Tuscany is renowned for its breath-taking countryside, rich history, and, maybe most of all, delicious food. No matter what part you visit, there are traditional dishes that are local, fresh, and mouth-wateringly good.
But when you’re planning a trip to Tuscany, it can be overwhelming trying to make the most of the Italian cuisine. With so much to try, how do you narrow it down?
In this guide, we’ll take you through the most popular Tuscan dishes, traditional cuisine, and give you our best recommendations on where to visit to make the most of your trip as a foodie.
Want to visit Tuscany off the beaten track? We run small, local-led tours that help you immerse yourself in regional cuisine, all while visiting the best spots in Tuscany most tourists never get to see. Check out our 7-day itinerary here to find out more.
A Short History of Tuscan Cuisine
The rich history of Tuscan cuisine dates back to the Etruscan people, but the most significant period was the Renaissance. During this time, Tuscan chefs worked at noble courts preparing elaborate dishes for dignitaries.
Over the centuries, this has influenced many European countries, although today, Tuscan people prepare far less elaborate dishes.
In Ancient Tuscany, the early Etruscans and later Romans enjoyed good Tuscan wines and food. It was simple but varied for the time.
Legumes, spelt barely, fruits, a variety of vegetables, and virgin olive oil were all cultivated along with sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle that were raised for milk and meat. The Etruscans were even known to cook game including wild boar meat and deer.
When barbarian tribes arrived in Italy and cities became depopulated, countryside villages grew and simple cuisine remained a staple. While nobles and the rich enjoyed elaborate dishes, poor people made do with what they could grow and raise.
Today, Tuscany is renowned for its fresh, local food and wine, and you will be hard-pressed to find cuisine as tasty anywhere else in the world.
What is so Special About Italian Meals?
The Mediterranean diet is known throughout the world and Italy, in particular, is well-known for its food. But what makes Italian meals so special?
Perhaps the most important reason Italian food is so special is the freshness of the ingredients used. Every traditional Tuscan recipe is about using locally grown produce and enhancing the basic ingredients.
Most Italian recipes have just four to eight simple ingredients, but the simplicity makes the food mouth-wateringly good. The focus is always on the quality, not how elaborate the dish could be (as it was centuries ago).
When you visit Tuscany, you’ll witness first-hand the passion locals have for the food they prepare. It’s not unusual to see Italian families sitting down to a nine-course meal because they understand the love and effort that goes into preparing food.
For years, the Mediterranean diet has been upheld as a healthy diet. In fact, some of the most healthy people in the world have this diet.
Most Italian recipes use virgin olive oils rather than refined fats and since most meals are made from scratch, there are no processed foods or artificial ingredients.
Tuscan Flavors: What You Need to Know
If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany and you want to try the best local foods, here are some tips you should know.
Take a wander through any Tuscan market and you’ll be hit with the earthy aroma of artisanal cheeses.
The regional cheese that is a must-try is pecorino, made from sheep’s milk. This comes in three different maturities:
- Fresco – fresh cheese aged for a few days
- Semistagionato – aged for six months
- Stagionato – aged for 12 months or longer
Pecorino di Pienza is widely known as the capital of pecorino cheese, so this is a great place to visit if you’re a cheese lover.
Different cuts of meat are a staple of Tuscan cuisine, especially in Florence. In almost any restaurant you’ll see bistecca alla Fiorentina (chargrilled T-bone steak) on the menu.
The best steak in Tuscany comes from Chianina cattle. The meat is allowed to soften for seven days after butchering and is served rare.
In some restaurants, the waiter will bring the steak to your table rare to show you the quality before it is seared.
In rural parts of Tuscany, game is a popular choice. Wild boar, pheasant, and hare are common in stews. Cinghiale in umido (stewed wild boar) is a local specialty that is a must-try.
Fish and seafood
The port city of Livorno has a famous fish market where you’ll find the best fresh catch. There is a signature seafood soup called cacciucco that has been around for decades. Using the smaller fish that can’t be sold, it’s made fresh every day and is delicious.
In any of the coastal towns and villages, you’ll find restaurants serving fish tartare to perfection.
