Traveling to Italy is a culturally immersive experience. Everywhere you turn, your eyes feast on magnificent architecture, you can hear the beautiful language, and your mouth waters with every bite of pappardelle. While you could spend your days soaking up the Italian sun and licking gelato, you may crave a more local experience. After you’ve toured the Colosseum and visited a vineyard, you can (and should!) connect with artisans and learn from their expertise.
Parma ham production
In central northern Italy sits a town called Parma, which produces roughly nine million Parma hams each year. With cooler air that aids in the drying process, and with salty winds that drift in from the coast, the hams produced are unique to this region. The pigs killed for Parma ham are Italian, born and raised. They must be large (between 308 and 353 pounds, or 140 and 160 kilograms) and have a certain amount of developed fat at a minimum age of nine months. The only ingredient added to the ham is salt with a few local spices, and the processing stage is very intriguing. When you visit a Parma ham factory, you will be able to see the process from start to finish, you’ll be able to sample the ham produced, and then take some back home with you.
Italy is known for its wine, so it would be almost criminal to leave the nation without sampling some straight from a vineyard. There are thousands to choose from, so it really depends on where you’ve situated yourself in Italy. If you are truly looking for the quintessential Italian wine, make sure you visit a vineyard in Tuscany, Piedmont, or Veneto. When you arrive onto the property, you’ll be led through the rows of grapes, into the winery, and truly understand the wine production process. Taste the different variations and enjoy a sunset dinner, looking out onto the iconic Italian wine regions.
Italy is known for its delicious food, from lasagna to pizza. What better way to extend your trip than to be able to bring home new recipes and cooking skills? Choose your favorite Italian dish and book a one-on-one course with a personal chef. You can collect some ingredients yourself, prepare the dish from scratch, and taste the fruits of your labor afterwards. These cooks are born and raised in Italy and have grown up learning from their families how to perfectly prepare the food, so you know you’re in capable hands.
Limoncello is a traditional Italian drink created from the zest of lemons originating from Sorrento, Italy. The zest is steeped in a spirit known as grappa until the right oil is released. You’ll find limoncello on almost every menu in southern Italy, and you’ll be reminiscing about it once you return home. To fully understand the creation process, you can visit artisans in Sorrento, Positano, or Capri. Pick the lemons straight from their trees, find out where the cane sugar is sourced, and bake yummy lemon pastries to accompany Italian’s favorite way to finish their meals.
If you want to be able to learn a new skill and create a souvenir you can take home with you, make sure to take a painting class. Italy is where Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Masaccio all garnered their inspiration for their timeless pieces, and you too can draw on the stunning landscape. Whether you choose to paint with watercolors on a gondola in Venice or sip some wine while oil painting in Rome, this is a skill you can continue to hone back home. The paint, canvases, and brushes will originate from different Italian regions, and you can choose the subject you paint. Choose from Tuscan vineyards or the coasts of Capri, and you’ll be stunned by your final product.
While in the presence of so many fantastic artisans, your trip to Italy will not be complete without learning a new skill. From curing your own ham to sipping on a unique liqueur, Italy will hold a special place in your passport and your heart.
Xoxo, Grace Poulos — follow her adventures on Instagram.