As we opened the door to the back patio, there they were: a love-insatiable dog, a just-loving-enough cat, and a setting on the edge of the vineyard with a view to the surrounding farms and hills. The picnic tables — one outside, another inside — spoke to the perfect place for the all-night rolling snackfeasts of local Tuscan produce we had envisioned.
When a vacation rental option in Tuscany revealed itself before our visit, we seized the opportunity. Not only would this provide us an unusually comfy place to lay our heads (keep in mind that we often sleep in scrappy places), but it would allow us to be active participants in Tuscany's fresh markets.
We could throw our arms around it fully, every day could feature a picnic. We could buy and eat whatever we liked because we had a full kitchen to store and prepare it all, a place where it wouldn't go bad, a place called home. And the whole experience was tucked into Tuscany's vineyard lands.
Partaking in market products allowed us to fully engage and satisfy our food curiosity. Fresh vs. aged pecorino? Tuscan vs. Parma prosciutto? Plum vs. cuore di bue tomatoes? What's the difference? And would the baby zucchini taste as sweet as it did all those years ago on our trip to Liguria?
And when we visited wineries, we chose a favorite bottle knowing that we could enjoy some of it that evening in situ on our back patio rather than having to figure out how to jam it into our checked luggage, airline security restrictions on liquids be damned.
In other words, because of our accommodation situation — that we were staying in a vacation rental-cum-agriturismo rather than a hotel — we could be full participants rather than just spectators at wineries and local markets.
You may be thinking, “Hey, Italy has all this fantastic food. Why would you want to eat in at all?”
Fair point. But we found restaurant food so rich and the portions so generous that eating out once a day was just about right. (Eating out in Italy twice a day leads one to feel like a goose in a foie gras factory).
Our lunches out were filling, intense sometimes. We'd slowly make our way back in the afternoon, visiting the last of the day's hill towns before returning home. Evening time was grazing time. We'd retire to the back patio, put our feet up and drink a glass of local wine as we gazed at the next vintage. Then we'd pull out the giant breadboard, spread it with aged pecorino, prosciutto, salami, and the world's most perfect grape tomatoes. Glaze the zucchini with a little olive oil and broil.
One bite into another, one sip of the day's wine, and our evening pace was set.
And with some of our burning questions answered (yes, the baby zucchini were as sweet and tender as we had remembered), we primed ourselves for tomorrow's history lesson, tomorrow's scavenger hunt.