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Episode #114: Welcome to Emilia Romagna

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Let’s go to Emilia Romagna, a central Italian region between Florence and Venice. In this hugely diverse region you’ll find mountains, beaches, ancient roads, medieval and Renaissance towns, alongside, of course, the country’s best-loved food products and dishes – making it the perfect foodie destination. 

Show notes

We hear from Giulia Tamarri, a Tour and Food Guide, born and bred in the Emilia Romagna, she tells us about the delicious treasures of the region such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamico Tradizionale, Prosciutto di Parma and Tortellini.   As well as the incredible produce and slow food, we talk castles, fast cars, belly-buttons and a pig statue

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. The two names of Emilia-Romagna are because the region has two main areas (souls). Emilia is inland and Romagna, which is the part which borders the sea. The name comes from Via Aemilia –  the Roman road that was built by Marcus Lepidus in 187 BC, and still remains untouched, running through the region, from the city of Rimini to the city of Piacenza. There are eleven cities in Emilia Romagna, and nine of these cities are on the Via Aemilia
  2. All 11 cities have got a UNESCO heritage and there are hundreds of beautiful medieval towns as well as castles, fortresses, national parks, Pilgrim trails, mountain hikes and beaches
  3. Rimini on the coast is known for being where film director of La Dolce Vita fame, Fellini, is from and there are many beautiful beaches there. It’s known for having the ability for 365 days of fun – with the beaches and for the nightlife and also for amusement parks, if you are traveling with your family
  4. There are 44 IGP and PDO products from Emilio Romagna – the Italian record for listed products. The territory of the region is very diverse so there are plains, mountains, the sea, and the river Po, which is the longest in Italy. These different territories create the setting for producing different types of food
  5. Pork is a really important part of the Emilia Romagna culture. Culatello is a very special product that comes from the richest/fattest part of the pig. There are only around 10 producers at all of Culatello and only in the area around Parma and Piacenza.  The weather comes into play to create the perfect Culatello. There is an area close to the Po river, close to Ferrara. where it’s always foggy. And this is a special microclimate that needs fog and you can’t have amazing Culatello without it
  6. Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of cheeses – can be found all over Italy but it can only be produced in Emilia Romagna and there are very strict rules that set the borders, so for example, with Bologna, only one side of Bologna can produce it. If it’s on the other side of the river, it cannot be called Parmigiano Reggiano
  7. The Parmigiano Reggiano is made every day with fresh milk from the day and half of the milk, from the previous night. It has to mature for at the very least twelve months but it can age longer than that. Normally the preferred ages of Parmigiano Reggiano are 24 or 36 months. The rules are so strict that they have a third party that goes to the dairy farm with a hammer. He hits the cheese with the hammer and can detect if there are any air bubbles. If they feel there is – that wheel of cheese cannot be called Parmigiano Reggiano and cannot have the stamp
  8. The rejected cheese cannot be called Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and it cannot have the seal, but it will not be wasted and it still can be sold by the farm at a lower price. The certifications are important but so is not wasting food. The crust of the Parmesano goes into a variety of dishes such as soups and the broth of a risotto
  9. There are 2 types of balsamic vinegar in the region – the Aceto Balsamico and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. Tradizionale takes a minimum of twelve years. And for Extravecchio, extra old – it’s minimum 25 years. Balsamic Vinegar is actually only one ingredient –  cooked grape must, which is the leftovers of grapes that have been squashed for wine. In October, they take the grape must, boil it and we put it in a set of barrels. Each barrel is made of a different wood. Every year they add the newly cooked must to the biggest bottle, which is the youngest. And we continue like this until it reaches twelve years.
  10. The finished product is not like the mass-produced stuff we may be more familiar with, that is thrown on salads – it’s such a rich and delicious and thick sort of syrupy texture. It’s so precious that it’s called the Black gold of Modena
  11. Balsamico comes from the word balm and still today people use it as a cure. Whenever they have a sore throat, they have a teaspoon of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
  12. In the area of Modena where Balsamico Tradizionale is produced, most families have a batteria – so a set of these barrels at home to make their own and it’s normal as a gift as a dowry or for newborn babies get a set of barrels
  13. It’s a very versatile product – you can add it on salad, with cheese, on gelato even. A plate with different aged Parmigiano Reggiano with Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale really brings out the flavor of the Parmigiano Reggiano
  14. A visit to the Museum and to a family Acetaia (vinegar cellar) are both great experiences. Like with wine, each family/each Acetaia has got a personality and they might use different woods in their barrels for example and it’s nice to compare and do a tasting
  15. In October they have a Fiesta mosto d’uva cotto – a festival of the cooked grape must with huge barrels in the town square being stirred by the locals – usually the older generation
  16. In Modena there is an amazing market, Mercato Albinelli, that is well worth a visit. Giulia takes her tours there and the produce is amazing. This is where the locals go to buy the best Parmigiano Reggiano, the best Mortadella, the best Parma ham, all the good ingredients that they use at home
