Category Archives: Italian Foods & Restaurants

Tuscan Towns


Most tourists heading for Tuscany visit Florence, Siena, or Pisa. But Tuscany has more to offer than the great cities; smaller and less well known towns show a different side of Tuscan life and have their own, individual characters.

Lucca, a tiny cathedral city in the plains of the Arno valley, is still surrounded by its high defensive walls. It is a treasurehouse of Romanesque art; the cathedral contains the Volto Santo, an ancient crucifix that drew pilgrims from all over Italy, while San Frediano has a massive carved font showing the story of Moses. Winding streets of old houses in pale orange and pink end in towering white marble church facades, and the massive brick Tower of the Guinigi family dominates the east of the city.

Barga is a short bus ride away from Lucca, but a more different town can’t be imagined; it’s high up in the foothills of the Apuan Alps, which in the middle ages were full of wolves and bandits. Steep streets and narrow alleys run upwards to the gleaming white church. Barga’s food comes from the mountains ñ chestnuts, wild boar, and forest mushrooms ñ and even when the sun shines, it’s cooler than the cities of the plain below.

Another city with rough edges is Volterra, sited dramatically on a rocky ridge, overlooking untamed, arid country; it feels a little like Tuscany’s Wild West. Here the Etruscans operated mines, and the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum contains many examples of their metalwork, as well as a large collection of funerary urns, many with uncannily vivid portraits of the deceased.

In keeping with Volterra’s rough exterior, its fine Renaissance fortress has become a state prison, but it springs one surprise on the visitor. It now contains a highly rated restaurant where the cooks and waiters are all prisoners. Bookings need to be made well in advance ñ and there are strict security checks on the way to the table.

Chiusi is another hill town with Etruscan roots, and is surrounded by Etruscan tombs, many exhibits from which are now in the town’s museum. Its most interesting exhibit, though, is a set of tunnels under the city, known as the ‘labyrinth’, but in fact dug by the Etruscans for drainage.

Some of Tuscany’s towns take you back to the Middle Ages. Monteriggioni, not far from Siena, is perhaps the most perfect example of the Tuscan walled hill town, its majestic walls and towers dominating the valley below. Inside, though, it’s nowadays little more than a village, with attractive gardens and elegant Renaissance houses.

But if it’s towers you want, visit San Gimignano. Its medieval noble families feuded perpetually, and each family built its own fortress; fourteen of the towers still survive. The town’s main church has Renaissance frescoes, and there’s a good gallery of Renaissance paintings. Wine lovers will want to track down the local vernaccia wine, crisp and dry.

Further south, in an area little known by tourists, Pitigliano and Sovana are two ancient towns linked by an Etruscan chariot route which can still be followed across the plateau. Pitigliano, a town built in creamy stone on a ridge above the valley of the Fiora, is known as Tuscany’s Jerusalem, since it provided a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in the Papal States; the synagogue is open to visitors, though few Jews now live in the town. Many houses in Pitigliano have wine cellars that were dug by the Etruscans, while Sovana has well preserved Etruscan tombs.

An unusually complete Renaissance town is Pienza, named after its founder, Pope Pius II. It is a logical planned town, centred on its main square with the cathedral, the palace of the pope’s family, town hall and bishop’s palace, each taking one side of the square. The architecture is pure and delicate in style, and the whole town seems to be a perfect miniature ñ it was hardly more than a village when Pius decided to rebuild it.

Cortona shows a different side of the Renaissance with paintings by Fra Angelico, and two elegant small Renaissance churches. The town, though, is medieval with its steep narrow streets and tall houses perched on a steep hillside, and medieval customs still survive ñ there’s an annual archery contest in June, and processions in medieval costume in May.

Florence may be a honey pot for culture vultures, but Tuscany’s smaller towns can offer just as many interesting cultural experiences, in a more relaxed and less crowded atmosphere.


Florence Market & Gourmet Food Tour


Florence may not be the capital city or the business hub, but it is the pulsing heart of Tuscany and central Italy.

Recently being mentioned the New York Times ‘Where to go in Florence’ gives the reader insight into the revamped area of San Lorenzo sharing a list of new restaurants, caffès and gelati parlours that are stylish and geared to locals and tourists alike.

Since the opening of the new  of the top floor of the Central Market ‘Mercato Centrale’ in 2014 – the San Lorenzo neighbourhood has had a considerable make over. Gone are a lot of the market stalls making it easy to access the Mercato Centrale without too many distractions.

