Day 1: Balsamic & Lambrusco.
One hour south of Parma is Modena, famous among foodies for two things: fizzy, fun Lambrusco and traditional, aged balsamic vinegar. After a pickup from the Modena train station, we head to the Acetaia del Duca, a historic balsamic producer founded in 1891. Here we'll see how the authentic aceto balsamic tradizionale di Modena is made, spending years rotating through small barrels of various woods until it turns into a sublime, dark nectar. Lunch is on your own in the Romanesque town of Modena.
Then we get a crash course in Lambrusco. Forget whatever preconceptions you had about this sparkler! Lambrusco's a real charmer, and it comes in a whole array of styles: off-dry and dry, pale pink and deep violet, with delicate flavors and full-throttle fruit. All are perfect accompaniments to the region's salumi and rich meats. We'll visit one of the few wineries that has won the prestigious Tre Bicchieri award for its Lambrusco: Medici Ermete, a century-old estate. Finally we arrive in Parma, the gastronomic cradle of Emilia-Romagna's widely loved comfort food. D • Hotel Button.
Day 2: Parmigiano & Pig Heaven.
Parma is home to the real deal in both Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma. Today’s the day for devotees of Parmigiano Reggiano, a DOP cow-milk cheese which, produced elsewhere in Italy, is called parmesan. Following Health Ministry rules, our visit will take place in the early morning. We’ll tour the dairy rooms where curds are worked, salting takes place, and hefty rounds are aged for years or even decades, then quality-tested with a special hammer. Next, we'll visit the Castle of Torrechiara, a frescoed, fairytale castle built by a Renaissance soldier for his lover.
Lunch is at a Prosciutto di Parma producer, where we’ll see the steps in making Italy’s most popular DOP ham, from salting and fatting to aging in cold storage. We’ll also learn about other cured-meat specialties of Parma, such as salami di Felino, culatello di Zibello, and spalla cotta di S. Secondo. Back in town, we’ll have a free time in Parma, when you can visit the Duomo and baptistry, Piazza Garibaldi, and other major sites. Dinner is on your own. It might feature such regional specialties as tortellini in brodo, soul-satisfying lasagna, or pumpkin tortellini with butter and sage sauce—all perfect pairings with violet-hued, frizzante Lambrusco. (Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!) B, L • Hotel Button.
Day 3: Barolo, The King Of Wines.
This morning, we transfer to Piedmont (two-and-a-half hours). Our destination is the beautiful Langhe hills, birthplace of Barolo wine. There’s no better spot for a historical introduction than the Castle of Grinzane Cavour. Now a Barolo museum, this was home to Italy’s first Prime Minister, who was also a winemaker and co-creator of Barolo in the mid-1800s—much like an Italian Thomas Jefferson. After a castle tour, we’ll go to the petite village of Barolo (pop. 679) for lunch. If you choose our favorite spot, you can enjoy a veritable parade of Piedmont’s famed dishes, such as vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce), plin (tiny meat-stuffed ravioli), and bounet (chocolate-hazelnut pudding).
Now we switch our focus to serious wine: Barolo. We start at Elvio Cogno. Located near la Morra, this estate was run by a lawyer from Turin before being bought by the Cogno family and completely renovated. Here they resurrected the nearly extinct nascetta grape, which you'll taste, as well as their stellar Barolos. Dinner follows in the private dining room of the Marchesi di Barolo, the birthplace of Barolo. We then settle into our hotel in Alba. B, D • Hotel I Castelli.
Day 4: The Regal Town Of Turin.
For over 400 years, Turin was the capital of the Kingdom of Piedmont. The royalty left behind a legacy of opulent architecture fit for kings, which gives this city its elegant flair. Today we take a day trip to explore the city (1-hour drive). A walking tour of Turin in the historical center includes the Royal Palace and Palazzo Madama. We’ll also stop into an elegant 18th century café for some of the world's finest hot chocolate—a treat beloved by the royal family. Then there's time on your own for a stroll along the river, a visit to the Museum of Cinema or world-class Egyptian Museum, a ride up the Mole's glass elevator to Turin's tallest spire for the best view of Turin and the encircling Alps, or shopping in the city's boutiques. We return to Alba for another spectacular wine dinner. B, D • Hotel I Castelli.
Day 5: A Truffle Hunt & Barbaresco.
Today you’ll meet a real truffle hunter and his dog. The duo will provide an in-field demonstration of dog training and truffle hunting in the hazelnut groves. You’ll learn why truffles are so rare and expensive, why pigs aren’t used anymore, and what commands the hunter uses (in dialect!) to interact with his eager-to-please pooch. After the hunt, we’ll have our first tasting of the day at a small, boutique estate, either Fratelli Alessandria or Damilano. Both are older estates—founded in the early 1800s and 1890 respectively—and both hew to traditionalist approaches to Barolo. Both also typify the wineries of Piedmont in being family-run and making limited-production wine—while striving for excellence.
Then it's off to the village of Barbaresco, where we'll explore Piedmont's other regal red wine made from the nebbiolo grape. We’ll visit Barbaresco’s largest and oldest winery in private hands, the Marchesi di Gresy. Our tasting will highlight the concept of terroir in their single-vineyard Barbarescos, and introduce a delicious example of Dolcetto, one of Piedmont’s everyday wines. Then it's back to Alba for dinner at La Piola, owned by the Ceretto winery. Specializing in classic renditions of Piedmont cuisine, they offer unbeatable agnolotti, the large, meat-stuffed ravioli—a perfect match for nebbiolo-based wines. B, D • Hotel I Castelli.
Day 6: Buon Viaggio!
After breakfast, there's free time in Alba. It’s truffle season, so there is Alba's famous annual truffle market to visit. Here you'll find truffle spreads, truffle oil, truffle books, and whole tubers. In Alba's gourmet shops, you'll also find such piemontese products as risotto, dried porcini, and chocolate, and you can search for older Barolo vintages in well-stocked wine shops or visit the baroque and medieval churches. At noon, we shuttle to the Asti train station for your departure. B
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