Learning the art of Italian cooking in Bologna

From the February 2010 issue.

Bologna’s City Hall on the Piazza Maggiore.

by Brad Shea, Rochester, NY

My wife, Sandy, and I have visited various regions of Italy, and we always had a desire to take cooking lessons there. We know about preparing pasta dishes, but there’s much more to Italian cooking than pasta, so we started researching cooking classes in Bologna, considered by many the culinary capital of Italy.

Making plans

A table is set for our lunch under a grape arbor at an herb farm in Modigliano.

After looking at several sources on the Web, we decided that a five- to eight-day culinary tour of Emilia Romagna in April ’09 was what we wanted, and we wanted to do it right! First we created a list of Italian dishes we wanted to learn to prepare, then we selected sightseeing activities in the area, including the cities of Modena and Parma.

Our next challenge was to find a source that would fulfill our dream at a reasonable price. While we were Web searching and e-mailing various sources, we found out that a couple we knew had visited Bologna earlier in the year and had a wonderful full-day cooking experience doing exactly what we were hoping to do.

Based on their recommendation, we selected Bluone (phone +39 051 263546, www.bluone.com), located in Bologna. Their website is filled with ideas and itineraries that would easily satisfy anyone’s cooking interests.

We found the owners, Marcello and Raffaella Tori, to be very friendly, and they turned out to have a passion for preparing fine Italian cuisine. Marcello was the person with whom I corresponded throughout the planning phase of our itinerary. His wife, Raffaella, and daughter, Francesca, actually set up and taught many of the hands-on cooking lessons for our group, which consisted of 10 people.

The final eight-day itinerary became a dream come true, as it included all the activities and sights we wanted plus many learning opportunities in fine Italian cooking.

Learning to cook

Some of the members of our tour group preparing a Bolognese dinner at the home of our hostess, Raffaella Tori (second from left).

Because Sandy loves to cook, we wanted to spend time and money not on some quickie cooking tour but rather on a true hands-on experience, and that’s exactly what we got. The authentic Bolognese dishes we prepared in each class became our dinner for the evening.

Several members of our group had never attempted to make fresh pasta at home, but, thanks to Raffaella and Francesca, we all enjoyed making tagliatelle, tortelloni, gnocchi and several other delicious pastas of the region.

The Tori family was professional in every aspect of their business and provided a personal touch plus an avid attention to detail.

Our Italy experience was not just another tour or a series of cooking classes somewhere in Italy. It was a custom-made plan that resulted in one of our best vacations ever.

The cost of $2,500 per person included accommodations in a four-star hotel in Bologna, private transportation, meals with wine and four cooking lessons.

Special memories

Learning about the art of producing prosciutto in Parma.

We felt like part of the Tori family, who opened up their home to us for our farewell dinner, which we prepared and enjoyed together. We even went shopping at the food market with Raffaella and Francesca to select the dinner ingredients.

Some of our many memorable experiences included a cooking class at a countryside home; a visit to an herb farm, which included lunch using home-grown herbs; joining a wine maker for a barrel tasting, and excursions to modern yet traditional producers of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, extra virgin olive oil, prosciutto di Parma and balsamic vinegar.

Marcello took special pride in taking our group to his favorite gelateria, pizzeria and salumeria (delicatessen). Thanks to the knowledge and hospitality of Marcello and Raffaella, we truly enjoyed the sights and sounds and the many porticos of Bologna and the surrounding region.

To say that our stay in Bologna was beyond our expectations wouldn’t be saying enough. We are grateful for Marcello’s humor and generosity and for Raffaella’s and Francesa’s cooking expertise, patience and skills in teaching those less apt at cooking.

We departed Bologna with a tone of sadness, having spent a full week with such fine people whom we now can call our friends.

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