I met my group of fellow foodies today. We’ll be sharing classes, meals, sightseeing and hopefully lots of laughs together. They are a diverse, interesting group, ranging from yet another honeymoon couple to seasoned cooks, a marriage and family therapist, a journalist and a photographer with a show in Florence. I really like the mix of age and life experience in this group. Here are 15 people who might never have met each other and I find it fascinating that the passionate love for food and travel have brought us here with a common goal—fall in love with Italy while becoming better cooks. This shared passion seems to be enough to get the ball rolling. Everyone is social and chatty. I have a good feeling about the week ahead.

Our first dinner together was in a small, popular restaurant called Ristorante 13 Gobbi. Our group took over much of the main dining room and small plates filled our tables shortly after we were seated with a wide array or brushchetta, topped with everything from creamy artichokes, mushroom pâté and traditional chopped tomatoes that taste nothing like my tomatoes back home. I cannot get enough of Italian tomatoes. They are so delicious here.

As I nibble on my bruschetta, I smell the deep pungent aroma of aged cheese. I look across the room to see a handsome Italian man. Redundant, I know. Aren’t all Italian men handsome? He’s stationed in front of a giant wheel of pecorino cheese, tossing a tumble of fresh, hot noodles from a sauté pan directly into the wheel of cheese. The hot noodles send off another burst of cheesy aroma that now captures everyone’s attention. The site of these noodles twirled in the cheese captivates us all. It’s kind of hypnotic; All I can think of is tasting that pasta.

I feel like an anxious child dying to open a present set in front of her. I cannot wait to try this dish. My cacio e pepe is finished with a generous grind of fresh black pepper and I dig in, trying to eat slowly to savor every perfectly coated noodle.

Pollo alla cacciatora, Chianina beef and platters of vegetables follow this stunning first course, but really, I would have been happy just eating bowl after bowl of the cacio e pepe all night long.