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“Italian Days Food Experience” Tour Review from Bologna, Italy

I was delighted to be offered a complimentary Italian Days Food Experience Tour in exchange for an honest account of my experience.  Fortunately, honestly, I had a great time!

 

Italian Days Food Experience

Master cheese maker at the Parmigiano Reggiano factory

 

Francisco arrives promptly, picking me up from the hostel at 7 AM.  Two other couples, both American, are already in the van.  We begin a 35-minute drive through Bologna’s suburbs which unfold under a golden and peach-colored sunrise.

 

Parmigiano Reggiano Factory

Our first stop is the Parmigiano Reggiano factory in the Emilia-Romagna district, a world-famous district for gourmet foods.  Here, our group joins others and in total, we are ten couples and myself.

 

We meet Fabio, our gregarious and enthusiastic guide for the day.  As surgical caps and gowns are passed around, I wonder if I have mistakenly booked the Italian Surgical Tour, but no, this covering is required for our entry into the cheese production area.  Our early wake-up was required so we could witness the cheese-making process which begins at dawn with the delivery of fresh cow’s milk from small local farms.

 

Aging Parmigiano Reggiano

Aging Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Inside the factory, we observe a small team attending to copper-lined kettles brimming with ivory-colored liquid.  Men stir the mixture and Giuseppe, the master cheese-maker, grabs a scoop of curds from the kettle, using his hands and eyes to discern the exact time to proceed with production.

 

Moving to another room, young wheels of cheese get a salt bath before being added to the bank of aging cheeses worth over seven million euros!  Surrounded by cheese, I wonder if I’ve died and gone to heaven.  Except I see no ice cream.  Or angels.  That’s how I figure out I’m not dead yet.

 

The tour concludes with a tasting of young Parmesan and cheese aged the usual 36 months.  The latter is full of crunchy amino acid-crystals which burst with flavor on the tongue.  Local fruit, pastries, and fizzy Lambrusco wine accompanies the tasting and I am stuffed upon leaving.  But this is only the beginning of the gorging.

 

Balsamic Vinegar in Modena

After a short drive, we arrive in Modena, world-famous for its balsamic vinegar.  Our host is the estate of Acetaia Villa San Donnino, traditional maker of Balsamic Vinegar for many years.  Fabio gives us an education about real balsamic (labeled “traditional” and made of a reduction of 100% Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes from this region) vs. fake balsamic (made of 80% wine vinegar, tart, bitter and made with grapes from all over Europe).

 

Italian Days Food Experience

Balsamic vinegar barrels from 1512, still in use.

 

But the difference is truly understood by tasting.  We taste samples of fake balsamic, 6-year-old balsamic, 12-year old real balsamic and 25-year-old vinegar which is as black as tar and as thick as molasses.  This full-flavored vinegar is intense and aptly described as a “festival of sugars”.  I enjoy our sample of fresh ricotta with balsamic jelly and another sample of ice cream with balsamic which tastes just like panettone.

 

We view the barrels which are used for making true balsamic.  The liquid is aged over years, moving from one aromatic cask to another, all made of different types of wood.  Over the minimum 12 years needed to make a traditional balsamic, the grape reduction takes on the complex flavors of each cask made of juniper, cherry wood, and plum wood.  It’s interesting to discover that casks are never thrown out but are handed down generation after generation.  If they become leaky, a new cask is built around the old one.  I am in awe of the casks, dated 1512, that are still in use.

 

Prosciutto Tasting

Now, we continue on to a prosciutto factory in the mountains of Bologna: Prosciuttificio Montevecchio (say that five times fast).  The landscape on the way is stunning with rolling mountains planted with grapes.

 

Here we don the surgical outfits again and enter into this “workshop” where fresh pork is turned into various traditional Italian meat products.  It’s unfortunate that smell-o-vision has not yet been invented –– I so wish I could share the delicious aroma of spices and pepper that smacks me in the face as I enter the building.

 

Italian Days Food Experience

Prosciutto tasting at Prosciuttificio Montevecchio

 

As a vegetarian, I could have skipped this portion of the tour, but I don’t usually turn down an education and can appreciate the “art” in creating this traditional food that archeological evidence suggests has been made in this area since at least 1000 B.C..

 

After observing the salting and aging process, we get another tasting with more local wine.  A huge table is beautifully set, offering every ham option one can imagine – smoked, peppered, spicy, cheeks, bellies and more.  The owner’s mother, seeing that I am not eating, is insistent that I enjoy some cheese and breadsticks which she offers lovingly.  Mangia, mangia!  The meat-eaters are delighted.  Based on the “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” I can accurately report that the prosciutto was excellent.

 

Fabio handles the crowd beautifully keeping a high energy throughout the day.  He is pushing us to eat and drink more, delivering food to our plates despite protests. One quickly learns that the only way to prevent more food from arriving is to keep your plate and cup full!  Many assumed this was lunch.  Boy, were we wrong.

 

Bologna countryside

Bucolic Bologna countryside

 

An Italian Feast

Rolling again through the bucolic hills we arrive at an agriturismo, a rural operation that offers lodging in addition to food created with the farm’s products.  As we sit, the table for 22 is empty of food for only a millisecond.

 

Italian Days Food Experience Lunch

Italian Days Food Experience Lunch

 

Here, over the course of three hours, we are treated to dish after dish of pasta made with the freshest local ingredients, fresh salads, and for the meat-eaters — pork cheek simmered in a Barbera wine sauce.  A special vegetarian dish is offered as well – nutty bulgur mixed with porcini mushrooms.  And local wine!  So much wine!  And Nocino, a sticky sweet liqueur made of walnuts and unique to this area.  And grappa!

 

My stomach hurts.  But in a delightful way.

 

Everyone is feeling good on the drive home with wine-lubricated conversation flowing easily.  I return to the hostel grateful for a uniquely Bologna experience.  No need for dinner tonight.  Or breakfast tomorrow!

 

Summary

Good value?  This is not a budget tour.  But if you have the resources, even at 150 euros per person, the value is there.  You have a designated driver for the day and a copious amount of food and wine – basically an all-day, all-you-can-eat buffet of high-quality food.  Plus, you get an inside peek into the production of the region’s most famous foodstuffs — a foodie’s dream.  If you’re a light eater or don’t drink alcohol, I don’t think you’ll see the value.

 

Tips: This won’t be an enjoyable tour if you’re hard of hearing.  Even with perfect hearing, and Fabio’s booming voice, it’s difficult to hear the teaching due to the machinery operating in the factories.  Sustained standing is needed for up to an hour at a time.  If you’re a recovering alcoholic, may I suggest you inform the company in advance so the cup of water in your hand is not forcibly replaced with a glass of wine.  Kindly, the company is willing to provide a gluten-free or vegetarian lunch.

 

All around, it was a delicious and interesting day and I can heartily recommend this tour if you’re in the Bologna area.  Read more about Italian Days Tours and book your own Italian Days Food Experience.

 

Photos of the Italian Days Food Experience Tour:

4 Comments

  1. Hi Laura,
    I’ve been wondering who is hosting your website and what theme you are using. It works really well for what you do.

    Enjoying your posts – as always!
    Cecelia

    • Hi Cecelia. I use Siteground for hosting and LOVE them. And the theme is modified but called Aggregate. Thanks!

  2. Interesting article Laura. What a good experience! Thanks for sharing the details – it makes me want to go and take the tour (although yeah – 150 Euros is too steep for my Cdnbank dollar:(

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