My Culinary Quest in Italy
I had one goal in mind when I boarded the plane to Bologna after a year of longing: to eat as much, as varied, and as local as I could in a week. Italy has many other attractions, of course: magnificent churches and monuments, breathtaking landscapes and beaches, and friendly people who I’m lucky to call friends. But none of that could compare to my passion for Italian food.
Especially the food of Emilia-Romagna, my favorite region to feast on. The name alone makes my mouth water. Most of my Italian friends agree that this is the ultimate food destination in Italy (they also happen to be from Emilia-Romagna, but that’s irrelevant).
Emilia-Romagna is where I learned to appreciate the significance of food. It was there that I saw how food shapes culture, family, and society. It was there that I experienced a memorable 5-hour lunch with a couple in the quaint town of Vignola, where everything on the table came from their garden or their neighbor’s dairy and wine cellar.
Since then, food has become the main topic of my conversations.
“Oh, you’ve been to Chiang Mai? Did you try khao soi?”
“Have you been to Vietnam? The food there is heavenly!”
Or when people ask me what I miss from home, Mexican food always makes the list.
A Gastronomic Adventure in Emilia-Romagna
I happened to be in Bologna during the Mortadella festival. Yes, a festival dedicated to the finely minced, heat-cured pork with cubes of fat. I tasted mortadella in every possible form, even as a dessert (the first two courses were great but I’m sorry, mortadella, you don’t belong in a sweet dish).
I also learned how to make delicious bologna, parmesan, and potato pasta for the second time there, with lots of people watching, and did much better than my first failed attempt. A special thanks to the photographer who kept cheering me on for the much-needed moral support.
Simon, who was with me in the pasta-making session, recorded the recipe if you want to give it a try at home.
Parmesan: The King of Cheeses
I don’t usually like cheese, but parmesan is an exception. I can’t get enough of it.
The savory, crumbly texture of this cheese makes up for the common cheese flaws of creaminess, gooeyness, and blandness.
It’s amazing how much work goes into making parmesan cheese, from squeezing out the moisture, to resting, to salting, to steaming, to aging, and finally to cutting and selling. (Sidenote: Did you know that the round center piece, which is rarely sold, is the best part? It’s the “heart” of the cheese).
I discovered that the white spots on the cheese are actually salt crystals, which is reassuring because I always wondered and hoped they weren’t mold. I also sampled cheeses of various ages and decided that 24 months is my favorite (there are also 12 and 36 months, etc.).
The best part is that anyone can book this hour of exploration and taste at the 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia factory in Modena for €5 – and if no one else books that day, you get a private tour. Pretty awesome!
Another great reason to visit this region of Italy is the fine wine. There are so many types and blends – I feel like I’m always discovering and enjoying something new.
This was my third time visiting a Lambrusco (sparkling red wine) producer and each time they have been quite different, in scale, method and vibe.
I was surprised, for some reason, to learn that Lambrusco bubbles are created from the yeast in wine consuming sugars and releasing CO2 as a waste product, just like with the beer I was making at the House. I had no idea that the two were produced the same way. With this knowledge, cheers!
There are so many things in this world that balsamic vinegar can enhance – salad, bread, meat, strawberries, etc.
Before I knew better, I thought that the only way to get a nice thick balsamic was to boil it down in a pot. Little did I know that aged balsamic is much thicker and has a truly unique taste at each stage of the aging process, which can last up to 25+ years. This was my second time visiting a balsamic producer, but like Lambrusco producers, both had their own style.
The best part of the Acetaia Paltrinieri tour is that it can end with a feast offering dish after dish of balsamic-infused goodness.
It’s also very affordable at €25 per person for wine and several courses, including dessert. Contact them to book. I will take my mother here.
It’s also possible to visit a prosciutto producer if you want, which we did, but I didn’t take many photos of it as I assume you might not be keen on seeing a bunch of meat hanging on the wall. However, for those of you who feel deprived by the lack of a pork leg image, here is some pork fat and bread.
Yes, I ate it and yes, it is amazing and even better than butter.
To wrap up, I feel like I have also discovered the two best ice cream places in Bologna. I’m open to discussion on this, but I think it’s between Castiglione and Cremeria Funivia (both links lead to their respective locations on Google Maps). Try them both and please share your findings.
Thank you, Emilia-Romagna, for reminding me why I always return.
Do it yourself:
- Trains depart all day from Bologna Central Station to Modena. If you take the train in Italy REMEMBER to validate your ticket. Look for something near the stairs to stamp the ticket. Very important
- Buses run through Modena but a car is a better option as there are no sidewalks in the countryside. You can rent a car or, if you’re sampling Lambrusco, gather a group and get a driver. Twice I had Fabio at SACA and he is hilarious. Daily prices are around €200 but consider most factory tours and tastings cheap or free
- Ask the Modena tourist office if you want information on other/more producers
- Wear something your belly can easily expand in
Now I want to know, where is your favorite foodie destination in the world?
*This message is brought to you through a partnership with Tourism Emilia Romagna who first introduced me to ER a year ago. I came back and was happy to spend the day exploring with them again. All opinions are the result of hearty and delicious food and wine.