Exploring Italy: The 5 Worst Things We Ate in Florence

I recently wrote about all my favorite places to eat in Florence. In this post, I'm doing the exact opposite and sharing the five worst things we ate. Of the three cities we visited, Florence was the only city where we had less than stellar food experiences. There were some things we took a bite of and threw away, and others we simply felt wasn't worth the money. Encountering food that doesn't match up to our tastes or expectations is inevitable, but it's all a part of the fun when traveling to a new place! 

Trippa alla Fiorentina at Il Ristorante

Inside of the Mercato Centrale (Via dell'Ariento, 50123 Firenze, Italy) on the second floor is Il Ristorante, a counter known for their Tuscan specialties. Together we shared the Trippa alla Fiorentina (Tripe Florentine-style), a "poor-man's dish" that consists of braised tripe in a hearty tomato stew. I'm a fan of offal, but this was too much offal for my taste buds. The meat was tender and jiggy texture-wise, overpowered by an intense barn-like fragrance that made me want to vomit a bit. I took a tiny bite and that was all I could handle. No, thank you. 

Panino con il Lampredotto at Panini e Vini di Nante

The most popular street food in Florence is the Panino con il Lampredotto, a sandwich filled with stomach meat (abomasum) from a cow, topped with its own broth. Patrick and I decided to stop by Panini e Vini di Nante (Piazza Duomo 52 Rosso, 51025, Florence, Italy) to try out this very popular local dish, but we both couldn't stomach it after taking one bite. The stomach meat has a pleasant texture of tender pastrami, but then you quickly realize that you are eating a cow's stomach from that unpleasant funky taste of offal.

I've come to realized that as much as I love offal, I don't like how it's prepared in Italy. 

Truffles at Il Tartufo Luciano Savini

Also inside the Mercato Centrale (Via dell'Ariento, 50123 Firenze, Italy) on the second floor is Il Tartufo Luciano Savini, a small counter that offers dishes with fresh black or white truffles. Priced at ‎16€ to 20€ for a dish, I expected the white truffles to be of amazing quality, but sadly it wasn't. Together we shared the fried eggs and steak tartare and enjoyed both, but the truffles were mediocre. In comparison to all the truffles we had on our trip, these truffles were underwhelming, lacking freshness and that pleasant musky aroma. There are plenty of other options to choose from to get your truffle fix, this place is overpriced and the quality just isn't up to par. 

Chestnut Street Vendors

It's chestnut season in Italy and I was lured by the sweet fragrance of chestnuts roasting on the streets. It may have been our bad luck in choice of vendor, but these chestnuts sucked. Tough and hard to chew on, nearly inedible, and many burnt.

Custom Magnum Bar at Magnum Pleasure Store Firenze

I'm a sucker for Magnum ice cream bars, so I couldn't resist designing my own custom bar at their Magnum Pleasure Store (Piazza del Duomo 47/R, 50122, Florence, Italy). It just sounded so cool. Unfortunately, the experience was pretty pathetic. You walk in and choose three toppings and what you want your ice cream dipped in from dark, milk, or white chocolate. The person behind the counter dips your bar and shakes the toppings over, drizzling it with melted chocolate to finish. I choose a white chocolate bar with pistachio, popcorn, and popping candy (the candy did not pop).  The toppings bar was messy and they tasted stale. I only ate half the bar and threw away the rest. At a cost of 4.5‎€ a bar, it was pretty pricey for what it was. Skip this place and go grab yourself some fresh gelato instead.

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Exploring Italy: My Favorite Places to Eat in Florence

If you've been following my adventures on Instagram then you probably know that we recently took a trip to Italy. Patrick and I visited Florence, Parma, and Bologna for nine days, spending three days in each city. It was a good trip and the food was spectacular, but we did find ourselves bored from the repetition of visiting churches and museums. Don't get me wrong, the beauty is endless, but it all starts to looks the same one church after another. 

The Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore: The ceiling of the duomo in Firenze is magnificent, hand-painted 380 ft in height. "High up on the fresco in the dome, around the cupola, hovers a temple with the twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse; beneath this, on terraced registers, follow choirs of angels with the instruments of the Passion; groups of saints; personifications of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of the virtues, and of the beatitudes; and finally, the regions of hell with various deadly sins." - florenceinferno.com

The view of the city at different degrees from Piazza Michaelangelo. 

Florence is a grand city that's full of rich history and beautiful architecture, but I was turned off by the amount of tourists and long lines for nearly every attraction. I was most wow'd by the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza Michaelangelo for the beautiful views of the city, and Giotto's Campanile (the 400 steps is worth it!).

In comparison to the other two cities we visited, we found Florence to be the least exciting when it comes to food that we find interesting. That's not to say that there isn't delicious food to be had in Florence because we definitely ate very well and shared fantastic meals together. Instead of having specialties unique to the city, Florence showcases the diversity of food from different parts of Tuscany. In this post, I am sharing all of the places that we loved and would highly recommend. 

