For the first part of our trip my husband and I used trains to travel between cities and the local public transportation or our feet to see the city. Many of the cities we saw up through Venice don’t even allow cars into their centers or have extremely limited parking so not having a car was the best bet. But for the last part of our trip we were going rural and a car was the best way to go. So we reserved the cheapest, tiniest car possible and this is what they gave us out of all the normal colored cars on the lot:
An Easter egg blue Citroen C1. That happened to match my phone case almost exactly. My husband did all the driving and tells me the car was really fun to drive. It also wasn’t that bad driving in Italy (again, we were in rural parts for the driving parts of our trip) but we wouldn’t have ventured into city centers.
Our first stop as we made our way to Bologna (where we were staying 30 minutes outside in a town called Budrio) was in Modena for a tour at Acetaia di Giorgio to see how authentic balsamic vinegar is made.
If I had to name the most “life changing” part of our trip to Italy, it would be this balsamic vinegar tour and the subsequent tasting of the vinegar. It would be akin to being a seafood lover but all you’ve had is fishsticks and then finally tasting lobster. All of a sudden your eyes open wide and you think, “OHHHH, that’s what good [balsamic vinegar, or seafood, or insert a thing here] is!!!” I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who has an appreciation of things that taste amazing. Also, we learned when we got there that there was a New York Times article on this place. Please forgive them for their use of the word, “foodie” in the article from 2005.
The next day we had a cooking class in Bologna that we had been looking forward to. It wasn’t our first time being taught to make pasta, but we had never rolled pasta entirely by hand before.
We took our class from an ex-American who runs the class from her home and we happened to be the only two for the class on this rainy day. Her business is called Taste of Italy and when signing up you are able to select what three dishes you would like to learn to prepare. When we arrived we were put to work creating our pasta on a special wood pasta board and with special pasta rolling pins.
The first dish we made was farfalle with fresh local Italian artichokes, olive oil, garlic and hot pepper. It was very simple and a great way to enjoy the handmade pasta.
The one thing I absolutely wanted to learn how to make was tortellino which we filled with roasted butternut squash, Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. They were tossed in butter and our instructor had some of the balsamic vinegar on hand that we had tasted the day before. These were amazing.
The final dish we made was tagliatelle with a ragu which folks outside of Italy call “bolognese” (get it? From Bologna?) in reference to a meat sauce. I’ll bet that when you or I think of “bolognese” you think of what I do, a rich meaty, garlicky, red sauce. Finding out that this garlic and tomato-less sauce was the actual ragu in Bologna was a little surprise but it was still very good. However, I love tomatoes and garlic in my sauce so I will most likely continue making the Americanized version.
The tale of this stop in Italy would not be complete without mentioning that we had our favorite accommodations of the whole trip while here. Originally I told my husband I wanted to stay at an agriturismo because of the lower price and also the fact that we could stay on a farm. A farm! The lower price definitely was a big attraction so we didn’t expect much but when we arrived at Agritruismo Santissima Trinita outside of Bologna we couldn’t believe our eyes! First of all, our host, Daniela, was exceptionally nice. Secondly, we basically had a one-bedroom stand-alone building to spread out in. Why didn’t we plan to stay here longer!?
When we arrived we didn’t know there was a whole kitchen but after our pasta-making/feasting we took advantage of the kitchen to make ourselves a small dinner and stay in that night and out of the pouring rain. Here’s the building that we had all to ourselves:
The main building, where an excellent spread of breakfast food is laid out each morning, is a 16th-century building that has been fully updated. We didn’t dine in the restaurant but fully enjoyed the breakfasts and chatting with Daniela each morning.
This part of our trip was one of my favorite locations (the other being Manarola) because of the fun stuff we did, the beautiful countryside, and a great meal the first night at a place I can’t remember the name of. Instead of sightseeing my husband and I were able to enjoy each others company and relax.