From Cortona’s main square, it is a steep descent down Via Ghibellina to La Bucaccia, a uniquely charming local restaurant. It is well worth the effort, because here the cuisine of Tuscany rises to unbelievable heights. This cozy restaurant was carved out of the ruins of a 12th-century palazzo, a painstaking restoration that took the owners, Romano and Agostina Magi, almost two years to complete. The stone walls resonate with history and with the Magi’s passion for preserving that history and its architecture. They have incorporated the remnants of the old well, the cellars, the animal feeding trough and the old camino, into the décor of the intimate dining room which seats no more than thirty people.
Romano Magi is justifiably proud of this multi-tiered accomplishment and of his wife, the chef responsible for La Bucaccia’s famed cuisine. One is not likely to meet a man more passionate about Tuscan cooking or cheese-making, in particular, so it was with immense pleasure that we got to know Romano over a lunch that literally burst forth with flavor, one course after another. Romano entertained and educated us as he made fresh cheese at our table, one of several cheese offerings that he produced and presented throughout our meal. There is nothing like newly made ricotta drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and cracked peppercorns. Or a plate of cheese arranged in a circle, that invites one to taste in clockwise fashion the stages of its aging, each accompanied by a different garnish or marmalade.
But, oh, the pastas! Romano introduced us to a sampling of three different kinds – boasting that over the course of the seasons, they alternate between no less that 67 pasta dishes. The pici, made green with fresh herbs rather than spinach, topped with porcini mushrooms, was the stuff of celestial banquets. We were content, but Romano insisted we sample Agostina’s bistecca of the local chianina beef. Mamma mia!
Agostina and Romano’s daughter, Francesca, has been learning on the job since she was six. She smiles an angelic smile from behind the bar; she de-corks the wine, and can explain anything on the menu. She is as sweet as any dessert Agostina can create!