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Julie Cook, Tuscany

Who are you?

Originating from North Yorkshire UK, we are a family of 8 who grew up around food. Family dinners, times of celebration, cold wet Sundays and in times of stress – one thing has always been a constant source of enjoyment for our family. Cooking.We started with less than an acre of land in York and began growing our own food and raising our own livestock. Keeping healthy, happy animals is something we take great pride in, and there’s nothing quite like the excitement of rummaging around the vegetable patch on the hunt for the gems that await there.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

In 2013 six of us moved to a smallholding in the mountains of Northern Tuscany (Fosciandora) where we started the long journey of learning the art of Italian charcuterie. Two or our children have since moved on in Italy, one in Florence and one in Bergamo, leaving four of us in Tuscan to set up The Tuscan Pantry.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Challenges during the move, apart from leaving three grown-up children in the UK, were mainly practical. We didn’t have a lot of money so even getting our belongings here was a challenge, the process of buying a house was complicated and we had to rent for three months which meant leaving our dogs in the UK in kennels all that time.

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The language was the biggest challenge: the majority of the locals don’t speak any English, and while we wouldn’t expect to speak English here sometimes it would have helped for the really important stuff.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We used a local estate agent who advertised in the UK too, we made three or four trips out to view properties before moving here for good.

Are there many other expats in your area?

When we first arrived there were very few expats in this area, it has become more popular over the last five years as it’s considerably cheaper to buy property here than it is in Southern Tuscany.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

We get on great with the locals, we are here all year so they really appreciate that we want to become part of the community and have welcomed us with open arms. We learnt all about our charcuterie from local Italians.

What do you like about life where you are?

We just love it here, not sure what it is exactly but we felt at home from day one. The weather (in summer – it’s freezing now), the mountains, the rivers and the changing seasons, and the people, and the food! The food in this valley is awesome!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Italians behind the wheel of a car!

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

The biggest difference for us is convenience, you have to plan ahead more, cook more (which we love anyway), you have to accept that things take longer here and there’s not much that happens instantly. The closing for lunch was quite a shock. Also starting a business here is much more complicated, everything is still done on paper and duplicated four times.

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

We love the food here, there’s nothing we don’t like, a workers’ lunch or a four-course dinner. Also the raw ingredients are seasonal and good quality. This suits us coming from a grow-your-own environment anyway. We sometimes miss a takeaway curry but when we fancy a curry we just have to make it. We cure our own bacon and make our own sausages so we even manage a good British fry up.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

My advice would be simple: work out how much money you’re going to need for, say, three years and then double it. We were totally unprepared financially and it’s made our journey so much harder.

Decide in your head that it’s a permanent move and if that makes you uneasy then rent somewhere for six months to help you decide (if that’s possible). Property in this area is not the same commodity as property in the UK. Abandoned houses are everywhere, which makes selling if you change your mind all the more difficult.

What are your plans for the future?

We aim to grow our little business and carry on doing what we do. We have a derelict house that we’d love to renovate into a B&B but that will depend on the success of our business.

You can find out more about Julie and the family on their website, The Tuscan Pantry.

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