- A day at Slow Food’s biannual food festival, the Salone del Gusto, in Turin
- Lunch at Prosciutto di Parma factory
- Visit a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese producer and a balsamic vinegar maker
- Dinner at the Marchesi di Barolo winery, the birthplace of Barolo
- An outing with a truffle hunter and his dog
- Private tastings at top Barolo, Barbaresco, and Lambrusco wineries.
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! Lambrusco's a 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‘s widely loved comfort food. D • Hotel Palace Maria Luigia
Day 2: Parmigiano & Pig Heaven
Parma is home to the real deal in parmigiano and prosciutto. 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!). Includes: (B, L). Hotel Palace Maria Luigia.
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-almond pudding).
Now we switch our focus to serious wine: Barolo. In the 19th century, King Carlo Alberto and his son, Vittorio Emanuele, maintained several hunting lodges in Piedmont. One is now the Ceretto winery. Producing wine for 70 years and still family-run, Ceretto has grown into a constellation of small-estate wineries that make benchmark Barolo cru and refreshing white Arneis. As architectural patrons, the Ceretto family also built some of the Langhe’s most visible landmarks, including the Brunate Chapel and their own, brand new wine cellar. We’ll have a tasting there and sample an array of wines, from traditional Barolos to modern Super Piedmont blends. Dinner is 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: Slow Food in Turin
This morning we shuttle to Turin (one hour), the regional capital of Piedmont and host to the Salone del Gusto, the biannual fair of Slow Food, an international food movement born in Piedmont. Here at Turin's convention center, you'll have time on your own to attend tasting seminars (pre-registration required) or browse the hundreds of booths, getting samples of cheese, cured meats, honeys, and other goodies while chatting with artisan food craftsman from around the world. You can also investigate the Slow Food Convivium, which seeks to preserve disappearing species (American heritage turkey, anyone?). In the late afternoon, we’ll reconvene at the fair’s enoteca for a giro d’italia — an informal tasting wines from around Italy. Dinner is back in Alba at a Slow Food affiliate restaurant. Includes: (B, D). Hotel I Castelli.
Day 5: A Truffle Hunt and 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. Includes: (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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