If you find your groove in Italian cooking, there’s no better place to perfect it than in Parma, on the banks of the Po. Here, you’ll have no trouble finding culatello that melts in your mouth, 25-year-old balsamic vinegar suitable for a dowry (a flashback to the Risorgimento), prosciutto that perfumes the air (it dries on the outskirts of town), and Parmigiano-Reggiano that’s often aged up to 24 months. Academia Barilla, run by Italy’s most popular pasta manufacturer, offers customized courses at its Renzo Piano-designed campus, made up of sunny, streamlined kitchens with as many as 16 stations, a wood-burning oven, and a first-rate gastronomic library. It’s up to you to create your own course of study, from abbacchio to zabaglione. “There are no limits,” says Barilla’s Nicole Pollastri, “as long as it’s Italian.” I decided to concentrate on zuppe e verdure, brimming with legumes and vegetables. Two days later, I created a crema di carciofi, the velvety soup made with porcini mushrooms and the hearts of those regal purple-tipped artichokes. We cooked all day; in retrospect, I should have allowed time for sightseeing. (866-772-2233; academiabarilla.com; $585 per day, including lunch)
What I Learned
I picked up some over-the-top flourishes, like a “recipe” for a parmesan wafer: Spread grated cheese on wax paper, microwave for 20 to 30 seconds (let cool for a few more), then drape around the bottom of a glass to form a cup.
How easy it was to customize a class—via email—based on what I actually liked.
Before You Go
Two full days of classes is lots of work. You might consider a lighter load.
Where to Stay
Sofitel Grand Hotel de la Ville (800-763-4835; sofitel.com; from $230) is just across the courtyard.
Web-exclusive Cream of Artichoke Soup