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Food Science Study Tour in Italy/Switzerland - Kelsey Belenko

Posted: November 3, 2011

After a seven hour plane ride, a two hour layover in Belgium, an hour and a half plane ride to Milan, and a three hour bus ride from Milan to Bologna, we finally arrived in Bologna...

Thursday May 19, 2011
After a seven hour plane ride, a two hour layover in Belgium, an hour and a half plane ride to Milan, and a three hour bus ride from Milan to Bologna, we finally arrived in Bologna at 3:30 PM.  The professors found out where our hotel was, and we checked in and put our luggage away.  Then, we explored Bologna’s streets.  The architecture was beautiful, and all the fresh produce and other food products in the store windows were amazing to see.  It was fun to see which cheese and pasta names we recognized when we went into the various food specialty stores (which weren’t a lot).  The whole group went to dinner around eight, which is the normal time for Italians to have dinner.  The whole dinner took three hours, and we started off having an antipasto with meats and vegetables to share.  After that, there was a huge pasta course with three different types of pasta.  The next course involved more meat and vegetables and a potato chip dish.  Lastly, we had a sampling of desserts: Panna cotta, strawberries with strawberry cream, apple cake, and tiramisu.  It was a great first Italian meal to experience! 

Friday May 20, 2011

At 9:00 AM, we visited the Villani factory, where salami and various types of cured pork are produced.  We saw the pork in frozen shipments and watched as it was trimmed and deconstructed on an assembly line.  After that, the general steps of the process involve the pork being hung, being injected with a brine solution and preservatives, and then eventually being put into individual molding contraptions.  The final steps of the process include that they are packaged and vacuum-packed.  We were also able to see where the different kinds of salami were hung.  Many of the salami products contained mold on the outside, which I didn’t realize was a part of any salami process. 

After the Villani tour, we went to Carpigiani, which is where equipment is produced for making gelato, frozen yogurt, milkshakes, and whipped cream.  It was really neat to see the warehouse of one of the largest manufacturers of equipment and be able to learn what the latest innovations are in this industry.  Carpigiani has its “Gelato University” attached to the facility for people who are interested in learning about gelato-making or want to open up a gelateria, and we were able to try some of their gelato.  After the tours, we had the rest of the day to explore Bologna.  Six of the girls and I went to a restaurant and each ordered our own pizza.  I got a margarita pizza, which was a thin pizza that came with no sauce but instead fresh cherry tomatoes on top of the cheese.  Very delicious!  After our lunch we explored the clothing/produce markets and relaxed at our hotel.  For dinner, we went to aperitivo, which are appetizers buffet-style that you can pick from before you go to dinner or in place of dinner.  At this particular café, you could order any drink and have the aperitivo for seven euros, which was a bargain compared to a normal dinner in Italy.  That night we walked around and explored more of the city!

Saturday May 21, 2011
Today we went to Fresco Piada, which is an artisanal flatbread-making facility that prides itself on making bread the traditional way.  The whole facility only has around 30 workers, and they each rotate to a different job every 20 minutes.  The dough is made and then rolled by a machine, which is then put on a flattop and cooked and then packaged.  These flatbreads are made with lard or olive oil, and contain no preservatives.  Our tour guide said that the bread contains no preservatives so that the traditional aspect can be kept.  However, he said, this makes it hard for shipping as the bread only has a twenty-eight day shelf life.  This particular company is so focused on tradition that they are not interested in making the product “better”; they are more interested in making sure that it stays the same.  After this tour a group of us went to lunch and shopped around Bologna.  For lunch I got a sandwich with prosciutto, rocket (arugula), and mozzarella, which I noticed were three recurring ingredients on Italian menus. 

