Claudiaexpat introduces us to one of her favourite places near her beloved house in Tuscany. A special place, and you’ll see why!
I remember clearly the first time we ate at the Trattoria Albana in Mazzolla. It must have been 1989. It was winter and my husband and I were house hunting in what we consider one of the most beautiful regions in Italy.
We reached Mazzolla, a tiny, beautiful medieval village facing a wide and green valley where wild boars and hares run free. 48 inhabitants (at the time, but it has not changed much), a church, and a bunch of houses. And, of course, the trattoria.
Finding such an excellent restaurant hidden in the sweet Tuscany hills was a great surprise: the food was delicious, the frame charming, and the prices reasonable. We went back so many times since then, first when I was pregnant, then when the children were small, with friends, family…Trattoria Albana in Mazzolla was always an amazing experience.
In the course of the years we have seen so many managers come and go. When we first discovered it, it was run by a Tuscan family, whose mother was one of the best cooks I have ever met. They ensured that the best tradition of the Tuscan cuisine was respected and presented with love. For a brief period, the trattoria was in the hands of someone who tried to turn it into a fancy nouvelle cuisine place, turning the inside into something modern, and presenting dishes that had little to do with the warm Tuscan atmosphere, and were not even particularly tasty.
We stopped going for a while, but always kept our eyes on the place, which we missed badly. At one point, someone told us that the management had changed again, and our glorious dinners at the trattoria resumed. Diego and his wife, helped at first by Lucia, the original cook of the trattoria, managed to bring the place back to its original glory.
With a sprinkle of youth (we saw their son being born, and growing between the tables of the restaurant and the square of Mazzolla), and a professional cooking touch, Trattoria Albana in Mazzolla was again one of our favourites, especially during our international parties, when we booked the whole inner room, and rejoiced seeing our guests delighted with the tasty Tuscan dishes.
Then it was the turn of Giuseppe and his wife Mery. We approached them with the usual suspicion one reserves to all changes, when they mean to stop something you liked. Giuseppe, from Sicily, and Mery, from the Philippines, are a vibrant pair, though, and it did not take them long to introduce new dishes and give the trattoria their personal touch, which has turned it into a worldwide known restaurant (see the BBC movie).
The place is simple, homely and cozy. There is a small terrace outside, where it is very nice to dine during summer. The inside, with a big fireplace in the main room, and the vaulted ceiling in the dining room, is welcoming, ideal for a warm meal during winter
Giuseppe (I don’t know how he does) manages to improve the quality of his recipes every year, and to introduce something new. Something he likes to create mixing the most ancient Tuscan tradition (not to miss his fabulous Peposo), fresh ingredients and his personal touch, coming from years of experience as a cook in the Philippines and in Switzerland.
The wild boar is obviously the king, and Giuseppe’s Pappardelle al Cinghiale (Wild Boar Pappardelle), are the best of the area. But also Cinghiale in Dolceforte, a Renaissance recipe that cooks wild boar with chocolate, candied fruit, raisins and pine nuts. My absolute favourite are Ravioli alla Faraona (ravioli with Guinea Fowl), fresh-made ravioli with a filling of Guinea Fowl and leeks, and a sauce of almonds, butter and cheese.
But it’s not only the superb cuisine that makes Trattoria Albana in Mazzolla special to our hearts. Giuseppe and Mery are wonderful people who welcome us with the warmth reserved to long-time friends. She is absolutely fantastic. She speaks Italian like a Tuscan-born lady, roams the woods in search of mushroom and fresh herbs, adores her vegetable garden, and has become a superb cook. I would love to interview her for Expatclic, I am sure she would have so much to share, but every time I ask, she smiles and says no no, not me.
It is actually the whole village that has the special atmosphere that comes from mixing different provenances and backgrounds. The president of the Association Amici di Mazzolla (friends of Mazzolla) is from Belgium. He adores the little village and works incessantly to promote it with wonderful cultural initiatives and fostering the sense of community. The owner of the wonderful Villa Viti has been an expat and his mother is from Sweden – another amazing lady whom I hope will become my victim for Expatclic :-), foreign friends come and go and mingle with the inhabitants of the village, creating a warm and inclusive ambiance.
Last but not least, the view from Mazzolla is breathtaking, overlooking the vast Riserva di Berignone. There is beauty everywhere.
This year we managed to spend New Year at the Trattoria Albana in Mazzolla for the first time since we bought our house in Tuscany. It was beautiful. We ate fabulously, toasted with people from all over the world, and enjoyed the loving presence of Giuseppe and Mery. A great start of the year in the name of love, food and Tuscan beauty. What could I want more?