Le Marche culinary trips

When we first visited Le Marche to check out if what we had heard about this Adriatic region  - some of the best food in Italy, remarkable wines, stunning nature and elusive white truffles - was true or not, it simply exceeded all expectations.

We have made it our business to to dive deep under the surface and build personal contacts who now open doors which would normally be closed to what few tourists visit this jaw-droppingly beautiful region.

We think that the testimonials we receive give more justice to what our trips to Le Marche entail than our own words and would like to share the most recent one, from our June trip to Villa il Boschetto.

My husband and I had a fabulous holiday in Le Marche at the end of June with the Cambridge Cookery School. I knew that the cooking classes would be informative, fun and ultimately delicious having completed the eight week cooking course a couple of years ago, but the holiday itself totally exceeded our expectations. We spent six glorious days with four other guests at the Villa il Boschetto. A beautiful villa with a huge garden, set in remote rolling countryside at the top of a sun flower lined road. No photograph we took can do it justice. The facilities were top class, from the outdoor kitchen to the cooling pool, which proved to be a welcome treat in the afternoon heat. Our room was enormous the bed very comfortable and the facilities luxurious.

The cooking was a lot of fun. We spent a a few hours each day preparing our lunch and evening meal working under the expert guidance of Tine and Natalie, sometimes in the outdoor kitchen, sometimes inside, nearly always with an aperol spritz or glass of wine at hand. By the end of the week we were all experts in making staples like pasta and focaccia, but also prepared some stunning dishes fit for a feast - the porchetta was a real highlight, and the chicken with rosemary and garlic - who knew something so simple could taste so good?

Meals were taken outside with the other guests, now friends, with a selection of very good locally produced wines, and would last all evening as we sat and ate what we had cooked that day, drank as much or as little as we wanted, talked and laughed together. It was wonderfully informal, intimate and felt very exclusive.

The holiday was fully inclusive from the time we were met at Ancona airport until we dropped off there. I spent less than 10 euro all week and only then to buy some insect repellent. We were encouraged to treat the villa as we would our home, if you wanted a drink or a snack then you just helped yourself from the fridge, or if you had washing you just put it in the machine (which was really useful given Ryanair luggage restrictions).

There was also plenty of downtime to relax, lots of sunny or shady spots by the pool to read or snooze, or to go for a walk. We also enjoyed some trips out with the group for a little sightseeing, coffee and the most enormous Sunday lunch. Another highlight was an exclusive tour of a beautiful family vineyard, and a trip to a local market where we were able to stock up on fresh local supplies. These trips and all food and drink whilst out were also included in the price.

The holiday was excellent value for money, beautiful location, great company, delicious food made even better by the fact we had prepared it ourselves. We both agreed we would do it all again in a heartbeat (and I suspect we will).

Rachel & Adrian

In defence of Food

I write my contribution for this year's August edition of the Cambridge Magazine from a terrace in Italy, enjoying a glass of superb local red wine while looking out over emerald green hill tops bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. I am back in Le Marche, the unspoilt part of Italy which is the base for all our culinary trips, savouring a few inspirational days ahead of a week cooking Italian food, shopping at markets and enjoying wine tastings with guests.

We arrived to a home made lunch of pasta with wild boar ragú, fresh bread and braised greens from the garden. Dessert was apricots and white peaches. Three generations tucked in, with the youngest, 14 month old Anna, hoovering up every single morsel offered to her, including an entire bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese which clearly presented itself as a new pleasure. The contents were allowed to spill over the table, onto clothes and into the eyes and nose of the enthusiastic toddler. In fact, the mess was positively encouraged on account of supporting love of food and general dexterity! A relaxed, stress free and unpretentious attitude to the delights of the table.

When we dream of the perfect meal, the perfect family life - isn't it just this, the simple connection with local food, eating what is in season and the coming together of families across generations to share a meal, which so entices us? In Italy, children eat with the adults and what the adults eat. The concept of placing a toddler in a high chair, and leaving her to eat a "kid's meal" while parents are busy doing other things in the background would be utterly abhorrent to most southern Europeans. How can we possibly give children the gift of appreciating good food, understanding how to eat sensibly and acquiring the confidence to communicate in a wider social context if we don't have daily family meals? Labelling this as "good table manners" sounds terribly outdated, as if referring merely to the ability to pick up and use the right piece of cutlery on the off chance of encountering a formally set table. But to me "good table manners" incorporates so much more - an open and curious mind to trying new food, being able to join in a conversation with adults and learning about their daily lives as well as sharing one's own experiences. But first and foremost, it is about welcoming meal times as the main time to eat - as opposed to grazing through the day and eating ready meals as and when it suits. In addition, I also happen to think that it is a good feeling - if not an absolute necessity for life - to know how to tackle a formally laid table.

Our interest in cookery programs, cookery books and all things food, has lately taken a shift towards extreme "health", excluding almost everything that we recognise as real food. In the name of eating healthily, young, thin, beautiful women with absolutely no formal cooking or nutritional training dominate the food pages of glossy magazines. What they promote is neither healthy nor real food. It is a diet underpinned by fear of food. The notion that all animal protein, fat, dairy and gluten as well as the act of heating/cooking food is bad for us is just plain ignorant. Accidentally discovering how to improve the energy output of food by cooking it was probably the single most important step on our evolutionary journey from primates to humans. Compare the huge trunk of a primate to our body shape, and you are looking at the result of sufficiently upping the calorific load of food to eliminate the need for all our daily energy to go to our guts, digesting raw food with poor energy output, and allowing our brains to develop instead. Brains need fat. With the risk of offending, I wonder if this lack of nourishment to the brain is what propels the brigade of deliberately under-weight women towards a diet of denial and exclusion.

It is not just plain bonkers, lacking any form of scientific - or gastronomical - knowledge to advocate such a diet; it is potentially disastrous for those already prone towards an eating disorder. Because let's be honest here, that is what is masquerading as an interest in "clean" and "pure" food. There is nothing unclean about real ingredients as long as they are sourced from healthy animals and sustainable crops. What we should move away from is mass produced meals where animals are reared in the most cruel of fashions and where chemicals are vital for producing ingredients on a scale which allows us to buy larger quantities of cheap food so that global, commodity driven food corporations and supermarkets can increase their profits.

I completely respect keeping a vegan diet for moral reasons, in protest against cruelty to animals, but can we please stop pretending that the current exclusion diets are a manifestation of a genuine interest in cooking and eating. A healthy diet is certainly one which features a lot of plant based ingredients, fibre, fresh vegetables and fruit - but it should also include sustainable fish, meat, cereal and full fat dairy. Vilifying almost everything we recognise as real food, claiming that it damages our health, is irresponsible and ignorant. Good food is not killing us - processed food full of sugar, growth hormones, antibiotics, additives and preservatives is.

To readers who recognise the title of this piece as borrowed from the eminent American food writer Michael Pollan, you most likely already agree with the above. To those who don't, but who wish to regain a balanced and sane approach to cooking and eating, I warmly recommend reading Mr Pollan's superb book of the same title.