A great way to explore this area is to do a Florence Market & Gourmet Food Tour for a morning in the San Lorenzo area.

Prepare yourself to have all of your senses heightened and ignited on the Florence Market & Gourmet Food Tour.  Your guide will give you a detailed history into the central market where you will start off with a tour of the new first floor of the market for a coffee or cappucino and some time to browse the various shops working up an appetite.

The real Italian food market experience awaits you downstairs where the shops upstairs, local restaurants and Florentines come to buy only the freshest ingredients brought in before dawn from local producers.  Enjoy the vibrant, lively market experience with tastings of speciality products such as wild boar prosciutto, pecorino sheep cheese and fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables.

After the market tour you will visit a more refined gourmet food shop and learn about what staple produce is used for traditional Tuscan recipes.  You will have time to purchase unique gourmet gifts to take back home.  At the end of your Florence Market & Gourmet Food Tour you will be accompanied to a local trattoria where you can dine on the traditional Tuscan dishes you have encountered during the morning.

What better way to explore the traditional Italian market with a local food expert getting to know local vendors and shop owners who take pride in guaranteeing only the very best, local fresh produce.


Michele Berlendis joins MaMa Florence as the resident Chef


MaMa Florence
is excited to announce the arrival of Michele Berlendis as the new resident chef.

Michele was born and grew up in Tuscany where he attended hotel school and during the weekends worked in a restaurant in his local town, where his passion for the kitchen was born.

His first significant experience in the kitchen was working with chef Filippo Saporito, who he considers his maestro. Together at ‘La Leggenda dei Frati’ Restaurant Michele refined his skill and experience.

He then moved to Berlin where he lived for many years working in the best Italian restaurant in the city ‘Boccadibacco’ . Also ,collaboration with other chef friends , ran the successful ‘Caffe Pfoertner’.

Michele’s approach to cooking is dynamic, he is passionate about experimenting with simple flavours and tastes reinterpreting them with imagination and flair.

Returning to Italy after the birth of his daughter, together with his partner they ran a restaurant in Umbria on an organic farm. During his time managing the restaurant Michele learnt to appreciate the importance of freshly grown produce and it’s seasonality.

Michele is now settled in Florence and is excited to share what he has learnt with the guests of MaMa Florence. He looks forward to teaching and sharing his personal experiences with those keen to learn some traditional Italian recipes, ready to try them  back home again for friends and family.

MaMa Florence offers a variety of cooking courses from Pasta, Pizza, Vegetarian, Meat, Fish, Desserts and more.
Sign up for one of our courses at


Tasting Amalfi Coast, Campania- Cheese!

Aged Provolone del Monaco

Le Baccanti travels near and far tasting the finest, traditional Italian foods so that we know exactly where we want to send our clients who desire a unique gourmet vacation. Recently, we spent time in the Amalfi Coast in the region of Campania where we took a group of our very special VIP clients for an exclusive sneak peak into rustic, artisan cheese making. We discovered how fior di latte fresh mozzarella, ricotta and another cheese called Provolone del Monaco.

Fior di Latte is a type of mozzarella cheese that has a higher moisture content, made from fresh (lightly) pasteurized milk. It differs from normal mozzarella because it is softer, more “milky” and has a lower fat content than regular mozzarella which is best for cooking (think pizza.)

Making Ricotta on the Amalfi Coast

Ricotta is Italian for “re-cooked” so it is the protein rich milk curds that are then cooked again in a series of fermentation and whey acidification. Originally, ricotta served as a sort of peasant food since it was technically the leftovers from noble cheese production and high in nourishing proteins.

Provolone del Monaco is a sort of provolone cheese made from the milk of a special race of cow agerolese. The cheese has a very particular piquant flavor due to it’s semi-hard style which is aged for a minimum of 4 months and can be quite sharp.

Interested in tasting cheese in the Amalfi Coast? Visiting cheese makers and watching them make it right in front of you? Taste incredible Amalfi Coast gourmet cheeses listed above but also gourmet goodies like limoncello, extra virgin olive oil, gelato and pizza on Le Baccanti’s Amalfi Coast Gourmet Tour! Discover the delicious side of Sorrento with the exclusive food and wine experts from Le Baccanti Tours.