epicurious.com: wwoofing italy, cucina popolare

Notes from Italy: Dining Out in Tuscany
by Alison Baenen
on 05/07/09 at 02:29 PM

When Jake and I decided to WWOOF it, we imagined we’d spend our afternoons exploring the Tuscan countryside, and, on our days off, taking trips to nearby Siena, Florence, or Rome. (Our farm is about ten minutes outside of Montalcino, a slightly sleepy, 100% charming hill town.) While our weekends have been full of travel, our weekday excursions have been of the more local variety. We finish work in the fields around 6pm., so aside from quick stopovers in Montalcino to buy fresh bread or a pre-dinner cono piccolo at the town’s best gelateria, most nights find us negotiating prime armchair space with the cats by the fire or helping out in the kitchen.

We experienced a refreshing change in dinner plans one night last week with our host family. The occasion was the 50th birthday of one of the farm’s many guests, and the destination was a newly opened restaurant in somewhat nearby Colle di Val d’Elsa. By “somewhat nearby” I mean about an hour and half away, practically all the way to Florence. There are surely excellent restaurants between here and there, but this one was promised to be a standout.

The Officina della Cucina Popolare was worth every kilometer, including those accrued when we got a little lost. A member of Slow Food, the Cucina focuses on local, seasonal produce and serves organic wine (including a selection from the San Polino vineyards where we work, of course).

Everything on the menu is excellent, a statement I feel confident making because we tried everything on the menu. Dishes appeared and kept coming. We ate and drank for close to two hours, and by the time the selection of classic Tuscan secondi arrived, chianina stewed in Chianti, conigliolo ripieno, and trippa alla Fiorentina, we were exhausted and dazed, barely able to lift our forks. Obviously we ordered a few dolci (sweets) to go with our dessert wine.

Jake and I are figuring out this weekend’s Tuscan destination; so far we’ve visited Siena, Pienza, Montepulciano, and Cortona. Any other must-sees?