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Adamo, Antonella, Antonia, Ariana — my notes from my last trip to Italy read like a list of baby names for Italians. That’s because my visit to Umbria, Lazio and Tuscany was all about the local people. In France and in Italy — two countries that get paired to food and wine travel as often as brie with champagne — Brendan Vacations offers an inspired twist through its Boutique Journeys with Slow Food Travel. The subsidiary of non-profit Slow Food International is a destination expert with Italian roots and is committed to seasonal, local and sustainable food, produced traditionally by artisans.
Adamo, Antonella, Antonia and Ariana were among the winemakers, cheese makers, farmers and olive oil producers who shared their local culture through tastings, tours and meals where most of the ingredients were not only cooked, but harvested, by the family. After a few helpings of pecorino cheese in the various stages of its aging process — paired with Chianti Classico (in Chianti), Vino Nobile (in Montepulciano) and Sagrantino (in Montefalco) — it didn’t matter if we were navel-grazing gourmets or eating “good, clean and fair” for the first time.
Making sure we were all enjoying ourselves was local tour director Susanna Mariani, who met our whims with ease — from providing me with her own recipe for ribollita, a hearty soup I fell in love with, to answering specific questions on the next stop’s agriculture and architecture. In addition to the tucked-away, old hilltop vineyards and silvery olive groves, we were prepped for the top sights — like that of the frescoes of the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi and the meandering alleys of medieval Perugia. They may not have been the main course, but the classics paired nicely with the local flavor.
Brendan Vacation's Slow Food Travel itineraries mix classic favorites with local food production. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
Adamo Pallecchi has worked for Contucci — famous for its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano — for more than 50 years. // © 2013 Mindy Poder
Montepulciano, a medieval hill town in the province of Siena in southern Tuscany // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
A cheese maker explained how the production of Pecorino starts from the humane treatment of his sheeps. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
Nani Ricci was one of several Slow Food International representatives who joined the tour. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
The Pruneti farm in Chianti Classico in Florence produces four types of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
Paul Pruneti of the Pruneti farm in San Polo in Chianti explains the steps of olive oil production. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
Slow Food Umbria's Earth Market in Umbertide features local vendors, such as this woman selling her mother's homemade jams. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
Strolling Perugia before dinner at a Slow Food-approved restaurant. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
We also visited the top attractions, such as the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
During free time in Rome, we searched for the perfect pizza. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
A cooking class that focused on gnocchi and tiramisu was a sweet ending to our food appreciation tour. // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder