When I travel to Europe, I normally hop around from country to country. This time around, I only had two weeks and wanted to spend less time in airports and train stations. So after researching my favorite countries and cities, I decided to only visit Italy. Oh Italy – the one country that always makes me feel at home, relaxed, safe, full and excited to explore. But once I decided on the country, I then had to choose the cities and what I would do in those cities – more on the plan here.
I chose to visit Bologna solely on the basis of a food tour that I had read many wonderful things about. I know, it sounds crazy that I would visit a city only for a food tour. But the more I read about the tour, the more I wanted to experience this food adventure.
- Pick up and drop off, transportation in a comfortable air-conditioned Limo Mini Van
- Private driver for the day
- Parmigiano Reggiano Factory Tour
- Parmigiano Cheese tasting with Lambrusco Wine
- Balsamic Vinegar Tour. Tastings of: 6, 12 and 25-year-old balsamic D.O.P. Also, fresh ricotta cheese with Balsamic Jelly and ice cream with 6-year-old Balsamic Condiment
- Ham factory tour with fresh sliced prosciutto tasting and Lambrusco wine
- The Famous Italian Days Light Lunch “Orgy Lunch”
Hmm, how can you not want to be part of this experience?!
So once I decided that I wanted to do it, I contacted the company and asked if they had any availability on April 6th since that was the only day I could be in Bologna. At first they (Barbara) had to put me on the waitlist because no one else had signed up (they needed two more people to sign up for it to be a go), but as soon as they had 2 more people they immediately contacted me with the details. They apologized that we would not be able to do the prosciutto factory tour because it was a national holiday in Italy so it would be closed, but I was okay with that. Then several days later they learned that the prosciutto factory would be opened on the holiday, so they added it to the tour. The final query I had, was about the exact time the tour would end since I had a train to catch at 5:30 PM. I figured that I would have to go back to the hotel, grab my luggage then walk to the train station. But no! Immediately I received a response from Barbara that said,
“Bring your luggage! The driver will drop you off at the station!”
Yep, I now loved Barbara.
I can’t reiterate enough about the amazing customer service I received while planning this part of my trip – the lovely e-mails, and kind gestures from the staff had me feeling confident about my decision to do this tour. And this was just e-mail!
Let me run through my two days in Bologna…
3:00 PM Arrived in Bologna from Florence
3:15 PM Checked-in to hotel (I had been staying in hostels so far, so I was ecstatic to have my own bathroom, TV, and massive king size bed!)
3:15 PM to 6:00 PM Hung out in room napping, showered, watched a movie and organized my luggage.
6:30 PM Went to dinner and had the shittiest meal I have ever had in Italy. I may blog about that soon…but I have better stories to share with you, so I will focus on those first.
8:00 PM Walked around a little bit, but I did not get to see much since I stayed near my hotel. I was being picked up at 7 AM so I had to go to bed early. 9:00 PM Went to bed
6:00 AM Wake-up call – showered, got dressed
7:00 AM Checked out of the hotel and the driver was already waiting for me – met the 4 other people in the van. A very cool family from New Orleans (USA)
7:15 AM Off to our first stop we went
7:30 AM We finally meet the man of the hour – one of the most passionate, knowledgeable, kind, funny, and interesting people I have met in my life – ALESSANDRO! I knew the minute I met him that I would have a day that I would never forget.
Emilia-Romagna Countryside, Parmigiano Reggiano DOP Factory
We had the opportunity to view each step of the process, including the heating of the fresh milk and the separation of the curds and whey, the crafting of the curds by the casaro – the master cheese maker, the formation of a single cheese. From seeing first-hand the step-by-step process that goes into making Parmagiano Reggiano, we then got the opportunity to explore the impressive “cheese library”, which houses more that 6 million euros worth of Parmigiano Reggiano. At the end of our visit we were treated to a full tasting of Parmigiano Reggiano aged 13 and 25 months, as well as a breakfast feast of pastries, sandwiches, wine, water, cheese…yes, wine at 8:30 AM!
We also had the opportunity to purchase cheese at cost! I purchased two vacuum sealed beasts (each piece was 1 kg or 2.2 pounds) for 15 euros each (one was aged 13 years and the other 25 months)! I did the math when I got home and checked the prices of the cheese I purchased at the factory back in Italy, and it would have cost me $60+ CAD! For one!
The tour continued to one of the region’s historic acetaia, a family-owned farmhouse where the famous Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P. is made. Alessandro gave us a tour of the farmhouse and explained to us every step that goes into making “Black Gold” (aged for a minimum of 12 years) and learned about the methods and wood barrels used to produce traditional balsamic vinegar D.O.P. The tastings allowed us the opportunity to compare different ages and varieties, including Balsamic Dressing aged 6 years and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar D.O.P. aged both 15 and 45 years. To try the Balsamic Jelly, Alessandro brought back fresh ricotta cheese from the Parmigiano Reggiano factory and combined it with the jelly. WOW, I was blown away by the freshness of the cheese and the kick from the Balsamic Jelly. To taste the Balsamic Dressing, they put the dressing on gelato. Who knew that balsamic vinegar would go so well with ice cream? Not to self…
It was great to see and taste for yourself how different this balsamic vinegar is from the factory “balsamic” you find in the markets back home; this is a single family producing small amounts of the world’s finest vinegar for generations, using the same ancient technique of aging grape must from Lambrusco or Trebbiano grapes in oak barrels (batterie) that Italian families in this region have been using for centuries. And once again, we had the opportunity to purchase these products at cost – which I did!
Prosciuttificio Montevecchio Factory
From aceto balsamico off we went to one of the best prosciutto producers in the region, where we met a father and son whose family for over three generations has been committed to the production of Prosciutto di Modena DOP, a Prosciutto equal to the more famous Prosciutto de Parma (but without the same name recognition, since it’s produced within the city limits of Modena and not Parma – but made with the same food regulations). Here we learned the careful craft that goes into creating one of the most delicious pork products I have ever tasted – and possibly in the world! After learning how the meat is cut, seasoned, stored, and packaged, we were treated to a full tasting of fresh slices of prosciutto di Modena D.O.P, and wine – amazing wine that is made by the owner of the factory and does not sell to the general public. Boo.
Lunch @ Ristorante Mattarozzi
I know, how the hell could we still be hungry?! So far we had eaten cheese, pastries, cold cuts, bread, and these were not small portions! And now we were having lunch! But we all made room to dine at this countryside original Trattoria. And boy, was the food incredible!
- 5 pasta dishes
- 2 types of bread – one was deep-fried and served steaming hot – died and went to heaven
- Super crispy fries
- 4+ types of vegetables
- 3+ types of meat (there were substitutions for vegetarians)
- 3 desserts
- Unlimited wine (non alcoholic drinks were also available)
I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves. You will hate me. 😉
WOW! The education, the food, the staff, the other members of my tour, and Alessandro made this a once in a life time experience for me. Thank you Italian Days Team!
For more information on this tour and the many others offered by Alessandro and his fantastic team at Italian Days, check out their website: http://www.italiandays.it/
P.S. Is Alessandro a trooper or what?! I asked for silly poses and he delivered two-fold! 🙂