Food & Wine: Travel Coach

October 2000


L’arte di cucinare

Master planner: Chef Michele Topor, who has long given tours of Boston’s Italian North End, expanded her territory to Sicily a dozen years ago.

Services: Topor’s twice-a-year weeklong tour” A Taste of Sicily” explores the simple yet innovative cucina povera of ordinary Sicilians as well as the baroque cuisine of the aristocracy.

Highlights: Il Ristorantino, a Palermo restaurant in the “new Sicilian” cooking style.  The animated owner, Pippo Anastasio, is a well-known cooking lecturer (011-39-091-512861).  La Pasticceria Grammatico Maria in Erice.  Maria Grammatico, whose life story is told in the fascinating book Bitter Almonds (cowritten with Mary Taylor Simeti), sometimes gives marzipan-making demonstrations (011-39-092-3869390).  Donna Fugata Aziende Vinicole, a superb winery in Marsala (011-39-092-3999555).

Privileged Access:  Groups watch a shepherd make sheep’s milk ricotta cheese, breakfast on a bowl of it (sprinkled with olives), then taste other cheeses in various stages of aging.  A long lunch with the extended family that owns the estate.  A similar up-close experience is offered at a frantolio (olive oil producer), culminating in lunch with the owner and his family and the pressing of just-picked olives and the bottling of the oil.  At another stop, AnnaMaria Domenici, a caterer and teacher, explains the Palermitana methods of cooking fish and making cassata, the renowned Sicilian sponge cake filled with ricotta and chocolate.

Details: $2,749 for one week; 617-523-6032;