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Episode #152: Dishes to try in Bologna and the Emilia Region

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Emilia is part of the Emilia-Romagna region where you’ll find Bologna, Parma and Modena. With famous products like Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and the Balsamic vinegar di Modena, this area is renowned within Italy and around the world as a foodie destination. Alongside these wonderful products, we talk about some of dishes that you can enjoy on a visit to this delicious destination. 

bologna food experience

Show notes

We hear from Giulia Tamarri, a Tour and Food Guide, born and bred in the Emilia Romagna, who joined us on episode 114 and who has a wealth of knowledge and a ton of good humor. In June, Untold founder Katy and her family spent a couple of wonderful days with Giulia exploring her beautiful region.  She shares with us some of the amazing and unique dishes you can eat from this incredible region.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Giulia was born in Castelfranco Emilia which is the town where the tortellini were born, so she has tortellini running through her veins. Her guide business is Travel with Rezdora. Rezdora is a dialect word that means the woman that leads the house. In her region, they have these incredible women that manage the houses as well as make all the wonderful food of the area. Giulia does not consider herself a Rezdora, – just a Rezdora of Traveling. She can cook but with such high standards, she remains modest, knowing that she has a long way to go with the competition so high
  2. It’s now November, and it’s a time when everything feels like it’s slowing down. It’s the perfect weather, when it gets cooler and misty, for curing meats and making amazing cheeses
  3. Giulia lives in the prettiest town of Spilamberto, which is home of the consortium of balsamic vinegar – the Coterie, is an association that safeguards the production of this product and also makes sure that the only excellent L’Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale can be bottled. They have just celebrated the 20th birthday of the museum of Balsamic Vinegar in Spilambertobologna food experience
  4. In the museum itself, they make balsamic vinegar, so it’s kind of like a living museum. There are volunteers, and the maestro, that are there every day to check the fermentation, that it has got the right bacteria, the right acidity. It’s very controlled. The museum even have the barrels of Massimo Bottura, one of the most famous chefs in the world
  5. Traditional balsamic vinegar batteria, barrels are passed on as a dowry, normally through women. They also have a batteria that belonged to a very important and wealthy family of the area that is 200 years old
  6. During the birthday celebration, Giulia met the Gran maestro who she would describe as the Pope of the traditional balsamic vinegar. He had her try two very special vinegars – one made with juniper wood and one with cherry wood. They were totally different and with very little created each year she felt very privileged to get the opportunity. 
  7. In Emilia, they argue a lot about recipes. When you ask an Emiliano (an inhabitant of Emilia) about a recipe you’ll likely get very different answers. If you ask about the best Tortellini, everyone will always say, oh, I know the best is my nonna, my mum or mine. Plenty of bragging rights, But the arguments stop when they are in front of a well-laid table – that’s when we stop arguing and we start comparing,  contrasting, and simply enjoying!

Giulia has put together her list of food as she imagines stilling at a table in a nice osteria with Katy, chit-chatting, catching up, and Katy trusting Giulia to order all the food.

Antipasti:

Gnocco fritto

  • Giulia would start with ordering gnocco fritto with a full charcuterie board full of Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di Modena. Everyone knows Prosciutto di Parma, but Prosciotto di Modena is amazing prosciutto – while di Parma is 12 months aged as a minimum, di Modena is at least 14 months. 
  • The gnocco fritto itself is a kind of fried paste of flour and water that will puff up and it’s great with the meats – the Prosciutto, Mortadella, Salami, and Ciccioli.
  • Bologna is nicknamed ‘la grasso’ which means ‘the fat’ because in general, the food may not be the healthiest. But this is partly because they don’t throw anything from the pig. In the past, you probably would have had one pig per year and the food from it would have to last all year long. To be excellent, gnocco should never be fried in olive oil, but in strutto which is basically pork fat.
  • Ciccioli is another leftover thing and is great to have with the gnocco fritto. It is actually all the left parts that are crushed and mixed and then sliced. 

