It’s been called an Italian food theme park, a mall with a glorified food court, a food snob’s nirvana.
FICO-Fabbrica Italiana Contadina-Italian Farming Factory launched fall 2017 outside of Bologna, Italy to many a pundit. Under the Eataly food hall organization with national & international outlets, FICO-Eataly World, a 25-acre agri-food park is their largest installment.
Curious, we went to FICO to see & taste, firsthand. The objective is to educate people on the history of Italian food traditions and Italy’s ever important contribution to the world’s culinary biodiversity. Like its smaller counterparts, discovery, interactive learning is a focus with extensive signage & displays.
The space is vast; 45 restaurants, food stands & pop up markets, 6 multimedia pavilions and 30 daily classes on Italian food history & production. Including artisan ice cream & sorbet, dry & fresh pasta, breads & specialty Sicilian desserts, honey & bee keeping. Also courses on aged & fresh cheeses, olive oil, beer & wine. The outdoor periphery is an open-air museum with artifacts and educational displays, vegetable & herb gardens, a vineyard, a mini olive grove, a barn with farm animals, even a truffle patch.
There are themed open kitchen restaurants, carefully curated pop up shops are interspersed throughout with fresh, packaged food, produce, wine & liquor, books, kitchen equipment & gadgets, stationery, personal care and home goods. As inviting, open sell environments, they are merchandised with plenty of signage to encourage “discovery” i.e. buy.
We took a few “exploration” classes, the instructors were enthusiastic about sharing history and production methods. For the novice visitor they are an interesting, interactive & fun.
FICO Eataly is a far cry from the traditional, neighborhood bottega selling 1 category, just bread, only fruit & vegetables. It can be overwhelming; a large lay out (bikes are free for those who don’t want to walk) and a plethora of different foods to eat, drink, sample and purchase.
Overall it was a positive experience, friendly, helpful staff, tasty food in an attractive environment. Students young & mature, new to Italy’s abundant agriculture, rich food traditions and culture will benefit from a full food immersion with an educational twist.