10 Takeaways from My Italian Ag Adventure

by Kilah Hemesath, Latham Hi-Tech Seeds Marketing Coordinator

Growing up on an Iowa farm helping my family raise pork, we always celebrated October Pork Month. Little did I know, October is also Cheese Month! To celebrate the month of good eats, I found it fitting to share about my experience I when I traveled abroad to the country that takes tremendous pride in their cheese.


The beautiful Italian countryside

As a cheese lover, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a trip to Italy earlier this summer. The Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative hosted a group of Iowa State University (ISU) students on a study abroad trip to study food, farming and Italian culture. I found this to be the ideal time for a trip, as the trip dates fit perfectly between the end of graduation and before my job started at Latham Hi-Tech Seeds.

Pasta, cheese, wine and farming – what more could a person ask for? This was a trip to remember. I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in this beautiful country, enjoying eye-opening experiences every day.

In hopes of sharing a sweet taste of Italy, I’ve put together my top 10 takeaways for traveling abroad:

  1. Pack smart! On the first day, we spent more time in the sky than on the ground. It was only my second time of riding a plane, so that was an experience in itself! Biggest takeaway: Pack your 3-oz. liquids in a Ziploc bag inside your carry-on luggage. Also bring a book, neck pillow and light blanket.
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    We even had a time to snap a quick picture on Burano!

    Who needs roads when there are water canals? Just when I thought we’d never make it, we arrived in Venice. It was obvious we weren’t in Iowa anymore when we piled into a water taxi to get to our hotel. Instead of roads, they use canals. The buildings appeared to be taken out of a coloring book. Venice is a city that is chock full of unique history.

  3. Water ferries take longer than one would think. One afternoon my group decided to venture to Burano Island, which was known for lace making. Once we boarded the ferry, we were crunched for time. To make our 5 PM meeting, we could only spend 10 minutes on the island! That was 10 minutes to unload the ferry, see the island, buy lace, get a ticket and load the ferry to head back to Venice. Once we arrived in Venice, we had to run from one side of the island to the other to make the meeting. The kicker? The lace we bought ended up not being original to the island. Real or not, I can’t wait to wear the lace scarf proudly!
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    I was much more comfortable taking pictures instead of steering!

    Steering a Gondola is not my calling. Gondoliers should take pride in what they do. Similar to a very large canoe, these boats are steered by hand. Peacefully floating down the canals of Venice is not as easy as it looks!

  5. Meal time is an event. Americans tend to rush meal time while Italians make meal time an event. I found it interesting to see how much time, effort and pride was taken in each course of every meal. As a food lover myself, I enjoyed that meals were not rushed. I learned to appreciate my food and the preparation that went into making it.
  6. The Italian countryside is breathtaking. Although a picture can’t do justice, get your camera ready! We stayed at a winery nestled in the countryside in Cremona. At this stay, we were treated to a delicious, homemade five-course supper. This was my favorite part of the trip because we got to get away from the hustle of the city and appreciate Italy.
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    The aging cheese was piled high and piled far.

    Cheese, cheese & more cheese! We toured many cheese production facilities in different towns and all sharing certain similarities. Many times I felt we were sitting in a pool of whole milk when getting a tour! I had never toured a cheese factory so learning the process of cheese making from the Italians was very exciting. I always knew cheese is aged, but there’s some serious pride Italians have in the old age of their cheese.

  8. Family traditions run deep. We enjoyed a few days packed full of farm tours. After taking many Midwest farm tours, it was great to see and hear about their operations. We were fortunate enough to see a pear farm, wineries, a prosciutto factory and go on traditional balsamic vinegar tour and testing. Among all of these tours, I found the importance of traditions and love of family that is carried down from one generation to the next. I found that as a similarity to American agriculture, as farmers throughout the world take substantial pride in what they do.
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    My love for pasta followed me from Northeast Iowa to Northeast Italy

    Pasta holds a larger spot in my heart than I thought. The largest personal takeaway for the trip is all things pasta. My mom taught me how to make pasta when I was little, so it holds a special place in my heart. On this trip, we were lucky enough to learn how to make ravioli from Italian women! I also came away with a new favorite type of food, gnocci, which I think of as potato pasta. Gnocci may be purchased in the grocery store. It tastes great in pesto sauce, cheesy pasta or soup.

  10. There’s no place like home. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s no place like home. We spent 10 great days abroad and learning more than I could have ever imagined, but I was happy to return home to Iowa. Every place is unique and home to someone, and I find it important to know where that is.

If you’d like to get a taste of Italy in the comfort of your own home, I’m including a recipe for my favorite Italian dish. I found this recipe is from allreciepies.com. View the recipe below or click here.

Gnocchi with Chicken, Pesto & Fresh Mozzarella


  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into 1 ½ in. cubes
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 (8 oz) jar prepared pesto
  • 1 (12 oz) package potato gnocchi
  • 4 oz small fresh mozzarella balls


Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper; cook and stir in the hot oil until no longer pink in the middle, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove chicken to a bowl using a slotted spoon, retaining drippings in the pan.

Pour chicken broth into the saucepan. Bring broth to a boil while scraping the browned bits of food off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon; continue cooking until the broth reduces in volume by about half, 7 to 10 minutes. Return cooked chicken to the saucepan. Stir pesto through the chicken mixture; remove from heat.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook gnocchi at a boil until they float to the top, about 3 minutes. Remove gnocchi from the water to a large bowl using a slotted spoon, retaining water in the pot.

Place the saucepan with the chicken and pesto over the boiling water; cook and stir over the boiling water until warmed completely, about 5 minutes. Pour chicken and pesto mixture over the gnocchi; add mozzarella and stir until evenly mixed.