  17. The area may have slow food but it’s also known for its fast cars. Home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Zonda as well as Ducati motorcycles
  18. The area is well connected by the bullet train – Freccia Rossa or Italo Treno. So there’s a train pretty much every hour connecting the north to the south of Italy that passes through Bologna. But to really explore the off-the-beaten-track places, it’s worth renting a car (though it’s best to avoid the city centers)
  19. In the past, Bologna would have been, more like Venice –  full of canals. It was a very important city for the trade of silk and there was this network of canals to bring the goods from Bologna to other places. Unfortunately, the canals have been covered but there are a few spots in the city, including a particular little window from which you can actually see water passing by
  20. Bologna’s portici, the arches that along with all its towers, give the city a unique look. No other city in the world has as many porticoes as Bologna, covering more than 38 kms (24 mi) in the historic center alone. They say Bologna is the city where you don’t need an umbrella because literally you walk and you are covered. This is where people meetup – ‘Sotto Portici’ under the Portici
  21. You have different styles, from the older medieval porticoes to more Renaissance or baroque style
  22. Walk up to the sanctuary of San Luca in Bologna – which is connected to the city with the portico and the shape of these porticoes, if you saw it from above is the shape of a snake. It has got 666 colonnades, the number of the devil, so the path has got a religious meaning and it’s said you should walk in order to get free of your sins. And even if you are without sin – the views from up there are stunning –  across Bologna, and over to the Apennines
  23. The ladies who make the amazing tortellini at high speed are known as a rezdora.  This term comes from the Latin regerēs – to direct, because these women not only are good cooks, but they are like the bosses/managers of the house. You see them still at 95 years old making pasta every day and they are so quick. If you try it yourself you realise how hard it is to master, let alone at the speed of the rezdoras 
  24. Although a little harder to get to, a day trip to Ravenna is recommended, especially for lovers of art and mosaics. With incredible examples of Byzantine art, gold-plated mosaics – really colorful and very detailed. There are different churches that you can visit to see all these wonders which are centuries old and UNESCO heritage listed
  25. Castelvetro is a lovely town famous for its Lambrusco.  Lambrusco does not have a great reputation due to cheap production and export in the past. However, things have very much changed.  These days they have very good producers of very high-quality Lambrusco and the production is very much controlled. It’s not like cheap wine at all and is great with the local food – so it’s fantastic with the cured meats and cheeses
  26. A town that Giulia highly recommends for a visit is Langhirano.  A major production center for the Prosciutto di Parma, you can even smell the ham as you enter the gorgeous town and it’s also surrounded by great vineyards, and nearby is the very romantic 15th-century castle – Castello di Torrechiara. There are lots of beautiful vineyards around this area too. So you could do prosciutto, wine tasting and admire a beautiful castle on the same day
  27. September and October are great months for a visit to the region because there are lots of food festivals going on, with every little town linked to a special product. Spring time, is another good time to visit –  especially the cherry blossom season,  end of May/early June. Vignola is famous for its cherries and here is a particular cherry that is not cultivated so much anymore as it doesn’t travel well. The Moretta cherry is small and sweet, like an explosion in your mouth. 
  28. In September, Giulia’s home town of Castelfranco Emilia holds the San Micalo festival. In the 2nd week of September for a full week, they have a tortellini festival, the festival of San Nicola. In the 2nd week of September for a full week, they have this festival where you can see the rezdore making the tortellini and eat the most amazing tortellini plate you will ever try.
  29. It culminates on the Sunday when they have a parade with locals dressed up in medieval costumes and hand over a rolling pin, in a nod to the legend of how tortellini was created. The story involves a beautiful lady, love, and passion. This beautiful lady was traveling to Bologna on her horse, but she stopped in Castelfranco Emilia for the night. When she entered this Inn, the host saw her and immediately fell in love with her. He gave her the key to her room and when he went to look at her through the keyhole all he could see was her belly button. He went back to the kitchen and thinking of her beautiful belly button, he created tortellini to honor her. The rolling pin being handed over, represents the new host of each year
  30. For tortellini, everyone has got his or her own recipes. There is a recipe that has been registered in Bologna by a Consorzio, but if you ask any rezdora, they will give you a different recipe. The ingredients will be the same, but not exactly the amount – but it’s a mixture of Mortadella, of beef, of Parmigiano Reggiano, of nutmeg, all mixed together. But everyone has the best amount in their own recipe of course, so you will never find them exactly the same. The pasta dough should not be completely smoothed out so there’s a little texture for any sauce to hold on to
  31. Tortellini is of course best eaten at home-cooked by your mother or nonna, but you can find it in restaurants, often with broth or with sauces. In Bologna, Giulia recommends trying it at Pappa Gallo, on Piazza della Mercanzia

About our guest – Giulia Tamarri

Giulia Tamarri is a qualified Tour Manager, Food Guide, and Personal Itinerary Consultant, born and raised in Castelfranco, on the Via Emilia, halfway between Modena and Bologna.

