Guest Blogger: Uncovering cuisine through a student tour to Northern Italy
Published: 15th April 2016
About the author | Jason Sant
Jason Sant is a chef lecturer at Colchester Institute. Supporting students as they work towards their VRQ Level 3 Professional Chefs’ award, Jason is always on the lookout for innovative ways to expand students understanding of food preparation. Whether it is diving into molecular gastronomy or plotting an educational student tour abroad to better understand processes and production, Jason’s passion for all things food is clear through his teaching at the Centre of Hospitality and Studies.
Our road to Bologna started in the summer of 2015 when I sat down with my fellow colleagues from the Centre of Hospitality and Studies (CH&FS) to discuss where we would want to visit if we were students... Italy! Through calls for Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, Balsamic vinegar, and a visit to the canals of Venice it soon became clear where we were heading for.
A quick call to Cassandra at Travelbound Student Tours and soon the staff at CH&FS were away on our summer break while our student educational tour was being pieced together. Cassandra worked her magic and by the time we returned for the new term everything was in place. Letters were swiftly sent out to students; the final balance was received (eventually, sorry Lorna); and all the paperwork was completed.
The final countdown
The 8th February arrived and the countdown to departure was finally over! An early start is always nullified by the fact you are heading abroad for an adventure.
After misplacing our driver at Bologna airport, we finally arrived in the beautiful city of Bologna. Provided with some free time once we had checked our baggage in at our hotel, we grabbed our guidebooks and ventured out on a little walking tour to take in the sites and tastes of Bologna.
First we ventured to Pizzeria Belle Arti where we ordered pizzas to go. It is safe to say they were the best pizzas we had ever tasted and the service was impeccable with nothing being too much trouble. Silence descended on the group for a moment as 43 students tucked into the pizzas. Against the backdrop of a quintessential street view you’d expect from an Italian work of art, it was a joy to see the students take in the surroundings – and pizza!
With food our focus we were soon onto our next stop. Strolling through the cobbled streets to La Sorbetteria di Castiglioni, we finally stumbled upon the best ice cream parlour in Bologna. Producing tastes like nothing you have ever experienced before, all agreed this was one stop we would soon be returning to on our student tour. To top off a truly amazing afternoon of extraordinary tastes, we casually made our way to Piazza Maggiore for a group photo before returning to the hotel and refreshing before dinner.
Processes and Parma
Whenever you are abroad, day two always proves to be momentous. You’ve recuperated after travelling and the buzz of being away hits you the moment you wake up and say buongiorno. We piled onto our coach and off we went into the Italian countryside. Our first stop was the home of some amazing Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Madonne Caseificio dell'Emilia. Touring the area was simply eye-opening! None of us had seen this much Parmesan and having used it for so many years, it was a revelation to see the process of how it is made and how long it takes to produce. Having witnessed the process first-hand, the students soon understood why Parmigiano-Reggiano comes at such a cost. After making the most of the opportunity to taste the different ages, we had the chance to buy our own chunk of cheese heaven. Think ‘January Sales’ and you’ll have some idea of the frenzied dash to bag some Parmigiano-Reggiano. I think everyone appreciates the cheese came well wrapped to save the coach from smelling like teenagers’ socks!
Our next stop saw the students take in a visit to an outstanding Balsamic vinegar producer, Acettaia Paltrinieri. Being all rather naïve about how vinegar is produced, the group were guided through the production method. Again, it was possible to taste the difference amongst the different aged vinegars. There remained an intoxicating sweet aroma you wouldn’t normally associate with vinegar. Rounding off the day’s experience, we were served a tasty lunch of sliced salami and ham with chunks of Parmesan drizzled with Balsamic vinegar syrup.
Having jumped back on the coach, we transferred along to what was best described by the students as appearing to be a shopping centre. Close to calling Cassandra with this unexpected stop, the coach doors opened and Sara stepped aboard and asked who wanted to see Prosciutto di Parma being produced. Music to our ears, we disembarked. Set in the hills of Modena above the city of Parma against a backdrop of amazing views sits Salumificio La Perl a. We were taken on a tour showing us the production process from start to finish. As we were guided through the different ages of ham, the scent differed from room to room. Tasting the thinly sliced, sweet and tender meat was another taste sensation the students could reflect on. Our only regret was not being able to bring more ham away with us!
We topped off the day with a visit to an agrifarm where everything and anything seemed to be produced. Diving into the food exquisitely placed in front of us, we learnt that everything we ate was produced on the farm with a focus on flavour and keeping produce local to the region.
A day in Venice
Venice is a destination many dream of visiting. It’s magnificent, beautiful, romantic…and somewhere I know I need to return to on a personal adventure.
Having made our way through Venice on a vaporetto, we trundled down the Grand Canal and soaked in the sights of Venice before arriving at Piazza San Marco. After a group photo, the group took in some sightseeing, including the Rialto Bridge, market, and kissing bridge. After enjoying the gondola ride, the staff saw Harry’s Bar…closed! A great addition to our itinerary, Venice provided the group with a fantastic day out and a very unique city deserving of its reputation.
Memories of Italy
After vacating our rooms from the wonderful Hotel Holiday, we spent the day in Bologna making an all-important return visit to our favourite ice cream parlour. This laidback city not only provided our students with a great base to explore Italian cuisine, but is packed with lovely architecture, history, and shopping. Equipped with both gifts and memories, it was time to head home after a brilliant four day trip. Bologna – an educational student tour I will never forget and I know the students won’t either.