Unconventional Italy: my favorite food&wine itineraries – PART 1

via emilia bettysluxurytravels
View Gallery 16 Photos
via emilia bettysluxurytravels
asparagus altedo bettysluxurytravels
cherries balsamic vineager bettusluxurytravels
lambrusco wine
squacquerone cheese bettysluxurytravels
piadina igp
spalla cotta
tagliatelle fresh pasta
tagliatelle ingredients fresh pasta bettysluxurytravels
aceto balsamico
prosciutto parma bettysluxurytravels
parmigiano reggiano bettysluxurytravels
tortellini brodo
salumi bettysluxurytravels
lasagna italian food

A joyride along the Via Emilia

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta” Federico Fellini, native of Rimini

Thank heaven for Emilia-Romagna, for its earnest friendly people, for its majestic castles and breathtaking mosaics, for its lively Riviera scene, and, ohhhhh, for its glorious food!

Wet by the Adriatic Sea, lined by the Apennine mountains and blessed by the generous flow of the great Po river this is one of the most fertile regions of Italy, and it’s a treasure chest of culture, history and centuries-old traditions.

Still quite off-the-beaten tourist track, Emilia-Romagna is, and has always been, an amazing haven of creativity and all-round excellence: birthplace of Federico Fellini, composer Giuseppe Verdi, and the poet Giovanni Pascoli, home to the most ancient university in the world (Bologna), and to some of Italy’s most famous carmakers (including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati), it offers strikingly diverse landscapes to admire and a myriad of things to see and do. What’s more, it’s the native land of some of the best Italian food!

The most important road of the region is the ancient Via Emilia. 262 kilometers (roughly 162 miles) long and 2200 years old it cuts straight through the region, from Piacenza’s stunning castles to Rimini and the well-equipped fun-filled Riviera, connecting all the region’s major cities: Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara, Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma.

Prosperous and endowed with an eventful history, the cities are made of elegant porticoes and winding Medieval streets studded with gorgeous Renaissance domes, graceful palaces, towers and Gothic churches.

Apart from being extremely attractive, each and every city and town in Emilia-Romagna offers a genuinely charming atmosphere thanks to the sincere hospitality of its inhabitants, renowned to be among Italy’s most big-hearted and sociable people. Wherever you go you’ll be welcomed with joy by the locals! Warm and friendly they are always happy to “have you over”, and apt to ask you to join them and share their daily fare.

The glorious plus is that, in Emilia Romagna, eating well is a given, lunch and dinner are serious business, and what regular people normally eat is some of the very best food in the whole world…

Doubtful? Well, let’s try this, it’s a quiz: name three delicious Italian specialties.

Parmesan cheese. Balsamic vinegar. Rich, gooey lasagna.

lasagna italian food
Succulent and creamy lasagna are the quintessence of comfort food
salumi bettysluxurytravels
A typical selection of tantalizing local cured meats

Name three more.

Tagliatelle. Parma ham. Tortellini (how about a butter sauce?!)

Guess what? All these come from Emilia-Romagna!

(Oh, right, the wine. Well, I’d say bubbly Lambrusco for a summertime picnic, and full-bodied Sangiovese with your lasagna!)

Let me show you around, discover a welcoming, smiling, foodie’s paradise. Travel along the Via Emilia and I promise you’ll find some of the best Italian food and wines!

Ready? (hungry?!) Let’s go!

tortellini brodo
My beloved tortellini in brodo

What to taste, and where

Everything! The local cured meats, “salumi” in Italian, are famous throughout the world, as are some of the cheeses, like Parmigiano Reggiano DOP*, the “king of cheeses”. Not to mention the pasta, queen of Emilia-Romagna’s cuisine: luscious egg-based pasta daily rolled out by hand and cut into ravishing lasagne, tagliatelle, stuffed tortelli and tortellini, my personal favorite.

The intense smell and tasty flavor of tortellini in brodo has a special place in my heart… it makes me feel at home, safe, and worry-free. I guess it’s because it awakens a childhood memory. Summertime, driving to the seaside with my parents. We stop for lunch along the way, somewhere in Emilia-Romagna, at a little trattoria. My mother smoothes out my hair rumpled by the warm summer wind, and a smiling waiter sets a smoking hot bowl of meaty broth, filled with dainty picture-perfect luscious tortellini. I am simply, blissfully, happy.