Osteria delle Tre Panche (Via Antonio Pacinotti, 32/R, 50131 Firenze, Italy): Truffles were the real reason why I was really excited to visit Florence in October. Here you can find the finest fresh white truffles in Florence. I made reservations a few weeks in advance to visit on our first night and it was such a memorable meal. Osteria delle Tre Panche is a tiny little restaurant with only three picnic-style tables that seat about a total of 18-20 people. They offer an entire truffle menu, so we ordered the Tagliolino al Tartufo Bianco (fresh pasta with white truffles) and Milanese al Tartufo Bianco (fried veal Milanese with white truffle), along with a side of beans and grated bottarga (salted, cured fish roe). The truffles were outstanding! They came from Siena and were so wonderfully fresh that the scent permeated through the entire restaurant in the most pleasant way. The food was wonderful and the service was friendly. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Alimentari Uffizi (Via Lambertesca, 10, 50122 Firenze, Italy): Alimentari Uffizi is a small deli located on a quiet street, one of our favorite finds that we stumbled upon on a rainy day in Florence. Owner Alessandro represents the third generation of his family to run this business, serving up memorable charcuterie made from cinta senese and grigio Umbro pigs from son's farm, Terre de Marni. Patrick and I shared an incredible spread of salumi with fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, bruschetta and olives, which are also produced from the farm. The price was only 20€ for both of us, a great value for excellent meat. Alessandro doesn't speak much English, but his warmth and kindness made us feel very welcomed as if we were guests in his home. He even shook our hands at the end as we parted ways. If we go back to Florence, this would be our very first stop and last. 

I' Brindellone: My friend Pearl recently came back from Florence and raved about this place, so I knew I had to check it out. Patrick and I ordered a gigantic 2.5lb Florentine steak and a plate of their pasta with fresh black truffles - two of their most popular menu items. Normally we would not order a steak that large in portion, but that was the only size they offered that day. The steak was simply seasoned, perfectly grilled to medium rare, plenty of blood drippings to sop up with bread. It's simply a very satisfying steak.

A video posted by Brenda Ton Linkous (@nerb) on

But it was the pasta that won my heart, made fresh and tossed in a buttery cream with a generous amount of shaven black truffles. Each strand is coated in cream that traps all the wonderful essence from the truffles. And here's the best part- the pasta was only 9€. This was definitely one of our favorite meals from our entire trip.

All'Antico Vinaio (Via dei Neri, 74/R, 50100 Firenze, Italy): Located in the Uffizi area, this sandwich shop is constantly busy with people lined out the door. Freshly baked panini sandwiches packed with generous meat and toppings for only 5€. I ordered the "La Focaccia Del Mela" with Speck, Crema di Tartufo, Crema di Porcini, and Scamorza Affumicata (a type of smoked mozzerella). Patrick had the "La Favolosa" with Sbriciolona, Crema di Pecorini, Crema di Carciofi e Melanzanine Piccanti. 

I actually wouldn't recommend the sandwich I got. I was not a fan of the Crema di Tartufo;  I purposely ordered the sandwich for the truffle cream, not knowing that it was full of truffle oil instead of real truffles. The truffle oil was so overpowering that I had to scrape it off. The speck was excellent and the sandwich overall was delicious regardless of my poor decision. It just would have been better without the truffle cream and maybe even without the porcini cream. 

Patrick loved his sandwich and scarfed it down quickly. I know it's weird that I'm recommending a place that I didn't exactly have the best experience at, but it's one of those places that I wish I visited again because the options are endless and the quality of meat is fantastic. This is definitely a delicious value that's worth the 10 to 15 minute wait! 

Eataly Florence (Via de' Martelli, 22, 50122 Firenze, Italy): Instead of hunting for breakfast on our last day in Florence, we decided to stop by Eataly the night before to grab some headcheese and focaccia to enjoy at our rental. I love how the fat of the headcheese melts against a hot piece of focaccia straight out of the oven. The quality of food and variety they have here is fantastic. Eataly is a perfect spot for a quick bite or a snack. I guarantee that you won't be able to resist once you walk in. 

Did you know that Florence is the birth place of gelato? There's an endless amount of gelato shops in Florence, but not many are aware that there are shops selling artificially flavored gelato. Stay away from those colorful towers of gelato as tempting as they may be! 

Vivoli Gelateria (Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7/r, 50122 Firenze, Italy): Vivoli Gelateria is a third generation business that's been around since 1930, dedicated to making their gelato fresh every day. Their most popular flavor is crema, made with eggs, cream and sugar. We loved the crema, chocolate-chocolate chip, and hazelnut. Vivoli is top of mind when it comes to the best gelato place we visited in Florence. 

Gelateria La Carraia (Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25-red, 50124 Firenze, Italy): La Carraia offers unique gelato flavors and creamy soft textures. They make their gelato fresh every day and there's almost always a line out the door because it's so good. 

I loved their white chocolate and pistachio gelato so much that I went back twice in a row. I also really loved their airy mousse tiramisu, which is not gelato but instead a whipped mousse. 

