For all food enthusiasts and wine lovers travelling to Italy no trip would be complete without a visit to the wonderful Emilia Romagna Region, Which is famous for 3 things; Prosciutto, Pavarotti, and Parmigiano Reggiano. This area which unfortunately can sometimes be left off many travelers to Italy’s itineraries , is the region which borders Tuscany to the North and is home to the major city of Bologna. While most of the Italian continent is covered with hills and mountains, Emilia Romagna is a region of fertile plains and booming industries.
Our trip began in the quaint city of Modena on a Friday, we checked into the Hotel Real Fini on Via Emilia Est. Having reserved a suspiciously low-priced rate of 63 Euro per night (in June) on Venere.com, I was not anticipating much from this four star hotel. Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel was not only clean, stylish and well located but it also had a great breakfast!
As we only had a short stay of 2 days in the region, we wanted to get straight down to seeing the sights. Just a brief car ride from Modena is Marranello, where Ferrari cars are manufactured. We spent a very enjoyable hour at the Ferrari museum following the life and work of Enzo Ferrari through his incredible cars. Needless to say it was not the tours fault that we felt a slight pang of depression/jealousy/envy as we made our way into our very adequate Fiat to head to our next destination in our busy trip to the Emilia Romagna region.
Our next leg of the journey saw us heading back to Modena, where we decided to pay homage to another local legend: Luciano Pavarotti. His awe inspiring villa with its perpetual tree-lined driveway was just what we anticipated of the home of this billionaire opera singer. While admittedly a brief thought of trying to trespass to get a better view of the villa did cross my mind. I decided petty thuggery was not going to be part of this family vacation and so we didn’t go past the gate. It was sufficient to just sit there in the sunshine with “Nessun dorma” playing loudly on the iPod, and envisage what it would be like to live in the same town as Pavarotti. The people of Modena appear to have mingled emotions about him recently. Once an unrivaled lyrical genius, he started to lose face among the Modenese when he separated with his wife of 36 years to marry Nicoletta Mantovani, 34 years his junior. On top of this the locals were being charged a small fortune of 300 + euro to go see one of their own preform in concert. As you can imagine the Modenese started to feel that maybe Luciano had become a bit too big for his britches. Now after passing on, it does seem that the fond memories of Pavarotti are the ones that remain and that he will live on forever through his marvelous music.
The following day we got up early and drove over to the neighboring city of Parma. It is no coincidence that the European Union has selected Parma to be the home of the European Union Food Safety Authority. This town means business when it comes to food, so we decided to hire a lovely local guide named Laura to give us a tour of this food manufacturing region.
Our tour began at a small factory that produces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. According to the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese consortium, this cheese is “a true miracle of nature and of the traditions of the people who produce it. It is for the enjoyment of those who seek in what they eat not only nourishment, but also incredible flavor, love for the earth, and respect – a lot of respect – for nature and its mysteries.” Understandably after just a short time on the tour, my respect for this 800 year old tradition had just quadrupled. We looked on as they poured the fresh local milk into these great big tubs that are then brought to carefully controlled temperatures as master cheese makers transform it into the early stages of Parmigiano Reggiano. It takes almost 1200 liters of milk to produce one perfect wheel of Parmigano cheese that will weigh in at about 45 kilos. Only 100% natural ingredients are used, no additives or chemicals whatsoever (now you can understand why so many Italian mothers recommend it as a starter food for babies as they begin consuming solids). Our well informed guide then took us through all the finial stages that the cheese goes through from the various phases of cooling, to salting, and seasoning that each wheel of cheese experiences before it can finally be sampled, certified, and stamped “Parmigiano-Reggiano”.
After a mouth watering tasting session of the various Parmigiano Reggiano products (aged 12 months, 18 months, or 24+ months), we bid adieu to our hosts and followed our guide on date with none other than the Prosciutto di Parma.
The manufacturing plant chosen for our Prosciutto tour is a medium sized factory with three main products: Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello, and Culatta. We looked on, trying not to salivate too much as hundreds of legs of locally raised ham were hauled in, inspected, weighed, massaged, salted, and stored in various refrigerated chambers for specific amounts of time at accurately controlled temperatures. Our guide explained the whole process to us from beginning to end (which anecdotally happens to be when the master prosciutto sniffer takes a sharp tool made from the bone of a horse’s leg, stabs the prosciutto in three places, smells the tool, and gives the product a thumbs up or thumbs down). Our guide then expertly navigated our way through the prosciutto cathedral of hanging legs of meats in their various phases of “stagionatura” that was almost comical. After spending the best part of the day in the company of all this delicious food finally it was time for us to sit down and relax over a well deserved lunch.
The Calicella di Pilastro vineyard and winemakers is set amongst a beautiful backdrop of the Parma countryside. Our hosts graciously provided us with a lovely lunch consisting of their own wine (Lambrusco dell’Emilia sparkling red and Malvasia white) which we sampled along with trays of Prosciutto di Parma, Coppa, Parmigiano cheese, roasted peppers,sun dried tomatoes, olives, marinated mushrooms, and warm crusty bread. The food was so plentifully and delicious that soon we had all eaten our weight in prosciutto and cheese, to end proceedings in typical Italian fashion we sipped an espresso and a little grappa to wash it all down!
A little tired, very full but totally happy and satisfied with our weekend tour we parted company with out excellent guide and vowed to come back again!