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Tasting the Riches of Firenze

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I decided instead of taking a cooking course in Firenze, I would do something a little bit different. The result: a one-on-one Pecorino, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar tasting. In an area where the olive and grape reign supreme, this would prove to be a magnificent idea for an afternoon out of the rain. Does anyone actually know how balsamic vinegar is made? I do now. But more on that in a bit.

I started by tasting my way through four different Pecorino cheeses. Pecorinos are hard, sheep’s milk cheeses, and the ones I tasted were both new and aged. From a plain new cheese to the pepperoncino, and then aged plain and walnut-flavored, these cheeses were to die for. And it was so interesting how their composition was the same, but the resulting tastes were so different. I sampled these with both honey and cherry jam. Fantastico!

From there, we moved onto the olive oils. I tried three from the Val D’Orcia, Chianti Classico and Montalcino areas of Italy. The olive oil from Val D’Orcia was light and aromatic, and made from Olivastra olives. It tasted fruity, and was more yellow than the next two. It was excellent, and would be perfect on a salad. The second oil, from Chianti Classico, smelled like artichokes, and coincidentally was greener than the previous. It was also more bitter, but in a way that nudged your taste buds at the end in a friendly way. It was made from Correggiolo, Moraiolo, and Lecchino olives. The last one from Montalcino was the strongest and most bitter of them all. Made with Moraiolo, Frantoio, and Pendolino olives, this would be great with a strong fish like salmon to contest it’s more pronounced flavor.

We finished up with the balsamic vinegars, and this was a real treat. All three were the same brand, “Leonardo,” but they each had different flavor profiles. I’ll start by mentioning that any good balsamic vinegar should be made with Trebbiano Modenese or Lambrusco grapes. The first one (#10) was a Balsamico di Modena, and it tasted like brown sugar. It was beyond good. By the way, did you figure out how balsamic is made yet? If so, the “#10” designation will mean something to you.

The second one was a Tradizionale, and the shape of the bottle was different than the first. This is deliberate, and like the A.O.C. designation in France, a balsamic vinegar cannot be coined as “Tradizionale” unless it’s sold in this particular bottle. This vinegar was even sweeter than the one before, and as I told the woman, “It tasted like the darker part of the sugar on a crème brulée.” It was beyond good. Lastly, I tried a #20 Balsamico al Ciliegio, a cherry-flavored vinegar. It was a bit tart, but not in an overwhelming way. At the end, we mixed the olive oils and vinegars in a variety of orders, and I tried some of the vinegars with the cheeses. What an afternoon…

As we finished up, my teacher showed me around the store and we looked at a balsamic that was €240 for a 100ml bottle. It was #100. Allow me to interject at this point and describe what the numerical designations mean. They’re not years as you might assume, but instead, it’s the number of “travasi,” or the times the vinegar moves to successively smaller barrels. The barrels are uncorked, which allows the bacteria to activate, and also allows the water to evaporate from the vinegar. Moving it to the smaller barrels is what concentrates it, and the result is the amazing flavor. Thus, the more barrel action a vinegar gets, the richer it’s going to taste (and the more it’s going to cost).

If you’re looking for an alternative to the living museum that is Florence, do yourself a favor and taste some of their epicurean treasures. For €29, this was an hour well-spent.

1Obsequium
Borgo San Jacopo 17/39
*Booked through Italy Segway Tours

Next Stop: Rome

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