In Maremma, a lesser-visiited and more rustic part of Tuscany is where you'll find Tenuta di Paganico, an agricultural and livestock breeding estate, and one of the finest examples of sustainable agriculture in the world.
Here there was a huge change in the landscape in Maremma. The soil was markedly different, light brown because of the amount of clay. There were no longer vineyards, just hay fields. Most amazing of all was an area where swamp has been turned into rice fields, the only place in Tuscany growing rice! In between fields there were lots and lots of woods. You never lose interest in this part of Italy because there’s something new around every bend.
Tenuta di Paganico is a sustainable, organic farm and meat processing facility with 1500 hectares of land (around 3,700 acres). Originally purchased in the 1920s by a Tuscan family, the farm is now owned by a vegetarian woman oddly enough whose passionate belief in a productive, sustainable, organically influenced livestock farm drives production today.
We arrived as the sun was warming things up and the farm store was starting to get busy. Our guide, Julia, met us with a bright smile and ushered the four of us into the farm’s utility vehicle.
About a ten minute drive away (which gives you an idea of how expansive the property is) we arrived at our first stop on the farm. through a farm gate and down the lane we saw them in the distance. The large, white cattle were imposing animals with super impressive horns.
These were the Maremmana cattle, similar to the Texas Longhorn. The herd turned in unison to check us out standing at the fence as if we were the ones being reviewed. They were impressive.
The herd is intentionally kept small to support sustainability and proper managment of the ecosystem. They stay outdoors year round and take shelter in the woods during the harsher winter months, all by Mother Nature’s design.
Except for the bull of the herd, they didn’t seem very interested in us.
The farm also manages two other breeds, Chianina, believed to be one of the oldest breeds in existence, and Limousin, a huge heavily muscled French breed. Although each has its own unique characteristics, all are known for the high quality of their meat especially here where they are farmed organically.
Throughout our travels in this part of Italy the all-pervasive philosophy is “You are what you eat”. It was never more apparent than here.
Having spent time in open pasture, feeding stalls in a barn, and watching some females with juveniles in the barnyard, we figured it was time for lunch. We hopped back into the dusty utility vehicle with Julia at the helm and drove through a different section of the farm up a hill to another fenced area.
But this time there were not cows, but the Cinta Sinese, the belted pig native to the province of Siena. Considered medium size by pig standards (!), these animals are well adapted and equipped to live as free range animals in the Tuscan woodlands. And that’s just what they're allowed to do here to produce the proper meat and fat.
Several females tending their broods gave us only a moment before bolting into the woods. Julia explained that rounding them up was no easy task which gave us all a good laugh.
By now it was time for lunch, a true and authentic farm-to-table experience. The dining room at the farm was just off the kitchen and nicely set for the four of us. We enjoyed an appetizer from each of the breeds - steak tartare, prosciutto, and Rosemarina crostini - a spread made from lard and pork on toasted bread - and of course, a local red wine which paired perfectly with the rich lard spread. After touring the property and livestock herds, we were pleasantly surprised to find they do all their own butchering on site just off the kitchen. The animals never experience the added stress of transporting them off-site at the end of their days.
WANT TO Visit?
Are you interested in a true farm-to-table food experience like this? Want to know more about where your food comes from and this model of humane and sustainable agriculture production? This tour may change the way you look at your food forever.
Arianna and Alessio can help organize a local slow-travel experience in Tuscany that's curated to what interests you, from food to wine and everything in between. Contact Km Zero Tours through their website or email Arianna@KmZeroTours.com.