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Food Science Tour of Italy/Switzerland - Caitlin Anderson

Posted: November 3, 2011

After months and months of waiting for this trip to come, it was finally here!

Wednesday, May 18th-
I was so excited and anxious in the morning as I finished my packing and loaded my pack into the car. I had never been on a trip this long before, and the flight overseas was going to be my very first plane ride ever, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It almost didn’t feel real, and I couldn’t wait to get to the airport. After going through security, I boarded the first flight to Brussels, Belgium. And to my surprise, I loved the ride! I was lucky enough to have a window seat, and although I was bored about halfway through, it was a lot easier than I expected. I was exhausted from not sleeping well the night before, and when we finally arrived in Brussels early the next morning after our late afternoon/early evening flight, I was even more tired.

Thursday, May 19th-
I couldn’t contain my excitement, though, as we boarded our second flight from Brussels to Milan. The view was absolutely gorgeous as we passed over the Alps. Upon our landing, we quickly collected our bags and got onto our first of my buses that would shepherd us from location to location. We then traveled through the Italian countryside to Bologna, Italy, our first stop on the trip. We walked to our first hotel, Hotel University, and checked in. The first thing that I noticed was very different was the fact that the hotel keys had heavy weights on them, and that, unlike in the United States, you don’t take the key with you and must leave it at the desk. I roomed in a quad with the three other freshmen girls, and although the room was pretty small for the four of us, we knew we could make it work. The bathroom was a whole new experience, as well, because the Italians are very fond of their bidets. We had one in every bathroom on the trip in Italy from here on out, and although they never got used, they were definitely an amusing addition to the bathroom. After we checked in, Dr. Elias showed us the main piazza, or large square, in Bologna, and from there we were free to explore. We joined the professors and the rest of the class for dinner at a fancy restaurant. It ended up being a full, multiple course meal consisting of way too much food for me to ever finish. It was here that we also learned that it is insulting to the chefs and the restaurant if you don’t finish all your food, and that would be a tip we would make sure to remember for the rest of the trip. After a full day and a very long flight, we were ready to sleep once we were back in the hotel.

Friday May 20th-

Friday began our first of many tours throughout the trip. We left the hotel relatively early, at 7:45 am to take the bus to Villani, a production facility specializing in various meat products, particularly hams and sausages. It was fascinating to watch them break down an entire ham leg on an assembly line, with each person making a different cut. We were able to follow the process from start to finish, including where the hams are injected with brine, through the cooking and even packaging process. After our tour at Villani, we traveled to Carpigiani, which is a factory that specializes in the production of gelato machines to be sold around the world under different brand names. We then got to sample a flavor of our choosing in their on site gelateria. After Carpigiani, our tours for the day were complete and we returned to Bologna. We had a great lunch, being my very first pizza in Italy, and it was delicious. Then we walked around Bologna where a flea market of sorts was going on. Later that night, we ate dinner and walked around the city to see the night life.

AndersonItaly1.pngSaturday, May 21st-
The next day, we traveled to Fresco Piada. They make a fresh Italian flatbread that was delicious. It was a great tour because it was all in one room, where we could see each process from start to finish. It was a very simple product, which was something the owners focused on. They believed that it was best to use natural ingredients and were major proponents of the slow foods movement. After the tour, we managed to convince our bus driver to drive past the coast, as we were right there in Riccione, and we all snapped pictures as we drove by. Then we returned to Bologna, where we were given free time for the rest of the afternoon. We walked around the city, exploring more shops, especially finding the Italian equivalent of a dollar store. They definitely had some interesting things in there, and it was amusing to listen to them playing acoustic Justin Bieber music. I loved seeing Italian grocery stores too, like the brand Coop, which we managed to find on this day. They’re much simpler than ones I’ve seen back home, and have a lot more emphasis on fresh food with a very very small snack section. Later that night, we went to the Vecchia Scuola Bolognese as a class for dinner. Here, we learned how to make a variety of fresh pastas. It was a great experience, and the owners were so funny and friendly. Once we finished making the pasta, they cooked it for us and served us a great dinner. Afterwards, we  again got to enjoy the night life in Bologna.