Fresh pasta dishes
Italy is synonymous with pasta and you’ll find handmade pasta in many Tuscan main courses. The most common types are pappardelle and pici (the latter is made from flour and water rather than eggs).
In southern Tuscany, Maremma is famous for its spinach and ricotta ravioli. While in the mountains of northern Tuscany, Mugello is known for potato tortelli served with game meat.
The different regions all have their own specialties, all of which are fresh and made to perfection.
Desserts and sweets
If you still have room after a traditional Tuscan feast and want a sweet treat, desserts and sweets are a staple of street food culture in Tuscany.
The iconic frozen dessert Gelato is found up and down street markets. Or for something a little more filling, try bombolone, a fried dough filled with jam or chocolate like a donut.
The street markets in Tuscany are a great place to sample truly authentic Tuscan food. From porchetta (roasted pork stuffed with herbs) to schiacciata (flatbread topped with salt and olive oil), it’s easy to spend a day exploring.
For something a little more unique, you can even try lampredotto (the fourth stomach of the cow) and offal.
Our 3-day tour of Tuscany is the perfect way to explore some hidden gems of the region and sample some of the best food it has to offer.
The Most Popular Tuscan Dishes
When visiting any restaurant in Tuscany, keep an eye out for these popular Tuscan dishes to try.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
You can’t visit Tuscany without trying this renowned beef steak. Prepared only with dry-aged beef from Chianina cattle, it’s prized for its tenderness and is only served rare.
You’ll see it’s described as a T-bone steak in local restaurants but it’s actually more like a porterhouse. When cooked, it has a charred crust and a succulent, red center.
This is a salad made from stale bread, tomatoes, onions, basil, and a dressing of vinegar and olive oil.
It may not sound like much but in the summer, this is a specialty in Tuscany and shows off the freshness and simplicity of the typical dishes.
Originally made out of necessity to stop stale bread from going to waste, Pazenella now makes use of in-season produce and is a must-try.
This Italian stew is made with small pieces of meat in liquid. The name comes from the word “spezzettare” which means to “cut into small pieces”.
Usually made with the less tender cuts of beef, lamb, or pork, it slowly breaks down into a deliciously rich, thick gravy.
The meat is fried in butter with veggies and white wine and it’s cooked over time until everything is coated in the rich meat sauce.
Tuscan Food Festivals You Should Visit At Least Once
During the summer season, you’ll find many open-air food festivals in Tuscany called “Sagre”. Running from July through to September, they bring the small towns to life and are well worth a visit.
Here are a couple of the most popular to look out for.
1. Sagra degli Schiaffoni
Located in San Giuliano Terme, this festival centres around Sagra degli Schiaffoni, a thick Tuscan pasta in a mushroom sauce or pesto that’s handmade by the local women in the village.
You’ll also find stalls with frati, a type of bombolone dusted in powdered sugar.
2. Sagra dei Pici
In the Siena province, the small town of Celle suk Rigo hosts Sagra dei Pici. This is the oldest food festival dedicated to the Sienese specialty.
Stands throughout the town offer pici, a thick spaghetti in every form you can think of. Locals will even give demonstrations of how they make the pasta and how to knead Tuscan bread the right way.
3. Sagra dell’Ocio
In the Arezzo province, you’ll find Ruscello, where the historical reenactment of grain harvesting takes place. Alongside this centuries-old tradition is the Sagra dell’Ocio food festival. “Ocio” means goose, so you’ll find a range of food from stuffed gooseneck to goose sauce and macaroni.
4. Sagra del Polpo
Sagra del Polpo (or the Octopus Festival) takes place in Parco Santa Costanza in San Vicenzo. In this quaint Etruscan coast town, there are some amazing seafood dishes to try including sanvincenzina alla palamita (the blue fish) served in oil in a paper cone.
Tuscany is any food lover’s dream. No matter what part you visit or which towns and villages you pass through, you’ll find beautiful, traditional food made fresh by locals.
If you want to make the most of Tuscany and visit all the little-known spots with the most incredible food, we can help. We run small, local-led tours that help you explore Tuscany off the beaten track.
We know exactly where to find the best Italian dishes made by locals and our tour guides will act as your translators, helping you get lost in the local culture.
Book a tour with us today to experience all the flavors of Tuscan cuisine.