A Vineyard Changes With The Season

Loosen Those Belt Buckles – Some Serious Eating Ahead

Before I’ve even written the first word of this post, my OCD brain is trying to figure out if this post should be categorized under the “Food” or the “Travel” sections of the blog.  I will be taking you along with us on our travel adventure to go eat some of Italy’s best food.  It’s quite the dilemma…

A selection of salumi (cold cuts), formaggi (cheese) and the cinghiale (boar) that gave his life to the cause

You may have read about part of our visit with Aunt Deb and Uncle S where we ventured into the wine region of Piemonte during the first portion of their visit.  Their two week sojourn in Italy included a mission to explore the best of what the country has to give.  It was no coincidence then, that their adventure had been neatly divided into three of the country’s best offerings.  Part I was Vino (wine).  Party II was Cibo (food) – the subject of today’s post.  Lastly, Part III was Storia (history).  Since they experienced the rich history of Pompeii and Venezia on their own, I will let them tell you all about it at their next dinner party.  I’ll simply report on the parts during which we were present… and luckily for us, we were present for a three day trip into Italy’s richest “food region”, Emilia-Romagna.

“Now I’m hungry – let’s eat!”

I always laugh when I speak to Italians about their trips to the United States.  Before they even tell me, I know that they’ve been to New York City and then Miami (bypassing Washington DC; a detail they don’t want to admit but one that I always extract).  If they’re fortunate enough to have a lengthy stay, they will then travel to Las Vegas on their way to Los Angeles.  Occasionally, they may venture up the coast to San Francisco before returning home.  That’s it.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Heck, I don’t blame them – they were raised in large part on American cinema, and that’s what most Europeans see as the sum total of the United States – New York and LA.  And of course, who wouldn’t want to throw a trip to Vegas in the mix?!  Likewise – it is the same for Americans coming here.  Where do we go?  Rome.  Milan.  Venice.  Tuscany (Florence and Pisa) and occasionally the Italian Riviera if there’s time.   But there is so much of this country that is left undiscovered (I feel like we travel non-stop and we still haven’t gotten a flavor of more than 10% of Italy).  One region in particular that is largely overlooked is Emilia-Romagna.  Heck, I’m willing to bet you probably haven’t even heard of it!  But there are a few things that I know you know.  You’ve heard of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.  They’re all produced here, in Emilia-Romagna.  Or aged balsamic vinegar?  That also comes from here, in Modena.  What about parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese)?  Or prosciutto?  I’d be wiling to bet that you’ve even heard of Ferrara chocolate.  With culinary delights like these, it’s no wonder that Emilia-Romagna is often considered the “heart” of Italian cuisine.

Vineyards in Emilia-Romagna
S studies the frame of his photograph
The colors at this time of year were stunning
Julia takes a stroll and soaks up all that Emilia-Romagna has to offer

On our first day, we stopped in Parma (of Proscuitto di Parma fame) to begin our culinary escapade. We started small – just panini (sandwiches) at the most popular sandwich place in northern Italy, Pepèn.  I was not at all surprised to learn that this tiny shop that has been around for over 200 years does not have a website.  I think that they figured out the perfect panino (sandwich) somewhere in the past 100 years and have unabashedly decided not to change a thing since (earning them a #1 rating out of 430 restaurants reviewed on TripAdvisor – although calling it a “restaurant” is a stretch).  Uncle S and I crowded into the tiny restaurant and I told the sandwich maestro to give us a mixture of some of his favorite concoctions.  We awoke our taste buds with succulent porchetta, life-changing salsiccia crudo (raw sausage) and mind-altering gamberi piccanti (spicy shrimp) – all on perfectly toasted buns (these were just some examples of our sandwiches – we got many more to share).   Since the place doesn’t really have any seats, we camped out on the steps of Chiesa Cattolica Parrocchiale San Pietro (St. Peter’s Catholic Church Parish) in Piazza Garibaldi Giuseppe to enjoy our delectable treats.

Pepèn is hidden on a small side street – you have to know where you’re going to get there
These two guys have been making panini in this crowded little shop for many years
One package of our delicious panini
We camped out on the stairs of the church to eat our lunch
Julia escorts Deborah and me into the Cattedrale di Parma
Amazing frescoes adorned every single wall in the church
The paintings on the wall were so lifelike I was mesmerized
The ceiling amazed all of us inside the Cathedral
The Baptistery of Parma, commissioned in 1196 by the city counsel of Parma

After a complete and rewarding day in Parma, we drove the forty five minutes to our B&B, just outside of Modena.  After researching for many hours, we had booked a stay at, Locanda Gli Ulivi because it was centrally located to the places we would be visiting and has a wonderful online presence (great reviews and photos across our most reliable travel websites).  We were not disappointed with the place – it was simply wonderful.  Since we were weary road warriors on that first day, we decided to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, Osteria  Clo ‘Filomena that night.  Since the food was so wonderful and I was able to capture a picture of each course, I’ll complete a separate post about that meal.