Sunday May 22nd-

Today, we didn’t have any tours, so the entire day was up to us. We explored the city again, heading in a different direction this time, which lead us to discover some old ruins and a large fountain, as well as lead us in the right direction of MamBo, or the Museum of Modern Art of Bologna. It was really nice to walk around the museum and see some interesting art. It became even clearer on this day, however, just how much attention we attracted as Americans. Of course when we were out on previous days and at night we got looks, but this day was full of catcalls and when we asked the guys at the desk of the museum to take a picture for us, while we were doing that, the others whipped out their Iphones to take pictures of the Americans. It was funny but definitely a change of pace, being the ones standing out. That night we packed and got ready for our trip to Parma.

Monday May 23rd-
On Monday morning, we checked out of Hotel University and loaded up our things into our bus. We then traveled to the Acetala Fini, where we learned about the production of traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena. The barrels they had stored in their building ranged in age from the newer ones in the attic to very, very old barrels on the lower floors, which required trays underneath to catch the vinegar seeping out of the wood. We then got to taste varying qualities of balsamic vinegar, from the cheapest all the way up to the super-expensive traditional. Afterwards, we finished our trip to Parma, and before going to the hotel, we visited EFSA, or the European Food Safety Authority, where we were given a talk about EFSA’s role and learned how they compare in some aspects to our own FDA. After, we checked into our hotel, ironically named Hotel Torino, and had free time in Parma. Dr. Elias again showed us the city center, and then walked us to the best gelato place, in my opinion, in the entire trip. It was called K2, or Kappa Due, and they hand formed your gelato choices into the shape of a rose. It was amazing, both in looks and taste. Baccio gelato soon became my favorite, since it tastes like frozen Nutella but better.

AndersonItaly2.pngTuesday May 24th-
Our day on Tuesday was jam-packed with three different tours. Our first stop was a Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese production facility.  This was probably my favorite tour of the entire trip. The facility wasn’t that large, but the woman who gave the tour knew what she was talking about and it was awesome to see them coagulate the milk and drain the curds, forming new blocks of Parmiggiano-Reggiano that would spend time in a salt bath, then age for at least two years. We then got to taste the cheese, and it was absolutely delicious. I wasn’t expecting it to have little crunchy crystals in it, but it was amazing. We left with goody bags, onto our next stop. We traveled to a prosciutto crudo di Parma facility, where we were shown how the prosciutto becomes one of the most famous products in Italy. Next, we went to Azienda Sperimentale Stuard, which is a biological research center where the workers grow many different types of product and run many tests. It was probably my least favorite tour of the trip because it was super hot that day, and we were standing in a field in jeans. The material covered just wasn’t my favorite. Finally, we finished our tours for the day and returned to Parma.

Wednesday May 25th-
On this day, we visited Parmalat, which is a large company in Italy producing shelf-stable milk, along with other dairy products and shelf-stable juices. This tour was interesting because I had never seen or heard of shelf-stable milk before this Italy trip. We were given a talk about the various products Parmalat produces, then given a tour of the facility. As we left, we were given one of their juices to try, called Pera, which was delicious. It tasted just like fresh pears, and it even had some of the texture of a pear, as it was thicker and had some of the “grit” type texture a pear has. From there we traveled to Academia Barilla, where we were given a basic understanding of Barilla as a HUGE pasta company not only in Italy but the world. And it’s easy to see in Italy, as their pasta section in their supermarkets are nothing but Barilla products. After we left Academia Barilla, we went to their actual production center, where we had a delicious, multi-course lunch. We were then shown the facility and were even allowed to eat some fresh pasta right off the line. It was a great comparison to the small-time production of places like the Parmiggiano-Reggiano facility, because this place was huge. After we left Barilla, we went to our final stop of the day, Cantine Riunite, where they make an inexpensive wine that is shipped to the US as well.

