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Toscana Saporita......My Number 1 Most Life Changing Vacation!
This one was easy for me. From most vacations you return with pictures, memories, a calmer mind and maybe a tan; all that is great. Or as I wrote last week; sometimes you return with a house. But if you are lucky you will take a vacation that effects how you live the rest of your life.
For me, this occurred in 2002. I had a client come in for assistance with an Italian vacation, he and his wife needed air, hotels and suggestions of what to do when they were done with their cooking school week. Hmmmm! Sounds interesting -Toscana Saporita Cooking School.
The more I learned about this place, the more it seemed like something I would enjoy and that probably Brian would, also. I soon found out that the school would be happy to adjust to our vegetarian diets (veggie eating in Italy is very easy) and that Laura and Tom could join in all the fun and eating, but not do the cooking classes if they didn’t want to (and pay a little less). Once I sold everyone on this idea, we were booked for May, 2002. Ah, spring in Tuscany!
The school is located in Tuscany between Pisa and Lucca, if you know the area. It is on the top of a hill, where from certain spots you can see the leaning tower, yes that one. Our accommodations and the classes were at the Camporomano Estate. This 15th century, 70 acre estate is pure Tuscan beauty. It is a working farm with 9000 ancient olive trees and is residence to the nobile Pecchioli family. In November the olives are pressed and by February we have shipped to us, the best, freshest, most delightful olive oil.
The school’s itinerary and menus change from month to month and year to year, but here is a brief look at our week at Toscana Saporita.
On arrival Sunday, lunch is served on the lawn with time to relax and get to know this beautiful estate.
Lunches during the week were usually a relaxing event on the lawn, with wine and sun and new friends. That evening a 4 course dinner is prepared by Sandra and the instructors and served in their 500 year old dining room. Candlelight, and wines paired to each course, dinners were very special. Dining usually lasted 2 or 3 hours and then off to bed, with a big grin on our faces, our bellies full and our senses satiated.
Monday morning the lessons begin, but first breakfast. We waddle down from our rooms, bleary eyed, to find the dining room table set with a buffet of foods and pastries (from the local village), juice, and coffee, of course. Classes are 3 hours or so, and then followed by lunch. Lunches were made up ( mostly) of food we prepared. More sun, more food, more wine, very satisfying.
Sandra, chef and teacher extraordinaire!
The classes were very hands on and cover everything from knife skills and basic sauces to fresh pasta, gnocchi and more complex dishes. Now a little about the school’s owner and head chef, Sandra. Born and bred in the nearby village, a proud Tuscan woman, to be sure. Her English is great and her humor and love of cooking and Tuscan cuisine is unmatched. This is what made the classes so special and fun. Sandra had two assistant chefs from the states, helping and learning as well. As our small group of 12 put on our aprons every morning and gathered around the big prep table in the huge country kitchen, we were like kids on the first day of school.
The lessons and lunches were fantastic, but, the afternoons were special, too. Two small vans arrive to take us on our afternoon tours. Two Italian ladies were our guides, they spoke perfect English and were just delightful. The excursions were varied: To Viareggio to visit the market and see the floats from their Carnival, a shopping tour of Lucca, an afternoon at the small seaside town of Lerici, a visit to Pietrasanta where Michelangelo lived when he needed marble from the mountains, a visit to a local vineyard and a tasting, of course. The excursions change some from time to time, but all have local guides with a local’s viewpoint, and with a local’s insights that are impossible to get unless you have a friend who lives there.
Raviolis, this was easier than it looks!
Returning from our afternoon adventure, can you stay awake in the van? We arrive back at the school, an hour or so to nap, and then get ready for dinner. While were were off exploring, Sandra and the instructors are preparing our dinner, with some foods we had prepared earlier. Every night was amazing, 4 courses with paired wines and a lesson as to why each wine was selected. Laughing, talking, eating, drinking; just one big Italian family.
A most inspiring pizza night!
On Thursday we made pizza, dozens of pizzas. We learned to make and toss the dough, we made the sauce, the toppings and we grated the cheese. This was Tom and Brian’s favorite night. The 500 year old pizza oven heated with the prunings from the olive trees. This was, of course, the inspiration for Brian and Laura’s pizza oven. On pizza night, we dined outside near the little side room where the oven is located. Everyone ate and ate, and ate some more, until all were just about ready to explode. (The 4 of us are very excited, because we have finagled an invitation to come to pizza night at the school on our upcoming trip. Kind of a reunion!)
I have heard, and I believe it to be true, that when anyone asks Mario Batali to recommend a school in Italy, we says Toscana Saporita. I know he has visited, and done special classes. Truthfully, I don’t need a Food Network star to tell me that this is one great experience. Sandra has a love of cooking and maybe more importantly, a love of sharing her skills and pride in Tuscan cuisine that is inspirational. She has a number of cookbooks published (that I own, of course). These are the kinds of cookbooks you want to read cover to cover. Each chapter has a story of family, of her friends and village, not to mention the great recipes!
It is hard to express how that week changed my life. In 1990 I made the decision to eat a plant based diet; nothing with a mother. I will someday write about that, but giving up meat turned out to be easier than I thought. Once I took meat out of my daily menu planning, I had to learn to cook. Not that we starved, but a typical meal was usually a hunk of flesh and salad, potato, and/or veggie.
Without meat, I focused more on everything else. I quickly found that ethnic foods were the best approach. Italian and Mexican cuisines were our favorites, after all that was usually what we ate when we went out to dinner. I was doing OK in the kitchen until that May, 2002. But that week changed my relationship with food. I love to eat, there I said it! Food (good food) sustains us, it delights our senses, it tickles our taste buds and it keeps us alive. The Italians’ relationship with food and cooking holds a lesson for all. If you put it in your mouth, it should taste great, be of high quality, and be savoured slowly, preferably with friends and/or family.
If you have ever thought about a cooking school vacation, I can highly recommend Toscana Saporita. I have booked it for clients many times since 2002 and have 100% great feedback. It costs no more than a high end cruise, yet you will come away with so much, much more, and I don’t mean around your waist!
About Me: Sue
I am an former educator, small business owner and current travel agent. I live in the woods in western Washington with my husband Tom, and our fur babies Shadow the dog and Charly the cat. When we are not in the woods,we spend as much time traveling as possible and at our home in beautiful Loreto Baja Sur.