In my next post, I share the five worst things I ate in Florence

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Exploring Emilia-Romagna: Parmigiano Reggiano Production Tour at Giansanti di Muzio (Videos & Photos)

It's cool to travel to a new city to enjoy the food it offers, but it's only when you experience the food at the source and in production that you can appreciate its craft.

One of the highlights from our Italy trip was a private tour to Giansanti di Muzio, a small Parmigiano Reggiano producer with only eight total employees and one cheese master. To give you an idea of how small they are, large producers produce hundreds of wheels per day, but Giansanti only produces 6 to 7 wheels of cheese daily - it depends on how much milk their cows produce. 

Don't confuse this cheese with popular imitation cheese "Parmesan", Parmigiano Reggiano is a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) product, which means to be legally called Parmigiano Reggiano, it must come from the designated region and follow the guidelines of production. It is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of Mantua and Bologna, near the Po River where over four thousand farms exist. The milk is produced by cows fed according to strict regulations, which only allows the use of grass grown only in the place of origin, together with natural animal feed. 

Pale in color and varied yellow tones, Parmigiano Reggiano is known as the "King of Cheeses" for its unique characteristics. It is a purely natural cheese that has a complex, sharp taste that is fruity and nutty with a strong savory flavor and a slightly gritty texture with noticeable crunchy crystals. 

In an hour and a half, our extremely knowledgeable and kind guide Chiara walked us through the magic of how milk gets transformed into cheese from beginning to end.  Did you know that each wheel is handmade? 

Here are a couple of videos I recorded, followed by shots below accompanied with descriptions of the process as explained on the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium website. 

VIDEO: THE PRODUCTION CYCLE - PART 1

VIDEO: THE PRODUCTION CYCLE - PART 2

 

PHOTO TOUR

Every day, the milk from the evening milking is left to rest until morning in large copper vats, where the fatty part spontaneously rises to the surface. This is used for the production of butter. As soon as the whole milk form the morning milking arrives from the farm, the skimmed milk from the night before is poured into the typical bell-shaped copper cauldrons where calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments obtained from the processing of the day before, are added. 

Cheesemaster Giorgio is keeping the tradition alive! He's been making Parmigiano Reggiano for over 50 years. 

The milk coagulates in around 10 minutes, and the curd which forms is then broken down into minuscule granules using a traditional tool called spino, which looks like a huge whisk. 

The cooking process which reaches 55 degrees centigrade, after which the cheesy granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron forming a single mass. 

The cheese is cut in half.  Each half will produce one wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. 

The cheese gets wrapped in a typical cloth and is placed in the mold to give it its final wheel shape.

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Each wheel carries proof of its authenticity. After a few hours, a special marking band engraves the month and year of production onto the cheese, as well as its cheese dairy registration number and the dotted inscriptions of "Parmigiano-Reggiano" around the entire cheese wheel. You can use this number to look up the producer of the cheese here: http://www.parmigianoreggiano.com/dairies/ext/CercaCaseifici/default.aspx

The wheels are transferred to these metal forms to give them their distinctive curve and turned over and over again. 

After few days, the Parmigiano Reggiano wheels are immersed in a water and salt-saturated solution. It is a process of salting by absorption which, within less than a month, closes the production cycle and opens the cycle of maturation.

The cheese wheels are laid out in long rows in the silent maturation rooms. The cheese is allowed to rest on wooden tables where the outside of the cheese dries forming a natural crust without being treated in any way and therefore remaining perfectly edible. The story of Parmigiano Reggiano follows the natural rhythm of the seasons:  the minimum maturation time is 12 months, and only at this point can it be decided if each individual cheese is worthy of the name it was given at its birth. 

Every twelve months, the inspectors of the Consortium examine each cheese one by one. These tests are done by tapping the cheese in order to hear the sound it makes, similar to what a stethoscope does. If a cheese passes inspection to meet the requirements of the PDO, a mark is fire-branded onto the individual cheeses. 

The cheese will not be DOP approved if it sounds like it has large air pockets or bubbles, in which case it cannot be called Parmigiano Reggiano; all identifying marks and dotted inscriptions are removed from the cheese. 

At the end of the tour, we had a tasting of all three cheeses produced: 12/24/36-month aged. We loved all three, but ended up purchasing a thick slice of the 24 and 36-month to bring back home with us.  

In addition to Parmigiano Reggiano, Giansanti di Muzio produces butter, yogurt and ricotta.  I really wish we could've tried their butter and ricotta, but it wouldn't have lasted our drive.  The apricot and chestnut yogurt was delicious! 

If you're looking to visit a Parmigiano Reggiano factory, I would highly recommend this one. The cost of the tour at Giansanti di Muzio was 20 euros for both of us, which included a generous tasting of all 12/24/36 month cheeses with a balsamic glaze. This is a fraction of the price compared to agencies offering factory tours at ridiculous prices. These tour groups are no where as intimate of an experience as booking directly with a producer. 

For more information about Giansanti di Muzio, visit their website giansantidimuzio.it or e-mail them directly at parma@giansantidimuzio.it.

You can find other Parmigiano Reggiano producers through the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium website.

A very cheesy photo of us. 

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