In the evening, the group went to Vecchia Scuola Bolognese to make fresh pasta and have dinner.  We were taught to make tortellini, tagliatelle, ravioli, and other forms of pasta.  The stuffed pasta was always filled with a form of meat and cheese and the actual pasta was always rolled very thin and had to be kept moist.  For dinner we started out with tortellini soup in a clear broth, which was my favorite dish of the night.  After that we had Tagliatelle Bolognese, which is long strands of pasta with meat sauce, which was also very good.  We were also served a ravioli dish, and by this time I was stuffed!  One thing I noticed about the pasta that I had was that it was a lot more al dente than any pasta I would have in America; not a bad thing, just different.  That night we sat outside a café and enjoyed some espresso.

Sunday May 22, 2011
Today was a free day in Bologna, and we were supposed to go to Venice by train.  However, a strike prevented us from doing this.  So, instead, we shopped around Bologna a bit and went to Nino’s Ristorante, where I had delicious Tagliatelle al Ragu.  We then decided to venture to the “MAMbo,” which is the Modern Art Museum of Bologna.  It was really nice to see contemporary art when so much of Bologna is focused on conventional art.  We then got gelato, and I had bacio and caffe gelato; “Bacio” is chocolate gelato with hazelnuts.  After resting for a little, we went to dinner at Brace Ristorante.  After dinner, we decided to walk around Bologna before leaving the next day.

Monday May 23, 2011
At 7:45 AM we checked out of our hotel and began our journey to Parma.  On the way to Parma, we stopped at Acetaia Fini, which is a balsamic vinegar production facility.  We were able to see hundreds of different-sized barrels of balsamic vinegar that were being aged in different types of wood.  Then, we tried 2 leave, 4 leave, 12 year, and 25 year balsamic vinegar.  We were taught that the more the leaves, the better the quality.  Upon trying all these vinegars, I discovered that the 2 leave vinegar was very acidic and thin and barely coated the glass it was contained in when tilted to one side; the 4 leave vinegar was slightly more viscous and slightly less acidic; The 12 year balsamic vinegar had a woodsy flavor and was very viscous, and the 25 year vinegar was extremely viscous with a very intense woodsy flavor.  I had never tasted any balsamic vinegar of this quality before and never realized how thick or woodsy they could be!  I guess I’m used to the thin kinds that are put on salads.  We were also able to see in a different facility where the balsamic vinegar was bottled and more were stored.  After this visit we went to EFSA, or the European Food Safety Authority, in Parma.  Here, we learned about European food law and found out that it was established after some outbreaks in Europe caused Europeans to begin to distrust the European food industry.  In Parma, we explored and got gelato and at an excellent gelateria.  I had bacio and kinder gelato, and it was served in the shape of a rose.  After getting aperitivo and a drink at a café, we were able to explore Parma more for the remainder of the night.

BelenkoItaly3.pngTuesday May 24, 2011
Today we went to see Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese production at Caseificio San Pietro.  We first saw milk in giant tubs being set and coagulated.  We then saw the curd being cut and cooked in the tubs, and then watched as the workers gathered the curds from the tubs with a cloth and hung them on a pole above the tubs.  In a different room, we saw the formed Pamiggiano Reggiano floating in water; this part of the process includes the cheese being salted with sea salt.  We then went into the room where millions of Euros worth of Parmiggiano Reggiano was aging on wooden shelves, which was my favorite part of the tour.  After the tour, we tasted the cheese, which had crystals and a very intense parmesan flavor.  We even got a goody bag of a cheese grater, knife, and slicer.  Immediately following this tour we went to Salumificio La Perla, which is a prosciutto production facility.  Here, I learned that Prosciutto di Parma must have the “PP” letters branded on the product with an official tag or else it is not a Prosciutto di Parma product.  Although I enjoyed seeing this prosciutto facility, I didn’t really like how the tour guide did not know a lot about the science behind how it is made from the pig to prosciutto.  The outside of the facility had spectacular views, and it really reminded me of what I envisioned the countryside of Italy to look like! 

After this tour we went to Azienda Sperimentale Stuard, which is an agricultural research center.  We were given a lecture on the agriculture of Italy and then shown the greenhouses and farmland where the research is done.  Research of the center includes techniques of fertilization, pest management techniques, irrigation techniques, and organic farming.  After this long day, we rested at the hotel and then walked around Parma.  At 8 PM a group of eight of us went to a really nice restaurant.  I had stuffed veal with roasted potatoes and an “insalata mista fresca,” or a fresh salad.