Locanda Gli Ulivi
“Come on in…”
Our backyard
The pool
A nice place for a picnic
View from immediately across the room
Same place, looking to the right
An olive tree at night inside the property
An old church across the street, lit up by the purple sky of early evening

The next day, we departed with our sights on the largest city and capital of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna.  To most Americans, bologna is a processed meat (that you either love or hate) sandwiched between two pieces of good ol’ fashioned white bread.  In the States, we named “our” bologna after the city that is a major producer of mortadella – a staple meat of Bologna (and very similar – but much, much tastier than “our” bologna).  My bologna has a first-name, and it’s…”send this back and bring me a slice of mortadella, please!”.   To most Europeans, Bologna is much more than just a processed meat.  It is a university town.  Home to the oldest university in the world, University of Bologna, founded in 1088.  Today, the university accepts students from all over the world – eager to complete a full program, or just a study abroad in the seventh most populated city in Italy.  We walked around all day, stopping for a wonderful lunch at Cesari – a selection from S and Deb’s Fodor’s guidebook.  The gang at Fodor’s know what they’re doing, it was a wonderful place.

Cesari was as delicious as it was charming
“Hey… we recognize that wine”
(from a tasting we did at Cantina di Borgogno a few days earlier)

We spent more time walking though this historically significant and important city, before ducking into a building with a much more modern vibe.  Eataly is the brainchild of Oscar Farinetti; a store that is a proud Italian marketplace, selling the best ingredients and offering access to goods that are otherwise hard to acquire on a massive scale (imagine a Whole Foods on steroids that just sells Italian products).  Even though Oscar opened his flagship 30,000 sq. ft store in Torino in 2007, the company really took off with locations around the world (including New York City) when B&B Hospitality Group (Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich) became a partner.   Admittedly, the Bologna location was very underwhelming in size and scale (especially compared to the unique Torino store) – but we were still able to acquire some wonderful salumi (variety of cured meats) and formaggi (cheeses).  That night, we procured reservations at the the most exclusive table in all of Italy – we had a little picnic in S and Deb’s room.

A statue stands near the University of Bologna
Julia becomes taken with a small group of performers
She takes a shot at playing – she started with some Mozart
Julia made a friend in the main piazza
Inside Eataly, our friend helps us select the best meats and cheeses for our picnic
S takes his job selecting for the group very seriously.  Good thing he did, we had a wonderful meal
He cuts us a hard cheese
After our visit to Eataly, we needed a little coffee
I just thought this window was interesting
As well as this ancient building
The table is set
Our salumi (meats)
S and Deb are about to dig in with us

Our final day in Emilia-Romagna was no less packed with activities than the first two.  We had scheduled a visit to the Museo di Ferrari (Ferrari Museum), exploration of Modena (with a stop for lunch) and a balsamic vinegar tasting.  Car enthusiasts the world over can appreciate a visit to the “mecca of all things automotive”.  This is what Modena can offer you – Ferrari and Maserati all have their factories within a few kilometers of the city (Lamborghini moved their headquarters from Modena to Bologna).  Ferrari chose to name one of their models after the city itself (Ferrari Modena 360).  We chose to learn a little bit about the legacy of Enzo Ferrari himself, one of the world’s truest visionaries.  The museum did not disappoint….

Museo Ferrari in Maranello
“Welcome to paradise!” 
An old Ferrari 166 F2
This classic symbol is at the heart of most men’s desires
1966 Ferarri 330 P3
1954 Ferrari 750 Monza
F1 Constructors’
Formula 1 World Champion 2008
Julia and I sure felt like champions
The heart that powers the machine
2013 Ferrari 458 Speciale
These babies can grip – Pirelli is the tire of race professionals
Concept car of the future
This is a clay model – what they use to construct a concept in the early stages of development

After soaking up all things, Ferrari – I drove us (albeit, much slower than a Ferrari could have gone) to the center of Modena.  The town itself is a wonderful place, certainly worthy of a daily visit.  It is believed that the city was already in existence by the 3rd century.  Here in the 21st century, we lucked out and caught an open air market in the center of town.  We were also treated to a marching band that passed us twice as we strolled through the city.

Main piazza in Modena – a street fair had been set up
Julia runs through the city
The streets of Modena were beautiful
S and Julia sit by their new friend
Meanwhile, these two are deep frying pig skins
Crispy, delicious and probably 130% fattening
S bought some prune jam – here he is bottling the jar for S
A marching band happened to pass through as we were in the market
Walking through the city again – there are a lot of pedestrian streets in Modena
Family photo
We ran into the marching band a second time

The day passed by [too] quickly and we had to bid a fond farewell to Modena – we had an important event coming up later that afternoon.  A tasting at one of Modena’s finest producers of aged balsamic vinegar – Acetaia Villa San Donnino.  Since it was such a fun and noteworthy event, I will post about it separately.  After our trip back from Emilia-Romagna, S and Deborah took off for Pompeii and just a few days later, we were hugging our goodbyes.  It’s amazing how quickly time time goes when you are filling it with great food and wine!