Just back from: Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Tell us more… With photographer Laura Edwards, I set off on a six-day road trip along the Via Emilia, an ancient Roman road that in its modern-day incarnation (the rather less sexily named SS9) stills links the great culinary towns of Modena, Parma and Bologna.
In a nutshell… It’s often overshadowed by neighbouring Tuscany but Emilia-Romagna is where much of Italy’s best food is made. From Parma ham to Parmesan and balsamic vinegar, this is a region where artisanal food traditions run deep.
Defining moment? Stepping into the ageing room at Fattoria Marchesini (fattoriamarchesini.it), where racks upon racks of Parmesan wheels are left to mature, and noticing the CCTV camera. Theses cheeses are so valuable that in Emilia-Romagna many banks will take them as deposits and have vaults specially converted to store them.
Bizarre encounter? Everyone knows about Parma ham but there’s another cured meat in the region that’s even more highly prized: culatello, which sells for as much as €130 a kilo. I was really surprised to learn that it’s made by allowing a special mould to grow on the outside, a bit like some cheeses. I went to see one of the cellars where they are left to ripen. Boxing-glove-sized hunks of meat hung from metal chains and walking among them felt like passing through some medieval gauntlet.
Fav activity? We were fortunate enough to visit during truffle season. With a guide from Food In Tour (foodintour.com), we went hunting for them in the woods around Sant’Agata Feltria, a quintessential Italian village with a medieval castle. It was misty and atmospheric from the rain a few hours earlier. With our secret weapon – a six-year-old spaniel named Chicco – we soon found some good specimens. As they were pulled from the earth their fragrance was overwhelming.
Quintessential experience? Making tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce… in Bologna. Through an organisation called Le Cesarine (cesarine.it) we booked onto a class run by a local woman in her own home. Like many people in the city, her kitchen table has a built-in pasta board for rolling the dough. We also made tortellini stuffed with ricotta and sage. The pasta was such a brilliant yellow colour from the fresh eggs we used and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Any souvenirs? I made sure to arrive with a half-empty suitcase and left with it stuffed with a larder’s worth of goodies, including extra-virgin olive oil from Brisighella (where the gypsum-rich soil keeps the olive trees warm in winter, allowing them to grow so far north), 25-year-aged traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena and a chunk of parmesan that was as almost as big as my head (I’m still working through this block months later).
Gabrielle travelled to Emilia-Romagna with support from the tourism board (emiliaromagnaturismo.it). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.
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