My gourmand gifts for Christmas

18 december 2014

Unless we do not know really well the person we want to make a gift (I mean: personal tastes, desires and little quirks), it's hard to find a present with the certainty to hit the mark.
That's why I prefer not to risk: at Christmas I always choose food & wine specialties. In Val d’Orcia, as for agricultural excellence is concerned, the hardest part is the choice: prestigious wines, an extra virgin olive oil among the best in the world, delicious cheese, but also organic jams, honey and artisanal beer. Here is a small selection of products that I have chosen for my presents this year, all made exclusively in Val d’Orcia.

Brunello di Montalcino is the symbol wine of this land. The choice is difficult among more than 200 labels, but personally I love the traditional school which prefers the aging in big barrels. My favorite since ever is the Brunello Biondi Santi: about this extraordinary wine, books have been written, and we could tell a lot about it. Here, I will limit myself to commemorating, with enormous affection, Franco Biondi Santi, refined gentleman that I met and spent time with, during my several visits at Il Greppo: with a tremendous charm, this is the place where the Brunello has been "invented" at the end of the 19th century.  Today this charming place is cleverly managed by Jacopo Biondi Santi, his son (

In Tuscany a piece of Pecorino cheese is the fitting end of a good meal. Fattoria Pianporcino in Pienza produces its cheese with the milk of its own sheep, freshly milked every day. It's possible to choose among the classic Pecorino cheese (fresh or aged) or the special kinds, skillfully aged to perfection in walnut leaves, in distilled wine in hay or in bran, or alternatively seasoned with red pepper or saffron (

Our salumi (cured meats) are famous in the world: prosciutto, finocchiona, capocollo or lardo are the base of the typical Tuscan antipasto, together with crostini and bruschetta. Flavored with spices and carefully aged, they can be made with pork or with Cinta Senese, a distinctive, select breed of Tuscan pig. The butcher's shop Bottega delle Carni sells them on line as well (

No Christmas table can be complete without the obligatory Panforte di Siena. It is a cake with really ancient origins: it was born in Middle Ages. Today there are excellent industrial Panforte, but I prefer the old fashioned artisan ones: I find them in the pastry shop Antica Pasticceria Ticci in Torrenieri (via Romana, 47 - tel. 0577.8341462).

A perfect combination with the Panforte? Catharina is the first artisanal beer flavored with the spices of the typical cake from Siena: cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg. Dedicated to Saint Catherine from Siena who, during the Middle Ages, spent long periods in Val d'Orcia, in loneliness and meditation, is brewed in the brewery Birrificio San Quirico, which uses only organic cereals from the Val d’Orcia for its beers (

In my family, a jar of honey of half a kilo is enough for less than one week: we put it in milk, in our tea, spread on a slice of bread, or... we eat it directly from the spoon! I have even made my own honey for many years: I had 3 or 4 hives that I looked after personally. Today, I buy honey made by Hubert Ciacci, an excellent beekeeper which produces different types: from the classic honey of acacia to the very unique and refined of heather and honeysuckle (