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Astrid Ensign with client at local Italian market. One of the highlights of Taste of Italy tours is experiencing Italian markets and learning how to buy and cook with the freshest ingredients
“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.” This quote by Walt Whitman embodies the mission of Taste of Italy, a company that offers culinary tours of Tuscany. Astrid Ensign, founder and owner, states, “Taste of Italy is more than a culinary tour – it is a carefully chosen palette of unique adventures designed to enchant each of the senses.”    
When Astrid was in the fifth grade, she encountered a National Geographic article.  It was about Italy, and from that point on she was determined.  She knew she had to get herself to Italy, and she dedicated herself to this mission.  Astrid managed to save enough money by the age of fifteen to spend a year studying abroad in a small town in Veneto, Italy.  
“The experience transformed my life,” says Astrid. “Later I found myself working with a culinary school in various regions of Italy and my brief stay turned into five years.”
Astrid was inspired by the Italians’ innate passion for life.  “It is beautiful and infectious,” she says. At an early age she was greatly influenced by the way the Italians live and their unique approach to community and food. 
Taste of Italy provides cultural tasting tours, and clients are able to spend time cooking together in the Italian’s homes.  “It is a way to share the beauty of how they live.”  
These experiences are not just stumbled upon while traveling through Italy.  Part of the gastronomic adventure means going to meet the artisans and their edible craft – the vintner, olive oil artisan, chef, truffle hunter, cheese maker, and butcher. Each artisan has been sought out not only for their specialized techniques, but also for their knowledge and dynamic personalities. 
When you join Taste of Italy on a culinary journey, you will experience a seven-day tasting and walking tour in Tuscany.  The first leg of the journey begins in the heart of the Renaissance with daily excursions outside of Florence. The latter half is spent venturing into the Tuscan countryside to visit other medieval villages.  
You will learn how to make a favorite Florentine pasta dish, Pappardelle with wild boar ragu, and then enjoy it with new friends at the chef’s table. You will also ascend the cobblestones to a hilltop cathedral to hear antiquity come to life and listen to Gregorian chanting by Olivetan monks. 
Travelers will enjoy making wild fennel salami with the village butcher, and then cross the Arno River through the secret Vasari corridor used by the Medici family, traveling into the hills to hunt the highly prized white truffles.  Following the hunt, you will taste their unusual and delicate flavor prepared in a rustic country feast at the truffle hunter’s home. 
Paired with walking, each day there is a morning and afternoon gastronomic or cultural activity. Enjoy an outdoor market tour, food or wine tasting with an artisan, museum visit, or a hands-on culinary lesson. These activities are all balanced with individual free time so travelers can engage in other personal pursuits.   
When asked about her favorite experiences, Astrid answers, “A land and a sea experience stands out. Tasting sea urchins directly from the sea was a true sensorial memory. We got to dive and gather urchins from the seaside cliffs, but the biggest challenge was to pry them open for tasting without getting punctured!”
“Another favorite experience was on a farm observing a shepherd milk his sheep and proceed to make a large pot of ricotta over a wood fire using the same stirring spoon his great-grandfather had used before him. We then collected tarantella-figs off the trees and savored them in combination.  The flavor pairing of ricotta being so fresh (it was still warm), and perfectly ripe figs was like nothing I have ever tasted.”
Choosing a favorite food is easy. “The elegantly simple peasant soup, ribollita, is on the top of my list.  Vegetables and beans are significant elements in the Tuscan diet, this hearty bread and winter vegetable stew is a perfect comfort food.  This dish also stars the special indigenous zolfino beans.”
“Another favorite is Chianina tartar or bistecca alla fiorentina,” continues Astrid. “The Chianina cow is an autochthonous species that has been sustainably raised in Tuscany since the age of Etruscans, over 2200 years ago. It is prepared simply with salt, pepper, and of course a drizzle of olive oil.”
Taste of Italy’s next culinary Tuscan tours are scheduled for September 6-12 and September 13-19, 2015.  There will be several opportunities to meet Astrid and get a Taste of Italy in Portland at her Tuscan inspired pop-up dinners and Italian tasting events. She is also presenting at the local Amici d’Italia meeting in May.
For more information, contact Astrid at astrid@ tasteitaly.org or visit www.tasteitaly.org

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