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Ten fantastic holidays for Italy-loving foodies

Any vacation in Italy will include plenty of food and drink, but why not learn how to cook your favourite dishes yourself? Here's our guide to ten food and drink-themed courses.

Ten fantastic holidays for Italy-loving foodies
Photo: Danny Nicholson

Learn to brew the perfect coffee


Photo: Salomé Chaussure/Flickr

Coffee is a key part of the Italian culture, but instead of simply spending your trip sipping cappuccini on terraces, why not get a taste for life on the other side of the bar? Florence’s Espresso Academy offers a range of courses including basic, intensive and café latte art, while the Terzi Coffee School in Emilia Romagna offers intimate workshops in small groups. And if you’re really serious about coffee, Florence Culinary School offers up to four weeks of lessons – or even barista internships for those with Italian language skills.

Take a pasta-making course


Photo: Luca Nebuloni/Flickr

Italian pasta is truly an art; there are over a hundred varieties, and each one pairs best with a certain type of sauce. To ensure you never again commit the cardinal sin of ordering spaghetti bolognese (find out why that's a no-no here), you can take a one-day pasta lesson at Emilia Delizia in Bologna or the city's Culinary Institute, which offers a course taught by an Italian granny. In Naples, Mami Camilla offers a week-long course with two hours of pasta study each day. 

Go truffle hunting


Photo: Kent Wang/Flickr

Italian truffles are one of the most prestigious ingredients out there – two years ago, a single truffle sold for €90,000 at auction. But searching for them yourself is not advised as they can be hard to differentiate from poisonous varieties, or even to locate at all, so it's best to join a local expert. The good news is there are plenty of options to do just that – Love Umbria offers truffle-hunting tours, as does Tuscany-based Truffle Hunter, where you can also learn how to cook with truffles or take a wine and truffle tour for a truly decadent experience. Both of these options are shorter trips, but with Expressions Holidays you can go to Piedmont for a five-day truffle extravaganza.

Whip up some gelato


Photo: Derek Key/Flickr

Most holidays to Italy will include plenty of gelato-eating, but why not make this the year you learn how to make your own ice cream? Mama Isa, based near Venice, offers artisanal gelato-making courses between one and six days long and Bologna's Gelato Museum (yes, you read that right) offers everything from tasting sessions to 'gelatology' classes to afternoon workshops, while Walks Inside Rome provides child-friendly gelato lessons in the capital.

Indulge in Italian wine


Photo: Jeff Kubina/Flickr

Of course, any holiday can be a wine-tasting holiday if you want it to be, but taking an expert-led tour will add a touch of sophistication. Many bars and hotels across the country offer wine-tasting classes, but for the full experience, why not try a day trip with Swirl the Glass, which runs wine tours across the Amalfi coast, or book a holiday with Smooth Red, whose tours take place all over the country, lasting between three and seven days and specializing in bespoke experiences to fit your budget and preferences. 

Become a pizza pro


Photo: Kenko*/Flickr

Learning to make a proper pizza (with no ham or pineapple in sight) in a wood-fired oven might just be the ultimate Italian culinary experience. PizzAcademy Sanremo offers afternoon masterclasses or you can become a pizzaiolo extraordinaire by taking a week-long course in Sorrento through GoLearnTo or with Sorrento-based Travel with Laura. A word of warning though – once you’ve learned how to make the real deal, you’ll never be able to look at a takeaway pizza again.

Get to grips with olive oil


Photo: Dave Fayram/Flickr

Italians take their olive oil pretty seriously, and the country has made headlines recently with reports of sub-quality oil being passed off as ‘extra-virgin’. Learn how to tell the difference (you can start by following our tips here) and make your own top notch oil by enrolling on a course. Toscana Mia offers an olive oil and wine tasting tour where you’ll learn about the different types of olive trees and the olive harvest, while the Florence School of Olive Oil offers comprehensive courses where you can learn to make your own.

The great Italian bake-off


Photo: jeffreyw/Flickr

From Sicilian cannoli (pictured) to Tuscan biscotti, Italy does sweet treats very well. Culinary Vacations offers workshops for bakers of all levels, and will tailor the lessons to include your favourite cakes. Alternatively, Travel with Laura offers a four-day course in Sorrento covering a wide range of Italian bakes, with the option of an Intensive course. And remember, if you've made it yourself, the calories don't count…

Become a bartender extraordinaire


Photo: Didriks/Flickr

If the extent of your drink-mixing skills is adding vodka to a variety of soft drinks, there's no better place to become an expert than in the home of the Bellini and Martini. You can take lessons in Italian cocktails in fancy Tuscany hotel Il Pellicano or opt for an 'Apericena' workshop with award-winning food writer Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, where you'll learn how to make Italian cocktails and finger food. If you’re serious about doing it as a job, the European Bartending School in Milan offers four-week courses which will get you up to a professional standard.

Or just do a bit of everything


Photo: Revol Web/Flickr

Can't decide which of the courses you like the sound of best? No problem; plenty of companies run more general Italian cooking holidays, so you can build up a varied repertoire of dishes and wow dinner party guests once you get home. You can book via international agents such as GoLearnTo, who may be able to advise you on a particular school, or book directly with local companies such as the highly-rated Tuscookany school, or organic farm La Tavola Marche, which offers an agriturismo experience at a rural farmhouse

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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