Twenty UF students recently participated in the 2017 UF in Italy: Food Production to Consumption study abroad program. This 19-day Italian adventure began with the group meeting at the Rome airport to board our flight to the beautiful island of Sicily. Upon arrival at our first Agriturismo near the town of Syracuse, the group quickly discovered the Mediterranean a short walk away, and what a way to start the trip by swimming in gin-clear water and jumping off cliffs.
On the first full day of the trip, the group visited a sun dried tomato processor followed by a producer of fresh tomatoes (and yes, the Italians do know their tomatoes). A wonderful seafood lunch on the water was enjoyed by all, then it was off to a visit of an underground winery. The following morning started with a visit to an almond processor, then we headed for Mt. Etna, where the group braved the wind and rain for a hike to one of the many craters of this very active volcano.
The next day on a very curvy drive along Mt. Etna, a large herd of sheep walking down the road briefly interrupted our drive. In Bronte, the students learned about the famous pistachios that grow in this area and how they are processed, and then how specialty dried pasta was made. The next day the group departed for a long drive across the Sicilian countryside to the town of Palermo, where we visited an expresso coffee roaster and learned all about expresso.
The following day was an action packed day starting with a visit to a fish market in the seaside town of Trapani, followed by a visit to a sea salt producer in the area. The group next visited an olive oil processor, where they learned how olive oil is produced and properly tasted, and then finished the day at the Donnafugata winery in the town of Marsala where everyone learned how to properly evaluate wines. Everyone was tired but happy when we finally arrived back at the Agriturismo for our last Sicilian dinner.
Next stop, Venice! The group thoroughly enjoyed all the wonderful sites of this crazy city on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning. That afternoon we left Venice and drove to our next Agriturismo, an old castle near the town of Vicenza. The following morning we drove into the foothills of the Alps near the town of Asiago, where the group visited a producer of Asiago cheese, then a producer of the wonderful local sausage. Later that afternoon, the group was treated to a cooking class back at our Agriturismo, and we participated in the preparation of dinner that evening, featuring fresh tortellini and several appetizers.
The next morning started with a visit to a large producer of fresh pasta, then a visit to the Poli distillery where they learned how grappa is produced from the leftovers of wine making. The day ended by a visit to a small winery producing unique wines from the local grapes, then another delicious dinner at our Agriturismo. The next morning our group headed for Bologna, where we toured the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe and the 2nd oldest university in the world. The evening ended with probably the best meal of the trip at the Trattoria Del Gallo!
The group boarded the bus very early the next morning to see how Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made, then visited a producer of the traditional balsamic vinegar in the town of Modena, where everyone got to taste a balsamic vinegar that had been aged for 100 years! The group next toured a winery that makes Lambrusco wine and learned how this sparkling wine is made, and ended the day with a BBQ back at our Agriturismo. The following morning we toured a beautiful castle near the town of Parma, then visited a producer of the famous Parma ham, followed by lunch featuring several different types of ham.
The next day the group headed for the beautiful wine area of Tuscany. Some very curvy roads took us to the first winery of the day, where the group learned how the traditional red wines of this area are produced, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch paired with some of their wines. The next winery in the Chianti area was the most beautiful winery we visited, and the wine was some of the best in Tuscany. Everyone was tired but happy when we arrived at our next Agriturismo for another wonderful dinner. The following day was a free day in the historical town of Florence, where everyone enjoyed the museums, shopping, and sightseeing in this special town.
The last day of technical tours started with a visit to a Pecorino cheese producer in the Tuscan countryside where the group learned how these cheeses are made from sheep’s milk and tasted 8 different Pecorino cheeses. The next stop was a winery near the town of Montalcino, where the world famous Brunello di Montalcino is produced. The group was greeted by Mario, the 87 year old proprietor of this winery, who gave a very lively tour of this historical winery. Later that afternoon, the group drove to the town of Siena for a quick tour of this beautiful Tuscan town before returning to our Agriturismo for the last time.
The next morning the group boarded our little bus for the last time, headed for our final destination, Rome. Along the way, the group visited La Cucina Sabina, a beautiful villa outside of Rome managed by a UF alumni, Mike DiGirolamo, who has established an endowment for this trip. Everyone learned about the ancient olive trees growing in the area and the olive oil they produce, and were treated to a wonderful pizza lunch! That evening, the group gathered in our hotel to go to our “last supper” together, which featured traditional Roman food and lots of reminiscing about our trip.
The next day and evening, the group explored all the wonders of Rome on their own. Saying goodbye at breakfast our last day in Rome was difficult, knowing that we had just spent the last 19 days on an incredible Italian adventure with 23 now close friends! The friendships and experiences gained on this trip will never be forgotten. Ciao Italy.
By: Charles Sims