Emilia-Romagna lies along the northern slopes of the Appennino Settentrionale (The Central Apennines). Geographically and gastronomically, this is the heart of Italy. Its cities, strung along the A1 Autostrada to the northwest and the A14 to the southeast, have named some of the most famous foods associated with Italian cuisine: Parma its ham and cheese; Modena its vinegar; Bologna its cured meats. Perfectly situated between north and south, bordered by Milan’s Lombardia and Venice’s Veneto to the north, Toscana and Marche to the south, slices of Piemonte and Liguria to the west, and the Adriatic to the east, no region touches a broader mix of neighbors, cultures, and traditions.
Food is not Emilia-Romagna’s only claim to fame: just ask a car-lover where Ferraris are made, or an academic where the finest Italian universities began (in 1088, in Bologna). But food is, nevertheless, what Emilia-Romagna is all about: this region is blessed with food to make any chef swoon! And its cities are themselves gems of architecture, tradition, and culture that reward visitors with enchantment that extends far beyond the food that bears their names.
Strolling at lunchtime through the small city of Reggio nell’Emilia (which lies between Parma and Modena, no less beautiful and mesmerizing for not having world-famous food products named after it), Joe and I asked a passerby—a bit older, with a jaunty hat and professorial outfit—where we should eat lunch. He hesitated not one minute before laying out a complicated set of turns to follow and promising we would not be disappointed. He was right—the unpretentious restaurant he directed us to served up a meal we would be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the United States—at any price—with its perfect pasta, outstanding meat course, and excellent house wine.
Ah, wine. One of the advantages of being surrounded by some of the most amazing wine-growing regions in the world (Tuscany, the Veneto, Piemonte), is that Emilia-Romagna, with its broad flat valleys and north-facing hillsides, doesn’t really compete with its illustrious neighbors in viticulture. Joe and I always prefer local wines wherever we go in Italy, and we had some perfectly fine examples of the most notable Emilia-Romagnan wine, Lambrusco (but who can forgive Aldo Cella for ruining the concept of sparkling red wine forever??). But just as we were fine having Parmesean cheese and Prosciutto di Parma anywhere in Italy, in Emilia-Romagna wines from any of the surrounding regions—arguably the finest in the world, don’t forget—are perfectly acceptable. No one can be the best at everything!
Whether chatting with a cosmopolitan crowd in a street full of night life near the University in Parma, or finding to our dismay that we chose Thursday—who knew it was the day all the Balsamic vinegar establishments closed??—to visit Modena, or luxuriating in the shade and bustle of the generous arcades of Bologna (all sized, by law, to be high enough for riding horseback through them), Emilia-Romagna captivated us with much more than food, but always with food that was beyond compare. We look forward to sharing some of the highlights of the region with you over the next few weeks. Ciao Emilia-Romagna!