We’ve been on so many great food tours around the world, and while they’ve all been good, none of them have been as fantastic as the one we went on in Bologna, Italy, with Italian Days.
I knew we were in for something special just by reading the Trip Advisor reviews, which rank the Italian Days Food Experience as the top tour in Bologna, with a full five stars.
As you might suspect, it is incredibly difficult to receive that high of a rating.
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What to Expect From the Tour
When the tour started, it only took about 5 minutes for me to understand why it was ranked so high. Read on to learn why. I’ve been wanting to see the Parmigiano-Reggiano factories in Modena, Italy, for many years, which is one of the main reasons we chose to visit Bologna (aside from these other fun foodie reasons).
Italian Days has constructed a food tour that takes you around to the factories where the best DOP products are made. They give a very informative tour of each, where they explain the process, allow you to walk around and take photos, and ask as many questions as you might have.
Then they let you try the products. And when I say “try”, I mean they let you indulge with wild abandon. The amount of food you will consume on this tour will put every other food tour you’ve ever taken to shame.
From the very first email exchange I had with the Italian Days team, I was sure we were in for a great time. The email explains that if you’re looking for a formal, quiet tour that this is not the tour for you.
Every exchange we had while setting up and confirming the tour showed that they are passionate about these tours and happy to have you along. They told us exactly what to expect so there were no surprises.
What is DOP?
Bologna is the perfect place to fly into if you’re interested in any of the DOP: Denominazione di Origine Protetta (“Protected Designation of Origin”) products of Italy. DOP products have a strict standard to follow, including that all of the ingredients used must come from the area of origin and use traditional methods of production.
My favorites are Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto and balsamic vinegar, all of which you can find just outside of Bologna, Italy. The only areas of Italy that are allowed to produce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna.
If it comes from anywhere else, it’s not a DOP-authorized product.
We were picked up from our hotel in Bologna at 7am in a van, then we picked up a few others and drove out to the edge of Modena to the Parmigiano-Reggiano factory. It was there that we met up with a few other vans of people. In total, there were about 15 people on the tour.
That was when we met Alessandro. As I said, it took me about five minutes, maybe even less, to understand why the Italian Days Food Experience gets such high ratings, and that is Alessandro himself. He is truly one of the most gregarious, cheerful tour guides I’ve ever met.
It was very early and no one knew each other, but Alessandro encouraged smiles and laughs out of each one of us within just a few minutes. He had us talking and making friends with each other right away. If only every tour we took was led by someone with his karisma!
We arrived so early at the cheese factory in order to see them making the cheese for the day, which was incredibly fascinating. It’s a long process and there are a lot of copper vats full of ingredients that eventually are churned into big blocks of cheese.
Following the factory tour, we convened outside for what the website and Alessandro bill as the breakfast of champions. If I wasn’t already convinced as to why this is the number one tour in Bologna, it was definitely solidified the second breakfast began.
First of all, there were two types of cheese that we tried – one that had been aged for 15 months and one that had been aged for 25 months. The cheese was cut into little hunks and laid out for us to try as much as we wanted. Then came the mortadella sandwiches, the pizza bread, the salami, and the pastries.
We ate until no one could imagine putting another morsel in their mouth. Next, then we drove to an historic acetaia, a family-owned farmhouse where the famous Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP is made.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
I have a new-found respect for traditional balsamic vinegar after seeing the process it must go through. True DOP balsamic must be aged for a minimum of 12 years.
Over that time, it ages in a series of five barrels called a battaria. This is not your typical balsamic. This is certified DOP, artisanal balsamic that can only be made in Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy.
Before touring the attic where the battarias are aging, we sampled each grade of balsamic on spoons. Then we had a small cup of fresh ricotta cheese with balsamic jelly, and a cup of ice cream gelato with balsamic dressing.
Each of the balsamic vinegars we tried were fantastic, but the 12-year aged balsamic stood out as the true star. The depth of flavor is something you can only achieve from this type of process and aging, which is why it has an official designation.
Prosciutto di Parma
Our last factory tour was at a Prosciutto factory. Prosciutto can be made in any region, whereas prosciutto di Parma is exclusive to Parma. It’s a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) food, made with the utmost care and strict standards.
The aging process is extensive and the factory is absolutely packed full of meat, from Pancetta, pork cheek, and disossato – which is prosciutto with the bone removed.
Alessandro walked us around the building, showing and explaining the different levels of aging and drying that must take place. Only two ingredients are used to make Prosciutto di Parma: specially bred Italian pigs and salt. The Large White Landrace or Duroc breeds of pigs are aged to about 9 months before slaughter.
The meat is cured with salt and refrigerated for about a week before getting a second coating of salt and another 15 days of refrigeration. They are then hung in refrigeration for between 60 and 90 days to absorb the salt. They then undergo a 2 or 3-step curing process that can last as long as 4 years during which the ham develops its unique flavor.
And in case you were wondering, once the tour is over, the eating begins. More than a dozen different types of aged meats from the factory were sliced up by the master slicer and set before us in a huge smorgasbord of cured meat.
If ever you were to stop eating to take a break, or your plate went empty, Alessandro would come along with a few more slices for you to try. We ate and ate until not one of us could possibly consume one more slice. And we washed it all down with copious amounts of red and white wine.
Now, this is the part of the tour when you’d think the vans would head back home and start dropping people off at their hotels, but that is just not the kind of tour this is. After all, the eating and drinking we’d already done were just tastings of the products we’d learned about along the way.
I know what you’re thinking. How can you possibly need lunch after so much food! But there is a final stop on the tour where you will be given a “light” lunch, at a countryside trattoria.
Let me just say, if you’re ever told you’re having a “light lunch” in Italy, it means nothing of the sort. The two times I’ve been told this were the biggest lunches I’ve ever had.
Plate upon plate of delicious homemade dishes continued to arrive at the table. By this time, we were all friends, so the family-style lunch was a perfect ending to a great day. Take my word for it that this is not a light lunch. It is definitely worth saving room for, so be sure to factor that into your eating strategy throughout the day.
We had plates of Prosciutto and salama, two different types of delicious pasta including the famous Bolognese Ragu. There was copious wine, and even a large dessert.
I was absolutely blown away by the excitement, the food, and the generosity shown throughout this tour. Never have we eaten so much food on a food tour before – and that’s saying a lot. You will not only have a fantastic time and eat a ton, you will learn a lot and make some new friends along the way.
There just is no other Bologna food tour that can live up to this one. To sign up for the Italian Days Original Food Tour, head to their website.
In case you’re thinking that the €170 price tag is a lot, remember that the tour includes 3 factory tours with full tastings, an enormous lunch, wine, transportation, insurance and a food coma. It’s packed with value and I assure you it is worth it.
And oh, by the way, you can buy any of the products you tasted during the day. It’s incredibly easy to take home a chunk of cheese or a couple bottles of balsamic.
I took a huge block of Parmigiano-Reggiano back to the U.S. with me and used it for months! Italian Days Food Experience also offers truffle hunting tours, wine tours and a bunch of other great options for things to do in the area.
Like this post? Why not save it on your Pinterest board to share with others? (Disclosure: We attended this tour as guests of Italian Days Food Tour. As always, all opinions are my own.)
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited over 75 countries. Her work has been published in numerous guidebooks, websites, and magazines.