Gourmet visitors will definitely not want to miss the chance to see these famous delicacies made, and to taste them in the company of their passionate producers. But there is so much more to Parma for the ‘foodie’ – porcini mushrooms spring up in the Apennine woods at this time of year, culatello vies for the crown of the world’s most delicious and exclusive cured ham, the Academia Barilla delivers memorable cookery classes and superb restaurants Il Tribunale and La Filoma serve up very different, but equally mouthwatering interpretations of Parmesan cuisine. The excellent, centrally-located Hotel Stendhal makes a fine base for exploring the city’s charming historic centre.
Fly to Milan with British Airways, arriving early afternoon. Upon arrival, we transfer to the exclusive Academia Barilla in Parma, the first international centre dedicated to the diffusion of Italian gastronomic culture in the world. Preserving culinary traditions, safeguarding centuries-old recipes, protecting and championing the highest quality regional produce – all responsibilities of the Academia. Its pasta, sold in distinctive blue packets, is globally renowned. And the Academia also runs an exceptional cookery class, inviting fortunate visitors to learn, prepare and enjoy. With expert guidance, we create our own classically Italian dinner. We then transfer to our hotel, the comfortable and characterful Hotel Stendhal, located in the historic centre of Parma.
This morning is dedicated to a veritable trinity of Parma tastes. Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced exclusively in Parma, Reggio- Emilia, Modena and parts of Mantua and Bologna provinces between the Po and Reno rivers. This slow-maturing, granular cheese, with a distinctive, highly concentrated flavour, is exceptionally rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. Around 3.5m 40kg ‘wheels’ of Parmigiano-Reggiano are produced every year, making it a multi-billion Euro industry. We visit one of the iconic dairies to watch the cheese being made, and taste from a selection of variously aged wheels. Then we make a private visit to a family-run Parma ham maker. Parma has been renowned for its air-dried prosciutto since Roman times – its micro-climate is particularly conducive to ham production. As such, in common with many other of Italy’s great foodstuffs, Prosciutto di Parma is protected and strictly limited to an area of the Parma hills between the Enza and Stirone rivers at a height less than 900m above sea level. The curing process, at least 12 months in duration, takes immense patience and skill (salt and air are the only additives) but the reward is truly special – sweet, tender meat with echoes of chestnuts and the sea borne on the fragrant breezes of the Parma Valley. Naturally, we taste it for ourselves.
Some good wines are produced in the nearby hills, and we conclude our morning with a winery visit and tasting. On a good day, the Alps should be visible. Lunch is provided here in Calicalla. We then we return to Parma and the afternoon is at leisure to make your own explorations of this delightful city. Yet another gastronomic highlight awaits this evening. Il Tribunale is a favourite among locals, situated on a quiet street in the historic centre. Expect hearty, traditional local dishes, from cold cuts to pasta, gnocchi to risotto, stuffed meats to Osso Bucco, accompanied by the delicate, floral and unfairly maligned (in the UK at least) Lambrusco wine.
September and October are the perfect months to hunt porcini mushrooms (also called ceps or ‘penny buns’) – those wild fungi so prized by chefs and gourmets. We head out into the woods, high up in the Apennines, with an expert guide looking out for conifer trees, where this earthy treasure is most often found.
In addition to a host of nutritional benefits, porcini mushrooms transform the flavour of a dish, adding a meaty, savoury richness and nuttiness. In Mimosa, lunch is prepared, inviting us to sample not just porcini mushrooms, but also some almost- forgotten mountain dishes. On our return to Parma, we stop off at the unusual Tomato Museum in what was once the part of a medieval Benedictine monastery. The remainder of the afternoon and the evening is at leisure in Parma – which of the city’s glorious restaurants will you choose?
An atmospheric boat trip on the River Po starts our day in style, then we step off to discover the undisputed king of cold cuts – culatello – cured ham from the back legs of the pig. Carefully selected cuts of meats are rubbed with salt and pepper, encased in a pig’s bladder and matured for at least 12 months in humid brick cellars. Experts from the Culatello di Zibello consortium pronounce on its excellence before it may be sold. This labour of love process confers rich colour and a fine marbling of fat, an elegant flavour more layered and longer-lasting than Prosciutto di Parma, and an accordingly exclusive price of more than £65 per kilogramme. It is a real treat to sample this delicacy and enjoy a splendid lunch at one of the traditional makers.
The afternoon is at leisure to make your own explorations. Dinner at La Filoma is the perfect gastronomic finale. In a 17th century building in the heart of the city, just metres from the Cathedral, this restaurant has been serving up refined interpretations of classic Parmesan cuisine for a century, making use of some of the marvellous ingredients we have discovered on this memorable tour.
After breakfast, we transfer to Milan for our flight home.
Four nights at the centrally located 4* Hotel Stendhal with daily breakfast