One of my favorite things to do when I’m abroad is to experience culture through food. This usually means researching online to find the most popular restaurants in the city, along with asking locals for the best places to dine off the beaten path. When I recently visited Italy, a friend suggested we check out a day long cooking class. My love for cooking coupled with the fact that we were in a country known for it’s divine food, made this offer one I couldn’t resist.

On the day of our class, three friends and I were picked up by our host chef, Monica, and whisked off to the Roman countryside. During our ride we saw sites both within and outside of Rome that we would have never ventured off to as regular tourists. Monica gave us history lessons as we rode through the winding hills and along our detour to a small village called Calcata. This medieval hill town-turned-commune overlooks Treja valley and is made of “caves” turned into homes, artisenal shops, and restaurants. This breathtaking stop was beyond what I imagined. And we hadn’t even started cooking yet.

After our detour, we finally reached our destination, Mazzano Romano, a small commune an hour outside of Rome. There we made several stops to prepare for our meal. We went to the local butcher shop to select our meats, a produce stand for our fruits and vegetables and then a small market to get our cheese and the rest of our staple items. We even stopped by a front yard to pick fresh rosemary.

After all of our shopping we walked up to beautiful and rustic home with views of the valley and waterfalls. For the next 4 hours we embarked on an amazing culinary journey. We made: bruschetta, stuffed tomatoes, balsamic rosemary chicken, short ribs, puttanesca sauce, egg pasta, zucchini and ricotta stuffed ravioli and tiramisu. Spending those hours in the kitchen getting our hands dirty, laughing, learning food origins and drinking great wine was one of the highlights and best meals of my trip.

Visiting Italy and participating in this culinary day made me realize that I needed to incorporate this element into more of my international and local travels. Having the chance to spend the day with an Italian native, visit communities off the beaten path and learn about culture while cooking, was one of the best experiences I’ve had. If you’re ever in Rome check out Fabiolous Cooking Day.