Taste the World: Europe Spain, Italy and
Ireland among stops for epicureans who
want to absorb local foods, culture

© The Huntsville Times
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
By Deborah Bennick

Getting beyond the typical tourist path is also a feature of Cooking Vacations, which offers a variety of quests into Italy arranged by Lauren Scuncio Birmingham. Guests taking the three- to seven-night cooking courses may find their instructors are nonnas (grandmothers), self-taught cooks or Michelin-trained chefs.

“People just love” the courses, Birmingham said from Boston. “Once they go on one, they want to be put on a mailing list so they learn about future trips.”

Guests stay in farmhouses, villas and castles near Naples in the south, throughout Tuscany in the north or on the island of Sicily. Organic gardens and groves at each site provide many of the ingredients used in the native dishes, which typically use in-season produce.

Cooking techniques and historical notes are doled out for pizza, pastas, desserts and other dishes. Courses also may include jarring olives, cooking with flowers and baking bread.

As part of their package, guests peruse outdoor marketplaces, the local butcher shop, the cheese shop, the bakery, the wine merchant and the port where fishermen deliver their catch. There are excursions to vineyards, where guests can sample the vintages, to an olive oil maker and to a ceramic maker, where guests might make their own pottery. During free time, travelers can use a spa or explore nearby villages on their own.

Birmingham, who runs Birmingham Associates Communications/ Public Relations Agency in Boston, has traveled often to her family’s homeland. Her desire to share her knowledge of Italy and food and wine inspired her to pursue the culinary travel venture.

“I just started this as a passion, really,” Birmingham said of her 1 1/2-year-old business. Recipes from her great-grandmother Lucia Scuncio are passed down in the classes, which are limited to six to 12 people.

The package prices for the trips to Italy include lodging, meals, excursions and tips. www.cooking-vacations.com

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