Food tourism in Italy is a growing sector, notwithstanding the fact that Italians have been producing some of the best food in the world for centuries. Producing great food is one thing, making it accessible to visitors is another, and for many years it was not necessarily easy to plan your whole Italian holiday around food tourism. Thankfully nowadays throughout Italy producers are waking up to the possibilities of introducing tourists to their world-class produce. We’ve put together a guide to planning a gourmet or gastro-trip to Italy.
The most important thing to consider about Italy, in almost any aspect, is that it’s highly regional, and this is particularly true in relation to food. If you’re visiting Italy hoping to sample the famed mediterranean diet, and you base yourself in Bologna, often acclaimed as Italy’s gastronomic capital, you’ll be disappointed as the diet in Emilia-Romagna has little in common with that of southern Italian regions like Sicily, or Calabria. Each region has its specialities, and you should study them up before hand to make sure that you taste the key signature dishes – look at our articles in our Italy Travel Guide sections.
One of the best ways to travel around is to choose the region(s) you want to visit, and then check to see if their is a signposted route of local producers of wine and food. Most of the regional tourist authorities and producer collectives have worked together to provide scenic routes where you can stop off and taste local wines and produce. Some examples include:
Whether it’s grape-picking or olive harvesting, throughout Italy there are opportunities to combine a holiday with a special experience getting hands on experience to see how food is harvested and processed. At the high end of the market, you can stay in Sting’s Tuscan vineyard and help with the harvest, while the less star struck can opt for specilised tours in regions like Puglia where you can learn about the production of spectacular olive oil.
It’s a great way to enter into the culture, and to get to taste some serious local produce.
Throughout Italy you can organise a holiday with a local cookery course. In Bologna, for example, you can learn to make perfect Tortellini, or in Rome you can take a cookery course that will bring you to local markets, show you how to choose the best produce, and then teach you to cook fresh pasta. Throughout the peninsula you have cookery schools specifically for tourists popping up. Competition is strong, so make sure that your school is run by locals who speak good english, and who can teach you about Italy’s amazing food culture as well as just show you recipes.
As a side note, there are lots of places now that offer cooking holidays in italy for singles, which can be a great way to meet people and make friends during your trip.
An Agriturismo is a government issued category of farmhouse accomodation. To benefit from the Agriturismo label an accomodation must have some form of agricultural activity, and it generally favours small local producers. How rustic an agriturismo may be varies, with many actually being luxurious guesthouses with fancy restaurants, while others are more down to earth. They’re the best way to sample the countryside, and all feature local home grown produce.
Throughout the country, particularly throughout the summer and through Autumn with the harvests, there are local festivals dedicated to specific local cuisines. In almost any small town you’ll see posters put up to celebrate local ‘Sagre’, ‘Feste’ or ‘Mercatini’, where you’ll get local producers setting up stands along with outdoor cooking, music and general entertainment. These are where Italians themeselves flock, and are an amazing experience offering great simple food at, usually, great prices.
Some unusual ones include
Pellegrino Artusi holds a special place in the hearts of many Italians, as he was one of the first to publish a comprehensive guide to Italian cooking, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, or Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, back in 1865 based on his extensive research. Whenever Italians argue about the correct way to cook something (which they do, often!), many will take immediate recourse to Artusi.
The Casa Artusi, in his home town of Forlimpopoli, is a museum/restaurant/cookery school setup in a converted church. It’s been described, by food critic Alberto Capatti as “the first living museum for Italian cuisine, haunted at night by the spirit of Pellegrino himself, and open during the day to the dilettantes, foodies, chefs, children and amateurs that are ready to tie on an apron and try their hand in the kitchen. Casa Artusi is not just for observing and remembering, but for letting the appetite live and work freely.”
Parma, the city which gave us its exceptional prosciutto (cured ham) and parmesan cheese, has four museums devoted to food: Museo del Parmigiano Reggiano (cheese), Museo del Prosciutto di Parma (cured ham), Il Museo del pomodoro (tomato), and the Museo del salame di Felino (the Felino Salami).
The slow food movement, which was founded in Italy (in Bra, in Piemonte) and has now become an important global movement campaigning for food education, bio-diversity, ecology, and the general opposite of a fast-food culture. Part of their initial work was setting up a network of supporters amongst food producers and you can find local producers who adhere to the principles of the slow food community by searching on their site here
Do you have any tips or experiences about food tourism in Italy that you’d like to share with us? Send them to us via the comments.