The best Bologna food tours
There’s no denying that Italy is a perfect place for foodies. Mention Italy to most people and images of fresh pasta and gelato will be at the forefront of their minds. Little do many people know, however, that Italy is so much more. Pasta isn’t just pasta, with regional flavours, recipes and methods generating incredible variety. Whilst gelato can be found everywhere, not all of it is the high artisanal quality you should endeavour to seek out.
Italy is full of food secrets. Traditional recipes and processes, enveloped by history and strict production methods to preserve the integrity of the product. Not all balsamic vinegar is made equally, nor can all Italian ham be called Parma. Fortunately for those of us who don’t live in Italy, the Italians are proud of their food traditions and are always happy to share.
The Emilia Romagna region of Italy is known as the food valley, with many of the foods and ingredients that are integral to an Italian food experience found here.
If you are here for a short time, doing a food tour in Italy is one of the best experiences you can have. As you might imagine, in an area saturated with food tours and food experiences, it can be difficult to choose which one is best.
I’ve done some of the hard work for you by asking some well-travelled experts to share their best food tours in Bologna and the Emilia Romagna region.
Food and Walk Tours Parma
I’ve done many food tours in Bologna but the tour with Food and Walk Tours Parma was exceptional. Also known as the Three Kings Tour, it takes in the “big three”, Parma ham, Parmigiano Reggiano and Modena balsamic vinegar. Here you can spend a full day learning all about these foods that are integral to the Italian way of life.
In a unique twist, this tour is a self-drive one. Participants drive their own vehicles, following behind a lead car, to each of the locations. We did the tour in a motorhome which surprised a few people but was such good fun. It meant that all the goodies we bought during the day could be popped straight into our fridge.
Ayngelina Brogan – Bacon is Magic
Without a doubt, in a city like Bologna, one of the best things to do in Bologna is to take a food tour with a local. Funnily enough, I was the first client for Taste Bologna. I connected with Andrea through Twitter and he offered to take me around one Sunday afternoon. Since then I have taken a pasta-making class in Bologna and had a custom-designed tour outside the city. I recommend Taste Bologna to everyone I know.
What I like about Taste Bologna’s approach is that you don’t go to the most popular tourist destinations or go to places only tourists want to visit. You really do see the city like a local and little things you’d never discover on your own, like why they give you water with coffee, or how you can tell if a gelato shop is good or not.
It feels like you’ve met a new friend and they are sharing all their best secrets to a city. While you learn a lot because the tour is informed, the approach is very informal. There’s enough history for you to appreciate what you are experiencing, without feeling like you are in a classroom. Each time I take a tour with Taste Bologna I feel like I’m really getting an insider view on the city that I couldn’t get from reading blogs or TripAdvisor.
Italian Days Food Experience
Lori Sorrentino – Travlinmad
We love local foods and taking local food tours when we travel. On our first time to Bologna, we took the Italian Days Food Experience tour. The creator and owner of the tour, Alessandro Martini, is a native of Emilia-Romagna and to say he’s passionate about the foods of his home is a huge understatement. Throughout the tour, Alessandro reminded us why DOP — Protected Designation of Origin — is so important to protecting the authenticity of the premier foods of Emilia Romagna.
Our first stop was a Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, an informative and detailed tour where we learned the entire process of cheese making from the time the milk comes into the plant until the cheese is aged, inspected and ready to be eaten. This leg of the tour ended with a light breakfast of fresh cheese, pizza, and other goodies, washed down with a lovely and locally produced Lambrusco.
Next, we visited a home that produces traditional Balsamic di Modena. We never could have imagined how long the entire process takes to produce a small amount of DOP certified Traditional Balsamic di Modena (please don’t call it vinegar). Tasting the different grades of balsamic was a great educational experience.
The tour’s last stop was a Prosciutto di Modena factory, the aged ham specialty of the region. From start to finish, the tour took us through every aspect of curing and aging, and, of course, eating. The sweet ending was a delicious tasting of well-cured prosciutto.
As if the generous tastings along the way weren’t enough, the tour ended with a fabulous lunch at Ristorante Bonfiglioli In Ciano, and what Alessandro likes to call the food coma. Enjoying a parade of regional specialties with new friends over a relaxing meal was the perfect ending to this tour. Italian Days is the type of high energy, small group tour we most enjoy and recommend to other travellers, and this one was indeed an experience!
Food Valley Parma Food Tours
Eric Hoffman – Food And Drink Destinations
Food Valley organizes food tours and experiences across much of Italy, but their true speciality is in teaching travellers about the traditional Italian food products from Bologna, Modena, and Parma. They offer a series of food experiences ranging from pasta cooking classes to exploring food producers on E-bikes. Their Culatello and Giuseppe Verdi tour include some activities that are typical to many other Parma food tours but also helps travellers learn about one of the most unique cured meats from the Po River Valley, culatello.
They can arrange a visit to one of the most historic and famed culatello producers, Antica Corte Pallavicina to learn about the production of culatello, one of the most prized and rare Italian cured meats. Most of the tour focuses on culatello and other salumi and cured meat products, including several tastings along the way.
But, the tour also includes a bit of local history as well to learn about Giuseppe Verdi, the famous Italian composer. It’s an interesting look at Parma and the Po River Valley through both food and music. Food Valley offers loads of different tour options through Emilia Romagna, can offer customized experiences, and offers advice on where to stay in Emilia Romagna.
Amber Hoffman – Bologna Living
Yummy Italy is led by Helena, a woman passionate about food and wine experiences in Emilia Romagna. Helena is a sommelier, certified Italian cheese taster, and a certified balsamic vinegar taster, which means she knows her stuff when it comes to the food and wines of Emilia Romagna. Yummy Italy offers small group and customized food experiences in Bologna and Modena.
Her tours are made for people who want to dive deep into the famous Italian food products from the area. Helena also focuses on finding true artisan producers. She occasionally organises walking food tours in the Bologna city centre. But her expertise really lies in understanding her guests, their interests and needs, and planning a perfect day exploring the Bologna Hills.
Tours include artisan producers of meats and cheeses, specialised Pignoletto wine tastings, pasta cooking classes, truffle hunting, and more. In Modena, she is the only food experience provider who can offer a class on how to properly taste aged balsamic vinegar. She hosts the tasting in an acetaia, where they age balsamico and the tasting is held by candlelight.
Helena not only discusses the process for producing and aging balsamic but how to understand what the perfect balsamic should taste like in accordance with the rules set by the local consortium who regulates the end product. A truly unique experience.
Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium – Parma/Reggio Emilia
Hayley Lewis – A Lovely Planet
I absolutely love cheese. If I had to pick a favourite food, it would most definitely be cheese, so I was pretty excited to visit Parma and Reggio Emilia – the home of Parmigiano Reggiano. I’d been on a mission to explore the best foods in Emilia Romagna, and taking a tour of a Parmigiano Reggiano was easily one of the best things that I did in the region.
I visited Fattoria Scalabrini, located a short drive from Reggio Emilia, arriving bright and early to watch the cheese masters at work. The tour takes you through the entire cheese production process, from the milk arriving at the warehouse right through to the aged cheeses, ready to dispatch. Parmigiano Reggiano is one of Italy’s most famous cheeses, and it has been awarded the prestigious DOP status.
It can only be labelled Parmigiano Reggiano DOP if it has been produced within the provinces of Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia (and parts of Bologna and Mantova), under traditional production methods. This is strictly regulated by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium. My favourite part of the tour was the tasting session – which included Parmigiano Reggiano of different ages. All delicious!
Insider’s Tip: If you are looking to learn more about the food of Emilia Romagna, I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve had this book on my coffee table since I first visited Bologna in 2017. Written by Amber Hoffman who has also contributed to this article, it’s a great resource and one you’ll find yourself going back to over and over again.
Click on the image for more information
More food tours in Bologna and Emilia Romagna
Whilst we have showcased many of the best food tours in Italy above, there are so many to choose from. Depending on where you are staying, how much time your have, and your budget you will find a food experience that is right for you.
What is the best food tour in Italy? The one you go on!
The culinary highlights of Bologna and its surrounding region are the following:
- Parmigiano Reggiano
- Parma ham
- Modena Balsamic Vinegar
- Tortelloni and tortellini
- Squacquerone cheese
- Taglietelle al Ragu
A street food walking tour that includes gelato, pizza, coffe and bread
If you are like us, we try to stay away from huge group tours, especially when food is involved. We want personal attention so that we can ask all our questions, and really get to taste the food and involve ourselves in the experience. Guided by a local, this is one of the most popular private food tours in Bologna.
This is street food of a different kind. Unlike the streets of India or Asia, it’s a totally different vibe. Most of this tour will have you walking through the Quadrilatero, or old quarter, where food is celebrated. A local guide will show you all the best places to eat and give you a history lesson along the way.
FICO Eataly is an enormous complex on the outskirts of Bologna that is worth a visit. Take a tour and then spend time there on your own to shop and eat some more.
To check prices, availability and book online, click on the links found in the headings above.
More reading Emilia Romagna region
- Fodor’s Essential Italy 2020 (Full-color Travel Guide)
- Italy travel guide: essential tips for first-timers in Italy: How to travel Italy: Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Sicily and much more
- Emilia Romagna (Italian Edition)
More Italy reading
We have travelled extensively throughout Italy and have a great range of articles that may help with your travel planning in the Emilia Romagna region.
- Scooter rental Bologna: How to experience Bologna like a local
- Truffle hunting and truffle eating in Italy
- Cesenatico: Exploring one of the most popular seaside towns in Italy
- A great day trip from Bologna; Visit a Brisighella Agriturismo
- Off the beaten path Italy: Exploring the hills of the Romagna region in Emilia Romagna