The superstars

Parmigiano Reggiano DOP

parmigiano reggiano bettysluxurytravels
Parmigiano Reggiano always tantalizing

Probably the best-known, and most beloved, Italian cheese in the world Parmigiano dates back to 7 centuries ago.  Rich and granular, it is still today produced exactly according to the traditional technique, ages naturally, and contains no preservatives of any kind. Its production area includes the provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantova. Here producers start with the raw milk which comes only from grass-fed cows bred in the officially sanctioned region. They then add whey culture and rennet to it and heat the mixture. When curds begin to form they are pressed into giant (38 kg!) wheels and put onto wooden shelves where they age for 12 to 36 months, depending on the desired age.

Don’t miss a stroll through exquisite Parma and make sure you visit the pink marble Baptistry. The architecture is a blend of Romanesque and Gothic, and inside it’s breathtaking: gaunt marble columns, elaborate 13th-century frescoes, statues and bas-reliefs. Then stop at the Parmigiano Reggiano Museum and learn all about this precious cheese.

Insider’s tip: Enjoy a firsthand experience by visiting one of the producers! You’ll be able to see the cheese-making process and taste a selection of the best. Check out the official Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano website to arrange a visit and/or a guided tasting experience.

Prosciutto di Parma DOP

prosciutto parma bettysluxurytravels
Thinly sliced Parma ham…YUM!

An American friend of mine once said “what would the world be without Parma ham?” I do share her view!  Made by rubbing and massaging the hind legs of pork with an amount of salt proportionate to the weight of the meat. But there are countless other exceptional local cured meats, no other place in the world produces such a variety (read on, I’ll tell you all about my personal number-one!)

Aceto Balsamico DOP

aceto balsamico

Historical records tell us a “tart syrup,” the ancestor of today’s vinegar, was made and used in Emilia-Romagna, specifically in the areas between Panaro and Secchia, near Modena, and around Reggio. Authentic aceto balsamico tradizionale, long renowned and loved in Italy and more recently adopted by chefs and foodies worldwide, is splendidly rich and full-bodied. It’s made following the same traditional technique used for centuries: grape must is left to ferment and thicken for at least (!) 12 years, or longer. The barrels used for the aging are made of different wood – oak, cherry, chestnut, juniper and mulberry – and the balsamico absorbs the different flavor and aromas.

Learn and taste at the official Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale, in Spilamberto near Modena. Reservations are mandatory so visit the website first to book your visit!

(tip: you can also download the museum guide)

Fresh hand-made egg pasta

tagliatelle ingredients fresh pasta bettysluxurytravels
The ingredients for luscious tagliatelle: fresh farm eggs, golden local wheat…
tagliatelle fresh pasta
… Together with traditional know-how and long-practiced skill

Made with flour, eggs, a pinch of salt, and a lot of love and commitment! Every self-respecting girl and woman, and a great number of boys and men, from Emilia-Romagna knows how to make fresh hand-rolled impossible-to-resist pasta. They make it into strips, i.e. tagliatelle (broader) and tagliolini (thinner), they stuff it (with cheese, meat, seasonal vegetables…) and roll it into bigger tortelli, tortellacci, cappellacci and of course delightful-looking tortellini

My advice is: wherever you go for lunch and dinner just ask for the house specialty homemade pasta, your vacation will be an unending soul-pleasing feast!

Insider’s tip: I do recommend you take the time to stop in Ferrara, UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a visit and lunch or dinner. Apart from the fabulous sightseeing (perfectly preserved ancient city walls, pedestrian-friendly streets and a stunning castle right in the town center) Ferrara has its own, unique, flagship dish: sublime cappellacci di zucca. Named cappellacci caplazin the local dialect – after the straw hat (“cappello” in Italian) traditionally worn by local peasants, they are a sort of ravioli filled with pumpkin, Parmigiano Reggiano and nutmeg. Served either with a butter and sage sauce or with a rich meat ragout this deliciously decadent dish dates back to the Renaissance, when it was a favorite of the lords of the city, the Este family.

Not-so-famous (but very special)

Spalla Cotta

spalla cotta
A cut of spalla cotta, yet to be cooked

Formally “Spalla Cotta di San Secondo” after the small town of San Secondo where it was born, this out-of-the-ordinary cured meat is deliciously unusual. It’s made from a large pork shoulder, cured in a mixture of salt, pepper, cinnamon, garlic and nutmeg and left to “rest” in a cold room, salted once more and aged for one to two months. Its main feature is that, unlike most cured meats, you eat it hot: traditionally prepared (simmered in water for hours, with bay leaves and wine) it’s surprisingly soft, aromatic and flavorful. A real treat!

