What does the world "Italy" bring to mind for you? If the answer is "food," you're not alone—for Susy Patrito Silva, director of Casa Artusi cooking school, eating (and cooking) Italian is a necessary component of the complete Italian experience.
“Usually we say that during a first trip to Italy, people want to see art—so they visit Florence, Rome, Venice and so on,” she tells Smithsonian.com. “But if they want to get an authentic Italian experience, they [should] look for places where it is still possible to live like a local." For Silva, that means learning about local history, eating traditional foods—and cooking them, too.
Luckily, embracing your inner Italian in the kitchen can be as easy (and delicious) as digging in to a favorite local dish. At Italy's many cooking schools, tourists and locals alike can master some of the country's most mouthwaterin dishes. Here are eight top-rated cooking schools to try on your next trip to Italy:
Gelato University - Emilia Romagna’s Wellness Valley (Bologna)
Ever wonder what makes gelato so different from ice cream? We won’t give it away—sign up for a class at Gelato University in Bologna to find out. There, would-be gelato makers learn all about recipe specifics and how to create their own variations. There’s also a course for would-be gelato shop owners—the school trains them not only on the details of true gelato, but also how to open and run a shop anywhere in the world.
Looking for a different way to develop your gelato palate? One of the most interesting classes on order right now is the Artisanal Gelato Sensory Analysis course, where participants learn to taste and enjoy gelato like a glass of fine Italian wine.
Casa Artusi (Forlimpopoli)
Pellegrino Artusi, this cooking school’s namesake, is widely considered the father of modern Italian cookery. In 1891, he published his magnum opus, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, Italy’s first Italian-language cookbook. The final edition contains about 790 recipes and short stories that took 20 years to gather. Today, it's the go-to for chefs across the country.
Master the art of Italian home cooking at Casa Artusi in Forlimpopoli. It's home to the Associazione delle Mariette, named after Artusi’s assistant Mariette, where a group of women chefs teach students the basics of local Italian home cooking including fresh pasta and piadina, an unleavened bread the area is famous for.
Tuscan Women Cook (Montefollonico, Tuscany)
The teachers at Tuscan Women Cook in Montefollonico are, according to tradition, the people who know the most about local recipes, ingredients and cuisine: local women. Students participate in a true cultural immersion, learning family recipes in Italian with the help of an English interpreter and getting hands-on in a local kitchen atmosphere.
Morning classes include demonstrations at local homes and visits to different area artisans, festivals and markets. Try the pasta class, where you'll learn how to make more than just standard gnocchi and tagliatelli—region-specific pici, thick eggless noodles, are also on the menu.
Badia a Coltibuono (Chianti)
Cookbook author Lorenza de Medici founded Badia a Coltibuono more than 20 years ago with a mission to teach students the secrets of authentic Italian cuisine. Benedetta Vitali, a Florentine chef and restaurant owner who continues the tradition of cookbook authors teaching courses at the school, now follows in de Medici's footsteps. Her cuisine is heavily influenced by school's the on-site vegetable and herb garden. As an added bonus, students get copies of the recipes and sample menus to bring home.
Perhaps even more impressive than the cooking classes themselves is the location of the school. Classes run from March to November inside an almost 1,000-year-old abbey. The name Badia a Coltibuono translates to "Abbey of the Good Harvest." The monks from the Vallombrosan Order, who planted some of the first vineyards in the Upper Chianti area, founded it in 1051.
Enrica Rocca (Venice)
A class with Enrica Rocca, also known as the Venetian Contessa, is a step back into old Venice. Inside the Contessa's kitchen, you'll cook up recipes with spices that taste like a delicious blast to the past. The classes use seasonal, fresh ingredients and are held in Rocca’s personal apartment—a loft by the canal in Venice’s Dorsoduro district.
Try the half-day wine pairing and cooking class, where Rocca teaches students to cook traditional recipes. She also has a sommelier on hand to help pair wines and discuss the delicate balance between vino and food.
Classes at Acquolina are limited to a small number of students so everyone can have an interactive and hands-on experience with the chef, Marika Contaldo. The school is actually on her family’s property, along with a boutique hotel, so she’s never too far away to answer your burning cooking questions.
For a full-on Venetian cooking experience, sign up for the full-day course. Students start at an ancient food market, where they learn how to pick the freshest fish and vegetables. Then they continue with an appetizer and wine tasting, a private boat ride, a cooking class in which they prepare a sumptuous lunch.
Anna Tasca Lanza (Palermo)
Students of the Anna Tasca Lanza school get far out into the Sicilian countryside—the school is a two-hour drive from Palermo and the nearest airport. There's a yummy benefit to that remote location: Almost everything used in the recipes is grown or raised on-site.
Want to put a spiritual spin on your cooking? Try the Golden Buddha Yoga and Sicilian Cooking course, where students not only learn to cook, but also get in touch with their inner selves at daily yoga workshops.
Soul of Sicily (Noto)
Chefs of all levels come to Soul of Sicily to learn how to cook southeastern Sicilian food. Most courses are a week long and include more than just instruction on cooking local food with organic ingredients. The school also provides culinary experiences as part of the program, from full days of formal instruction and tastings with area wine experts to picnics in surrounding olive groves. Students also have a chance to peek into the kitchens of professional chefs and take exclusive lessons with them.
For true lovers of Sicilian cuisine, Soul of Sicily is currently organizing a professional advanced cooking program. It's expected to be up and running in April 2017.