For those of you coming to Italy in search of the best local cuisine, my one piece of advice is to visit an agriturismo. An agriturismo is basically a restaurant, sometimes with rooms for rent similar to a bed & breakfast, attached to a farm. They grow all of their own produce and raise their own livestock, and then transform everything into delicious regional specialties. Imagine organic fruits and vegetables, yummy local cheeses and wines, gelato made from fresh milk, and freshly rolled pastas! Each agriturismo’s food is specific to the region they’re in, setting them apart from many restaurants in the city, which usually have the same generic dishes served throughout Italy. It also gives you a chance to try some lesser-known local specialties or traditional foods with a twist.
For example, gelato made from goat’s milk or donkey and potato stew. They always have a fixed menu, which allows you to experience an entire full course meal for one price.
My first experience at an agriturismo was on a cold Sunday afternoon several years ago. Bundled up in our heavy winter clothes, my boyfriend (now husband) and I drove through the January fog to an agriturismo recommended by a colleague. We were not disappointed. The food was wonderful, hearty, and… superabundant. My advice is to go for the full menu only if you are with a group and you can share portions. Otherwise, try some items à la carte or see if they have a smaller menu with less dishes because what we ordered could have fed everyone else in the restaurant plus the animals on the farm.
The first to arrive was the cutting board of antipasti, which was very tasty accompanied by some champagne.
Then came the primo piatto – radicchio risotto and and the softest pumpkin ravioli.
Then, they brought out some tender and juicy (and super rare) roast beef with a side of fresh greens.
I was already feeling satisfied at this point, but then they brought out another second course- cooked roast beef! With oven-roasted chestnuts and apples on the side.
Then came the fruit plate. I was definitely full by this time, yet I kept forking things in my mouth. Funny how that happens.
Finally, it was time for dessert. We were given two slices each of two types of crostata (similar to pie) topped with local jam. My fork was moving at a snail’s pace by this time.
And of course, no Italian meal is complete without a rich, dark espresso.
I distinctly remember feeling full to the point of nausea – it was just too much good food and wine. Would I do it again? Um, hell yes (and I did)! Remember – go in a big group and you won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll notice that these are popular places for big Italian family celebrations – Easter lunches, baptisms, and birthdays.
Two potential drawbacks are: 1.) The location. Because agriturismos are located on farms, they are always found outside of the city, in surrounding countryside towns that are usually not reachable by public transport. Not easy for tourists. 2.) The price. Here up North a fixed menu per person usually costs around 35-40 euros. We paid 38 euros each for the meal pictured above. In Southern Italy, everything is usually a bit cheaper, and a similar menu would probably be in the 20-30 euro range.
An agriturismo is the quintessential representation of traditional Italian food culture and values. From the effort and passion they put into cultivating and cooking to the enjoyment of the final presentation surrounded by family and friends – It’s a labor of love that you can witness firsthand!
All photos taken by me.