I woke up this morning bright and early with the birds, eagerly awaiting my pick-up for what I almost knew for sure was going to be a great day. I had arranged to go on a food tour with Italian Days, but the only thing I really knew about it was that breakfast was going to be Parmigiano Reggiano and Lambrusco (local sparkling dry red wine). With that kind of start, how can you go wrong?
I was picked up and joined by two other travelers in my van, and we trekked out into the countryside to a Parmigiano Reggiano factory. We were met by two other vans, but maybe only totaled 12 people, which was a nice size group. Before we could officially start eating, we were to tour the factory and learn the cheese making process. We all got suited up and headed in.
our amazingly enthusiastic and hilarious tour guide #dop
The whole point of us waking up so early was to make it to the cheese factory while they were still making the cheese. What I didn’t know about the making of Parmigiano Reggiano is that by law, it is only allowed to be made once a day, very early in the morning when the milk arrives fresh.
And that was just the start of so many cool things we learned about the cheese making process. And even better, we literally got to watch every step.
the master cheese maker, checking the cooking process
The amount of work that goes into making a block of cheese is amazing. I definitely have a whole new level of appreciation for what I so quickly sprinkle on top of my pasta.
fresh cheese getting ready to age
my cheese dreams come true
the most patient man ever…he literally rotates every. piece. of. cheese.
After our cheese tour, it was time to eat. We headed back outside to an amazing spread that was ready and waiting for us.
Of course there were two kinds of Parmigiano Reggiano for us to taste, strawberries (to taste with the cheese, my new favorite combo), and a bunch of local breads and pastries – foccacia with mortadella and salame, a local pizza bread, brioche galore…you name it, they had it. Washed down by a refreshingly cold glass of Lambrusco. By this point, we all knew that today was going to be something special.
After finishing up all of the cheese and sweets, we packed back into our vans for a short drive to Modena, where we would be touring the home of a Balsamic Vinegar producer, and of course, tasting it.
Again, I was blown away by the amount of work that goes into making DOP Balsamic Vinegar. To make a long story short, it takes 10 years to make 1 Liter of Balsamic Vinegar. 10 years. 1 Liter. I think that my jaw literally dropped to the floor. Our guide explained to us that this is about family tradition, and is a labor of love; not a means to make money. Without a doubt, he is right. Definitely a labor of love.
the balsamic vinegar aging in the attic
the oldest barrel (still producing balsamic vinegar!) dated 1512
When it came time for the tasting, we all headed outside and received our spoons to begin the process. We started with the youngest balsamic and tasted up to a 25 year old Balsamic Vinegar. The flavor difference between each aging is amazing, the balsamic gets more and more thick and less and less acidic.
balsamic jelly with fresh that day ricotta from the cheese farm
With even more food in our tummies (on top of the straight balsamic tasting, we also had the cheese, ice cream, and strawberries topped with Balsamic Vinegar), it was time for us to head to our final tour of the day. This drive was a little bit longer than the others, but so beautiful. We drove up into the mountains of the Bologna countryside, where green pastures, blue skies, and cured meats awaited us.
i love how excited they both are about cured meats!
Our final tour was again, fabulous. We toured a factory that is curing different cuts of meats to turn them into the prized Prosciutto di Parma, Pancetta, and…well, so many other cured meats that I can’t even remember them all. But trust me, if you are into cured meats, this is your stop.
To say that we were all a bit eager to get to the tasting room is an understatement, including myself. And when we showed up, we were not disappointed. A long table lay filled with freshly sliced cured meats and local wines, accompanied with our own private meat slicer; what more could you ask for?
This tasting was so much fun, the wine and the sliced meats did not stop! Our whole group had a great time laughing and joking around with our guides, and definitely stuffing ourselves with delicious cured meats. But wait, this has all just been a warm up, or perhaps the appetizers to our “light lunch.” Yes, if you thought that there could be no more food, then I am sorry, because you were wrong. Although our touring was done for the day, our final stop was at a nearby Agriturismo, where we would enjoy a “light lunch.”
the lively and fun dining room, with beautiful large windows letting the sunlight pour in, and giving us the chance to enjoy the countryside
After getting seated, and immediately having our glasses filled with their homemade wine, the food started rolling in. I have to completely laugh that the description of the tour literally calls this a “light lunch,” as it was nothing but. However, it was some of the best food I have eaten anywhere in Italy, and one of my most memorable meals.
our first course: crespelle stuffed with fresh herbed ricotta, smothered in mushrooms (think Italian crêpes)
as you can tell, I did not like them at all
homemade spinach tagliatelle bolognese
homemade bucatini in a spring vegetable ragu
our palate cleansing course: homemade gnocco fritto (fried pasta dough)…
…served with homemade ricotta, strawberry jam, mostarda, pecorino, and mortadella mouse (which I seriously need the recipe for!)
clean plate = happy tummy
our final course, chicken stewed with peppers and cherry tomatoes
Each course was truly better than the last. How I had the room to eat this all still baffles me, but every bite was perfection. I could taste the love in each dish, and I feel so grateful to have been able to have such a special experience. On top of the 3 amazing tours, ending with this lunch was the icing on the cake.
the breathtaking views
But just when I thought that we were all done eating for the day, dessert arrived. Of course they weren’t going to leave us without something sweet to end our meal – and very appropriately accompanied by their homemade Grappa. (As a side note, have you noticed how many times I have written homemade? Literally everything was homemade and fresh from their garden, even the chickens came from their farm!)
homemade chocolate cake, mostarda tarte and fresh strawberries with marscapone cream
We all relaxed and enjoyed our dessert, sharing our final thoughts about the day. Aside from all of the amazing food, the hilarious moments with our guide, and the beautiful countryside, I realized how wonderful it was to be on a tour that did not rush us along. At no point did I feel that we were on a schedule of any sort. They truly made sure that everything moved as fast or slow as it worked for the group. Including our hours long “light lunch.”
After returning home (almost 12 hours later) I am still in amazement of the journey that I was on today. Not a food tour, a food journey. And if you are anywhere close to Bologna, you would be crazy not to give yourself the amazing opportunity to experience the region and the “light lunch.”