Flavors Of The Real Italian Countryside Reviews
The cooking class was good. The recipes were straightforward, tasty, and with top-quality ingredients. The English from the chef was good. The only thing I would change about the cooking class is that I would like to have recipes to take away. There were only general measurements and quite a bit of "add a little more of X until it looks right". I respect the chef's ability, but it will be somewhat challenging to recreate some dishes. Cheese and ham tours were good. The wine tour, however, was disappointing. Essentially, we ate at a restaurant that overlooks a vineyard and is run by a winery. Contrary to the description on your website, we did not dine in a cellar or receive an explanation of the wine production (at least not beyond the basics of each wine when the server brought it to our table).
[Regarding the cooking vacation packet:] The packet provided sufficient information, but the presentation of the material could have been improved. We expected a packet from The International Kitchen at check-in outlining our itinerary and activities. We did receive information from the hotel, but only after asking. Also, what we were then given was (1) a simple e-mail itinerary outlining our day at the farm and cooking class (with plaintext e-mail headers and all), and (2) an itinerary from the local tour provider for our cheese, ham, and wine tour day. None of this was a problem, and we fully realize you work with local tour operators, but on previous trips, every item we received had "The International Kitchen" on it, and materials seemed more seamless and generally more professional. Materials on this trip made things appear "cobbled together".
[Regarding The International Kitchen staff:] Yes. Great interactions with the US office.
Jeff & Cindy B., TX
_Response from The International Kitchen:_ Thank you for your feedback! We have updated our website itinerary to more accurately reflect the lunch at the winery on day 3. In regards to the recipes, we have written your hosts and will send those recipes to you when they are received. Many recipes in Italy are passed down for generations and as such, many recipes are by 'by sight' rather than direct measurements! Regarding the cooking vacation packet, a voucher and itinerary were provided by us, with our logo, prior to your trip. Thank you again for booking your third trip with us.
We loved our Real Italian Countryside experience. The castle accommodations were very comfortable and spacious - both of our rooms had an additional sitting room. The staff were wonderful - so friendly and helpful. We were greeted with a welcome bottle of sparkling wine and a tasting of parmigiano reggiano. Our welcome dinner was at one of the two on-site restaurants, and was superb. The cooking class was held at their outdoor courtyard kitchen, which is a beautiful setting and perfect for the sunny day. The chef (who has worked in Michelin-star restaurants across Europe) was very knowledgeable and we were definitely impressed with his skill. Although part of the class was hands-on for those who wanted it to be, it was mostly the chef doing the work while we took notes. He didn't seem comfortable with English, so made use of the other staff member for interpretation. He could understand our questions in English though. We were given empty booklets to write in - it may have been better to provide recipes or at least lists of ingredients and amounts, as it was difficult to get everything written down. However, it was very enjoyable, the food and wine were amazing, and we loved being outside for the whole experience on such a beautiful day. We had 2 tours as part of our package. The first was a tour of the castle and culatello cellar, as well as the cheese production facility. The hotel concierge did this tour for us. It was so nice that it was just our group (4 people) - she took us in her car to the cheese facility and explained the entire process to us. She also showed us other areas owned by the castle/farm - the grapevines, the livestock, and of course the black pigs. On the castle tour, the culatello cellar was definitely a highlight. We learned how culatello is produced, why the conditions there are just right for proper curing, and the cost of it! During our stay at the castle we tasted culatello of different ages and had it in various dishes in the two restaurants. After learning about the process and the expense, we were even more appreciative of the opportunities we had to dine on culatello. The second tour was through an external company. We drove to Parma and met our guide Amalda. She had her own car and we followed her to our tour location, the Parma ham production facility. We stopped along the way for a view of the famous castle in the area. Amalda was a wonderful guide, so friendly and full of information. Again, this was a private tour for just the 4 of us, which really adds to the experience. We were amazed at the numerous processes involved in producing a Parma ham. As well, the facility was on a hilltop and there were incredible views of the countryside. From there, we went on to the winery for lunch. They kept bringing us wine and gourmet food selections which we thoroughly enjoyed. We had no idea what was on the menu - it was all pre-selected for us. Our guide left us at this point and we made our way back to the castle. I think the castle is new to this program, and there were a couple of issues and a bit of confusion - but as I said, the staff was wonderful and did their very best to ensure we enjoyed our stay. The food was amazing and the tours were private and filled with fascinating information. We took advantage of the bicycles the castle had available for us and rode along the Po river and various bike trails in the vicinity. A platter of fresh fruit was provided to us each day in our room - more than we could eat. We enjoyed exploring some of the small towns nearby and even did some outlet shopping one afternoon. The tour provided a good balance of free time vs. scheduled events. Overall, a fantastic experience and highly recommended!
[Regarding the cooking vacation packet:] The Program Packet did not contain much more information than that already available from the website, other than specific driving instructions from various directions. I wanted to see more detailed itinerary information. Similarly to when we arrived at the castle, the info sheet I was given had a general outline of the 3 days we would spend there, but we still had many questions. There were no times given - i.e. what time is breakfast? What time does the tour start? What time does the cooking class start? Approx how long will it last? For the tours, they could not provide us with specific information (what time, where to meet our guide) until the next day. Some further background information would have been nice also...it was only after our stay that we learned exactly how famous the castle's culatello is, and the history of the castle/farm and its owners.
[Regarding The International Kitchen staff:] I appreciated the Chicago staff were quick to respond to any emails/questions I had regarding the trip. They were friendly, helpful and informative.
Marianne & Darren C., and Marie & David S., Canada