Wednesday May 25, 2011

At 9:00 AM we had a tour of Parmalat, which is a company that makes dairy products and fruit beverages.  The factory was amazing, and one of the coolest parts about it were automated forklifts that did not have drivers and knew when to stop, turn, and yield to other forklifts  Our tour guide talked to us about the company, and I found out that Parmalat is the largest producer of aseptically packaged milk in the world.  Since most of Europe drinks shelf stable milk over fresh milk, this is a pretty huge accomplishment.  Our next tour was Barilla.  We were met by the founder of Barilla USA and were lectured about the origins of the company and Academia Barilla, which is where people are taught about Italian gastronomic cooking.  We had a four course meal at Barilla, topped off with a cup of espresso, and then brought to the Barilla factory.  The factory was huge and had different areas for the different types of pasta; generally, the longer types of pasta had an area and the shorter or stuffed pasta had an area that they were produced in. 

After this tour we went to Riunite, which is a wine facility.  We were shown how the wine is made, brought to the packaging area, and then were given samples of some of the wine and the sparkling wine.  All of the kinds I tried were quite sweet, but my favorite was probably the Lambrusco.  We were brought back to the hotel, and Maggie and I walked around the park and lake about ten minutes from our hotel.  At around 9:30 PM, about six of us had dinner.  I ordered linguine with porcini mushrooms.  It had a very light sauce on it, and was kind of a disappointing dish; however, the fresh pasta was very good.  After dinner we walked around Parma, as it was our last night in this city.

Thursday May 26, 2011

At 9 AM we said “ciao!” to Parma and got on our bus to drive to Torino.  Upon arrival, I noticed that it was very different from the other two cities; the streets were a lot wider and the buildings were much larger and uniform looking.  After getting settled in to our hotel, a group of us had lunch right by our hotel.  I had pasta with tomato sauce and a side salad.  After lunch we explored Torino and then met up with the rest of the group to do a guided tour of Torino.  We saw many important sites, including a really cool Roman ruin.  We also saw a church that looked like any ordinary church from the outside, but the inside was intricately designed with stained glass windows and paintings and was quite breathtaking.  The whole group went to an “aperichini,” which is an aperitivo but more substantial so that it replaces dinner.  We relaxed outside of the restaurant for awhile and then explored Torino more on our own.

BelenkoItaly2.pngFriday May 27, 2011
At 9:15 AM, we had a two hour lecture on the food of Italy by Dr. Sarah Lomonaco and Dr. Knabel at St. Johns International University and then ate there for lunch.  After this, we went to Agrigelateria San Pé, which is an “all-natural” gelateria.  All the milk that the gelateria uses is from the cows on the premises, which we were able to see.  In addition, all the fruit that the gelateria uses is on site, like the strawberries we were able to see being grown.  We were able to try the gelato, and it was amazing.  I tried the crema flavor, which the owner is most proud of because you can taste the milk flavor very well, and chocolate.  After arriving back at the hotel, we rested and then got pizza for dinner.  I got pizza with prosciutto, mozzarella, and rocket, and it was very tasty.  At night we explored Torino and walked by the river.

Saturday May 28, 2011

Today we were able to explore the open air markets on our own.  I was blown away by all the fresh produce, meat, fish, cheese, and all other types of food.  We got some cherries and strawberries to share while walking, which were extraordinary!  The outside market included fruit, vegetables, and cheese, while the inside market included meat, seafood, and other types of food.  In the inside market, whole, dried piglets hung from various shops, and horse, rabbit, livers, and intestines were sold, just to name a few unusual things seen from an American’s eye.  A couple of us bought Gianduja at a chocolate shop, which is a specialty chocolate famous in Torino that is flavored with hazelnut.  The whole group then took the metro to Eataly, which is an upscale supermarket located outside of Torino.  The store was divided into different categories of food, like bread, seafood, meat, pasta, produce, sweets, and more.  It also had eating places dedicated to a specific food group like “Carne” (meat) or “Insalata” (salad).  A group of us went to the “Carne” place, and we all got chicken with potatoes and salad, which was excellent.  We walked around Eataly for a while and then took the metro back to our hotel.  When we got back, Maggie and I went to “Museo Egizio,” or the Egyptian Museum, of Torino.  It is a very famous museum because it is the only museum other than one in Cairo that is dedicated to Egyptian art and culture.  It was a nice change from our regular food tours and was a good opportunity to take in a famous site.  At night, some of us went to aperitivo and then explored Torino.

