When you think of Bologna and food, no doubt the first thing that springs to mind is the city’s famous ‘Bolognese’ beef ragu (served with tagliatelle, not spaghetti of course!). However, Emilia Romagna, the province of which Bologna is capital, is home to some of Italy’s most renowned gastronomic exports. It’s neighbouring city, Modena, home to Massimo Bottura’s restaurant Osteria Francescana (2017 #2 World’s Best Restaurants), is one of Italy’s, if not one of the world’s, epicurean capitals and a reflection of the region’s incredible producers.
Therefore if you’re in Bologna, don’t confine yourself to the city and instead venture out to discover some of the foodie delights that are to be found nearby. Emilia Delizia offer a perfect gastronomic discovery of the three best foods of the region: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Balsamic vinegar and Parma ham. If you’re staying in Bologna, you can jump on a train direct to Modena in just half an hour, where your chauffeured tour guide awaits!
Exploring Italy's Famous Parmigiano-Reggiano
Your first stop is at a producer of one of Italy’s most famous cheeses Parmigiano-Reggiano, known as Parmesan in English (although don’t call it that to an Italian!). This rich, crumbly cheese has been an accompaniment to pasta for centuries, however today you’ll discover just how special this cheese is.
Whilst only making a handful of wheels each day, on your visit to the producer you will see the full production process unfold in front of you, as well as visiting the incredible warehouse of cheese. Each wheel of Parmigiano requires 550 litres of milk to make, that’s a heck of a lot of milk! After a delicate cooking process which creates the curdled milk granules these are carefully placed into a special mould to rest and begin the long journey to the finished product.
After a few days of drying out, the cheese is immersed into a water and salt solution, which, slightly counter-intuitively, actually extracts water from the wheel (through the process of reverse osmosis, for the geeks among you), after which it is then ready to be aged.
With over 8,000 wheels sat in the warehouse at any one time stacked high up from the ground to the ceiling, it makes for an impressive sight. Each of these wheels is tested periodically for any bubbles or cracks within the wheel simply by ‘listening to the cheese’, receiving its brand of approval after 18 months of maturation.
Tragically in 2012, the region was struck by an earthquake which devastated cheese producers, as around 300,000 wheels crashed to the ground and, with an average value of €500, you can only imagine the impact on the industry, something touched upon during Netflix’s Chef’s Table series (watch it if you haven’t already!)
Of course, as with all the places you’ll visit on the tour, you can’t leave without a goody bag to take home. With a generous tasting included at the end of the tour, including one cheese aged for a whopping 48 months, you’ll be left salivating for the other delights yet to come!
Exploring Italy's Famous Balsamic Vinegar
If you thought that Parmigiano-Reggiano has a long ageing process, just wait to see what producers of Balsamic vinegar have to go through!
You’re second stop on the tour is at the tiny family Balsamic vinegar producer of Acetaia Clara, based just outside of Modena. Having been producing vinegar for over 30 years, this artisanal producer literally conducts operations in their back garden and store the barrels in a small production unit attached to their house.
You may not have actually considered how balsamic vinegar is made before visiting – and you may be slightly surprised to learn that it is in fact made from the same grapes that some of the area’s wines are also made from. After cooking down the grape juice, it is then stored in sets of four barrels for a minimum period of 12 YEARS! Balsamic vinegar producers have a lovely tradition in their operations, which requires new sets of barrels to be purchased for each new born in the family. As the seasons pass, the liquid within the barrels naturally reduce and are subsequently topped up by new juice, creating a continually more concentrated product over the years.
At the end of your tour, again, you will get the chance to taste a variety of the different Balsamic-based products, including a sweet version, a liquor and of course the classic vinegar itself! The owner will guide you through the tasting matching the balsamic vinegars and glazes with an assortment of food including ricotta cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano and, incredibly, chocolate.
Exploring Italy's Famous Parma Ham
Your final stop on your foodie adventure of Emilia Romagna is the production museum of one of the area’s most famous ‘salumiere’ – producer of cured hams – Villani. Located in Castelnuovo Rangone, Villani opened the area’s first ‘museum of salami’, celebrating the history and traditions of cured meat production.
The museum offers a multimedia and interactive exploration of the origins of meat production, the traditions of its curing process and a look at the history of the family who started it all. As ever, finish up the museum experience with generous portions of mortadella, salami and prosciutto, enjoyed with a glass of Lambrusco (sparkling red wine), before heading back to the train station.
Our final thoughts on... Exploring Italy's Famous Food Region with Emilia Delizia
If you have a limited time in which to explore the delicious Emilia Romagna region then Emilia Delizia’s tour is perfect. Showcasing the three most famous exports from the area, and including both a lesson in their production and generous tastings at each I can guarantee you’ll leave satiated and with at least one new purchase (if not three)! Our tour guide and driver was extremely knowledgeable leading two of the tours himself and offering useful recommendations and tips for the rest of our stay in the area.