Fall 1997 trip to Toscana Saporita cooking school

Toscana Saporita, Fattoria Camporomano, Massarosa (Lucca), Tuscany, Italy

I. Class Notes and Tips

Olive Oil: Extra Virgin is the way to go. Cold pressed without steam or solvents. Acidity <1%. Really good XVOO will be labeled with acidity of 0.3 - 0.6%. Cheaper XVOO’s will be blended with higher acidity XVOO’s to achieve (barely) the 1%. The best is first pressed - meaning less force is applied to the stack of mats.

The "sansa" from the mats (see photo of olive press) are then sold to large producers and pressed again "second pressing", labeled "virgin" olive oil. More olive oil is then extracted from it using heat and/or solvents. Labeled "olive oil" or "sansa" or "pomace" (extracted chemically and mixed with other oils.

Canned Tomatoes: use Italian "San Marzano" whole peeled tomatoes in tomato sauce.

Salt: Use Kosher salt in your cooking - larger grain, easier to grab by hand, or even better, use sea salt. Fleur de Sel is very expensive; La Balene is just as good and reasonably priced.

Beans: Don’t use baking soda when cooking your beans. Soak first. Add salt half way through cooking.

To smoke meat, cheese, tomatoes: Line a wok with foil, put wood chips or loose tea, such as earl grey, in bottom, put food to be smoked on a rack, put the top on the wok an roll up the foil to seal.

Best potatoes for Gnocchi: medium starch. Identified by thin skin, irregular size and shape (bumpy). Sometimes labeled boiling potatoes. Yellow finn, yukon gold good.

Rice for risotto: Best arborio in US is "Carnaroli". "Vialone Nano" is even better and just becoming available. Try organic rice.


This is our kitchen and hotel. The Fattoria is an agriturismo - olive groves and the press are on the property.

When you go to cooking school in Tuscany, you learn to make pasta...

And 4-color ravioli...

... and gnocchi. Here, with Liz - a Californian living in Tuscany.

Table for 9, with local vegetables.

Frittatas and cheese for lunch. (Frittatas were the appetizer).

Anne Bianchi teaching us about porcini, and zucchini flowers.

The hydraulic olive oil press at Fattoria Camporomano.

Anne, me, Elaine, Joy and the Baron in the olive oil settling room.

The crock is where the solids in the newly pressed oil settle before bottling.

Sandra, Marco and Anne at dinner out at Tiziano's "Nebraska Enoteca", Via Nocchi, Camaiore (Lucca).

Tiziano made the best risotto I have ever eaten.

There was lots of Chianti Classico, tagliatelle with meat ragu, risotto with truffle, and polenta with porcini, and Amaro to end the meal.
Piazza Anfiteatro in Lucca.
After the week's class ended, I took the train to Florence. Here is a mushroom vendor at the Mercato Centrale in Florence.