The hardest question I’ve ever been asked is undoubtedly ‘what is your favourite cuisine?’ It’s a tough one, but after a recent trip to Emilia Romagna mine is definitely Italian.
This famously foodie region of Italy encompasses several towns and cities, (Bologna, Modena and Parma just to name a few) all brimming with culture, history and traditions, so it was with great gusto that I set off for my very own provincial tour to sample the regional specialities including their Parma ham, Parmesan cheese and pasta.
Arriving in Parma as the sun began to set, I was in awe of the stunning buildings that surrounded the central square Piazza Garibaldi. The town is so quintessentially Italian, with designer decked and wildly gesticulating patrons sipping on red wine at al fresco bars. I was beginning to wonder when my Italian stallion on a vespa was going to arrive to whisk me away…
Shops and cafes selling regional specialities lined the streets off the piazza; every possible cut of cured meat was on display, teasing my already rumbling stomach with their uniquely smoky aroma. Unfortunately, before I was even able to say ‘bonjourno’ to the grinning shop keeper, I was whisked away by my tour guide to sample the traditional rustic Italian cuisine at one of Parma’s most famous restaurants, Ai due Platani.
Chefs come from far and wide to this family style trattoria, set amongst lush farmland and woods, to sample their world famous pumpkin ravioli. And it was with great glee that I finally got to tuck into a plate of the famous parma ham I was so sad to leave earlier in the day.
Doing as the locals do, we enjoyed the plentiful pork at the start of our meal. We ploughed through huge plates of silky smoked ham, thick fat studded rounds of salami and the really special Coppa Piacentina: this deep red ham is from the Arda Valley and is known for its sweet and intensely nutty acorn-like flavour.
This was followed by an unctuous bowl of parpadelle smothered in rich duck ragu, before finishing the meal with freshly made gelato that was cranked out of the restaurants fifty year old ice cream maker and served from a trolley at the table. It was becoming clear that eating here isn’t just about tradition, it’s bordering on a religion.
It was time to get exploring again, stopping first in the beautiful town of Piacenza. The highlight was the market square, where locals flock to buy their vegetables and cheeses, the main attraction of course being the Parmigiano Reggiano. The process of making this cheese is so specific (milk must come from a certain cow, at a certain time of day, churned a certain way, stored for 24 months…) that if you were to suggest it came from anywhere other than Emilia Romagna you’d be chased out of town!
We tasted this unique cheese at the Da Faccini restaurant. Up in the rolling hills of Emilia Romagna – the perfect place to walk off all that cheese after lunch – this family owned road-side eatery is just a stones throw away from the medieval fortress the Castell ‘Arquato.
The Parmesan was served alongside a meat plate, simply presented as a wedge to allow everybody to pick off chunks as they please. It was crumbly and salty, with a tangy aftertaste. In fact it was utterly addictive. Then came a sweet pumpkin cream, topped with earthy mushrooms and a blanket of Parmesan shavings – Heaven!
My final blast of La Grassa (that’s translated as The Fat and is the nickname of this food infested region) came from the Podere Cadassa, a cookery school come restaurant dishing up some of the best pasta in the area.
Alongside a sparkling Aperol spritz, I scoffed bowls of Anolini, small Parma ham and Parmesan stuffed pasta swimming in a delicate chicken broth; heaps of fig ravioli in an intense tomato sauce; and an unholy amount of herb spiked focaccia gleaming with olive oil. La Grassa doesn’t even cover half of it!
Grace travelled to Emilia Romagna as a guest of the Emilia Romagna Region Tourist Board’ emiliaromagnaturismo.com
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