Learn and Eat at Florence’s Olio & Convivium (Free Italy Travel Advice)

This article is from the June 2005 issue of Dream of Italy. Updated 2018.

Olio & Convivium opened last year as the gastronomic atelier of Convivium Firenze, a catering company whose philosophy is the preservation and enhancement of ancient Tuscan and Florentine culinary traditions. Fittingly, its coat of arms is that of the 14th century Guild of Oil Sellers and Grocers in Florence, a lion holding an olive tree branch in its claws. While it’s tempting to label Olio & Convivium a restaurant, in reality it is much more — equal parts gourmet shop, culinary learning center and eatery.

Florentine antiques dealer Riccardo Barthel did a phenomenal job giving Olio’s rooms a warm yet elegant feel using a compelling mix of antiques, wine bottles and food to decorate the space. Yes, the fresh produce and bottled delicacies are just as much part of the décor as part of the gourmet plates.

Olio serves excellent, moderately priced meals, but with just 10 tables, reservations are highly recommended. Daily specials appear on the large black chalkboard. One recent lunch menu included warm goat cheese salad, vegetable crespelle with pumpkin sauce and carmelized pears with vanilla ice cream. Olio’s famous selection of Tuscan olive oils (served with bread at the beginning of the meal) and wines are an essential part of any meal.

If you’d like to do more than just eat the fine food here, Olio is now offering cooking classes. One of the refreshing features of their instruction program is the price; a lesson – including the preparation of four courses, olive oil and wine tasting followed by dinner or lunch. Check the website for Convivium Firenze for latest pricing.

The classes hold up to 10 people and are held in a special demonstration kitchen. If there are only two or three students in the class, they are invited to learn hands on right in the restaurant’s kitchen. “It is like you are cooking with a little family,” one chef notes, explaining that students can learn to cook the specials of the day or choose their own menu.

In addition to cooking classes, Olio offers olive oil tastings at its extensive olive oil bar in the back room. Apparently, Olio is the only place in Italy where you can taste and buy so many oils — typically there are 60 at any given time, all from Tuscany, many of which cannot be found outside of Italy. Like wine, Tuscan oils are all about the terra (land), and tasting them side-by-side reveals their vast differences. Tasters learn that you cant tell if an oil is strong or light by its color; bites of apple between oils is a great cleanser; oils are poured into blue glasses so tasters can’t see the color; and anyone can learn to tell the difference between a supermarket oil and an artisanal oil.

Olio’s oils are generally not for cooking – they’re better for salads, sauces, pasta, dips, etc. – and among the most popular are Podere Forte and Villa Magra dei Franci. The oils that are also available in the U.S. are generally cheaper at Olio, and also are available in bottles of different sizes. And before you leave, stock up on some provisions for a picnic or gifts to take home — Olio’s front room is jammed with Tuscan culinary delights.

— Kathy McCabe and Barrie Kerper

The Details

Olio & Convivium
Via Santo Spirito, 4
(39) 055 2658198
www.oliorestaurant.it
Open Monday, 10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.;Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations required for cooking classes and olive oil tastings.