Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants, food fairs, and events.
I’m happy to launch this new category, Mugello Marvels, with a post dedicated to what is arguably my favorite spot in all the Mugello. Vino in Tavola is a convivial Italian bottega-style shop and deli located in the heart of Borgo San Lorenzo, a place locals frequent come the lunch hour to enjoy a panino and a glass of wine at the cozy counter. It’s also popular at the aperitivo hour.
Others come here to fill up hefty vessels with choice vino sfuso (think wine on tap), carefully selected by shop owner and connoisseur of tasty stuff, Andrea Guidotti, or to browse the selection of gourmet products, many of which are rarely if ever found in Italian markets. Which leads me to a digression…
I’ve written elsewhere about the lack of culinary diversity in Italy. Now, before you Italophiles start hollering about regional differences, note that I’m not talking about the various distinct traditions from region to region within Italy. I mean, rather, international cuisine and the foodways of others, about which Italians can be mighty suspicious and even disdainful. You folks reading this from America or the UK might not realize just how much you take for granted when shopping for, say, a specific type of cheese, since your favorite market no doubt offers not only a good selection of French and Italian cheeses but also those made in your own and other countries. Finding a good French chevrè or English cheddar in Italy is akin to a treasure hunt. Seriously, to judge by the paltry selection at large Italian supermarket chains, you’d think Brie was the only cheese France had to offer—a generic, underwhelming Brie at that.
I come from a country where even the most unexceptional of food stores will have an entire aisle dedicated to products from around the world. Where I now live, those items, few and second-rate, are found tucked away in a sad, meter-wide section labeled ‘ethnic’ foods: a jar of Pace brand salsa, some rice noodles, perhaps Worcestershire sauce, a can of Uncle Ben’s beans. In some larger Italian cities, so-called ethnic foods stores do offer more in the way of variety, but at exorbitant prices and erratic availability. Sure, I can get cilantro or lemongrass, if I’m willing to travel two hours to visit one of these negozi etnici. Maybe I’ll pick up a rock-hard avocado that’s travelled from South Africa or Israel, if I don’t mind spending about 3 euros (the avocado is completely misunderstood in Italy). Closer to home, I could get lucky at our local grocery store, if I’m able to persuade the gal stocking shelves that a powder made from dried garlic is not a figment of my foreign imagination. An anecdote: once a French woman on holiday stopped me at the supermarket: ‘Where is the salted butter?’ she asked. When I answered that it was very hard to come by—both of us eyeing the thirty-some brands of unremarkable Italian-made unsalted butter—she thought surely we’d not understood each other. C’est bizarre! A nearby Italian woman chimed in, suggesting a shop that might have salted butter—in another town.
Living in this land of culinary insularity has meant mastering, or at least getting comfortable with, the art of the work-around—growing cilantro and other ‘exotic’ herbs and making buttermilk and drying and grinding garlic for powder—which might seem resourceful but is really a time-sucking drag. Sometimes you need an ingredient that doesn’t require weeks of advance planning, you know? This brings me back to Vino in Tavola.
I wouldn’t call Vino in Tavola an ethnic store. Yet the selection of rare and international items Andrea stocks makes it truly unique among shops. He cultivates relationships with trusted wine-makers and producers well beyond Tuscany, and the results of his research and efforts can be seen in every square inch of his meticulously-kept, quaint, friendly place of business. Browsing the shelves and chatting with Andrea about newly arrived items is always a pleasure. Especially the cheeses.
Vino in Tavola is also great for gifts. You can put together a lovely holiday basket here, choosing from among the excellent Italian and French wines, artisanal beers, and liquors.
And here’s a sampling of other items you’ll find at Vino in Tavola:
I always feel a bit of a thrill when I walk through the doors at Vino in Tavola, wondering what new, tasty item will have arrived on Andrea’s shelves since my last visit. Sometimes I leave the shop with ideas for the blog, such as this post on the ‘purgatory beans’ of Gradoli, which I learned about thanks to a little bag of these storied white beans I spotted at Vino in Tavola. And I always leave with a bottle of wine or two, some butter—French and salted—and a smile.
Vino in Tavola
Piazza Dante, 22
Borgo San Lorenzo (FI)
tel: 055 845 5212