Sunday May 29, 2011

Today was our trip to Valle D’Aosta.  We went to Salumificio Bertolin, which is a cured meats facility.  However, it was Sunday, so we could not see the plant, but only a movie about the company.  Nevertheless, we did get to try many strange types of cured meat, including donkey, pig neck, goat, cow utter, and a meat made of pig blood, potato, and pig meat.  The cow utter tasted the strangest to me and had sort of an elastic texture (not my favorite at all).  Outside of the facility, there were spectacular views and the Alps were present all around us.  In fact, we were about twenty minutes from France!  The group had lunch at a restaurant close to the facility, and then we went to the Fortress of Bard.  Very nice views of the Alps and the river!  When we got back to Torino, a group of us went to the National Museum of Cinema.  Here, we got in an elevator and went to the top of this huge building.  We were able to see the whole city of Torino from this view!  We went to dinner from here and ordered Bicerin afterwards, which is a famous Torino drink that includes layers of chocolate syrup, espresso, and whipped whole milk.  This was definitely my favorite food item thus far! So delicious! They even gave us mini pastries to go along with it.  We explored one of the piazzas of Torino afterwards.

Monday May 30, 2011
Happy Birthday to me! For my birthday, we went to the National Association of Piemontese Cattle Breeders.  First, we had a lecture on the research of Piemontese Cattle, and then we were able to see the bulls that were being researched on.  We saw the various life stages of the bulls that were divided into different areas, from when they were babies to when they were ready to be sold to the slaughterhouse.  The tour guide told us about what they look for in a bull and what types they are looking for to breed, such as that the cattle have good characteristic “double muscling” and are lean.  We had a light lunch at the facility, and then drove to a Barolo wine facility.  We were given a tour and then had a wine tasting of many types of wine.  It was so hot out that wine wasn’t exactly what I wanted to drink, but it was nice to sample wines from the region we are in.  I had a birthday dinner when we arrived back in Torino, which included a free tiramisu dessert with a sparkler on top! After dinner, we strolled around Torino for awhile and then headed back to the hotel early.  We were exhausted!

Tuesday May 31, 2011

At 7:30 AM we left the hotel to go to a facility that makes gorgonzola cheese.  What I noticed first was that the factory had a very strong smell of ammonia!  We were able to see all the stages of cheese production and were able to contrast how this soft cheese making is different that the cheese making we saw at the Parmiggiano Reggiano facility.  After this tour, we were on our own for lunch in Aroma, Italy.  A group of us found this really nice “panneteria,” and I had a turkey, prosciutto, and mayonnaise sandwich.  After this we went to Luigi Guffanti’s cheese shop, which ages cheese that it gets from other vendors.  They had almost every cheese imaginable in their cellar!  One of the cheeses that the tour guide showed us was aged with mite feces and another one had fuzz all over it.  Who knew that cheese aging could be so unusual!  We were given samples of cheeses after our tour, and I liked the younger cheeses a lot more than the older cheeses.  When we got back to Torino, we had a pizza dinner and had gianduja and crema gelato for dessert.  Yum!

