If you are fortunate enough to be planning a trip to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, you – and your stomach – are in for a real treat. Considered the birthplace of many of Italy’s greatest culinary creations, Emilia Romagna is a paradise for ‘foodies’ and culinary travelers.
Emilia Romagna is blessed with extremely fertile land that lines both the Po River and the Apennine Mountains. Many of the region’s important towns lie along Via Emilia, a road built in Roman times that brings you from the northern town of Piacenza to the southern seaside town of Rimini. Many of the cities within Emilia Romagna have their own typical culinary specialties you can sample during your travels. And if that is not enough, there are 19 museums in the region dedicated to the cultural and historical importance of the local food products.
More than 200 products are designated as “traditional” in Emilia Romagna and 26 are DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – Protected Designation of Origin) and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta – Protected Geographical Indication) under Italian law. Wondering what some of the most important food products are in the region? Here are five “not-to-miss” foods in Emilia Romagna.
Emilia Romagna is the heartland of fresh pasta in Italy and the city of Bologna is home to the renowned Vecchia Scuola Bolognese, the premier spot for learning how to make fresh egg pastas. The school draws students from all over Italy who come to Bologna to master the art of this important Italian staple.
Each town in Emilia Romagna has their own take on traditional pasta, but some of the more common varieties include tagliatelle al ragu (a Bolognese specialty), tortolloni, and tortellini en brodo (small stuffed pasta shells in broth). Other pastas like lasagna and ravioli are also popular in the region.
Pork products are extremely important in Emilia Romagna’s traditional cuisine. Many of the towns in the region have their signature meats. A few to sample include Bologna’s famed Mortadella, Prosciutto di Parma from Parma, and the best – Culatello. Made from the muscle mass on the back of the pig’s rear leg, it is often considered the king of meats in the region. It requires expertise and with its long aging time, it is one of the most expensive salumis in the world.
No visit to Emilia Romagna is complete without trying real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Under Italian DOC laws, only cheese produced within certain regions of Emilia Romagna can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano and there are very strict guidelines to protect this beloved product. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw cow’s milk and each wheel produced follows the rigid traditions to ensure it passes the 12-month inspection and can be branded with the Consorzio’s logo. Those that do not pass the test will have their rinds stripped of all markings.
Forget the bottles of balsamic vinegar you find on your grocery store shelves. Those vinegars are typically made of wine vinegar and have additives to simulate the sweetness and thickness of true balsamic vinegar. If you are in Emilia Romagna, look for vinegars that display Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena labels. Certain criteria must be met in order to display the name, including an aging period of two months up to three years when the label can include the characteristic “aged”. Traditional aged balsamic vinegars can easily run 100 euros or more when you are talking bottles aged 25 years or more. In Emilia Romagna, balsamic vinegar is not used as you might think – it is often served in drops on top of chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, on strawberries, or even as a topping on vanilla ice cream.
While other parts of Italy definitely have good gelato, head to Bologna to try some of the best gelato around. The Carpigiano Gelato University is headquartered about 20 minutes away from the city center. Here you can tour the gelato museum, take a peek at the students working in the lab, and the best part – head over to the store for some of the freshest gelato you will taste in Italy.
Which of these foods do you want to try first? Tell us in the comments below.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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