Chianti is produced in the Chianti Classico subzone and this wine uses a minimum of 80% Sangiovese grapes. A picture of a black rooster on the neck of a wine bottle signifies it is a Chianti Classico.
Chianti wine was once known for being presented in bottles which were cradled by a straw basket. This dry red wine pairs nicely with a wide range of food, especially meats. Another great quality Chianti is Chianti Rufina.
Image: Steven Depolo / CC BY 2.0 / via Flickr
DOCG and DOC Wines
You may notice DOCG and DOC listed on wines around Florence. These both refer to wine quality classifications of which DOCG represents the highest certification or quality a wine can receive under Italian wine laws.
It takes a lot of effort for a wine to be branded DOCG. Factors such as grape quality, alcohol content, the aging process, and the region it originates from are all looked at when deciding whether a wine is deserving of the certification. A series of further tests and regulations also limits the number of wines achieving the status.
Some notable DOCG wines to look for in Florence include Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both of which are made with Sangiovese grapes much like Chianti, another DOCG wine. Brunello di Montalcino is an exceptionally fine wine, being crafted in Siena from 100% Sangiovese grapes.
Less superior and more plentiful are the DOC wines. These include wines like Bianco dell’Empolese, Colli dell’Etruria Centrale, Vinsanto del Chianti, and Pomino. While they may be considered inferior to DOCG wines, they are still highly sought after and delicious.
These wines simply don’t meet the severely strict standards needed to attain DOCG status. For growers who produce wines that can’t pass either of these two standards, they may fall into a third tier of wines called IGT wines.
If you happen to be drinking a Florentine wine without any of these three classifications, it’s probably best to stop drinking it and simply gift it to nearby chefs in a kitchen somewhere for use as cooking wine.
Image: Pava [CC BY-SA 3.0 it] via Wikimedia Commons
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
If you prefer white wine to red, there is no better choice than Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This wine variety hails not surprisingly from the Tuscan town of San Gimignano and has been considered one of the region’s finest white wines since the Renaissance period.
It is rare for a white wine from Tuscany to be held with such high regard, but I believe that Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the region’s only white wine to achieve DOCG status. You can expect a somewhat dry, crisp and sometimes citrusy flavor.
If you’re after a nice local dessert wine, look no further than Vin Santo. This full-bodied and intensely sweet wine presents your palette with flavors of caramel, hazelnut, honey, and apricot.
The wine is crafted using Trebbiano and Malvasia grape varieties. The grapes are dried on mats for several months before a roughly four-year fermentation process takes place.
Unlike a traditional glass of wine which may be 5-6 ounces, a serving size of Vin Santo is roughly half this amount.
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