The last stop on my month-long trip to Italy was Bologna, capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, where I stayed with friends and went on one of the best day trips of my life.
The food and Ferrari tour available through Viator combines tours of regional food producers with a trip to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello and the chance to drive one of these Italian supercars (for an additional fee).
Throw in an informative guide, a comfortable minivan, and a multi-course lunch, and you've got the recipe for an incredible day.
On the morning of my tour, I walked from my friends' apartment to the Apple store in central Bologna and awaited the minivan.
I was picked up at 7:45 am, and once we'd collected everyone else from their hotels, we drove northwest toward our first stop.
Parmigiano Reggiano Factory
We pulled into the parking lot of the Parmigiano Reggiano factory at about 9:20 am and dutifully suited up in thin plastic jackets and hairnets.
The production of Parmigiano Reggiano dates back 900 years to the work of Benedictine monks, and it's limited to the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua, and Bologna.
Our guide walked us through the entire cheesemaking process, starting in a room with large copper vats where milk is turned into cheese.
For every 1,000 liters of milk, the factory produces just two wheels of organic cheese.
Next, we moved to a room where the cheese is placed in a plastic mold to create the imprint on the outer edges of the wheel, which becomes the rind.
It's here where information about the origin of the cheese is communicated, including the producer, month and year it was made, and a unique identification number.
The dots also adds texture, which I've always thought looks cool.
The cheese is placed in a metal mold, and a few days later, moved to a saltwater bath with it rests for up to a month.
The last and longest step is for the wheels of cheese to be moved to an aging room, where they mature for a minimum of 12 months, before testing for quality begins.
Our 45-minute tour of the facility ended in a small room where we had the opportunity to taste 24 and 36-month old Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
No more than 30 minutes later and we're walking through aisle upon aisle of aging ham in a prosciutto factory.
Prosciutto is a fatty cut made from the hind leg of the pig.
Once the animal is butchered, and the leg cleaned, it's salted and left to sit for about two months.
The salt is then washed off, and the leg is hung up in a cool, dark room where it will mature for up to 18 months.
Like Parmigiano Reggiano, there are strict controls on the production of prosciutto and the facility we toured adheres to the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Modena.
Once again our tour ended with a tasting, this time being thinly sliced, melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto.
Balsamic Vinegar Producer
Our third and final food stop of the morning was Acetaia Boni, a 4th generation producer, which makes its balsamic vinegar from the Trebbiano grape.
The grape juice is fermented in barrels for varying degrees of time.
Initially, it starts in larger barrels, and as time goes by, it's moved through a series of progressively smaller ones.
The longer the balsamic is fermented, the higher the quality, and therefore cost.
Acetai Boni sells balsamic aged for 15, 30, 70, and 150 years.
A 100 ml bottle of the 150-year-old balsamic will set you back a cool €500 ($568).
Unlike the other two places we visited, Acetai Boni was also something of a museum, featuring lots of pictures and tools of the trade.
We tasted a drop of thick, black 15-year old balsamic from a plastic spoon, which was too intense for me to appreciate.
Thankfully, they also had a nice spread of balsamic on Parmigiano Reggiano for us to nibble on, as well as cups of vanilla ice cream with a drizzle on top.
And because this is Italy, we were able to wash it down with a cup of Lambrusco (sparkling red wine).
Ferrari Driving Experience
We departed Acetai Boni for Maranello; the city Ferrari calls home.
A sculpture of the luxury car company's signature prancing horse was visible in a roundabout as we entered town (pop: 17,000).
Our driver took us on a quick loop past the Ferrari buildings and test track, before dropping us off at Pit Lane Red Passion.
Exiting the van, we were greeted by a gorgeous display of automotive engineering:
- Ferrari California T
- Ferrari California T HS
- Ferrari 458 Italia
- Ferrari 488 Spider
- Lamborghini Huaracan
I'd been looking forward to the chance to drive a Ferrari in Maranello since I'd started planning my trip to Italy.
I reviewed the rate card and chose a 10-minute drive in the 660-horsepower Ferrari 488 Spider for €150 ($170).
Top speed 203 miles per hour (325 km/h).
When the car was ready for me, a photographer came out and took some photos, which were available later for purchase.
Then, the driving instructor in the passenger seat gave me a quick rundown of the steering wheel and controls.
However, this wasn't my first time behind the wheel of a Ferrari.
My first Ferrari driving experience was in Monaco and the French Riviera. I was driving a red 489-horsepower Ferrari F430 F1 Spider. A year later, I drove the same model (though not a convertible) on a racetrack in Cancun.
Both were exhilarating, which was why I was excited to be in Maranello.
After a few minutes of instruction, I pulled out of the parking lot in the $280,000 supercar.
The instructor had me start with the car in automatic.
If you think the only way to drive a Ferrari is stick shift, I have news for you.
Technology has been outperforming human drivers for a while now, so if you can't drive a stick shift, don't let that stop you from taking a Ferrari for a spin.
We navigated the streets and pulled onto a highway.
I was told to slow down, almost to a stop, and let the traffic in front of us advance.
This created space that allowed me to fully accelerate and get a feel for Ferrari's power.
The Ferrari 488 accelerates from 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in just 3.0 seconds.
I have no idea what my top speed was as I was too focused on the road.
The car was fully insured, but I had no desire to so much as scratch it while behind the wheel.
As I did with previous Ferrari driving experiences, I used the paddle shifting on the steering wheel as well.
Since I never learned to drive a stick shift, so when it comes to shifting gears up or down (by clicking the left or right paddle), I was grateful for the instructor sitting next to me.
Before I knew it, my 10-minute drive was over, and I was pulling back into the Pit Lane parking lot.
I was thrilled with the experience. I know 10 minutes doesn't sound like a lot of time, but it was enough to get a feel for the car.
I bought a 360-video of my driving experience, which you can watch here.
Ferrari Museum in Maranello
After I got back from the drive, I had about 20 minutes to walk through the Ferrari Museum a block away.
Admission is included in the tour price, so I didn't want to miss it.
I didn't have time to reach the writing on the walls.
However, I did thoroughly enjoy spending more time around these exotic cars, from the earliest models to the latest F1 race car.
It was about 2:30 pm when we reached our final stop of the day, a local restaurant where we indulged in a multi-course meal, complete with red and white wine.
The first course was prosciutto on fried dough, followed by two stuffed-pasta courses, fettuccine, steak and potatoes, and a dessert. And an espresso, because it's Italy.
It was a fitting and relaxing end to an incredible day, and we were back in Bologna by dusk at 5:30 pm.