Slow Food Festa
Parma & Piedmont and the Salone del Gusto
Commune with artisan farmers at Slow Food’s biannual food festival, Salone del Gusto in Turin
Visit a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese producer and a balsamic vinegar maker
Lunch at prosciutto factory
Accompany a truffle hunter and his dog in the woods
Visit three wine regions: Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont & Lambrusco in Emilia Romagna
Private sit-down tastings at Ceretto and Damilano (Barolo), Marchesi di Gresy (Barbaresco), and Medici Ermete (Lambrusco), plus dinner at the Marchesi di Barolo winery
SLOW FOOD FESTA, which in 2009 was a National Geographic Traveler “Tour of a Lifetime,” brings together slow food in Piedmont and comfort food in Parma. We’ve scheduled it to coincide with the Salone del Gusto, a Slow Food festival held every two years in Turin.
We start in Parma. Emila Romagna’s reputation as a food capital goes back to Roman times, when butchers and bakers would proudly display their vocation on grave markers. It continued through the Renaissance, when upper-class epicures savored a variety of spiced, cured meats—an expensive delicacy devised by local pork butchers. During modern times, Bologna was a forerunner to international food destinations, acting as a magnet for gourmands for much of the past century. And no wonder. Its cuisine is the very definition of comfort food: slow-cooked ragús, soul-satisfying lasagna, mom-can’t-make-it-better chicken broth for tender tortellini. Plus, here’s where you’ll find the real deal in Prosciutto di Parma, crumbly Parmigiano-Reggiano, and aged balsamic vinegar, aka Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena.
Piedmont has a different, but equally proud food tradition. The refined elegance of its cuisine owes to close ties with France: Piedmont was ruled by the royal house of Savoy for nearly two centuries, French was the language of diplomacy, and French customs in the kitchen and wine cellars freely traveled across their shared border. As a result, you’ll find butter and cream in risotto and pasta recipes, and truffles flecking rich egg dishes. And in wine, there’s Barolo, one of Italy’s first age-worthy reds, created by piemontese aristocrats who wanted to emulate Burgundy.
More recently, Piedmont has led the way in the Slow Food movement. As the story goes, Carlo Petrini, a food journalist from the town of Bra in Piedmont, was traveling to Rome in 1986. He was appalled to see that McDonald’s was about to launch its first outlet in Italy—on the famed Spanish Steps, no less. To resist this infiltration of fast food, he launched a countermovement, Slow Food, with the snail as its rebellious emblem. In 1989, the founding manifesto was signed in Paris by 15 countries. Today there are 132 countries with 800 chapters (including, no doubt, one near you!). Among its goals, Slow Food promotes biodiversity (via seed banks of heirloom varieties), the preservation of local food traditions, and small-scale processing, while educating about the hazards of monoculture, genetic engineering, and pesticides.
Every two years, Slow Food holds its huge food festival, the Salone del Gusto, in Turin. This five-day event brings together Slow Food farmers, activists, and consumers for tastings galore and educational panels of every kind. You’ll find Meet the Maker sessions and Taste Workshops on amphora-aged wines, Icelandic preserved foods, Basque cured meat, fruit beer, biodynamic wine, vertical tastings, and dozens of other arcane, intriguing topics. We’ll devote an entire day to the food fair, offering free time to pursue your own interests, then reconvening in late afternoon at the enoteca for a giro d’italia wine tasting.
In both Piedmont and Parma, we’ll focus on food and wine in equal measure (like any good Italian). Join us for a taste of it!
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 Palace Maria Luigia
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 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-hazelnut 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 has 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.
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
Arrival: Milan’s Malpensa or Linate or Bologna. Both Milan airports have convenient shuttle buses to Milan’s central train station, the Stazione Centrale (50 minutes from Malpensa, 30 minutes from Linate). Bologna has its Aerobus-BLQ shuttle service that connects the airport with the center of Bologna. Departure: Bologna or Milan.
Plan to land in Italy a day before the tour begins; that’s necessary to be at our starting point on time. We suggest spending the preceding night either in Modena or in Bologna, just a 30-minute train ride away. Bologna is the regional capital of Emilia Romagna. It’s the perfect place to begin a culinary vacation, as its nickname implies: Bologna la Grassa, or “Bologna the Fat.” This historic city is the home of ragú sauce, mortadella, tortellini in broth, and of course lasagna, the ultimate comfort food. Bologna’s other nicknames suggest are equally suggestive: Bologna la Dotta, “the Learned,” in reference to the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe (founded 1088), which boasts such alums as Petrarch, Dante, and Copernicus. Bologna la Turrita (“City of Towers”) is appropriate for a city that still has some of its 180 medieval towers and offers a bounty of other historic sites for art and architecture buffs. Plus, there are many excellent museums of art and archaeology, and historic palaces to explore. For hotel suggestions, consult a good hotel search engine, such as TripAdvisor or Venere.
Our meeting point is the train station in Modena. If coming from Bologna that morning, contact us to coordinate which train you should take.
On our final day, we’ll shuttle you to the train station of Asti or Tortona after breakfast, depending on your subsequent destination. From there, you can easily catch a train back to Turin (approx. 45 min from Asti) or Milan (approx. 1:15 from Tortona).
Italian train schedule
Click here for an English-language version of TrenItalia. Be aware that the schedule is posted only several months in advance, so if you’re looking for long-range dates, try something sooner, just to get an idea of departure frequency and trip length.
Since we will not be getting into the historic center of Turin during our tour, it’s well worth a return visit for some sightseeing — or for the final day of the Salone del Gusto. The capital of the Kingdom of Piedmont until 1861, Turin housed the royal Savoia family, so it’s filled with elegant architecture, ornate 18th century cafes, and expansive royal palaces. Plus there are many worthwhile museums, including a world-class Egyptian Museum and a fascinating Museum of Cinema.
This is recommended to protect you from needless loss caused by last-minute cancellations, lost luggage, and more. One source is Travelex Insurance: http://www.travelexinsurance.com, (800) 228-9792 (please use our compay code: 21-0043 LDV).
When packing, check http://www.weather.com. Go to “Asti, Italy” and “Parma, Italy” to get a general idea of temperatures and forecast. In late October, it’s definitely fall. Expect jacket weather, with morning mists, an equal chance of overcast or clear days, with the possibility of sporadic rain. Average daytime temperatures are 60º, and 45º at night.