Having lived in and around Bologna for 3 years of my life, there is probably no region in all of Italy as close to my heart as Emilia-Romagna. From the magnificent Byzantine frescoes in Ravenna to the two towers in the city of Bologna to the riches of a magnificent small town like Modena, where Ferrari has its headquarters, there is plenty to do besides eat, but Emilia-Romagna is considered by many Italians to be the culinary apex of the entire peninsula. Traditional dishes like piadina, lasagne alla bolgnese, tortellini in brodo, tortelloni, tagliatelle al ragu and passatelli rule the world of breads and pastas.Prosciutto di Parma, it’s savvy cousin culatello and Mortadella rock the porky front and what else can I say about Parmigiano Reggiano, the undisputed king of cheese? I have spent 10 years in New York preaching the stuff here, and certainly not to deaf ears
The city of Bologna is the true center, its poetic market streets in-and-around Via dei Orefici groaning every morning with every single thing in season and a couple primizie (the first sign of the new season) and a couple from out of season for the super rich. One of my all-time heroes is Giovanni Tamburini, whose eponymous store on Via Caprarie says everything there is to say about a gastronomic temple in the heart of a vibrant and food-obsessed town. If you are lucky, he may break-out a guitar. Also, his obsession with music has brought anyone from Dylan to Bowie to his store.
During my three-year stint in Bologna, I worked at Trattoria La Volta in Borgo Capanne, a tiny, little village up the mountain from Porretta Terme, the closest “big” town outside of Bologna.
Farther up via Emilia stands Parma, yet another jewel in this tasty tour. Verdi was born just outside of Parma in Roncole. There exists a museum in his house there, which definitely makes the trip well worth-it.
I love Diana for a classic lunch. Order the classics: culatello, tagliatelle al ragu, lasagne garnished with hard boiled egg. The cart of bollito misto alone can bring me to tears.
A trendier-looking seafood spot on a tiny back street off of Piazza Nettuno.
Antica Locanda del Sole is located just outside of town in Trebbo di Reno. The restaurant and inn are operated by Guido Paolato, a master of wine, tradition and innovation. Book a roomto sleep off the extra grappa and start fresh the next day.
Trattoria delle Tele focuses mostly on traditional Tuscan – Emilian Apennine dishes but has also expanded its repertoire to include “revised traditional” options, taking more risks and expanding their traditional menu.
At the back of the modest shop is a door behind which is a five-table trattoria of my dreams. Everything I have ever eaten here, from the simple gnocco fritto topped with the most fragrant of lardo, handmade tortelloni with sage and butter, green tagliatelle al porciniand perhaps the most decadent of all, crispy slices of Zampone with savoury zabaglione.
The produce arrives all day. Go during lunch and immediately order the freshest goods as it rolls through the dining room.
At La Greppia, the food is a bit more modern but its style reflects the tasteful town of Parma. The place is usually filled with a healthy combination of hipsters and old guard, all eating new and creative takes on classics like insalata dei nervetti with chestnuts and currant vinegar or baccala with capers and citrus.
Al Cavallino Bianco in Polesine Parmense is perhaps one of the craziest places to eat in all of Italy. Only the most traditional dishes are served in an elegant dining room presided over by the Spigaroli family. On my last visit, it was a menu of nine house-made pork variations including the most ethereal culatello. Each course was poetry and place; the entire experience, like all of Emilia Romagna, a poet’s dream.