Thursday May 26th-
On this day, we transferred from Parma to Torino, which quickly became my favorite city of the entire trip. After a long trip, we finally checked into Hotel Urbani. We were given free time for the rest of the afternoon, which included lunch and exploring a bit of the city. We met up again later for a tour of Torino, which was interesting because it gave me some information about the city I would never have known. I even got to see the ancient Roman gate to the entrance of the city when it was under Roman rule, which was awesome. After the tour, we went to an appertivo place, where you get a drink and there’s a buffet of various appetizer-type foods. It was delicious, and we happily headed home for the night. That night, we went down to the river and walked along it. The night life was great and the views beautiful. It was a great end to a relaxing day.

Friday May 27th-
On Friday, we left Hotel Urbani and had a short trip to St. John’s University in Torino, where Dr. Sara Lomonaco gave us a really interesting lecture on Italian food and meal structure. After lunch at a bar in the University, we went to Agrigelateria San Pé, or a gelateria where the owner uses milk directly from his cows on the farm right there on the premises for his gelato. We were given a tour of the barns, as well as the greenhouses where the strawberries and some other fruit used in the gelato is grown fresh. We were then given a demonstration on how the gelato is made, and went inside for a free taste. The owner directed us to try the latte, or milk flavored gelato, along with another flavor. I had milk and chocolate, and it was absolutely delicious. I guess you could say the milk-flavored gelato tasted kind of like cereal milk, but it was so good. We then traveled back to our hotel for the night.  I had delicious, fresh sausage pizza for dinner, and we found an awesome outdoor club called Cacao, which was very popular with the locals. In the picture below, I was at the gelateria and I was supposed to be posing with a cow. If you look closely at my left elbow, you can see that at the exact moment the picture was taken, the cow was actually licking my elbow!

Saturday May 28th-
Saturday was a free day in Torino, which was spent going to the open-air market and Eataly. The open-air market was definitely a sight, because it was absolutely packed with canopies over various goods, especially clothes and fresh produce. There were several permanent buildings, which housed cheeses, breads, meats, and candy. It was at this market that I bought and promptly ate fresh cherries and strawberries, as well as bought the chocolate Torino is famous for, giandujia, which is chocolate hazelnut flavored, and amazing. Afterwards, we met the class and I took my first Metro ride with everyone to Eataly, which is a huge supermarket of sorts full of the best products, from meats and cheeses to bread and pasta. It was a much different supermarket than ones we’re used to, full of specialty products. Later that night, I got the chance to watch the Manchester United vs Barcelona soccer match in an English pub in Torino, which was a great experience. I then called it an early night and rested up for the next morning.

AndersonItaly3.pngSunday May 29th-
On Sunday, we traveled to Valle D’Aosta, or the most northwest region of Italy, in the shadows of the Alps. It was gorgeous there, and we had a short tour of Salumificio Bertolin, a facility that produces various sausages and lard. Although the tour wasn’t great, I tried some interesting sausages there, including donkey and goat. I was definitely not a fan. From there, we went to Fortress di Bard, which was a huge fortress built up on rocks looking down on the town. It took three elevator-type lifts just to get to the top, but the view was amazing. After our visit of the fortress, we returned to Torino for the day.

Monday May 30th-
On Monday, we went to the National Association of Piemontese Cattle Breeders, where we were given an interesting tour of the facilities, including an outside-view of the barns where the cattle are kept. The fascinating thing about Piemontese Cattle is that they have double musculature, giving them a very muscular appearance. We learned that these cattle are prized in Italy and most of the beef is produced from these animals. Afterwards, we toured a facility which produces the highly-prized and priced Barolo wine. We saw the huge barrels holding the wine and were lucky enough to participate in a tasting. We then returned to Torino for the day.

Tuesday May 31st-
The next day, we toured a Gorgonzola factory, which was interesting to see because I was never sure before the trip how it was made. We saw a very mechanized version of the curdling of the milk as compared to the Parmigianno-Reggiano production, and saw how they speared holes in the new cheese to allow air to access the yeasts and molds in the milk, allowing the blue mold to grow within the cheese. From there, we visited a cheese-aging facility, where cheeses are sold to the owners and they age it correctly, dramatically increasing the value. This tour definitely grossed me out because although those cheeses are worth a lot, it was disgusting to see all the fuzzy and furry molds growing all over them, or the cheese mites eating away at the rinds. Afterwards, the professors decided to have our rice production tour the next day, so we traveled back to Torino.