Tigelle

Tigelle is very typical of the region. It’s a food that has its origin from our mountainous area. It’s basically a type of bread but in an unusual round shape. You can cut it in half and fill it with prosciutto meat or cheese. On top of this bread, there is kind of a star sign which came from the pagan rituals of its origins with the Celts that conquered the mountains. Nowadays they still like to keep the design on top of it, but some people have created their own designs. In the past, they were cooked using clay discs, kind of like terracotta. You would put this clay disc into the fireplace when they were warm. You would stack up one clay disc, then the bread, then another disc on top. They would also put a chestnut leaf in to add some kind of flavor. It’s very rare that you can still find someone that would cook it that way – instead, everyone at home has got a special machine that uses a special stone that warms up and reproduces the same idea of the clay discs. Some people call them Crescentina – it’s the same thing. The Tigelle is actually the name of the clay disc.

Calzagatti

You can find Gnocco and Tigelle at any time of the year, whereas Calzagatti would be the perfect dish is found more, when outside is very cold, and everyone needs some comfort food. Calzagatti is actually sticks made of polenta and beans that have been stewed in garlic and some tomato and parsley and then fried. It is not so easy to find in restaurants. Some gourmet restaurants, are now bringing them into play, you would also find it at a Sagra (food festival) or at home as this is a typical family dish.

The dish was born by chance, thanks to a cat. There was a rezdora in her kitchen making polenta. Rezdora are very organized, so she had already set up her table with all her side dishes and sauces. In the middle of the table, there was already a warm pot with beans to be shared. When she was taking the polenta on the table, she stepped on the cat and all the polenta fell into the pot of beans. So by accident, she had polenta mixed with beans, and there you have it – this bean stew had come to be. You can eat the Calzagatti as it is or you can make it, leave it, and then when it’s hard, cut it into sticks and fry them up. One place you can sometimes find Calzagatti, in Modena is Osteria Santa Chiara. You could ask chef Stefano Corghi if he can possibly make it for you  – he also makes Zampone, which we come to on main courses. 

bologna food experience

Pasta:

Tortellini

There is a society called Confraternita del Tortellino, which was a scientific committee with a president, created to promote the idea of making excellent tortellini. They will secretly go to restaurants to rate the food and give an award to the most reputable and delicious tortellini.

Giulia believes that for the best tortellini it needs to feel like the tortellini is very well balanced – that you don’t have any of the ingredient overshadowing another. Also, because, of course, her nonna made the best tortellini, she likes to recognize the nutmeg in the dish, as she could in her nonna’s. With nutmeg, it is not that easy to get the right balance. In the past, it was a spice that was so precious that only the prestigious Este family (the Emilia version of the powerful Medici family) used it to be able to have access to use nutmeg. You would eat tortellini only once a year at Christmas. Now we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy tortellini more often – obviously not every day, but definitely once a week. Sunday is a great day for it – especially in winter.

The purists say that tortellini should always be in brodo/in broth. And that broth needs to be made very well too. There is another huge debate on how you make your broth too – how many hours, what’s in it. Giulia feels she simply could never survive winter without good broth. Brodo di Cappone is what you’ll generally find in Emilia. There is a saying that a real Bolognese or Modenese person eats tortellini in broth on the 15th of August. 15 August is one of our big holidays and obviously it’s summer so it’s extremely hot. So if you are a real local, it doesn’t matter if the weather is hot, you will still have your tortellini in broth!

In Modena, Giulia recommends Trattoria al Dina opposite the market and Restaurant Da Enzo and in Bologna, Trattoria Da Me and Trattoria di Via Serra. It pays to be a bit more adventurous and get out of the city centers and in fact, get out of the cities completely.  It can be difficult because you might not have your own car, but it’s definitely worth it to get out to these places. In particular, she recommends you head for Osteria del 32 – a restaurant in Spilamberto where they’ve got amazing gnocco and they have Calzagatti in season too. 

