For everyone who thinks that the gastronomy of a place is essential to a good trip, here you have Milan Food Tours, who left us with a very happy tummy!
It was a rainy autumn morning in Milan and our first full day to explore the city. After having an amazing dinner where they served us bowls (yes, you read that correctly, BOWLS of wine), we had a feeling that the Milan Food Tour would be nothing less than amazing! The meeting point for the tour was a little bread and pastry shop on the via Solferino (not far from the metro). Our guide was waiting for us in a bright red jacket, rain boots and made sure to double check that we’d brought an umbrella. Luckily, we got to wait inside the shop until the rest of our tour group to arrive.
As we pushed open the glass door the warm smell of baked bread welcomed us and we were immediately wondering what we would taste first! The glass counter was filled with tiny little pastries and tarts, rows of focaccia style pizza and it all looked delicious. We had asked ahead when booking the tour and came hungry (but caffeinated.) I thought maybe we would be trying some Italian coffee, but the tour did offer us wine, cocktails and even a bit of local beer.
Soon everyone was assembled in the small shop and our guide, Mirella, started to tell us about the pastries we’d be eating. The first was a little croissant like pastry filled with vanilla cream. They had us at the first bite! It was everything you want in an Italian pastry (and I happen to be an expert taste tester of European pastries! Haha!) Of course, the eternal question in a pastry shop is whether to choose something chocolate or vanilla. Lucky for us, Mirella produced a tray of little chocolate pastries. They reminded us of a buñuelo in Spain- a little doughnut filled with chocolate cream and topped with more chocolate! The tour couldn’t have been off to a better start!
As we wound our way around the residential Brera district, Mirella informed us that this was a neighborhood that was off the beaten tourist path, and since mostly locals frequented the shops, the food was top notch and authentically Italian. “Is anyone vegetarian?” she asked before we popped into the next stop? We were about to try two different kinds of ham typical of Italy: aged Parma ham and culatello.
Now, living in Spain, we consider ourselves a bit of an authority on ham and cured meats. In Spain they feed pigs acorns just to give the ham the perfect rich flavor and melt in your mouth texture. In fact, at our wedding we had a man expertly slicing this delicacy. So when we saw the plate of cured meats, we were both wondering if it would stand up to our taste. I have to say we were both pleasantly surprised by the ham and culatello. The culatello almost tasted like salami to us, and we were pleased to find a cold beer to share with our fellow tour goers. It turned out that the couple across the table from us was from Pennsylvania! Small world!
Other highlights from the tour included an artisan gelato store where the Armani family gets their gelato. I couldn’t help but try the chocolate fondant flavor and it was so rich it reminded me of the pure dark chocolate from the Taza chocolate factory right outside Boston. I also tried the delicious pistachio and fig ice cream, which was a special flavor and definitely recommended! Pedro chose to try the lemon sorbet (the difference, Mirella explained, is that the sorbets are made only with fruit and water while the gelato is made with cream and egg.) Our favorite part is that the business had been in the family for several generations and the brother and sister team who ran the shop were happy to let us taste as many flavors as we liked! We were like kids in…well, an Italian ice cream shop!
Another favorite on our tour was a little shop that sold prepared foods. Pastificio Moscova was a gorgeous store that had the original counters and furniture from before WWII. The window was packed tightly with trays of homemade pasta and tortellini. Inside, taking refuge from the rain, Pedro’s eyes lit up. We would be trying two different kinds of meatballs. (I should probably mention that meatballs are one of Pedro’s favorite foods! His mother makes a very delicious recipe, too!) My favorite meatball was called mondeghili and it was a traditional recipe from Milan. Mirella also told us that people from the neighborhood could come and drop off their own baking dishes and the shop would give them back a home cooked dish to just heat up in the oven. So that’s lunch sorted!
Of course, we couldn’t be on a food tour in Italy without trying one of the famous aperitifs. Mirella explained that there were several different kinds of drinks we could try: first there was the non-alcoholic option (which, to be honest with you, we ignored). Then there were three alcoholic choices: Prosecco (the fizzy white wine similar to Cava), an Aperol Spritz or a drink called the Bicycle that was made with a bitter liquor called Campari. We asked which drink was the most typical in Milan: the Bicycle. So we ordered two.
Next came a surprise stop on the tour. Mirella led us to a little wine shop perched on a nearby corner called Enoteca Cotti. We tasted a regional red wine that was for everyday. According to Mirella, her father drinks the same wine each day at lunch. Nothing special, but the shop itself was more than enough to charm us. There were rows and rows of wine bottles stacked on the impossibly high shelves, stuck into the narrow aisles and even a bottle of Grappa that you could spritz into your mouth to try.
Our last stop brought us to the most typical of Italian foods: pizza. I asked Mirella if this was the kind of pizza she would personally eat and she assured me that it was. We climbed up onto very high stools and were brought a cheese pizza on a focaccia bread that was light and airy. As we enjoyed our pizza and chatted with the other tour goers, Mirella made sure to give us recommendations on where to go that afternoon. I have to say, we were so happy with her recommendation to go to the Fondazione Prada (a new contemporary art museum) and later to have dinner down by the canals and to check out the Mercato Metropolitano (a food market where you could buy all different kinds of Italian prepared foods).
Overall our experience on the Milan Food Tour was an extremely good one. We recommend the tour with 5 boquerones to anyone who considers food to be a major part of their Italian vacation. And after admitting about the bowls of wine at the beginning of this post, I think it’s safe to say that we count ourselves as members of the “foodie” group. A fantastic value and a delicious time. It really was the perfect way to get to know the gastronomy of Milan in a short time.