Last Updated on August 17, 2023
Enjoying a cooking class outside Florence, Tuscany / photos: Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
By Marjorie Kean
One of the joys of being a grandparent is opening your grandchildren’s eyes to the world about them…such as a Florence cooking class.
One Thanksgiving, we took our grandchildren and their parents to Italy to do just that. One of the highlights of that trip was a cooking class just outside Florence, one of the top places to visit in Italy.
Our grandchildren travel more than most kids, with much of their travel on cruise ships.
We wanted to provide them a taste of another culture, in this case, Italy, beyond that typically experienced during a one- or two-day shore excursion.
My husband suggested that the six of us – my husband and myself, teenagers Megan (17) and Ryan (15), and their parents – take a cooking class in Florence, a city renown for its food and restaurants. It turned out to be not just a class but also a fantastic experience for all of us.
Before Our Cooking Class, a Walk About Florence
We booked our class through Walkabout Florence, a small tour company in Tuscany that we discovered online in a search for “cooking classes in Florence, Italy.” One of the tours Walkabout offered was a small group-cooking class at a farmhouse in the countryside outside Florence, a tour which promised we’d “learn to cook as Tuscan grandmas and mums do every day in their kitchens for their families.”
Our tour began at 9:45 in the morning at the offices of Walkabout Tours, thankfully centrally located only a block away from the Palazzo Vecchio. There we met Mara, our tour guide, a young, energetic woman fluent in English.
Mara signed us in, asked us a little about ourselves, and was intrigued by the fact that we were a three-generation family traveling together. Ten other people, all from the States and with different but equally interesting stories, soon joined us.
Meandering the Streets of Florence
After we quickly exchanged info about ourselves and our travels, Mara led us off to a market in Florence to buy food for our cooking class.
While meandering through the narrow streets of Florence on the way, she continually pointed out interesting Italian food- and wine-related sights. The first was the little tabernacle-like windows on the side of many buildings. Their original purpose was to deliver wine to houses.
Later, as we were walking pass the Duomo, she explained that when the dome was constructed, the contractor became quite dismayed by time lost by workers climbing up and down the structure for lunch. His solution was to build a kitchen halfway up the dome so their meals could be prepared on-site.
We were soon at the Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, a bakery/restaurant whose owner is the esteemed Verrazzano winery in Chianti. There we had coffee – in my case, a cappuccino, my favorite – and purchased the bread for the meal.
It was Tuscan bread, prepared without salt, explained Mara, because when the Italian states were unified long ago, a salt tax was levied, and in protest, the Florentines decided to bake without salt.
Buying Food for Our Cooking Class in an Amazing Market
After a leisurely hour’s walk, we arrived at the Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo neighborhood.
It was a sizable building, immaculate and modern inside, with stalls for every food imaginable, from cheese, olive oil, fish, and meat to beautiful fruits and vegetables.
At a butcher, we bought fresh veal that was ground in front of us and a sizable pork loin that Mara had de-boned and wrapped with the bone reattached. At other stalls, we added buffalo mozzarella, plump fresh tomatoes, and fresh spices to our market basket. We were then off outside to board a small bus to take us to the farm for our cooking class.
Off to the Farm for Our Florence Cooking Class
After 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the farmhouse. It was on a hillside with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and the city in the distance.
Walking to the house, we met a sizable St. Bernard belonging to one of the workers, who was playing with a much smaller but definitely dominant terrier.
Although he was only 8 months old, it still took two men to hold him back so he wouldn’t romp among our group.
Up to this point, Megan and Ryan had appeared somewhat blasé about the experience, but the view, the dogs, and the farmhouse seemed to change their moods.
In the Old Farmhouse, A Kitchen to Kill For
We found the most incredible kitchen inside the wooden-framed farmhouse, one that I – and I’m certain many others – would kill for.
Beyond two large marble-topped wooden tables was a massive four-burner gas stove and oven. Water circulated beneath the burners to keep the stovetop clean. High-beamed ceilings and glass walls allowed natural light to flood the room. It was in this fantastic kitchen that the magic began in our much-anticipated cooking class in Florence.
The first plate we prepared was ragu, that needed to simmer for two or three hours. We were put at stations along the tables to slice, chop and mix for our preparations.
We were given onions, carrots, and celery, and each of us was assigned a task. The fruits of our labors were then tossed into a pot with ground veal and oil to brown and cook.
Carmela was our lively cook and teacher, whom Mara interpreted throughout the day. Soon she had us rubbing a mix of basil and garlic on the pork roast and potatoes.
Bruschetta and Pasta
Wasting no time, Carmela then had us preparing bruschetta, the first course in our Florence cooking class. It always seemed relatively challenging to make good, tasty bruschetta at home. But Carmela showed us how to do it quickly and easily.
We chopped tomatoes, basil, and garlic, which we mixed with salt. We set it atop the lightly toasted Tuscan bread and drizzled it with olive oil.
Its taste was amazing, likely due to the fresh ingredients. I couldn’t remember the last time I had tomatoes with such a rich taste. And, since we were in Italy, our work was accompanied by ample glasses of wine.
Time flew by quickly, and we were soon making pasta. We also found that incredibly easy, using just a cup of flour and one egg. Carmela warned us that you must sing while rolling out the dough to make perfect pasta.
A Class Creation – Pizza Fantastico
After our handmade portions of pasta were put aside to later cook with the ragu, we prepared to make pizza. I had guessed we would be doing so since a farm worker had begun stoking the outside wood-burning oven soon after our arrival. By this time, its temperature had risen to 600°+.
Carmela’s niece Arla, a “pizzaiola” at Cucineria La Mattonaia in Florence, had joined our cooking class. She would be our pizza-making teacher and first showed us how pizza dough is made. She then brought us dough which had already been rising for 48 hours.
We rolled out the dough for individual pizzas in pairs, with a few brave souls tossing it into the air. Plenty of ingredients were put on the tables, and we each designed our little masterpieces. Again, it was all straightforward, and we put each in the hot oven outside. Amazingly it took only about 1½ minutes to make the dough rise and the crust brown.
We all found the fruits of our labors delicious. Even I, who doesn’t particularly enjoy pizza, ate every bit. There is something wonderful about fresh-made with fresh ingredients.
The Main Course
Before sitting for our main course in our Florence cooking class, we prepared Amaretto gelato and tiramisu. Many of us quickly realized that the main challenge lay in separating the egg whites and yolks. Later we added sufficient Amaretto to the gelato.
After finishing the tiramisu and putting the gelato in the freezer, we sat down to eat our pasta and ragu. And, of course, there was the pork loin with potatoes. It was a delicious meal, and we were all completely satiated. The dessert, which I rarely eat, was over the top.
It was a longish day, and it was around 5pm when we headed back into town. Along the way, we talked about how delighted we were with what we had experienced, learned, and eaten.
More importantly, we found it to be the best investment of a day in Italy. It was a cultural adventure none of our three-generation family will soon, or ever, forget.
If You Go:
Via Vinegia 23r
Tel: +39 055 2645746
The cost of the food tour and Florence cooking class at a farmhouse in Tuscany, is €180 per person, about $196. The company also offers numerous other tours.
Cantinetta dei Verrazzano
Via dei Tavolini, 18/r