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Students expand their hospitality horizons in Italy

During a 16-day experience in Italy, 10 Pennsylvania College of Technology students studied the country’s cuisine and hospitality culture through classes with world-class chefs and visits to the farms and factories where well-loved ingredients are produced.

“Some countries, like Italy, are built on traditions and culture rather than the changing trends: If something’s not broken, don’t fix it,” said Hannah C. Regester as she reflected on her learning experience. Regester, of Bedford, completed a certificate in professional baking in August.  “While I am trying to keep up with the constant trends of the culinary and pastry worlds, coming back to the traditions, for a change, can be really eye-opening.”

Pennsylvania College of Technology students in a Global Food & Hospitality class visit 4 Madonne Caseificio Dell’Emilia, a producer of Parmigiano-Reggiano, in Italy’s Parma region. (Photo by Lauren A. Rhodes)
Pennsylvania College of Technology students in a Global Food & Hospitality class visit 4 Madonne Caseificio Dell’Emilia, a producer of Parmigiano-Reggiano, in Italy’s Parma region. (Photo by Lauren A. Rhodes)

The Italy travelers were enrolled in a three-credit Penn College course called Global Food & Hospitality: Cuisine, Culture & Perspectives. The course was taught by Chef Mary G. Trometter, assistant professor of hospitality management/culinary arts. Lauren A. Rhodes, associate professor of mathematics, joined the group as a chaperone.

The students explored the traditions of several distinct regions – Nettuno, Ferrara, Asti and Parma – where they studied and worked with key ingredients that make Italian cuisine world-known. They received lecture and hands-on instruction from culinary and hospitality professionals, including chefs, vintners, farmers, and producers of cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cured meats.

The group first stopped in Nettuno, where they visited a market and Cantina Bacco vineyard, attended cooking classes, and traveled to Rome, where they toured a hotel.

In Ferrara, they again attended a cooking class – a favorite for many students, including Madison Y. Cooper, of Harrisburg, who earned two degrees in 2022: an associate in culinary arts technology and a bachelor’s in applied management. She described making filled pastas that are special to the region – like tortellini and cappelletti – from scratch.

“Something I found cool that I didn’t realize until I got to Italy is that every region has its own version of lasagna,” she said. The students ate lasagna in each of the regions they visited, and made it in two. “They have the same components, but they can be layered differently in each region.”

From Ferrara, they traveled to Venice, where they visited a hotel, and to Prosecco, where they visited a wine producer.

In Asti, the group visited the producer of La Tradizione aged balsamic vinegar, as well as a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese producer. They again attended a cooking class and toured several wineries, plus an agritourism farm and restaurant.

“The farm was, overall, something that I’ve never seen before,” Regester recalled. “They’re around in the U.S., but … they don’t compare to this. Most farms in the U.S. can’t afford to create their own electricity like Cavallero farm did. The time it took to make the process, figure it out while still taking good care of the products they make for the restaurant is a feat in itself. Being able to see the cows that produce the milk, chickens that lay the eggs, the surrounding countryside reminded me of home. The restaurant itself gave me this homey feel of sitting down at the table and eating dinner together with family. It made me realize just how slightly homesick I was.”

While in the Asti region, the students spent a day in Turin, site of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, where they attended a baking and pastry demonstration and visited the famous 1800’ Coffees and Gianduia Chocolate. The chocolate – a blend of chocolate with 30% hazelnut paste – was invented in Turin during Napoleon’s regency, when chocolatiers extended their short supply by adding hazelnuts that were grown locally.

In Parma, they visited a prosciutto di Parma ham producer and took a cooking class in Academia Barilla.

“The Italy trip has definitely helped my creativity,” said Cooper, now a station chef at 1700 Degrees Steakhouse in Harrisburg, where she is able to use the knowledge she gained in Italy about ingredients and flavors that go together. “I have a lot of great memories, professional and personal, that I will always keep.”

“This has been a bucket list item of mine for years, but I never thought it would be possible in college,” fellow traveler Regester said. “Not only has it opened my eyes to future traveling adventures in the works, but it has helped me improve flavor exploration and understand the importance of simplicity.”

Penn College will again offer the Global Food & Hospitality: Cuisine, Culture & Perspectives course – with a global learning experience – in Spring 2024.

“If you have an opportunity, you should definitely do it,” Cooper advised, noting that the college’s culinary arts program has provided her many unique, hands-on experiences. “Experiences like Italy and the Kentucky Derby (where she traveled, with other Penn College students, in 2021 and 2022 to complete a one-week internship) help you grow as a culinarian and also as a person, so I think you should take them.”

For more information about international opportunities, visit the college’s Global Experiences page.

To learn more about baking, pastry and culinary arts majors at Penn College, call 570-327-4505.

For information about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

– Photos courtesy of Chef Mary G. Trometter, assistant professor of hospitality management/culinary arts,
and Lauren A. Rhodes, associate professor of mathematics


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Prior to setting off on their wide-ranging campus tour, the visitors pause for a group photo with Penn College’s president on the third floor of the Davie Jane Gilmour Center. From left: Brennan, Reed, Ryoo, Gasbarre and Lashinsky.
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