Small-Group Tours of Italy with Authentic Food
With the abundance of Italy tours, it can be difficult to scout where food plays a central role and where to eat the best pasta.
For the real Italian experience, our small group tours to selected regions of Italy feature exclusive culinary experiences. From mom-and-pop trattorias to fine-dining restaurants with a view, lunch in private Castles, and top-level wineries, our tours are filled with some of the best Italian food and type of pasta that is specific to the region we visit.
When joining any Italy tour, sampling the local cuisine is a must. However, the limited budget of many operators and the large size of most groups are often the cause behind mediocre and stereotyped food that locals would never eat.
The Real Italian Food on Meet Piemonte’s Italy Tours
When it comes to food, at Meet Piemonte we aim to stay hyper-local and shine a light on our most traditional cuisine. We love to take our guests by hand and let them try some of their Italian favorites. Sometimes, we suggest dishes that may not correspond to their definition of “Italian food”.
Italian food does not exist but it is all about regional food. Each unique and distinguished recipes and ingredients brought over by a variety of people and cultures throughout the centuries.
From classics to inventive takes, the deep diversity of Italy’s regional cuisine has no end. Italian pasta dishes are also a regional affair and are sure to delight even the pickiest of eaters.
Where to find the Best Pasta in Italy
Pasta is the quintessential food of Italy but it is hard to tell if there is a region that holds the roots of this simple food.
It comes in many different shapes and textures and like any other kind of recipe, there is no one Italian pasta but much regional pasta.
Although Tajarin egg noodles are popular in Piedmont (see below), it’s unique to that region. Other parts of Italy have their special type of pasta with a character that reflects the culture of its people.
Some examples are Tagliatelle of Bologna’s region, Sardinian Malloreddus, Trofie with pesto sauce from the Italian Riviera, the rustic Scialatielli of the Campania region, made mainly of semolina flour, a bit of milk and only one egg, perfect with seafood and tomato sauce.
Tuscan Pici, made with olive oil, stands out for its elastic texture that grabs the wild boar meat sauce typical of the area around Siena and is normally served on our Grand Tour of Tuscany.
For those looking for lighter options, try dishes made with zucchini noodles or baked ziti made with ricotta cheese. For a heartier meal, opt for dishes featuring beef ragù or truffle carbonara.
All of Italy’s tours feature classic selections like spaghetti and penne but where to eat the best pasta should depend on the area visited. Italian tours arranged by Meet Piemonte focus on more unique types of pasta like strozzapreti, lagane from Calabria and Basilicata, pasta with olives or dried tomatoes in it, and much else.
No matter your preference, there’s some type of pasta dish that you’ll love!
Italy Tours: The history of Pasta
Something similar to pasta was eaten in ancient Italy but disappeared with the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. The Arabic domination in Southern Italy brought it back, made with hard wheat and water, rolled out and cut into thin strips, and dried in the sun.
Dried pasta soon turned out to be the ideal food for being stored, especially for long trips because of its almost-nonperishable and nutritious qualities.
Moreover, it has always been one of the cheapest foods to be produced considering the abundance of wheat in Southern Italy. Sicily, in particular, was called by the Romans the barn of the Empire and soon the wheat started to be exported all over the coast of the Mediterranean.
During the Middle Ages, merchants from Genoa traded it in northern Italy where soon it became a delicacy for the palates of the rich.
For the following centuries, throughout the late 1800s, pasta was consumed, as bread, by the highest circles of society. White flour, in particular, was expensive and so were bread and pasta made from it. Nonetheless, the art of pasta making was laborious and time-consuming and in the homes of farmers was considered the food of special occasions.
Adding eggs to the pasta and the origin of tagliatelle
It is unknown when and why someone in northern Italy decided to add eggs to the dough already known in Sicily.
That new ingredient elevated the unique flavor and helped to roll it in thin sheets typical of the pasta made in Piedmont and Emilia where it stands out among all Italian culinary creations.
In those regions of northern Italy, it became common to call the sheet of pasta cut in strings “tagliatelle”, from the word “tagliare” – to cut. In Piedmont, the local dialect called it “tajarin”, pronounced “ta-eea-reen”.
Cookers of aristocrats noticed that the more elastic dough obtained by adding eggs to the pasta, allowed them to either fill it with a stuffing without breaking it. It could also be rolled much thinner making shapes otherwise not doable with regular pasta. The sheet of pasta has to be that thin to allow the light to go through. In Bologna, they say that by holding the sheet of pasta toward the sky, you should be able to see St. Luc appearing behind, referring to the shrine of the local saint, located on the hill behind the city.
