Throughout the area, in addition to good grocery stores, butcher shops, and weekly markets, there are local, direct sellers of vegetables and fruits, and local products like olive oils, honey, wine, cheeses, cured meats (salumi) like salami and prosciutto, and porchetta (roast pork). There are some fabulous olive oils in this area. Look for signs that say “vendita diretta” (direct sales). The very good “Cinque Colli” olive oil is made just down the road.
The special foods of this area (the Val di Chiana and the Val d’Orcia) are truffles, truffles, and more truffles (both black and white) – on everything and in everything. One of the best pasta dishes is delicate fresh pasta (usually tagliarini) with shaved truffles: a wonderful combination of two simple but perfect flavors.
Pastas in Tuscany are generally pretty simple, with one or two ingredients for the sauce, not a lot of glop. It’s all about quality ingredients here. Both Lucignano and Monte San Savino owe more to nearby Sienese food traditions than to Aretine food traditions, so make sure to try pici – which is a kind of thick spaghetti typical of the Siena area – usually served with duck sauce, or with a simple sauce of sautéed fresh tomatoes in the summer. Delicious – especially if house-made (or bought from the shop in Monte San Savino to cook at home)!
In place of a pasta course, the traditional Tuscan soup is ribollita, which is a wonderful vegetable soup with bread and which varies according to each restaurant. If you are here in the late summer or fall, try mushroom (porcini) soup – or pasta with porcini, or steak with porcini, or anything with porcini.
The local salumi (cured, sliced meats such as prosciutto and salamis) are made from Cinta Senese pigs (these are a certain kind of local pig that is black with a white “belt” or stripe – the “cinta” – which can be seen in old Sienese paintings) and are much better than those from Parma.
Chianina beef from local cows / steers with white droopy skin (seen in old photos in some local restaurants) is traditionally prized, and this is the beef used for the best bistecca alla Fiorentina and the tagliata (which is a fabulous dish of sliced steak, usually served with tomatoes, arugula, and sliced pecorino or parmesan).
This is definitely meat country. The meat markets / butcher shops in this area pride themselves on the quality of their meats and poultry, and even post the exact provenance (farm, age, etc.) of the meat they are cutting that day. Think about making Cinta Senese pork chops on the grill, thick Chianina steaks, or a full mixed grill including the local sausages (boil the sausages for a while first to pre-cook them) and chicken, with grilled vegetables and a nice tomato salad (with tomatoes from the garden). Pecorino with honey, and then fresh fruit for dessert.
The most prevalent cheese of the area is pecorino. The younger the pecorino, the softer and milder tasting it is. Pecorino stagionato is the older, hard, strong-flavored, that our daughter loves. You can also find pecorino with bits of truffle in it. The lovely town of Pienza is famous for its pecorino cheeses, and Cortona’s Saturday market has a wonderful cheese stand!
We provide names and locations of all the great local restaurants, as well as a list of artisan producers of meats and cheeses in the area, Slow Food Guide recommended; grocery stores and shops; and a list of weekly markets. The house also has a variety of great cookbooks; a six burner gas stove, with oven/convection oven; a large outdoor BBQ grill (burns charcoal or wood); a traditional outdoor, wood-fired pizza oven; and all necessary pots, pans, and utensils for creating your own fabulous meals – when you feel like cooking at home.