In a country renowned for its home cooking, Emilia-Romagna is the region that stands out among Italians for its soul-satisfying home cooking. It is also the birthplace of many foods that lie at the heart of Italian cuisine and that are the most famous outside of Italy: tortellini, prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar, and “The King of Cheeses,” Parmigiano-Reggiano, to name a few. Massimo Bottura, a world-renowned chef from Modena, has said that Balsamic vinegar runs through his veins and that his muscles are made of Parmigiano-Reggiano!
Chef Travis Strickland will be our culinary expert on the Chef Bike Tour of Emilia 2020. Chef Strickland has just opened a new restaurant, FLINT by Baltaire in Phoenix, while leading the well-established award-winning Los Angeles steakhouse Baltaire. The new restaurant seem to bridge mediterranean flavors and classic steakhouse cuisine. Being the executive chefs of two restaurants in two different states does not prevent him from pursuing one of his favorite past-times: cycling. He serves as a Member of the Chefs Cycle Advisory Council and participates in the annual Santa Rosa fundraiser for No Kid Hungry, alongside some of California’s most esteemed chefs.
A Midwest native, he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and he cooked at the legendary Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN, where he worked closely with products picked daily by hand. He then worked at Chicago’s most recognized steakhouses, notably as the Executive Chef for Chicago Cut Steakhouse. His engaging personality has led him to chef demonstrations on local and national TV shows, from Fox 11’s “Good Day L.A.” to the Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family.” Additionally, Chef Travis Strickland’s cooking has been praised by local and national media outlets.
At Tourissimo we believe that you cannot explore and understand the gastronomy of a region without considering the region’s history, culture, landscape, and climate. But for our Emilia Romagna Chef Bike Tour we want to go further. From spa towns with healing thermal waters to the splendid Apennines, we ride to taste, and we taste to understand. We’ll nourish our body and mind and we'll discover the soul of Italy.
The riding is different each day, with a varied landscape that stretches between the Po River and the Apennines. We’ll pass small villages that are rich in history and vitality and view several hilltop castles, each with a story to tell. The rides are fully supported and participants can ride just part of the stage.
Optional one night extension to Bologna and the recently opened FICO Eataly World.
Tabiano - 20 miles - Hilly
After an airport transfer, we arrive at our hotel in Tabiano, a restored medieval castle that was built on the ruins of an old Roman settlement. We’ll enjoy a light lunch, make introductions and go over the details of the tour. After lunch there will be a bike fitting and warmup ride over small, rolling hills in the foothills of the Apennine mountains. Spend the afternoon at the hotel’s spa, lounging by the pool or just taking in the stunning views.
Dinner is at the hotel in “The Old Dairy” which used to be a cheese factory that produced Parmigiano-Reggiano for over 200 years.
Colorno - 40 miles - Hilly
After breakfast, we leave the province of Piacenza and enter the province of Parma. The riding is relaxing on mostly secondary roads. This area is known for its cured meats, including Prosciutto di Parma, and of course for the famous Parmigiano-Reggiano, known as the “King of Cheese.” Our lunch in Parma will include these local specialties.
We’ll ride to our hotel in Parma and get ready for an exceptional cooking experience at the Alma cooking School, set in the Ducal Palace of Colorno. It’s one of the most important culinary schools in Italy that represents the excellence of Italian gastronomy internationally. We’ll start with a historical explanation of grain, the origin of pasta and the different
Today we’ll ride northeast towards Reggio Emilia, encountering our first climbs of the tour. Hilltops dotted with fortresses and castles surround us and hold stories of fascinating people, such as Matilde di Canossa, a powerful feudal ruler of Tuscany. We’ll stop at a Fattoria Rossi, a dairy farm from the 1800’s, to learn more about the process of making Parmigiano-Reggiano. The nearby town of Bibbiano is said to be the place where the cheese was created at least 900 years ago.
During lunch in the center of Reggio Emilia we will challenge our chefs to offer innovative ways to serve the “King of Cheese." In the Emiliana tradition, there’s not much room for creativity and it’s usually served over pasta, as one of the ingredients of the pasta filling and nowadays as an appetizer served in chunks and drizzled with real Balsamic vinegar. We are sure that our chefs and innovative Chef Marta, chef and owner, will surprise us with some new ideas!
Dinner will be at our favorite pizzeria in town. Pizza is an Italia staple no matter where you are.
Our Hotel, Hotel Posta, was founded in 1515 and is in Via Emilia in the historic center of Reggio Emilia.