Piedmont’s Tajarin, one of the best pasta in Italy
Tajarin is a type of egg noodle popular in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. It’s known for its richness and paper-thin texture, thanks to the generous number of egg yolks in each batch.
With its delicate yellow color and unique mouthfeel, tajarin is traditionally served as a course on its own with additional truffles and parmesan, the strained juice of overcooked braised beef, a classic bolognese meat sauce, or simply with melted butter and sage.
Tajarin is sure to be an unforgettable Italian meal.
Where to eat the best tajarin pasta in Alba
In our Lake Como, Piedmont & Portofino Tour tajarin are served in one of the best trattorias of the Langhe hills, around the town of Alba, and compete with the other famous pasta course of the region, the small ravioli pinched by hand, known as “plin”, stuffed with three different types of roasted meats.
The same tour, limited to 12 guests only, also features a cooking class where guests can learn how to make this pasta from scratch.
In our food tour in Alba, our guests can eat tajarin in a restaurant in the town center where such pasta is still made by hand and cut by a knife.
This pasta can easily be found in most food stores of southern Piedmont and all restaurants of the region but locals know where the best ones are.
Italy Tours: how to make tajarin pasta in Piedmont
Making traditional tajarin requires between 30 to 40 egg yolks per kilo of flour, depending on their size. Only egg yolks, white flour, and a pinch of salt, no other ingredients.
Anyone who has experience making pasta can easily understand how hard the dough becomes with so many egg yolks. It requires strength in the arms to mix it and even more so to make it thin with a rolling pin, as grandma used to do.
If the mixing and the rolling can be made, nowadays, with the help of machines, cutting the thin sheet of pasta in strings similar to angel hair, roughly 2 to 3 millimeters wide, should still be done by hand, with a large knife.
Whether the cutting has been done by hand or not it is easy to tell: tajarin by the knife is not perfect, some slightly larger than others, and seeing that on your plate, brings you back to those childhood days when Italian families used to make pasta before an important occasion.
Piedmont Tours: tajarin pasta with white truffle of Alba
Tajarin can be eaten right after they are made or after a few days, letting them dry on the table, often arranged in sorts of small nests. In both cases, this kind of pasta, being so thin, will only need a minute or two in boiling water and even if a distracted cook forgets them, they will stay al dente, because of the high content of eggs which gives a unique texture.
A truly special Italian experience can be arranged on a tour of Piedmont, in the fall when the white truffle of Alba is in season. Boiled tajarin with melted butter and a generous shave of truffle is an unforgettable culinary delight unmatched anywhere else in the world.
As truffles love fatty ingredients that elevate their aroma, the yolk of the pasta, as well as the melted butter are the perfect pairing.
The tomato sauce on Italian pasta
One of the stereotypes of Italian food is that there should be a lot of tomato sauce, especially when it comes to pasta. The unprepared tourists who ask where to eat the best pasta in Italy tours, may be sometimes disappointed.
When in the Langhe hills for a Piedmont tour the bowl of yellow-ish tajarin mixed with the brown sugo d’arrosto (as we call the roasted meat juice), may seem quite plain compared to a classic bolognese sauce. Somehow, the look of this plate reflects the soul of Piedmontese people. They are known to be low profile, sometimes accused of being cold. But just like the pasta, when one eats the tajarin discovers an explosion of flavors and leaves the table extremely satisfied.
Where to find the most unique pasta in our Italy Tours
Rome stands out for the amatriciana sauce that combines local guanciale (much better than bacon), and the best tomato sauce. Said that, there are many other Italian regions where pasta is served without the iconic red sauce.
On the Italian riviera, known as the Liguria region, the green pesto sauce, is made with a local variety of basil with surprisingly small leaves. In addition, pine nuts, a mix of Parmesan and Pecorino cheese, and good extra virgin olive oil.
Puglia, is home of a pasta shaped like an ear lobe – orecchiette. Boiled in the same water with cime di rapa (a variety of broccoli) and is then sauté in a pan with garlic and anchovies.
In Sicily, pasta con le sarde brings the memory of the Arabic domination. The combination of sweet dried raisin, sardines, wild fennel, bread crumble, and, sometimes, a hint of tomato sauce gives origin to a unique flavor.
From north to south, wherever near a mountain range, a classic porcini mushroom sauce can be served as well as squash or other vegetables.
Lastly, our Naples, Positano & The Amalfi Coast Tour features pasta with clams, traditionally made just with parsley, garlic, and olive oil.