One of the best ways to experience a culture is through its cuisine. Lynn Hillaby is a gastronomical adventurer at heart and she’s leading a culinary tour to Tuscany this fall.
Tuscany is famous worldwide for its traditional olive oils, full-bodied table wines and rustic cuisine that hearkens back to the Etruscan period. It is based on the Italian idea of “cucina povera” or poor man’s cooking.
The simple, inexpensive meals are often cooked in large quantities using freshly rolled pasta, soups made daily, freshly baked bread, garden grown vegetables and fruits, foraged mushrooms and roasted meats. Olive groves are abundant as are cheese-making farms, and the region’s Chianti is a welcome addition to any meal.
Hillaby’s one-week Tuscan vacation includes a hearty helping of hands-on cooking classes preparing practical meals. The group of 12 participants will also visit a wine-tasting vineyard as well as a sheep farm to learn the process and techniques of cheese-making.
Food is prepared with olive oil, not butter, and a trip to Tuscany would be incomplete without dropping by an olive grove to harvest and cold press olive oil.
“I fell in love with Tuscany. It’s a little bit of heaven,” said Hillaby, owner of Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks formerly located in the Enjoy Centre. She made a business decision to close the store on Dec. 24, 2018, due to a sluggish economy.
A passionate culinary traveller, Hillaby has journeyed across five continents – North America, Europe, North Africa, Central America and Oceania – tasting the pinnacle of their regional cuisine.
“This is my first love. It’s work and travel all in one. It’s the perfect fit for me. This will be fun and allow me to do the things I love doing best,” she said.
In August 2017, Hillaby and her son Josh spent a few weeks travelling throughout Tuscany. The duo booked cooking classes with Stefania Meloni, operator of Il Toscana Gusto, a cooking school, and she offered her services as tour guide.
“When I studied with Stefania, they used every little piece. They have respect for food. Even the ends are used for stock. And they cook to the season. They don’t bring a lot of foods in that are out of season. There’s not a lot of preserved or refined foods. It’s all natural and wholesome. And I like that they eat together.”
The trip is booked for six nights at Cortona’s Hotel Il Falconiere (The Falcon), boasting a one-star Michelin restaurant. In addition to receiving cooking classes from the hotel chef, participants will drive through Tuscany’s rolling hills and visit ancient architecture and quaint restaurants in a Mercedes-Benz.
Besides learning the art of Tuscan cooking, sampling wine, picking olives and making cheese, a series of side trips are planned. At Pienza, a tour is set up for Abbey Sant’Antimo and on the last day a trip to Sienna is booked.
“Sienna has a beautiful city centre with great shopping. That’s why we saved it for the last day. You can buy truffles, linens and there’s great wine shops and restaurants.”
The last evening is spent at the hotel celebrating a true Tuscan farewell dinner accompanied by regional music.
“There‘s something for everyone. The itinerary is open. You can cook and learn the secrets of making the food at home, and you get to tour through towns and villages. You see things you normally wouldn’t see.”
The tour runs Oct. 22 to 29. The cost for double occupancy is US$5,295 and includes accommodations, car service and most meals. A supplementary fee is added for single vacationers.
“The nice thing about this tour is that people can travel alone. Security is set up and people feel safe. I’ve travelled alone and you’re always clutching your purse. Here you can relax and enjoy yourself.”
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