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Discover the secrets of Italian cuisine, in Florence

Discover the secrets of Italian cuisine, in Florence

I never used to order margarita pizza.

Something about only putting 2 ingredients on a pizza makes me think “How Boring” and “What a waste of pizza base”. Surely, the cheese and tomato is the foundation for the other toppings? Surely, the pizza is not finished until more is added?

But, our recent trip to Italy sort of screwed up all my pizza perceptions. In a good way.

The Italians have sent some of the greatest recipes and food around the world. They are also the most particular chefs. Meaning, there are ingredients that may be used together. There are ingredients that may not be used together.

God forbid you ask for mushrooms on your 4 cheese pizza. You might get deported. Or at least get the “Stupid Foreigner” look from the waiter, as I did once.

But, behind all this inflexibility, there is great insight. Simple, Perfect ingredients don’t need bells and whistles. They just work.

Learning the art of manipulating these simplest of ingredients into something deliciously perfect is exactly what Italian pizza is all about.

So, if you are heading to Italy, it would be sacrilege not to pay your respects to one of the world’s most popular dishes by learning to make it the proper way. The Italian way. We decided to do it right by taking a cooking class with two local lads, part of Florencetown Tours, to help us discover the secrets to re-producing the real flavors of Italy.

More on pizza is coming up but, before the main course, we have a lot of other Italian flavor experiences to enjoy, not to mention desert…


How do you spot a good Italian wine?

We were already sold on the pizza making, but the option to do wine and oil tasting before hand sounded like a great opportunity. One we were glad we took.

In English speaking countries we look for words like Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay on the bottle to give us a rough idea of what sort of flavours to expect in a wine.

Italy just doesn’t work that way. You either have to have been brought up on Italian wine, or you need an education.  I simply don’t have the tan to pass as Italian, so it appeared I needed the latter.

The tricky thing is, there are a lot of different wine regions in Italy. Each one is regulated. Each style has a different grape blend and it might not be obvious on the bottle which it will be, unless you are an expert. 

Sure, you can buy some budget crap and it could have anything in it and taste quite ok with your homemade spaghetti. But, to be a true “Chianti” for example, it has to meet the specific requirements. It has to be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. All the grapes have to be grown in the Chianti region. To get the A+ of wine ratings (Called “DOCG”) it even has to be blind tasted.

The rules maintain a standard. You know when you spend out on a bottle of “DOCG” sealed Chianti, its going to live up to expectations.

Florencetown’s Wine academy is the first step to understanding Italian wines. By the end of the session you’ll know how to spot good Italian wines. Plus, of course, you get to drink some high quality vino in the process. And, they aren’t shy with the pouring either!

On top of that, tasting a true premium, local olive oil is an unexpected treat for your tongue. It zings. I didn’t know olive oil could zing. The good stuff really does.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise but there is much more to this experience than wine and olive oil. They may call it the “Wine Academy” but they have many other Tuscan flavors on offer.

You can learn more about the Florencetown Wine Academy on their website. 


You don’t have to be Italian to make amazing Italian pizza

This was not my first time in Italy. But, It had never occurred to me before to take a cooking class. After all, I can already make pizza. I like to think my pizza is pretty good actually.

That said, the most amazing pizza I have ever eaten was in Italy – and I’ve eaten a lot of pizza around the world in 32 years.

So, I was up for learning a few new tricks. I certainly did that.

What I wasn’t expecting, was for my pizza to taste better than some of the restaurant pizza I’d had around Italy in the past. I’m trying to be careful not to get my head stuck too far up my rear right now. But, it’s hard. The pizza was damn tasty.

So, for starters, the Italians use “Tip 00” flour, rather than strong bread flour, for making the dough. It’s a finer flour. I’m no food scientist, but if they tell me that’s better, I think they know what they are talking about.

The tomato sauce is simple. Passata mixed with a little olive oil and dried oregano. Done.

The toppings. Yes, just mozzarella, the dry kind, not the stuff that comes in brine, is all you need.

I couldn’t resist adding some salami too, but seriously, it’s not essential.

That’s the bare bones of the process.

What really sells the course though, is having an expert chef there showing you each step and helping you get it right. The Italian boys spoke good English and worked hard to make the class fun as well as informative.

So, aside from chowing down on our gooey cheesed, pizza creations, I actually gained some pro knowledge too.

It goes to show, this is not just a class for beginners, I think every pizza lover has something new to learn. Plus, now, next time I’m short of cash I can get a pizza chef job – after all, they gave me a certificate that says I trained in Italy. Who wouldn’t want to hire me now!

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Homemade gelato for dessert, anyone?

Like everything else in Italian cooking, the first secret to making perfect gelato is simplicity.

The second secret is a good gelato making machine.

Yes, I know, I was disappointed too. If you really want the traditional experience for yourself, you could always stand inside a freezer and stir manually for an hour or more?

I think I’ll stick with the technological option. Still, Megsy did help out with the initial combining of ingredients, then it’s down to the machine to perform its magic.

The process might not be enthralling but, the flavor… I might come across bias. But, the chocolate gelato we made at this cooking class in Florence was better than the ones I’d had at the fancy looking gelato shops around Italy.

Of course, this may be because we’d been frequenting the wrong shops. Turns out we should have got ourselves a Florence travel guide because there’s a secret to spotting which shop will have the best gelato. So many secrets in Italy. I’ll give you a hint though. The ones that have 50+ varieties in a shiny store on a busy tourist street probably didn’t have time to make them all fresh that morning… Less is more, people.

So, why does gelato taste so different from regular ice cream? Yes, you guessed it, that answer is simple too. But, I don’t want to give away all the answers right here.


Have this experience for yourself

Want to fill yourself with pizza, wine and gelato? Well, you can.

Florencetown offer the Pizza & Gelato Cooking class as well as the Wine Academy. They also have a whole host of other tours in and around Florence. We found the staff to be super friendly. Its all about the experience, as well as the food. So they really make you feel at home.

You can check out all that Florencetown has to offer on their main website.

Find the best hotels in Florence at the best price using Hotels Combined. It’s the site we use to find hotels because it compares multiple major booking sites all on one screen making it easier to see which site has the best price.

Disclaimer: We got a substantial discount on our classes with Florencetown. However, like with all other write ups on our site, we always provide an honest account of our experiences. This article contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting our blog by using these links