Wednesday June 1st-
On Wednesday, we transferred from Torino to Milan, the final stop of the trip for some members of the class. Before reaching Milan, however, we stopped by a rice production farm, where I learned how rice was grown and made ready for consumption. This tour was slightly painful because it was cold and rainy and I ended up losing my umbrella somewhere on the property. It was still interesting, however, because I had never known exactly how rice was grown or what rice plants looked like. After the tour, we finished our trip to Milan and checked into Hotel Soperga. That afternoon, we took the Metro to downtown Milan and got to go inside the Duomo, an enormous and gorgeous cathedral. It was stunning and I was honored to light candles for my grandpas inside. We then walked around the city for a little, and got dinner. I settled in for a relaxing night and my last day in Italy.
 
Thursday June 2nd-
On Thursday, we continued to tour Milan on our free day, which was nice because I was able to see the castle and a huge arch within Milan. To our amusement, there was a man under the arch, dancing and busting out his best moves to music only he could hear. The day was very relaxed and full of sightseeing, which was nice for our last day in Italy. That night I had another delicious pizza, then joined my classmates in going out together one last time as a class. After leaving the bar, however, I got lost in Milan for two hours with a classmate. Although we made it home, I’d definitely recommend taking a taxi if you’re at all unsure of where you are!

Friday June 3rd-
With half of the class homebound, the 8 remaining students, including me, traveled on with the professors, taking a beautiful train ride to Lausanne, Switzerland. It was my first train ride, and after passing through a long tunnel, when we surfaced on the other side, I was faced with a beautiful view of the Alps. Once we arrived in Lausanne, we had a 20 minute uphill walk to our hotel with all our luggage. The great thing was that the hotel was the most modern and nicest of all the hotels we had stayed in, which was awesome. We were able to unpack and then wander around the city. Our first lunch there was difficult, though, because in Lausanne the people speak French, something difficult to adjust to after just ordering and speaking to the locals in Italian for 2 and a half weeks.

Saturday June 4th-
On this day, we went to Gruyere, Switzerland, where we took an audio tour of Gruyere cheese production. Although the tour was childish and not of the level we were used to, the facility had a great gift shop, where I was able to pick up some excellent gifts for my family. We were also given free samples of the cheese, all of different ages, and it was delicious. From there, we went to the actual town of Gruyere and were able to walk around and visit the castle as well as have lunch. Afterwards, we went to the Bex Salt Mines and got the opportunity to ride a little train into the heart of the Alps, where we gave ourselves a tour. I even picked up a little sack of the salt from the mines in the gift store. We then returned to Lausanne for the night.

Sunday June 5th-
On Sunday, we had the day to ourselves, so we slept in and visited Ouchy, which is the lake-front portion of Lausanne. It was interesting to look across the lake and know you’re looking at France. We explored Lausanne a little bit more and had a very relaxing day.

Monday June 6th-

Monday marked our last full day abroad and our last tour. It was the day we had been waiting for in Switzerland, as the tour of Nestle was the reason we ventured into a new country. We left the hotel and traveled to the Nestle Research Center in Lausanne, where we spent the day hearing from various speakers and seeing real life food science applied to their company. It was a great change of pace from just production to the science and tests behind making production successful and smooth. I also ate the weirdest thing for me of the whole trip at Nestle during the provided lunch. I was brave enough to try raw ostrich, and while I wasn’t a fan, I’m proud to say I at least tried. After leaving Nestle, we returned to the hotel and prepared for our trip home the next morning. My final meal in Europe was pizza at a little restaurant nearby the hotel, and I couldn’t have chosen a better last meal. That night, I slept maybe 3 hours before the plane ride in the hopes that I could potentially sleep on the way home. I was sad to be leaving, but also super excited to go home and see my family.

Tuesday June 7th-

We left the hotel around 4am Tuesday morning, loading our bags into the bus and making it to the airport in Geneva. It was very calm going through security and waiting for the plane. We then flew from Geneva to Brussels, and Brussels home to Philly. The ride went so much quicker this time around because I watched both of the movies and some shows, and without too much boredom I was home in the United States.