In Osteria del Mirasole, a restaurant in San Giovanni in Persiceto, they have Tortellini con panna da affiorament del Parmegiano Reggiano. Panna is the fat part of the milk, so they actually have a special broth made of panna from the Parmigiano Reggiano. It is a sumptuous treat and this is where Giulia chose for her 40th birthday dinner. 

bologna food experience

Ragu & lasagne

Other pasta dishes that you definitely have to try, involve the region’s famous ragu. Tagliatelle ragu and lasagna are both more Bolognese than Modenese, whereas tortellini is really from both cities.  The ragu is actually what makes both dishes so special. It has to be slow cooked for many hours. Some people, to make it even more flavorsome, add sausage – others prefer to keep it just beef. Again, maybe not the healthiest, but you wouldn’t have tagliatelle every day, just once a week or so.

Rosette al forno

Fantastic comfort food is this baked dish of rolled disc of pasta dough, with bechamel, parmesan reggiano, and prosciutto in the middle. So the pasta is supposed to be like roses made of pasta. The top is a little bit crunchy. The taste is not as strong as a ragu  – it’s more smooth because you’ve got more bechamel and cheese.

Passatelli

Found both in Emilia and Romagna (and one of Giulia’s favorites) is passatelli.  This is a recipe made with parmesan reggiano and bread and is pretty easy to make. You mix bread crumbs, parmesan reggiono, and one egg, in a big bowl. You then put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. When the mix is hard, you then pass it through something like a potato masher. They’re not super beautiful to look at because they look like little worms, but they are delicious, and very comforting, especially during this winter time. You can again eat them in broth or they can be had with a sauce such as mushroom or carbonara sauce.

Main:

Zampone

Another thing where they are using up all the bit of the pig and not wasting is Zampone. This is something you’d have in the colder month on special occasions – it’s very traditional. Zampone is made from very selective pork meat combined with rind and flavored with pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and wine. All this meat is then stuffed into a natural casing, which is the skin of the leg of the pig (the front leg, because, of course, the back legs are used for the prosciutto). It creates a perfect balance of flavor. It is what they will have traditionally at Christmas.

There is a town called Castelnuovo Rangone where they make the most amazing cured meats. In November they are at their busiest because they are making lots of Zampone to be sold at Christmas. The very first week of December,  there is Sagra della Zampone, where every year they try to beat the Guinness World Record to make the longest Zambone ever – about 3 meters long. It is a big celebration and this huge pig’s leg filled with all the meat is brought to the main square, cut up for everyone to eat and drink with lots of Lambrusco. This town loves its pigs –  so much it has a big pig statue in the main square. 

Carrello dei bolliti

This is a dish that is popular, especially around Christmas. Carrello dei bolliti is something some restaurants will do and is an amazing social eating experience. They’ll have a trolley with different sections. Every section will have different boiled meats in the boiling broth and the owner of the restaurant very proudly will take this cart from table to table. It’s something to definitely try to do before it disappears. These different types of meats including the Zambone, you’ll have cotechino sausage and beef. There is also tongue for the more adventurous.

There is a restaurant called San Pellegrino which is still one of the surviving ones serving this type of meat. The owner told Giulia, that it was El Paradiso – the paradise of meat. She passed on the tongue but had other things such as the caponne and manzo which is then served with mashed potato and a variety of sauces. One of them is a green sauce that is very country/nonna style. Rustic and satisfying comfort food. 

Dessert:

Gelato

There is a gelato shop in Spilamberto, Gelato Modena which is well worth a stop after the Balsamic museum as you can try (as Katy and her family did) gelato with a drizzle of amazing balsamic. There is also another specialty, Gelato amaretti. Amaretti is a biscuit but perhaps not the same amaretti biscuit you find in other regions of Italy, especially Tuscany. This amaretti is made with flour and almonds. The texture is soft inside. These biscuits were created for the noble and rich Este family because almonds are not from that region so they were expensively brought in from Sicily. They created this invention using this very specific ingredient and so with this gelato, made with these biscuits – you get the best of both worlds. 

bologna food experience

Lambrusco: 

Katy made a surprise discovery when she was in Emilia this year when she discovered that she actually loved Lambrusco, the main wine of the region. Most of us from English- speaking countries have a bad Lambrusco memory because historically we got sent the bad stuff. But you have to try the wine locally as it’s made to go perfectly with the local dishes. It’s got a little bit of a fizz that cuts through the fattiness of the meat in many of the dishes. Katy is still really trying to find a good Lambrusco, in Australia, but isn’t having much luck – possibly because it’s a very young wine and doesn’t travel well. 

Giulia’s customers all thank her that she has completely changed their minds about Lambrusco. It was the first popular wine for exporting, so it has been the most exported wine, which actually was good to initially bring money into the region, but also bad because the stuff that was sold was not good quality and it then got its bad reputation. 

In Emilia, you can do a day of trying different Lambrusco and meeting different producers. You can try Lambrusco de Sorbara and compare it with the Lambrusco Grasparossa. In Giulia’s area, they have Grasparossa, which comes from a beautiful town, near her called Castelvetro. This is on a hill, so this Lambrusco is a little bit sweeter – because the sun rays hit the vineyard more than the Lambrusco distributors, which are on the other side of Modena, on more of a plain and a little bit drier.

If you want to taste very good Lambrusco from Grasparossa grapes, Fattoria Moretto is a very good producer. Galvana Superiore is also a very good one, La Piano, Cleto Chiarli for a big brand. It’s nice to go to the smaller vineyards for the more natural wines – another producer is called Terra Quilia. Giulia is more familiar with this Grasparossa, but for Lambrusco de Sorbara try Cantina Paltrinieri.

Announcing – Our new ‘Beyond Bologna’ Untold Italy small group tour

We also are delighted to announce our new Untold Italy small group tours of the Emilia region, Beyond Bologna, which will be led by Giulia. These will be run in May and November – both special times in the food season of the region. May, for instance, you have all the flowers newly in blossom, the cherry blossoms, and the famous cherries of Vignola come into season. In November, you have more hearty dishes and lots of Sagra.

There are some tours that zip around the region in one day, but we decided to do things a little bit differently and take things slowly – piano, piano. We’re not going to any of the really big producers – Giulia knows some of the amazing artisan producers that do some incredible things with their produce. One example that Katy and her family experienced during their trip was tasting the Parmegiano Reggiano made by the Bianco Modenese cows at the dairy that appears on Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy and where Massimo Bottura gets his Parmegiano Reggiano. Giulia is one of the few guides that can actually take people around that farm. The producers of the region are known to be no-nonsense they keep their humble origins and work very hard to make everything they do the best and love to share it with people. 

About our guest – Giulia Tamarri

Giulia Tamarri from Travel with Rezdora 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

  • Spilamberto –  famous for Balsamico Tradizionale production and their museum
  • Castelfranco – Giulia’s home town and home to a tortellini festival in September
  • Castelnuovo Rangone – famous for its cured meats
  • Mercato Albinelli – a beautiful covered market in Modena
  • San Giovanni in Persiceto – town in Emilia
  • Gelato Modena – Gelato shop in Spilamberto with the gelato with balsamic and amaretti
  • Castelvetro – famous for Lambrusco wine
  • Vignola – city in Emilia Romagna which is famous for its cherries

Restaurants:

Lambrusco Grasparossa wine producers:

Lambrusco Sorbara wine producers:

Food & Drink

  • gnocco fritto – a fried paste to be had with meats
  • ciccioli – pressed cakes of fatty pork
  • 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
  • Calzagatti – fried polenta and bean sticks
  • Tortellini con panna da affioramento del Parmigiano Reggiano – tortellini in a special broth made from Parmegiano Reggio
  • Rosette al Forno – a dish of pasta roses filled with ham, cheese, & béchamel, & baked until lightly golden
  • Passatelli – a pasta formed of bread crumbs, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, typically cooked in a chicken broth
  • carrello dei bolliti – a selection of boiled meast including Zambone, brought to you on a trolley
  • cotechino – a large pork sausage requiring slow cooking
  • 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
  • Massimo Bottura – incredible chef with a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena – Osteria Francescana

Resources

  • Coterie of traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena – association based in Spilamberto, in being since 1966
  • Emiliano – an inhabitant of Emilia
  • House of Este – a European dynasty of North Italian origin

Resources from Untold Italy

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