Go far and wide in this region to discover some of the best foods in the world.
The key to Tuscany’s impeccable cuisine is its simplicity: the ingredients are fresh and the preparation has been perfected over generations. Tried and true delicacies never go out of style here and are worth indulging in even if it’s not something you’re used to snacking on (organ meat sandwich, anyone?). In Umbria in central Italy, you’ll find a large concentration of the country’s truffles—but you might have to forage them yourself to get a taste.
From mountain-grown honey to some of the world’s best prosciutto, you can eat your way through Tuscany and Umbria with the items on this list.
Trippa and Lampredotto
One of the most traditional foods you can eat in Florence is offal—meat—in a sandwich. This lunchtime favorite dates back to the Renaissance and is, specifically, cow’s stomach panini served on crusty rolls from street carts. You can go for Lampredotto, the most Florentine version, where a cow’s fourth stomach is typically slow-cooked with tomato, parsley, onion, and celery. Or, try Trippa alla Fiorentina, which is usually from a cow’s first stomach. For either variety, I Trippaio di San Frediano di Simone (Piazza dei Nerli) frequented by local construction workers, or Trippa del Porcellino (Via di Cappacio at Piazza del Mercato Nuovo), both have strong followings by visitors and locals.
You can search for this coveted pungent ingredient all over Tuscany. The town of San Miniato, 27 miles west of Florence, is known as prime real estate for a foodie’s favorite fungus. Truffle hunting guides, like Massimo Cucchiara of Truffle in Tuscany, or from Savitar Tartufi, will take you out searching for white truffles from October to January (with peak season in November), and black varieties from June until fall.
In Tuscany, there’s an animal that roams freely—Cinghiale, or Wild Boar. The male pigs are found commonly in Central and Southern Italy and are used to make cured meats (and ragu meat sauce). You can find cinghiale served on a panino in almost any sandwich shop across Tuscany. Try it with butter at I Fratellini in Florence or with Pecorino at Gino Cacino di Angelo in Siena.
In the mountains of Lunigiana, which stretch across Northern Tuscany and Liguria, beekeeping has been a tradition since the 1500s. Il Miele di Acacia (acacia honey) is produced in May and is light and syrupy, while Il Miele di Castagno (chestnut honey) is produced in June and July and is dark and a bit bitter. Both Lunigiana regional varieties have achieved DOP status, meaning the honey is certified as local with the name of one of 14 towns or villages where it was produced on each jar, such as at Il Posticcio in Mulazzo or at Ca’ d’r Moreto in Canepari.
Pecorino comes from the Italian word, “pecora,” meaning sheep. In Pienza, in the Val d’Orcia Valley, a Cypress grove dotted and hilly region of Tuscany, sheep are plentiful and so is Pecorino. The cheese from the province in Siena is not to be confused with Pecorino from Southern Italy (like Pecorino Romano), which is a bit harder like the consistency of a Parmesan. In Pienza, Pecorino is soft and sometimes sweet and often takes on hints of the wild greenery that grows in the region, like fennel and clover. Taste it at Podere Il Casale or Fattoria Pianporcino.
Prosciutto di Norcia
Trying to understand and taste the differences among all of the types of prosciutto that are produced in Italy could make your head spin. To keep it simple, try what’s considered some of the best, from Norcia, Umbria. Norcia, a town in Eastern Umbria, has highly specific rules about its prosciutto crudo production, covering the breed and size of pigs, and the process for curing and aging its meat. L’Antica Norcineria Fratelli Ansuini has been curing meats since 1940 and there you can sample its prosciutto, take it home with you, or have a picnic at its La Bottega.
Fruit Filled With Gelato
Among the bounty of gelaterie in Florence, Gelateria de’ Medici (on Via dello Statuto and in Piazza Beccaria) has a local following. Seasonal flavors like fig, persimmon, and chestnut, are intriguing in a cup or cone on their own, but, like its namesake Florentine family, Medici gives its gelato high-status, with its creativity in the form of fruit filled with gelato. Yes, entire pineapples, mangoes, and pears are hollowed out and filled with that flavor of gelato. Look for these fancy fruits in the freezer all year round, with varieties changing according to the weather.
Fagiolina del Trasimeno
Beans are a staple in Tuscan and Umbrian cuisine, served in soups, salads, and on their own with a touch of olive oil. The Fagiolina del Trasimeno, a rare white bean with a thin shell and delicate flavor, which grows only in Umbria, is found in specialty shops and among the bounty at farmers’ markets. Try it as a soup at Trattoria Pallotta in Assisi, or on crostoni at Ristorante La Cantina in Castiglione del Lago.
A sensual, sensory culinary experience is what Umbrian chocolatier Perugina has been selling since it invented its silver and blue foil-wrapped Baci—which means kiss in Italian, and contains a love note inside each bon-bon like chocolate—in 1922. Learn how this passion peddler makes its signature hazelnut-, dark chocolate-, and gianduia-filled concoction and other products from its repertoire at its chocolate school.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Beginning in the 13th century, Vernaccia from the Tuscan hill town with 14 towers—San Gimignano—was a libation for the elite, and today there are about 70 producers who bottle their own brand of Tuscany’s most well-known white. You can taste the dry varietal with a distinct mineral scent at any number of wine bars in town, and estates that surround it such as Campochiarenti and Cantine Gini.