Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Exploring Italy's Hidden Gem, Emilia-Romagna

"Go to Bologna," Casey encouraged as we strolled up to the 15th green under the surprisingly warm Seattle summer sun. I received news during our round of golf that "Italy" won in our poll for which country people wanted to visit on our next food tour. Being that (a) Casey is a well-traveled food lover with trustworthy recommendations, and (b) I was playing poorly, I spent the balance of the game badgering her for advice about the must-see, off-the-beaten-path places in Italy.

The name of this Italian city sounded oddly familiar even though I didn't know it. After pecking a few letters into Google it dawned on me I knew this city because...my baloney has a first name it's...from BOLOGNA. Yes, Bologna is the home of Mortadella sausage which is the root of what we know as baloney in America. 

I am, admittedly, not the biggest fan of baloney. Thankfully, even though Bologna, the capitol of the Emilia-Romagna region, didn't tantalize my taste buds with its namesake meat treat, there was plenty more in store from neighboring cities in the region. Parma won me over me with its Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and its Prosciutto di Parma ham. You noticed a theme, didn't you? Call a food by where it's from.

During a hot August day, I met Alessandro from Italian Days Food Tours. We strolled through old streets of Bologna while he picked out cured meats, cheeses, and a baguette and then navigated us to Osteria del Sole. We settled into a back deck table while Alessandro unrolled the snacks from their protective papers and gave me the history of the bar which opened in 1465. Older than 'Murica. Like...way older. They were drinking at that bar before we were even a country. I digress. While I debated whether Alessandro was going to be admonished for unfurling our snacks at the bar, he casually mentioned the bar didn't serve food so patrons should bring their own. BYOF. I can dig it. You order a bottle of Pignoletto (a local, sparkling white wine) and chow down on whatever delicious grub you've rounded up from nearby vendors.





Then and there, I knew this guy was legit. Alessandro oozed excitement for his treasured Emilia-Romagna. He was the food ambassador of Bologna to the world. And he was there to teach me their ways. 

As he shot a quick glance around the room he produced a small glass bottle from his pocket, asserting in a hushed tone, "This is the real stuff. Real Italians bring their own balsamico." He slowly tipped the bottle over a piece of cheese as the balsamic slowly crept out in a thick, syrupy consistency. It was nothing like the "balsamic vinegar" I'd seen at home. The sweet and sour taste of the balsamico combined with the rich, nutty flavor of the Parmigiano-Reggiano balanced each other perfectly. I mopped up every last drop of the liquid gold balsamic with bread as Alessandro contently surveyed his new found faithful follower. He didn't need any further words. Emilia-Romagna was my heaven.



Days later I returned with Angela from Savor Seattle Food Tours to indulge in a food excursion unlike any other. Alessandro swept us up in his world dazzling us with personal stories about families and producers as we visited a Parmigiano-Reggiano factory, a Prosciutto di Parma factory, and a farm where they aged Balsamico in Modena. We were then spoiled with a lavish pasta meal served family style with views of the vineyards, and we finished by climbing into the countryside hills to hunt for truffles.








With full bellies and happy hearts, Angela and I sat silently whizzing by picturesque views on our fast train back to Florence. My mind recalled Casey's worthy recommendation as I pondered how this magnificent region had flown so far under the tourist radar, clearly playing second fiddle to its neighbor Tuscany. 

In merely one year since my delightful first experience with Emilia-Romagna, it has garnered significantly more publicity. I now see it regularly mentioned on food blogs (pot, kettle, black), Instagram feeds, and travel and food shows. Our little gem is becoming more and more popular, thanks in part to passionate locals like Alessandro. 

Travel meetup in London. Good to see the king of cheese-pushers. I'm an official follower - fork bracelet and all.

And although I sing Alessandro's praises (if Parmigiano-Reggiano is the king of cheeses, Alessandro is the king of cheese pushers - I can hear him now shouting, "Mangia! Mangia!"), a little piece of me is sad that this beautiful region which offered me a respite from the constant sea of tourists will soon be swarmed by the crowds. Regardless, Emilia-Romagna will remain a gem in my heart...and hopefully yours too.

1 comment:

  1. My husband and I live in Seattle. We went on Alessandro's food tour on our honeymoon in 2014 while we were staying in Bologna. In 3 weeks we are going to Southern Italy, and the last week we are there, Alessandro is leading us on a similar to her on the Amalfi Coast! We couldn't be more excited. My husband is a chef & sommelier, and our trips are entirely motivated by food. Alessandro is the real deal indeed!

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