Modena - 38 miles - Rolling
Today is the day of fast cars and slow food! We'll ride the hills around Modena and Maranello, home of Ferrari, before arriving at the iconic museum where you will have time to admire both the race cars and the historical collection of production cars, as well as learn about Enzo Ferrari and his philosophy around work ethic, car racing, and big dreams. The last part of the ride is short, but hilly. We'll spend the afternoon at our hotel, which is also an agriturismo and resort with a spa and infinity pool overlooking the Modena hills. They produce their own wine and Balsamic vinegar on-site. We’ll sample some of their Lambrusco while touring the Balsamic vinegar aging rooms to learn about the history, tradition and elaborate production process of this unique product. It’s slow to make and surely not economical, but no one around here would ever dream of cutting corners when it comes to traditional balsamic vinegar!
Today we enjoy a half day ride in the beautiful countryside over gentle hills. Our loop ride will make it to Serramazzoni and Vignola, villages with interesting historical sites and traditions linked to farming. Vignola is world-renowned for its cherries, which will be in season. The cultivation of cherries in Vignola has a long tradition: several written testimonials have been found that attest to the presence of this tree since the mid-nineteenth century. The favorable soil and climate conditions of this area, in fact, represent the natural habitat for this fruit. The locals worship their cherries not only because they are tasty, but they are healthy as well (rich in vitamin C; they even improve blood circulation and one’s mood, according to some studies). Back at the hotel, our chefs and guests will work with Opera 02’s resident chef to prepare a menu consisting of dishes made with seasonal ingredients.
Today will be a challenging day, riding up towards the Apennines of Bologna. We are rewarded with changing scenery and a wealth of natural products.
The day starts in the production area of ciliege di Vignola (cherries of Vignola). The area started specializing in cherries around 200 years ago and the locals say that cherry season (May-July) represents the coming of summer. The cherries are sweet and thirst-quenching. They are packed with vitamin C, and studies have shown that they can improve one’s mood and blood circulation. You can test that out for yourself by sampling the cherries during our regroups!
As we climb towards Porretta Terme we leave the cherries behind and instead find more oak trees, and mostly chestnut forests. In June the smell in the air of chestnut trees blooming is so sweet, and we’ll be accompanied by this enchanting scent for most of the way up. Though not as well-known as other products from the area, we want to pay homage to the chestnuts which for generations (especially during times of famine and war) provided the base for healthy food for the families of this area.
Porretta Terme is known for its thermal waters and our hotel, located in the center of town, has a beautiful spa, part of which is in an old bunker.
Nestled between the Alps and the Apennines, Emilia-Romagna owes a great deal to the unique nature of its territory when it comes to explaining its rich culinary tradition, which is often revered as one of the finest in Italy. The Po River, which runs across the whole of the region, marks the boundary between the fertile soil of the Pianura Padana Valley, the agricultural heart of northern Italy, and the gentle curves of the pre-Apennines on the border with Toscana. Following the course of the Po, the east of the region opens widely onto the Adriatic Sea with a low and uniform coastline and shallow waters.
Once marshland, the Pianura Padana is today one of the most fertile areas of the country following a long history of cultivation. Perhaps the first to spot the enormous agricultural potential of the region were the Romans, who made it a key center for the empire’s food production. Often dubbed ‘the food valley’, it is abundant in cereal crops and cattle rearing and home to some of the most renowned food producers in the country.
While institutionally one, from a cultural and gastronomical point of view Emilia-Romagna is in fact two. The sub-region of Emilia, which lies along an ancient Roman trading route, stretches from the western tip of the region with the cities of Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Ferrara dotted around it like jewels in a crown. It is known for its solid, rich and indulgent cuisine, heavily based on pork and animal fats thanks to the Lombard (a Germanic tribe) domination of the region. It is also equally revered for being naturally effortless in its sophistication, something that the Renaissance court tradition has left as an indelible mark. In the words of Pellegrino Artusi, nineteenth century author of The Science of Cooking and the Art of Fine Dining: "When you come across the Cucina Emiliana (Emilia’s cuisine), take a bow, because it deserves it."
In the western part of the region, from Bologna to the Adriatic coast, lies Romagna. Here, unlike in Emilia, the Byzantine heritage influenced many aspects of Romagna’s culture; it is still evident in the stunning churches and mosaics of the city of Ravenna and in the prominence of terracotta-based cooking methods. Influenced more by the closeness of the sea than by the aristocratic tradition of the courts, Romagna’s gastronomic tradition is simpler and closer to the land, but just as varied and deep as its counterpart in Emilia.