Italian Farm Culture
Learn how Italians find truffles, celebrate artichokes, and make cheese the old-fashioned way. It’s all part of Italy’s slow food movement. Italians feel food tastes better if it’s not rushed — whether you’re preparing it or eating it.
Complete Video Script
When in Tuscany, I team up with my friend and fellow tour guide, Roberto Bechi. He always has some creative ways to get off the beaten path and closer to the culture… this time it's truffles.
We're meeting Fabio and his prized dogs Nik and Suzy to hunt the beloved truffles — one of this region's specialties.
Rick: So basically, what are truffles?
Roberto: Truffles are mushrooms that live underground.
Rick: OK, and where do you find them?
Roberto: You find them near the oak trees.
Rick: Like here? So these dogs are onto something.
Roberto: Yeah, a perfect environment.
Rick: What kind of environment do they like?
Roberto: They like a lot of moisture.
Rick: Is that right? Tell me about these dogs.
Roberto: These dogs are trained for years before they can find the mushroom.
Rick: They smell it out?
Roberto: They smell it.
The dogs are given two commands: “Dove” meaning where is it? And “c'è,” is there one?
Rick: Did he find something?
Rick: Now he’s got this tool here…
Roberto: It's called a vanghino.
Roberto: It's to dig out the truffle… I see one! I see it!
Rick: Oh there it is. So this is the precious truffle?
Roberto: The famous truffle.
Rick: In Italian Tartuffe:
Roberto: Tartuffe correct.
Rick: And people pay a lot of money for this?
Roberto: $100 a pound.
Rick: Look at that, A hundred bucks! Ah, smell that…
Roberto: It's wonderful… with pasta.
Rick: Ah… pranzo.
Just down the road, the village of Chiusure is celebrating its annual artichoke festival. People from all around gather to celebrate the peak of the artichoke season. Young and old gather to prepare these bristly treats.
Rick: Ah, they love their artichokes here.
Roberto: They’re wonderful.
Rick: I can see why. It's tasty. What is it about these artichokes?
Roberto: Well, this community brought back this artichoke from extinction.
Rick: This particular species?
Roberto: This species here.
Rick: So they have a festival every year here?
Roberto: Every year.
Rick: Tell me about this slow food. This is related to the slow food movement, right?
Roberto: Absolutely, it’s the idea that you have to eat quality and not quantity. That you have to preserve the variety of foods.
Rick: So, no chemicals?
Roberto: No chemicals first, but also the varieties. More varieties — better.
Rick: And eat in the season.
Roberto: Absolutely, always eat in season.
Rick: Wow, I'll be back next year for the artichoke festival. It’s great.
And food just doesn't get much slower than cheese making. In the nearby hills, a flock of free-range sheep and a few noble goats head back to munch spring grass after being milked. Victoria, with a little help hauls their fresh milk into her cheese workshop. She starts by pouring the milk into a big kettle to warm. When it gets to the right temperature she mixes in a thistle flower solution instead of rennet to get it to curdle
… then when it reaches the right consistency she stirs it and separates the curds and whey, (or liquid). She presses the curds into forms made of beech wood gently squeezing the moisture out.
Afterwards Victoria lovingly tends her aging rounds of cheese. Farms like this are part of Italy's growing 'Slow Food' movement where producers maintain the labor-intensive traditions and consumers are willing to pay extra for the quality.
Meanwhile, back at the agriturismo, the cattle — oblivious to their fate — are raised in free range bliss. These Chianina cows are celebrated throughout Tuscany for their lean and tasty beef.
It's Sunday and Roberto's Slow Food group is enjoying a convivial lunch on the farm. Our meal couldn't be more fresh — local wine, Victoria's cheese, today's crunchy bread. We're grating some of those exquisitely pungent truffles on our pasta. The artichokes are gobbled down raw by young and old — a leafy delicacy. And our Florentine-cut steak is cooked just the way locals like it… rare… and sliced thin… good enough for a Medici prince. Lunch is the main event on this timeless Tuscan Sunday.