After achieving her degree in Foreign Languages at the University of Bologna, she built an international career, living between Australia and New Zealand working as an English teacher and events organizer before going on to work in London working as a manager in the education industry.

After spending almost 10 years traveling and living abroad, she decided to move back to her region and chose the town of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, Spilamberto, as the place to call home. The same year, she got her qualification as Tour Manager and has since led more than 40 tours around Italy and Europe and during the pandemic, she got the opportunity to attend a year’s course to become an expert and promoter of food and wine of Emilia Romagna.

Giulia loves to help people discover her charming region with the same passion and dedication of a rezdora in the kitchen. Tortellini, tagliatelle, cappelletti… a rezdora is the artist of these hand-rolled works of art. From the Latin “regere“ (to direct), she is not only a good cook but the real manager of the family. Like a rezdora in the kitchen, Giulia follows the same values and practical approach for travels. After a long testing of the best “ingredients”, she owns her personal recipes for crafting unique and memorable experiences for her clients. 

You can find Giulia  on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Modena – city known for its balsamic vinegar and opera heritage, plus Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars
  • Mercato Albinelli – fabulous market in Modena
  • Bologna – Universtiy city known for it’s porticoes and food culture
  • Parma – city nominated the UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy
  • Ravenna – It was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until the empire collapsed in 476
  • Ferrara – the city of the Renaissance
  • Reggio – where the Italy flag was created. The old town has a hexagonal form, which derives from the ancient walls, and the main buildings are from the 16th–17th centuries
  • Cesena – only example in the world of humanistic library
  • Faenza – known for its traditional ceramics
  • Castelfranco – Giulia’s home town and home to a tortellini festival in September
  • Spilamberto – famous for Balsamico Tradizionale 
  • Rimini – coastal town known as the home of Fellini and fun
  • Apennine Mountains – mountain range consisting of parallel smaller chains extending around 1,200 km along the length of peninsular Italy
  • The river Po – runs through Emilia Romagna and is the longest in Italy
  • Piacenza – a city who’s name means “pleasant abode” and it is indeed a lovely place to visit, located at a major crossroads at the intersection between Bologna and Milan
  • University of Bologna – one of the oldest universities all over the world
  • Lamborghini Museum – near Bologna
  • Ferrari Museums – two locations in Maranello and Modena
  • Sanctuary of San Luca – walk up there for incredible views of the city
  • Vignola – famous for cherries
  • Castelvetro – famous for Lambrusco wine
  • Brisighella – listed as a Borghi più belli d’italia famous for it’s olive trees
  • Langhirano – a major production centre for the Prosciutto di Parma
  • Castello di Torrechiara – 15th-century castle near Langhirano
  • Parco Regionale dei Sassi di Roccamalatina – national park near Spilamberto with rocks similar to Meteora in Greece
  • Pappa Gallo – restaurant in Bologna serving great tortellini

Food & Drink

  • DOP (Denominazione di origine protetta) a European mark of origin which is attributed to foods whose characteristics depend on the territory where they are produced
  • IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) – a mark of origin that recognizes food products which have a specific quality, reputation or other characteristic that is closely dependent on the production, processing and/or preparation, developed in a specific geographical area
  • Culatello – listed among the Slow Food Presidia of Emilia-Romagna, Culatello, mentioned for the first time in a document dating back to 1735, is produced from the leg of pork, which is then stuffed into the pig’s bladder, doesn’t sound tempting but it’s delicious
  • Parmigiano Reggiano – a cheese (the king of cheeses) from a very specific part of the region and created to exacting standards to get the stamp
  • LAceto Balsamico Tradizionale – this vinegar from cooked grape must, has to age at least 12 years in wooden barrels to be classified in this way
  • batteria – a set of barrels (usually 4-7) of decreasing size in which to put the different ages of balsamico
  • acetaia -​​ vinegar cellar/producer
  • Fiesta mosto d’uva cotto – cooked grape must festival in the region in October
  • Massimo Bottura – incredible chef with a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena – Osteria Francescana
  • Mortadella Bologna – a famous cured meat IGP product with centuries of history
  • Lambrusco wine – a wine with a bad reputation after cheap production and inappropriate use in the 20th century has now come into its own
  • Prosciutto – Prosciutto di Parma is a protected and prized dry-cured ham
  • Gnocco Fritto – usually crescent-shaped, small fried puffy dough treats
  • Tigelle – also known as Crescentina modenese, are a scone-like snack with medieval origins. The name tigelle/a comes from the terracotta plate in which they used to be cooked. Eaten filled with cunza, a spread made from pork lard and flavored with garlic and rosemary or with cold cuts, boar, rabbit, cheese, salty dressings, or sweet spreads
  • Moretta cherries – not cultivated by many producers, as it’s difficult to transport –  it’s a very small and sweet cherry
  • Mattarellobasic tomatoes and basil sauce

Resources

Resources from Untold Italy

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