Any trip to Italy promises its share of memorable meals. But to go straight to the source, travelers need to head to Emilia-Romagna, a region that has become synonymous with food. With the highest number in the country, an incredible 44 total, of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) products, including Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and traditional balsamic vinegar, Emilia-Romagna is also the place birthplace of a host of world-loved Italian dishes, including tortellini, piadina, and bolognese. Without Emilia-Romagna’s farmers, cheesemakers, butchers, vintners, and chefs, it would be hard to imagine Italian cuisine as we know it.
With so much to try, where should you start in one trip? Although all of Emilia-Romagna is known as the national Food Valley, the cities of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna and their surroundings lie at the heart of the region and produce many of its stars. From Lambrusco tastings to salumeria-hopping and everything in between, here are the best ways to get a taste of Emilia-Romagna’s culture and culinary history.
Meet the cheese royalty
When it comes to protected products from Emilia-Romagna, Parmigiano Reggiano undoubtedly reigns as king. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Caseificio San Bernardino or another official cheese factory where you can see real artisans making this beloved cheese essentially the same way monks did it in the Middle Ages. While the harvesting and dividing of the curd into unwieldy 90-pound wheels is impressive, the maturing facility, unofficially described as “the cathedral of cheese,” is impressive.
Towers of Parmigiano Reggiano resting for at least a year await the blessing of DOP inspectors, their rinds stamped with seals and identification marks. Luckier Cheese Wheels are for even luckier people, aged up to 45 months or more, becoming dry and crumbly with perfect umami flavor.
Bologna is known as “la gorda” for good reason. From tortellini and tortelloni to tagliatelle and lasagna, it’s all about handmade egg pasta here. (Even better when you mix the strands al dente with homemade ragu bolognese, another local specialty.) At Le Sfogline, named for the women who throw the dough, get down to business and discover the tricks of this ancient trade with the brilliant pasta chef Renata. Zappoli during her three-hour cooking class.
Liquid Treasure Flavor
Forget everything you think you know about balsamics and visit the family-owned vinegar producer Acetaia di Giorgio, where Giorgio (a retired Italian national volleyball player) and his wife, Giovanna, will show you – and let you taste – the difference between the stuff. generic that we put in the salad and its traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena syrupy and complex. Once called “black gold,” balsamic and the series of barrels, known as batteria, used to age it are prized possessions that were traditionally part of a bride’s dowry. Do you mind splurging? The best Acetaia di Giorgio vinegar is produced in batches of just 60 bottles and retails for €350.
go to pig heaven
Look up as you enter Parma’s Duomo and you’ll see a work of art on the façade that epitomizes the city’s religious devotion to cured meat: a butcher slaughtering a pig for the winter season. From the Coppa di Parma of the same name to the Culatello di Zibello, a premium salami made from just the thigh muscles, most meals here start with a plate heaped with cold cuts.
One of the best ways to sample all that the region has to offer is by heading straight to a salumeria. Founded in the 1950s, Salumeria Garibaldi remains a local favorite with casual counter service and serious meat dishes, while Salumeria Bruno offers a hybrid between a charcuterie and a trattoria, if you prefer to eat your ham with a silver fork. .
learn your story
Do you want to delve into the production of recipes and protected ingredients from Emilia-Romagna? The region is home to 25—yes, 25—food museums. Learn how to make the sweet stuff at the Gelato Museum in Bologna, located in the same building as the Carpigiani Gelato Professional University. Get a glimpse of the crafts behind salami, cooked ham, and other Emilian specialties at Modena’s Museo della Salumeria, the first museum in Italy dedicated to charcuterie. And if that doesn’t suit you, you still have plenty of themes to choose from, including pasta and tomatoes.
drink some bubbles
Produced in the provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma, bubbly Lambrusco is the oldest documented wine made in Emilia-Romagna. A tour of the region’s best vineyards will also reveal that it’s far more complex (and delicious) than its undeserved reputation as “Italian Coca-Cola” would have you believe.
Spend an afternoon or two exploring the rolling hills of the countryside and head to Medici Ermete, where you can sample the dry, award-winning Concerto Lambrusco and the slightly bright pink Phermento. At Monte delle Vigne, picnic in the sprawling vineyards nestled in the hills of Ozzano Taro and enjoy the winery’s juicy Lambrusco Spumante, which hints at summer’s sweetest fruit without becoming a dessert in itself.
Dine where innovation and tradition meet
In Emilia-Romagna, you could easily survive on salumi and cheese alone, but the region is also home to many of Italy’s best restaurants, including three-Michelin-star Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, which playfully plays with old recipes and childhood memories. of Bottura. meals in Modena, a city known for its culinary tradition. (Bologna foam sandwich, anyone?) If you can’t score one of the twelve tables, reserve a seat at its little sister, Franceschetta58, where the kitchen gets even more fun with mini “Emilia” burgers made from Chianina beef, cotechino , and mayonnaise with a balsamic vinegar glaze.
Nearby, Antica Moka, run by the talented Anna Maria Barbieri, serves up classics like piping hot gnocco fritto topped with Prosciutto di Parma along with creative variations on dishes like tortellini in fried wafer baskets with Parmigiano Reggiano.