Insider’s tip: for a taste of authentic, and masterly made, spalla cotta stop at “fratelli” Spigaroli’s delightful Cavallino Bianco restaurant, in Polesine Parmense

Bonus: you can spend the night at his fascinating Locanda, the Antica Corte Pallavicina, if you overdo the Lambrusco with dinner!

Piadina IGP

piadina igpIvory-white with amber hues, a freshly baked fragrant aroma and subtle unique flavor…  what can I say, piadina is just one of the very best street food treats ever! Typically prepared in ForlìCesenaRavenna and Rimini it is a very thin  flatbread filled, typically with ham, arugula and creamy scrumptious squacquerone cheese. The actual piadina dough is made with white flourlard , salt and water, and still prepared following the traditional technique, by hand.  Dating back to the 1200s its recipe was first published in 1371, when Cardinal Anglico provided the recipe for the “bread of the people of Romagna”. Authentic homemade piadina is sold at the specialized kiosks which you’ll see along the streets, and MUST (!) be eaten crispy and warm right there.

No need for advice on where to find the best piadina… I guarantee its tempting smell will find you first!

Squacquerone Cheese DOP

squacquerone cheese bettysluxurytravels
Squacquerone, creamy and delish

Soft, velvety, milky-white squacquerone is an extraordinary typical cheese exclusively produced in the provinces of Forlì, Ravenna, Rimini, Imola, Ferrara and Bologna. It’s a fresh cheese, such as ricotta or stracchino, but with a distinctive, nippy and almost tangy flavor (which makes it, paired with savory ham, an ideal filling for piadina!)

Tasting it is a must when in Emilia-Romagna: it’s DOP* certification guarantees it cannot be industrially made and it has to be consumed within a few days of production because it’s not aged, so it’s virtually impossible to find elsewhere.


lambrusco wine

Emilia-Romagna’s signature wine has been often written off as “just” a simple sparkly wine, not at all prestigious nor important. But, although it doesn’t have a great reputation, not only is it a fantastic warm-weather wine, but also boasts a grand heritage. Lambrusco is, in fact, one of the oldest wines in the world and comes originally from wild vines. Just think that the Romans named it originally: it was labrusca, from the Latin labrun, or edge, border, and ruscum, wild.

Ruby-red, sparkling and with a deep aroma, at times reminiscent of wild cherries and herbs, and served slightly chilled it is an ideal accompaniment for Emilia-Romagna’s luscious, and often very rich, food. Ask your waiter for the best for a memorable all-round local gourmet experience!

Insider’s tip: my friends from Parma claim that one of the best is the Rosso del Motto Vivace.

Though I’m not much of an expert I can tell you I’ve had more than a glass… and I think it’s sensational!

Vignola and Modena Cherries IGP


cherries balsamic vineager bettusluxurytravels
Cherries and Aceto Balsamico, the perfect springtime treat!

Some of the best cherries in the world, both exceptionally delicious and sought-after throughout Italy, are grown only in Emilia-Romagna. Visit charming Modena, city of all pleasures, from food and music to Ferrari! Whatever you do with your time there make sure you try the deliciously piquant jam made with the prize-winning bright red “Amarene Brusche di Modena”, tart and tangy.

Their “relatives”, plump wine-colored “Ciliegie di Vignola”, sweet, aromatic and full-flavored are simply heavenly. Take a walk around picturesque Vignola in April or early May, locate the famous ancient spiral staircase and buy a bag of cherries. I bet you can’t make it to the top before finishing them!

Altedo Asparagus IGP

asparagus altedo bettysluxurytravelsTender and delicate in flavor the precious light green stalks which grow between the via Emilia in the province of Bologna, the Adriatic Sea and the Po river area in the province of Ferrara are beloved by chefs and gourmands all across Europe.

Stay tuned for more unconventional Italian food&wine journeys… I’m taking you to discover the tastes of southern Italy next!

*DOP: acronym of Denominazione di Origine Protetta, meaning “Protected Designation of Origin”. This certification ensures that this food or wine is made following a strict set of rules throughout all production phases: it is locally grown (in case of meats the animals are of a specific kind and locally bred), made by local farmers and artisans using traditional methods and locally packaged as well.

*IGP: acronym of Indicazione Geografica Protetta, meaning “Protected Geographical Indication”. Less strict this certification means that this food or wine is grown, and/or made, and/or prepared and/or produced in a specific area.


I have spent my whole life working on high end events and travelling both for job reasons and for real passion; now, it is time to share notes with you! My passion for travel started when I was a child and now it is not just a passion, it is part of my business as I work in the field of luxury travels and events. In private life, luxury is the joy I find also in details and in small things.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.