Kitchen Cupboards #9: Giulia Scarpaleggia, Letters from Tuscany
Visiting the prolific food writer and cookery teacher in her rural Tuscan kitchen.
Welcome to Kitchen Cupboards, an ingredient column where, rather than exploring some of my favourite ingredients, I’m taking a peek into some of my favourite food writer, creators and producers kitchen cupboards to talk about which ingredients shape their everyday cooking.
You might have noticed it has been a while since I last posted one of these: it is because I’ve decided to change this feature up a little. I had so much fun shooting my last interviewee, Hannah Blake in her Kent kitchen I’ve decided to share these posts less often so that I have the time to visit people in their homes to take photos and really have a proper sit down around their kitchen table to chat about the ingredients they use everyday.
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Today I’ve got a pretty special set of Kitchen Cupboards for you to rifle through.
Excellent luck and chance of where exactly my old school friend had chosen to tie the knot found J and I saying goodbye to our friends for the day where we were all staying in Italy to drive off into the beautiful depths of Tuscany’s countryside to visit the home and cookery school of: the cookery teacher and food writer behind everyone’s favourite Italian kitchen newsletter .
I’ve long been a fan of Giulia’s simple, hyper-regional and seasonally driven cooking and storytelling, all stunningly captured by her husband and business partner‘s beautiful, welcoming photographs.
But what I think both J and I came away with after our discussion was not just a sense that in their business this husband and wife team had created something special where they can share their world with others, but that Italy itself had managed to get so many things about their food system, from people’s attitudes towards food and how local food systems operate right where our own system seems to have committed failure after failure.
Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you decide to start offering cookery classes? Your business has grown and grown; as well as your blog and your cookbooks you now write one of the most popular food newsletters on Substack.
I’ve been giving classes for thirteen years. I started my blog fifteen years ago and classes seemed like the easiest thing to implement because here there are tourists, and people searching for cooking classes. So I was in the right place at the right moment. Not many people were giving classes thirteen years ago and I started because there was a family from Australia living upstairs. We used to rent the apartment and they were searching for a cooking class and I said “I can give you a cooking class!” That was my very first class, and I fell in love with the feedback. They were very happy! I used to work in an office, and people were not so supportive. I realised I really wanted to work with food in that moment, and after my office job ended in 2011 I started trying to to work in magazines. But Italian magazines don’t pay much, so I wrote books, and I launched my cooking classes. Tommaso and I met, we started working together, we created a company in 2017, then we got married in 2018, now we work together.
Our books were already coming, but from Italian publishers. You write cookbooks because you love it, because you enjoy it. Not because it is part of the business. But we had to stop doing the cooking classes during Covid for two years so we had to find something else to make it work. And that is when I started seeingmoving his newsletter and blog to Substack. Other people were also moving to Substack. It was the 1st of January 2021, we were on holiday, we were sitting there in my parents living room with my daughter, she was 4 months old and we said “we have to do this now”. And we worked for the whole afternoon to move our newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack, and basically we started in one afternoon. And that really changed everything because now it’s part of our business and we can balance classes with the seasons now we have this other source of income.
What’s the most popular class that you do? Obviously you’ve got the longer ones where you go to the market, you’ve got several days, but what tends to appeal to people the most?
People usually organise their trips around the class. But if they have a trip to Tuscany and then one day they want to take a cooking class usually it’s the market class. Because it’s fun! We go to the market, it’s never a fixed menu and we decide what to cook during the day according to what we find and to their preferences, if they tried something Tuscan they want to replicate, so as long as they don’t ask me for three recipes that need to be baked for 3 hours, of course that would be impossible to do everything together! That’s how we organise, just deciding everything on the spot.
That must be stressful, coming up with the ideas as you’re there and you’re seeing what is available?
That’s my favourite part actually! Because if you have three classes a week and you have to play it safe, deciding according to things everyone might like it’s boring! I like to cook and eat and so if they give me the chance to try different ingredients and different recipes it’s fun. It’s not stressful. I’m more stressed when I have to do the same thing over and over.
I think when you want to visit Italy it is very difficult to figure out how to have an authentic experience.
So we’re in the countryside, and you have to have a car to come here. I think that’s what makes our class special because when people arrive here they all want to be here, in this class. So it’s not like you have a location in Florence and some people just want to have a class to tick the box that ‘I had a cooking class in Tuscany’; they’re not interested in food. Here they’re really interested in the class. Of course there are pro’s and con’s. For example tonight two people cancelled their class because they couldn’t find a driver to come here at a reasonable price because now drivers are so difficult to find in Tuscany they’re getting more and more expensive. Last week four people were left in San Miniato because they could not find a driver. So I tell people they have to have their driver arranged before they book a class. That’s a big problem now.
How often do you shop for food? Do you rely entirely on markets and small vendors, or do you lean on supermarkets for bulk buying or essentials?
The most difficult part for us is to balance the shopping we do for classes and the shopping we do for the family. For fruit and vegetables we go maybe to a local farm or the market where there are two local vendors, but otherwise we have a great local farm Sant’Ulivieri, they’re organic and they’re local, which is what we like. More than organic we search for local when it is possible.
For meat, we go to our butcher; we often eat meat during the cooking classes and then we have leftovers throughout the week. And then we go to a supermarket, we have a supermarket here in town and there we buy everything that is not fruit and vegetables, and meat. For bread and pastries we go to this new sourdough bakery, Forno Pellegrino in Colle di Val d’Elsa.
I try to buy flour online as it is easier to find the different kinds of flour I love, and often it is local flour I buy online. Cheese sometimes comes from local farms, and you can find it at the market from the local town, or otherwise you buy it at the supermarket because the supermarket where we go - Conad - tends to have local producers. There I can find meat from Colle di Val d’Elsa, and find all the beans and pasta and flour from Tuscany and Siena. And fish, there of course you have all different kinds of fish but also fish from here in Tuscany, so it is a good option as a supermarket because of course you can buy things there from industrial production, but also things that are local, and it is a kind of shortcut.
I’m quite jealous because we can’t get local produce in our supermarkets at all, and it’s either you go very local and independent or you go mass produced, and there is not really a line in the middle.
Yes, this is a supermarket that is a co-operative so they love to support local producers so if you go to Conad in another region you will find different producers because they tend to buy produce locally, and so for example the farm where we go for fruit and vegetables, they also sell there in the supermarket which is great because at the farm I buy lots of fruit and vegetables once a week, but if you miss something and you don’t want to go to the farm for, I don’t know, carrots, you can go to the supermarket and then find Tuscan or Italian carrots, plus you also have the option to buy from the producers in Colle di Val d’Elsa, which is great.
I am jealous. It seems like a much better system. At the moment at home there is a big problem where our supermarkets are not paying farmers enough and food producers can’t actually make a living so it’s really nice to hear that it works better here.
Somehow it works! Sometimes it does, and sometimes not.
As your food is hyper-seasonal, does that mean your store cupboard staples change with the seasons too, or do you just transform the same ingredients with the help of seasonal produce?