The region of Emila-Romagna, located right above Tuscany, is one of my favorite regions in Italy because of their hearty comforting foods and some of the greatest products in the world are produced here.
First off, the city of Parma and surrounding area is known for two outstanding products: prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. I had visited a prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano factory in Parma a few years ago to see how the production processes were done.
Prosciutto di Parma, a dry-cured ham, is one of my absolute favorite things to eat. The production starts off by cleaning the ham and then salting it to sit for two months. During this time it’s slowly and carefully pressed to avoid breaking the ham bone and to drain any remaining blood from the meat. After this pressing procedure, the meat is rinsed repeatedly to remove the salt and hung in a shady well-ventilated setting to dry. The environment where the ham dries is extremely important to its final quality; the best hams are made in cool climates. The ham is left to dry, the time depends on the climate and size of the ham. Once the ham is completely dried it’s hung at room temperature in an airy area for as long as 18 months. Prosciutto is usually served raw, crudo, and thinly sliced. High quality prosciutto di Parma is sweet with slight nuances of saltiness and nuttiness that melts in your mouth with the perfect ratio of fat to meat.
Now I can’t talk about Emilia-Romagna and not mention, Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of all cheeses! The name is trademarked and gives legal control to Italy to regulate its production and sales. This means that in the European Union this cheese is a protected designation of origin (PDO) which refers to the exclusive manufacturing right of Parmigiano Reggiano PDO cheese in a limited area of northern Italy. It is made from raw cow’s milk and traditionally these cows must be fed with either grass or hay. Whole milk from the morning milking is mixed with the natural skimmed milk from the previous night’s milking. The milk is then pumped into copper-lined vats to which natural whey starter is added; whey is the liquid that is left over after milk has been curdled. Then the whole milk/skim milk/whey mixture is heated to a temperature of 33-35°C at which point calf rennet is added. The rennet coagulates the milk mixture and to form curds which are then broken up into small pieces. The temperature is then raised to 55°C and the curds are left to settle for 45-60 minutes. The compacted curd mixture is then placed in a fine woven type of fabric, divided, and placed into molds. The cheese is then placed into a stainless steel round form to retain its shape and placed into a brine bath solution where it absorbs salt for 20-25 days. Following the brining process, the wheels of cheese are transferred to shelves to age for 12 months. At 12 months a Consorzio inspects the cheese which is then tested by a master grader to assess if the wheel of cheese meets the strict quality requirements to be labeled Parmigiano Reggiano. The average wheel of cheese is around 18-24 centimeters high, 40-45 centimeters in diameter, and weighs around 84 pounds (34 kilograms)!
Parmigiano Reggiano is a staple cheese used throughout Italy. The cheese has a sharp, complex, and fruity/nutty taste with a gritty texture and is grated over pasta, mixed into fillings for stuffed pasta filling, stirred into soups and risotto, and even eaten in chunks with aged balsamic vinegar.
Some of my other favorite products produced within this region are Mortadella di Bologna (cooked salumi with pistachios) and Culatello di Zibello (another amazing cured pork meat product).
Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region is known for some of the country’s best culinary traditions. Italians call Bologna “La Grassa”, the fat one, because of their rich hearty foods including famous dishes such as tagliatelle al ragù bolognese, lasagna verde alla bolognese, and tortellini in broth or cream. I had first visited Bologna back in 2013 for an overnight trip when it was rainy and dreary.
However, I just happened to visit Bologna again today! It takes about 35 minutes by the fast train to reach the city from Florence. It was quite chilly outside but at least the sun was out, making it a relaxing and pleasant afternoon to enjoy a late lunch at Ristorante Al Sangiovese.
Without a doubt, the pasta dishes were the highlights of the meal. The tortellini were perfectly al dente and packed with meaty savory flavor served with a rich creamy sauce. The lasagna verde alla bolognese was the epitome of true Italian comfort food. Layers of delicate spinach pasta with hearty meat sauce was absolutely satisfying. Overall, I’d rate my experience at a 7/10 because the pasta dishes were delightful and the owner was extremely gracious.
Lastly, the city of Modena is famous for aceto balsamico tradizionale, traditional balsamic vinegar pdo. What makes this vinegar special? Well, it’s produced only from Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes cultivated within the province of Modena. Then these grapes are pressed and cooked into a grape must until it concentrates to 50%. This must is then put into small wooden barrels and aged for at least 12 years. The longer it ages, the thicker it becomes and intensifies in flavors and aromas. It’s definitely worth trying to real deal balsamic vinegar once in your lifetime.
I have visited this city a few times since I moved to Italy.
One of my fondest memories in Modena was eating lunch at Trattoria Aldina.
I have to admit that the tagliatelle al ragù bolognese was the best I’ve ever eaten. The pasta was made perfectly and the meat sauce was loaded with savory goodness. The spaccatelle with culatello ragù was equally as scrumptious. The roast beef was extremely flavorful and tender with an amazing lemony meat jus, yumm! Overall, I really enjoyed eating here so I’d rate Trattoria Aldina at a 8.5/10.
Emilia-Romagna truly is a culinary paradise filled wonderful foods. Life would certainly be missing something special without the incredible products handcrafted here.
Also, be sure to read my post on Osteria Francesca, the three Michelin starred restaurant in Modena here.