Wednesday June 1, 2011
We left at 8 AM today for our drive to Milan.  On the way, we stopped at the Società Agricola Drusiana in order to learn about rice production.  This facility does everything in the rice production, from growing it to packaging it.  At the end of the tour, we got a box of their risotto with sausage to take home.  When we got to Milan, we saw the Duomo cathedral, which is the largest cathedral in Italy.  We then paid 20 Euros for a 48 hour pass on a site-seeing bus, so we rode around on the bus for awhile and saw all the high-end shops of Milan and some important statues and sites.  When we got off at a stop, we wanted to find a post office to get stamps so that we could mail postcards.  After forty-five minutes of waiting, the clerk told us that apparently stamps are not sold at post offices in Italy and you must go to a tabacaria (tobacco shop).  We then went to two tabacarias who told us that they were out of stamps.  We decided to give up on getting stamps in Italy after this.  The remainder of the night consisted of getting pizza and trying risotto with saffron, which is famous in Milan.  Unfortunately, we all found the risotto to be quite bland. 

Thursday June 2, 2011
Today was a free day in Milan.  We started off our day by going to see the Sforza Castle and the Arco della Pace.  For lunch, we had a Doner Kebab, which is very popular in Europe.  After lunch we got gelato at Grom Gelato and shopped for a very long time in the fashion capital of the world.  For dinner, I got delicious pizza with ricotta cheese and eggplant.

Friday June 3, 2011
Half of the group left at 3:30 this morning to go back to the U.S., but the other half of us got on a train to go to Switzerland.  It took three hours to make it to Lausanne, and upon arrival, we got lunch at a café near our hotel.  We did not know how expensive it was in Switzerland (or that they even spoke French, for that matter), so lunch was not the best experience.  It was around 20 francs (more than $20) for each of us to have lunch! Using hand motions and the occasional “Oui,” “Si vous plait,” and what other words we could muster up from seventh grade French class, we got through lunch.  After lunch, we went back to the hotel to relax and stayed in most of the afternoon.  For dinner, we had a Doner Kebab in order to save some money (which was still around 12 francs).

Saturday June 4, 2011

We went to Gruyere, Switzerland, today, home of Gruyere cheese.  The audio tour we went on was a bit childish, but they had a cool gift shop and we got free gruyere cheese.  We were able to walk through Gruyere, Switzerland, which was beautiful!  The view of the Alps was fantastic, and the town had really cute shops and a really great hiking trail.  Some of us got a crepe for lunch, which was delicious, and pretty cheap for Switzerland’s standards.  We then went on a salt mine tour, which was very fun.  For dinner, four of us went to a café, and I got very good beef with a side of linguine.  (I was afraid to get any greens because of the E. coli scare in Europe).

Sunday June 5, 2011
Today was a free day in Lausanne, so we took the metro to Ouchy in Lausanne, where there is a waterfront.  After walking around and taking in the scenery, we went back to the hotel to see Swiss Federer take on Nadal in the men’s tennis French Open championship game.  Unfortunately for Switzerland, Federer lost.  For dinner, we tried the famous fondue of Switzerland at 23 francs per person.  The gruyere cheese was extremely strong and wine was mixed in, so the fondue was very sharp-tasting.  Only bread was served with the fondue, so we got about four baskets of it during the dinner.  We stayed in for the remainder of the night and just hung out.  Tomorrow is Nestle, which I’ve been looking forward to for the whole trip!

Monday June 6, 2011

We went to the Nestle Research Center today, and it was such a great experience!! It was definitely the highlight of the tours on the trip.  We had a set itinerary and talked with the different research departments for about 25 minutes before moving on to another department.  One employee talked to us about the concept of “natural” foods and how the term can mean a multitude of things, which I found very intriguing.  Another employee showed us how he developed putting probiotics in the straw of a juice product in order to make the product more shelf-stable.  Other departments were packaging, weight management, and health claims, just to name a few.  Lunch at Nestles was excellent, and for our first course we were given a carpaccio of ostrich with arugula and parmesan cheese.  This facility was spectacular, and basically all of the employees had their PhDs and were very accomplished in their area of research.  I guess as the number one food company in the world, you would expect nothing less!  After Nestle, we packed and had to be awake and ready to get on a bus to the airport by 4:15 AM.  Ciao and au revoir, Europe!!