Eating good Italian food is great, but getting hands-on cooking lessons from chefs in Italy is even better
Many travelers like to eat and drink their way around the world, but a sub-trend that’s been growing in culinary tourism over the last few years is cooking instruction in various cuisines in their lands of origin. This is particularly popular in Italy, as more and more people want to master authentic Italian food. Authenticity has become a badge to be earned and displayed proudly, and Italian schools, restaurants, and hotels are accommodating travelers who want to learn directly from Italian cooking masters.
The surge in culinary tourism has encouraged the rise of culinary travel agencies offering packages to multiple destinations that mix cooking classes with on-site food/beverage producer tours, product sampling, and site-seeing excursions. These packages are all-inclusive and include transfers and accommodations, many of which are 4- and 5-star hotels. (What’s included will vary from company to company and, of course, prices will vary as well.) One program from Tour de Forks (www.tourdeforks.com) to Emilia Romagna in northern Italy provides an example of such a package:
- Transfer from airport to hotel in Bologna
- 1 half-day guided tour for Bologna (with tastings)
- 3 nights in 4-star hotel in Bologna
- Visit + tasting/lunch at a traditional balsamic vinegar producer
- Half-day guided tour of historic Parma
- 2 nights at a country estate
- Dinner at estate
- Hands-on cooking class with lunch with chef
- Visit with guide to a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese producer
- Mid-size car rental for 3 days
- Transfer from hotel to Bologna airport
Another example is this trip to Abruzzo in southern Italy, offered by Edible Destinations by Epitourian (www.epitourean.com):
- 6 nights palazzo accommodations
- 6 breakfast, 6 lunches, 6 dinners
- Round-trip Rome airport transfers
- Olive mill tour & pasta-cooking class
- Sommelier’s wine-pairing class
- Vasto tour & Trabocco fishing houses
- Peasant food & biscotti baking class
- Visit to Agnone and bell foundry
- Cheese making and porchetta
- Pizza-making farewell dinner class
Some companies offer themed programs. Edible Destinations, for example, has an organic cooking class and a mixology class.
The International Kitchen (www.theinternationalkitchen.com) also includes multiple Italian cities in its travel repertoire, but offers sub-categories for classes/tours within each destination. For example, you may want to go to Sicily for your culinary education, but will you choose the “Authentic Sicilian Experience for the Food Lover,” “Baroque Sicily,” “Elegant Taormina and the Eastern Coast,” or “Love Sicily” package? Each one takes you to a different Sicilian city, and offers a different itinerary.
Active Gourmet Holidays (www.activegourmetholidays.com) is another option offering a wide variety of classes within numerous cities throughout Italy.
Cooking Vacations (www.cooking-vacations.com), can provide classes with executive chef instructors, as well as specialized classes such as “Kosher Capri” or a well-being program on the stunning Amalfi Coast, located on the Sorrentine Peninsula in Salerno. Their “Lemon Lifestyles” class may include some of the following dishes (as described on their site):
Fiori di Zucca: – delicate Italian squash flowers stuffed with Ricotta and basil.
Arancini: handmade rice balls, stuffed with cheese, peas, meat and flash-fried to a golden crisp.
Focaccia and Pizza: fresh handmade dough baked in a wood-burning oven topped with rosemary and fresh cherry tomatoes.
Fresh Pasta and Ravioli: learn how to mix ingredients for fresh pasta, a seasonal or cheese stuffing, such as Ricotta and pumpkin or smoked Mozzarella, basil and eggplant.
Fresh Orata and Foglie di Limone: fresh caught-sea bass grilled on lemon leaves.Pasta con le Vongole pasta with sea clams.
Pasta e Zucca: fresh country pumpkin sautéed with pasta.
Tittoli: fried polenta triangles.
Melanzane Ripiene: stuffed eggplant.
Pesce all’Acqua Pazza: Fish in “Crazy Water” with fresh tomato, white wine, garlic and parsley.
Totani e Patate: local calamari sautéed with potato and fresh cherry tomato.
Risotto al Limone: slow cooked rice in a creamy lemon sauce.
Torta Caprese chocolate almond cake from Capri.
Torta di Limone: tasty lemon cake made with almonds and lemons.
Zeppole: light fried pastries filled with cream and dusted with powdered sugar.
Biscotti: Italian cookies flavored with almond, orange or lemon.
Culture Discovery Vacations (www.culturediscovery.com) will take you to various Italian locales, and hook you up with olive oil and Medieval chestnut festivals and truffle hunting.
At Casa Gregorio (www.italyculinaryholiday.com), there’s only one destination—Rome—but you can choose between two all-inclusive packages: “Roman Countryside,” which focuses on local traditions, and “La Dolce Vita,” which delivers a “sophisticated Italian dining experience not to be missed.”
If Tuscany is your focus, Tuscookany (www.tuscookany.com) has three programs to choose from: a one-week Italian, a three-day Italian, and a one-week Mediterranean. The Mediterranean program includes creating an “elaborate Italian dinner, a light Spanish lunch, an exotic Moroccan dinner, and a traditional French Provencal supper.”
Note that the prices these companies quote do not include airfare to Italy, but they do include transportation between destinations on the itinerary.
When you arrive home, you will not only have new skills in your culinary arsenal, you’ll have amazing memories of apprenticing with master chefs in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. You also will have eaten some of the best food, tried some top-notch artisanal products, and maybe made a friend or two.
by Roberta Roberti
Roberta is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications and her cookbook, Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, Volume 1, was released in 2014, with volume 2 soon to follow. She is a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, did her internship at The James Beard House, and had the honor of being a James Beard Scholarship recipient. Find out more about her here: