It’s no secret that we love touring the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. We visited the region three times in less than twelve months. This post is the 25th blog post we’ve written about Emilia Romagna! We talk about culinary tourism in Emilia Romagna to every person we meet who is planning a trip to Italy. In our humble opinion, Italian culinary tourism begins and ends with Emilia Romagna. Here’s why.
What is the Via Emilia?
During our last trip to Emilia Romagna, we toured along the Via Emilia, a food and wine route that runs from the Adriatic Coast, to Piacenza, stretching almost to Milan. Along this route are some of the best-known foodie areas of Italy, including Bologna, Modena, and Parma. The Via Emilia and the surrounding areas are home to some of the most amazing DOP and IGP products and specialty ingredients Italy has to offer. The best part is that all of the towns along the trail are less than 20 kilometers away from each other. That means it is easy to do a full foodie road trip in a short amount of time.
It was a fun-filled, jam-packed four-day trip to take in as much Italian culinary tourism as we could in a short amount of time. We left full and happy, and itching to return.
Italian Culinary Tourism – The Wine
One of our first stops on the Via Emilia was at the Enoteca Regionale, a wine shop and education center in Dozza. The goal was to receive an introduction to the wines of Emilia Romagna, by tasting some of the most classic grapes and styles. For us, it was a reintroduction to the wines that we’ve come to love, like Lambrusco and Pignoletto. We also drank Sangiovese, which is typical of the Romagna portion of the region. But it’s a wine we know mostly from touring Tuscany where it is commonly known as Chianti.
While receiving an over of Italian wine in Emilia Romagna, we enjoyed a lunch of meats and cheeses, also typical of the region. It was a mere teaser of the meals and wines that were to come during our tour of the Via Emilia.
We met a series of winemakers over the coming days, from larger mass production wineries to historic family-owned properties and newer wineries with mad scientist style winemakers. We learned more about Sangiovese, tasted Albana (a wine typical of the Romagna region) and drank a little Lambrusco as well. Of course!
We even witnessed some of the harvest first hand at Poderi Delle Rocche. While tasting some wines in their tiny wine tasting room, Ettore explained to us the importance of wine to the region. Because Italian culinary tourism has to start with the wine. It’s the lifeblood of the region and is served at every meal. Ettore patiently listened as we asked loads of questions before taking us on a brief tour of the winery.
Not only were we able to watch the arrival of the grapes and the initial pressing, but Ettore allowed us to taste wine directly from the aging barrels. This is something we’ve just experienced a few times, and each time we relish the opportunity to allow a winemaker to show off his unfinished product. This was a task Eric took very, very seriously.
A little less serious visit occurred on our way to Corte San Ruffillo, a country resort in Dovadola. It was the end of our touring day and we were on our way to this beautiful hotel for dinner and a well deserved night sleep after a long day.
Before our arrival, we stopped for an aperitivo at their winery, just up the hill from the hotel. This is where we met Luca, the mad scientist I referred to earlier. Yes, there was some wine to taste, along with some home cured meats. But he was most interested in explaining to us how the wine is made. Our aperitivo visit turned into a bit of a chemistry lesson.
Because it was harvest time, it gave us a unique opportunity to see wine at the very early stages of fermentation, where it seems more like a fruit juice than what we know as wine.
It was easy to see Luca’s passion for wine coming through. When meeting his wife, Sara, later during our dinner at Corte San Ruffillo, she apologized for his “passion.” His focus on the winery apparently creates a little bit of a struggle as to which is more important to their business: the hotel or the wine. I am happy to support their continued disagreement because they are doing a fabulous job at both!
Italian Culinary Tourism – The Dining
Of course, people travel to Italy for the food. There’s no shock there.
People think of Italian food as very heavy on tomatoes and red sauce. This is really the focus of Southern Italian cooking, especially Sicily. It makes sense for people to think of red sauce as Italian food, particularly for Americans. Many of the Italian roots in the US come from Sicily.
But, it is sometimes hard to find a pizza in Emilia Romagna, and the pasta dishes are rarely coated in red sauce. Instead, during this trip, we ate polenta and seasonal mushroom heavy dishes at Ca’ Monti, an Italian agriturismo. We dined on cured meats, mortadella, and cheeses after a cooking class at Casa Artusi.
The passion we saw with both Luca and Sara at Corte San Ruffillo produced one of the best meals we had during our Via Emilia tour. The hotel itself was recently laboriously and lovingly restored, and a romantic destination in Italy. Some parts of the hotel date to the 1300s. You can certainly feel the history of the property.
The dining room had a modern feel though, even with the exposed stonework and wooden beams. A combination of traditional cuisines and contemporary cooking styles. Fabulous wines in a storybook setting. It was a meal I would not soon forget. Seasonal, stuffed zucchini blossoms, traditional tortelloni with pancetta, tagliatelle with wild boar ragu, tender duck breast wine sauce and grape sorbet with passion fruit. I could happily eat this entire meal all over again.
It’s actually not hard to find an amazing meal in Emilia Romagna. We’ve eaten loads of great meals in the region and that’s one of the reasons why it’s one of our favorite places for Italian culinary tourism.
Italian Culinary Tourism – The Ingredients
The real story behind the food of Emilia Romagna really comes from the ingredients. When you talk about fresh, local ingredients in the region, it’s not just the produce that is fresh, but the production of the ingredients that many people associate with Italy.
Emilia Romagna is home to Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di Modena, and loads of other impeccable cured meats. We toured a Prosciutto di Parma factory during our Via Emilia tour, which left Eric in hog heaven. Seriously, hog heaven.
Eric was so excited we even got a nice little quote from him on how much he loves prosciutto in this video:
For me, the highlight of the tour came in the form of cheese.
I don’t tire of touring factories that produce Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of cheese. On this particular visit, they were in the process of making new wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, as well as fresh ricotta (get a homemade ricotta recipe here). So, they asked us to wear particularly attractive outfits to help keep up sanitation standards. We wore stunning hairnets, plastic coats, and booties over our shoes. It seemed like the perfect place for a Parmigiano photo bomb by our friend Nick.
Not only do I learn something every time I tour a cheese facility, but I would pay an entrance fee just to walk into the aging room. As they say, this is where the magic happens.
Millions of Euros of cheese, aged for at least 18 months, and sometimes up to five years. All stored in one giant room. When they slide open the doors of the aging room and I smell the aged cheese, I’m like a kid in a candy store.
Whereas Parmigiano Reggiano is the king of cheese, Aceto Balsamico is the black gold. It seems we can’t tour Emilia Romagna without stopping at a producer of traditional, aged, balsamic vinegar. During this trip, we visited our fourth. And, after learning how to professionally taste Aceto Balsamico during our prior visit, I certainly felt like an expert.
Acetaia Muratori was probably one of the smallest producers we’ve visited, with production located in the attic of the family home. We impressed the owner, just a bit, with our extensive knowledge of balsamico.
I loved his excitement and passion. He described how he was creating the batteria, where the balsamic vinegar is aged for up to and beyond 25 years. His goal: to have something to hand down to his children. Like many producers we’ve met across culinary regions in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, this was a retirement project.
How to Have Your Own Italian Culinary Tourism Experience
We ate a half dozen really good meals, learned how to make pasta, Italian breads, prosciutto, and Parmigiano. We witnessed a wine harvest and tried more different kinds of wines than I can count on all my fingers and toes. We met winemakers, toured vineyards and learned how wine is produced. And we did this all in four days.
The best way to have an Italian culinary tourism experience like this one is to book with a company that knows the region inside and out. They can plan the perfect tour based on your interests and schedule. We’ve spoken volumes about Yummy Italy, and how they can provide Anthony Bourdain style travel experiences.
But, the tourism boards in many cities and regions can also help with planning. We’ve met some of the folks working at the tourism boards in Modena and Bologna, and they are happy to direct visitors in the direction of food producers, wineries and can even suggest cooking classes.
It’s definitely possible to find great meals without the help of tourism boards, and up until a few years ago, I would not have thought to contact them before a food-focused trip. But to find the producers and to set up tours with small proprietors, they can help enormously. Not all of these producers are open to the public all the time and getting help from a local is imperative.
Next month, we will return to Emilia Romagna to fine tune our Italian culinary tourism knowledge. You would think we’ve seen it all, done it all, drank it all and eaten it all. But Emilia Romagna Tourism and Yummy Italy have found more for us to experience along the Via Emilia.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
More About Our Trip
We were hosted by the Emilia Romagna Tourism Board during our #ViaEmilia experience. As always, all of my opinions are my own.
For more on Italian culinary tourism, check out our Emilia Romagna Food Travel Guide, which is continuously updated with information on how to eat well in Italy.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.