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Spring in Montalcino means budbreak of the vines as the earliest sign of a promising new vintage. But it also means countless foodie pleasures, even for the vegetarians between us. One of my favorite times in my Tuscan family is la baccellata - the moment when my father-in-law brings up the first broad beans from the garden and we eat them right away. The fresh pods (baccelli) are eaten raw paired with the first Pecorino cheese of the season, which is called Marzolino in reference to the month marzo (March). It looks like this: 

Foodie pleasures in Tuscany: fresh baccelli beans and Marzolino Pecorino
Just add a glass of red wine: Baccelli beans and Marzolino pecorino cheese

In case you don't happen to have a relative popping in with a bag of freshly picked beans and a wheel of Tuscan sheep cheese, hop into your car and drive to Pienza for the annual baccellata. Luckily, the perfect Renaissance city in Southern Tuscany's Val d'Orcia hasn't forgotten its peasant roots (Pienza was in fact a simple village called Corsignano before Pius II decided to turn his birthplace into a showcase for Renaissance architecture).

Program of the Pecorino cheese and broad beans festival in Pienza
Two days of beans, cheese and vino in Pienza

PIENZA, Marzolino il primo Pecorino: 27th to 28th of April 2013 
Market stalls on Saturday and folk music, games and donkeys on Sunday afternoon (lovely pics from past events can be seen on the website of Pienza's tourist office). 

Baccelli and Marzolino are best paired with a glass of red wine. If you can't get your hand on one in Pienza, drive on to San Quirico d'Orcia, its less famous but as good-looking neighbor town. San Quirico and the Bagno Vignoni hot springs are the location of the annual Orcia Wine Festival. The event consists of wine tastings (obviously), a local produce market and a trekking on the new Schifanoia trail that leads from the hot springs to San Quirico d'Orcia's medieval town center. 

ORCIA WINE FESTIVAL: 25th to 28th of April 2013

The Orcia wines are a recognized DOC area since 2000. With such a short pedigree, these wines are a totally different story from their famous Brunello neighbors a little further up the hill (also in regard to prices!). Two out of three bottles of Orcia DOC wines are sold right in the area, mostly to the growing stream of tourists, who visit the hills of the UNESCO heritage valley every year.

However, a young DOC region doesn't mean you won't find fine wines. One of my favorite producers of the area is Annalisa Tempestini at beautiful Fattoria Resta in Buonconvento. Obviously, having Montalcino next door also means having access to thorough experience and plenty of winemaking skill.

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About 40 minutes south of Siena and a bit over an hour from the Tuscan coast, Val d'Orcia lies to the east of the Maremma and to the west of Montepulciano and Umbria. The UNESCO world heritage site is made up by the territories of Montalcino, San Quirico d'Orcia  (with historic spa town Bagno Vignoni ) , Pienza, Castiglione d'Orcia and Radicofani. The Orcia river crosses two more municipalities (Castel del Piano and my hometown Cinigiano ), where it divides the province of Siena from the province of Grosseto (Tuscany's two southernmost areas) before flowing into the Ombrone river.    View VAL D'ORCIA MAP in a larger map