Real Tuscan cuisine is “better than the best sex you’ve ever had,” according to Antoinette “Toni” Mazzaglia, founder of Taste Florence, a gastronomic excursion that she created in 2008 to introduce tourists to authentic Tuscan cuisine. During the four-hour food crawl, Mazzaglia peppers guests with tidbits of culinary history and woos them with tasty treats at wine shops, bakeries, chocolate makers, gelaterias and market stalls. Her vast knowledge of wine-making and food culture, combined with her exuberant personality, make Taste Florence less of a gourmet crash course than an act of performance art.
The food boogie
A friend and I meet up with the American expatriate at the city’s outdoor San Lorenzo market at around 10 a.m., with my taste buds raring to go. We follow her through a maze of leather goods to the nearby, nearly hidden indoor Central Market. Seizing the morning, Mazzaglia, 35, pierces the emporium’s calm with a cascade of animated Italian and laughter.
“Ciao, Toni!” a cacophony of voices welcomes her as she seats me and my friend on a pair of stools in front of Nerbone, a rectangular, green kitchen. The comfort-food institution has served Florentines since 1872, and to beat the long lines of locals that form there every day, Mazzaglia claims real estate early.
“Smell that?” she asks, inhaling deeply. “That’s the boiled beef sandwiches.”
Spinning around, she flies to the counter to collect our first conquest, bollito di manzo. Minutes later, she presents us with freshly baked rolls piled with thin folds of pink brisket, complemented with a layer of salsa verde and a dash of salsa picante. The flavors and textures meld in a complicated love story — herby, tender, fiery and strong.
After this hearty start, we stop by a pasta stall to watch workers cut fresh strands of golden linguine and pappardelle. Then we slowly wind through the market past troughs of sundried tomatoes, garlic and peppers, to a fruit stand where we cleanse our palates with figs in preparation for a deep dive into cheese and balsamic vinegar.