A Culinary Tour of Italy
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Vegetarians, be warned: The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is most famous for pork products like prosciutto di Parma, coppa, culatello, pancetta, and mortadella. It's also the home of handmade pastas (e.g., tagliatelle, tagliolini, and tortellini) and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Balsamic vinegar—made in Modena and Reggio for centuries—is totally unlike the stuff that sits on most American supermarket shelves. And the fizzy and slightly acidic Lambrusco is traditionally paired with the region's rich and elegant dishes.
Just outside Parma, in the lowlands known as la bassa, you'll find my favorite trattoria: Osteria da Ivan serves up regional specialties like culatello and rustic salami, a fried Parmigiano trim called tosone, and "braided" tortelli stuffed with greens. Ivan also has an amazing wine cellar, and can knife open bottles of bubbly without losing a drop. (Good news for tourists: The restaurant has just expanded to include an inn.) In nearby Soragna, gastronomers learn about the region's big cheese at the Parmigiano-Reggiano Museum, which is housed on a restored dairy farm. Early risers are rewarded with a cheese-making demonstration.
Osteria Francescana, in Modena, specializes in edgy, innovative cooking that uses regional ingredients and international techniques. Chef-owner Massimo Bottura has spent time in the kitchen with Spanish wizard Ferran Adrià and has applied his techniques to Emilian flavors. Must try-dishes include the three textures of Parmigiano and rabbit with a veil of balsamic jelly. To learn more about the region's balsamic vinegar or to arrange a tasting, I suggest a trip to the Consortium of Aceto Tradizionale di Modena. You can also purchase some traditional Modena balsamico from my favorite producers, Carla and Giovanni Galli. Call to arrange a visit.
I've never been thrilled by the restaurant scene in Bologna, but I'm crazy about the gelato and pastries at Gelatauro. Seasonal gelato flavors are all natural, and the pastries are often flavored with fig, bergamot, jasmine, candied fruit, and nuts. The shop's decor is also a feast for the eyes: The inventive chocolate displays and watercolor fruit mosaics are a sheer delight.
Hosteria da Ivan
via Villa 73
c/o Corte Castellazzi
Via Volta, 5
Osteria La Francescana
Via Stella, 22
Closed Saturday at lunch and all day Sunday, and from Dec. 23 to Jan. 12.
Consortium of Aceto Tradizionale di Modena
Strada Vaciglio Sud
via Albareto 452
Via San Vitale 82/b