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Cooking in Tuscany at a traditional farmhouse was a long-held dream of mine. Sure, there are scads of cooking schools in or near Florence, but I wanted to feel a part of a place. To live like a local for a day with my hands deep in flour and a silly smile on my face in the rosemary scented Tuscan countryside.
So when I learned of Juls Kitchen, which offered private one-day cooking classes in Tuscany, about an hour’s drive from Florence near Colle Val d’Elsa, I knew immediately I’d found the experience I’d been fantasizing about.
Giulia is a talented and passionate food blogger, photographer, and cookbook author specializing in traditional Tuscan cooking. She’s warm, friendly, and her enthusiasm for seasonal, traditional Italian deliciousness is completely contagious!
But best of all, she brings the delight of cooking in Tuscany to life in the very farmhouse she grew up in. You can’t get more authentic than that.
First Up: A Market Visit
Giulia likes to say that a market visit is a shortcut to discovering Italy’s culture and food traditions. And that’s why we opted to begin our cooking class with a visit to the nearby open air market in Poggibonsi.
Of course, we started our market day “the Italian way,” with a quick dip into a nearby cafe for a cappuccino and pear tart. Once we were fortified, Giulia showed us how to carefully elbow our way in between the gaggle of elderly nonnas picking over the ripest strawberries, slim asparagus bundles, and vivid yellow squash blossoms.
The market was a true local education. Giulia steered us to the long line at the fish monger instead of the one where no one waited—the freshest fish always wins—and then we watched him filet a stingray for a patron.
Next up was a visit to her favorite cheese monger where we tasted so many delicious cheeses and meats. Food is, of course, everything in Italy so market sellers take great pride in ensuring you take home the very best.
How would we be preparing the asparagus? one vendor wanted to know as he reached towards the wild asparagus which are the better variety for cooking.
Since basil, sage, and rosemary are essentially the foundation of Italian cooking, market vendors also gift you with a paper bouquet of those herbs with your purchase. It’s a lovely tradition.
What did we feel like eating? Giulia wanted to know. We planned our menu for the day together around what was fresh and beautiful at the market. Plus, we were in the mood for fish as we readied for our visit to the Cinque Terre in the coming days.
When we eventually spilled our haul onto Giulia’s farmhouse table, we were enthralled with our finds and ready to get cooking.
Our Tuscany Cooking Class Begins!
We had a truly memorable morning in Giulia’s kitchen. As we chopped, stirred, sampled, and savored the most AMAZING aromas, she explained that her sister, parents, and 88-year old grandmother all lived in the cluster of buildings there by the garden.
While everyone enjoys the privacy of their own home, family is also just a few steps away if, say, you need someone to bring you dinner when you’re nursing a bad cold or you want to celebrate a birthday together on a busy weeknight. How civilized is that? The Italians do it right when it comes to family.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll have an opportunity to pat Giulia’s adorable pooch, Noa, who meanders back and forth between the three little homes in search of a morsel. (Sorry Noa… Absolutely no dogs allowed in the kitchen!)
When it was time for our leisurely lunch, Giulia’s boyfriend and social media guru, Tommaso, joined us. Appetizers started with delicate squash blossoms and sage leaves…lightly battered and fried. Think sage flavored potato chips…shockingly delicious!)
Then we moved on to tiny fried shrimp and a selection of cheeses with lovely onion jam. A traditional savory chickpea cake with zucchini flowers rounded out these first flavors.
Our primo was, of course, homemade pasta, paired with a simple sauce of asparagus, zucchini, garlic, and stracciatella cheese….
…while we waited for our beautiful mackerel to roast in the oven.
Dessert was fresh ricotta mixed with cream and powdered sugar, topped with fresh strawberries…with limoncello and a green walnut amaro that Giulia makes herself. Heavenly!
While we sipped and supped, Giulia explained that her little kitchen for the cooking class was once a German post office during World War II.
Until eventually, the Allies converted it into a local command center by day and dance hall by night.
I loved imagining weary soldiers letting off a little steam in the very spot where we were enjoying such an incredible meal.
After Cooking Class: To Bagno Vignoli
What could be better than a free foot soak in a warm hot springs after such a beautiful meal? Tuscany is alive with hot springs…everything from luxury day spas to natural, flowing springs deep in the woods.
Bagno Vignoli is a tiny, ancient Italian hamlet that was conveniently located en route to the agriturismo in Pienza where we were staying so we stopped by to soak our feet and look at the view.
In the heart of the village is a 16th century square that holds a pool of warm thermal waters. It’s been there since Roman times.
Everyone from Pope Pius II to Lorenzo the Magnificent used to head here on holidays to take the waters!
Today, you can’t bathe in the central square, but you can walk just five minutes from the square and soak your feet in a river of water as it cascades down into a lovely valley. (Plan your visit for sunset!)
As we walked through the little town peeking into the quaint shops and cafés, we stumbled upon this hand-lettered sign:
“A chef must think like a scientist, organise like an accountant, inspire and motivate like a warrior, move like a track star, plate like an artist, and cook like a GRANDMA!”
Indeed. Giulia did each of those things during our lovely day with her. We couldn’t have asked for a more authentic Tuscan cooking class.
If you go:
Giulia Scarpaleggia offers one-, two-, and three-day cooking classes and can accommodate gluten-free or vegetarian diets if requested. You can book a cooking class with a market visit, a visit to a Pecorino farm or “just” a traditional Tuscan cooking class and a fabulous lunch.
Reserve ahead and get current prices at Juls Kitchen. Or, if you’re visiting Florence, here’s some great itinerary inspiration for both day trips and slow travel. And advice for where to eat in Florence.
While you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity to spend a day in San Gimignano! And if you’re heading to points south in Italy, check out this fun cooking class (which also includes a market visit) in Taormina, Sicily.
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