(For more photos, see the July 2019 issue of our magazine)

Fattoria Lavacchio is a organic farm near Florence. It’s a special place, and quite unlike any organic farm I’ve visited. Most modern farms use chemical pest control or fertiliser to increase yields, whilst most organic farms use natural fertilizers (which can also be quite bad for us, such as copper). However, Fattoria Lavacchio doesn’t use artificial pest control or fertilizer at all. Instead they use nature.

To pay them a visit I caught the train to Pontesieve, a village in Rufina Chianti region about 9 miles east of Florence, and from there Mr Tatsu drove me to the farm.

“The farm was built in 1700 by the Peruzzi’ family and 100 years later passed into the hands of the Marquis Strozzi Sacrati of Mantova,” he explained as we made slow progress up the winding hillside. “Then, having fallen into disrepair, the Lottero brothers bought it in 1978 and undertook a complete restoration to how it looks now. Since then the farm has combined old methods with the most modern techniques to produce organic wine, olive oil and fresh produce and has looked to harmonise it’s activities within the balance and boundaries set by nature.”

“See the rows between the vines,” pointed out Mr Tatsu as we walked along the top of one of the vineyards. “There’s mustard growing there, the insects don’t like that so they keep away from the vines. The other plants among the mustard are fava beans. They give plenty of nitrates back to the soil, which the vines take out. But we use the smaller type of fava. If we used the larger type of beans the insects might be attracted to the area, but they’re not interested in the small beans so they’re left alone. So really, you might say that to combat harmful pests, we create a habitat where animals and plants that keep the pests away can thrive.”

Before heading for a tour of the wine cellars we accompanied Paolo and his dogs Peggy and Pippo out into the forest to hunt for truffles. Paolo trains the dogs by soaking pieces of bread in truffle oil, hiding the bread under the carpet at home and then rewarding the dogs when they find it. By this method the dogs learn that if they find the truffle, they get a treat.

There are many types of truffle and they can be found most of the year, although it’s not an easy job and Paolo said that for reasons unknown to him it’s getting harder than it was. Perhaps it’s climate change, or an ever increasing demand for the truffles. There have been attempts to grow them commercially but truffles are independent little things and insist on growing where they want. All the commercial companies can do is provide what they think is the right environment for a truffle to flourish and to introduce the spores; the rest is up to the truffle itself.

Even if those attempts eventually succeed I’d still rather hunt in the forest with dogs, as we did for the next hour. It was good exercise going up and down the hills, and good for the spirit to be out there in nature gathering food with the help of another species. By the time we got back to the farm I was high on the experience and quite determined to convince my friends that they too must come to the farm and do the same thing. A life lived without a single truffle hunt is barely a life lived at all.

Later, at the farm ‘Mulino A Vento’ restaurant, chef Mirko Margheri cooked us a vegan feast. We ate at a table overlooking some of the farm’s vineyards. There was cacao coloured pasta with a hint of truffle, savoy cabbage wrapped in broccoli leaf sat in a masala and turmeric chickpea cream, a colourful starter made from pureed veg, and a sorbet for dessert. We drank ‘Puro’, which is 100% sangiovese, and ‘Pachar’, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc and Viognier grapes (which are all grown on the top of the hill to the east of the restaurant). The wine was excellent, and tasted all the better for having been made with grapes from the fields within sight of my table. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought this could be so before my visit but in Tuscany, where things like types of soil and quality of ingredients are treated seriously, one is encouraged to think of such things. And I’m glad of it!

You can stay on the farm, and take cookery and various other courses there. Check their website out for further details. http://www.fattorialavacchio.com/