Bologna is known for many things - medieval architecture, an ancient yet still thriving university, beautiful churches, upscale shopping and, perhaps above all, its food. Bologna lies in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and many of the foods we most strongly associate with Italian cuisine come from Bologna and its neighbors, Parma and Modena. Bologna is often referred to as "La Grassa" (the fat). In this case, fat doesn't mean corpulent; it means richly stocked with wonderful ingredients and perhaps a bit of decadence in its foods. In Bologna si manga bene (you eat well).
Some of the famous foods of this region include various types of salumi (cold cuts), including mortadella (whose poor cousin is the terribly misnamed bologna), prosciutto, salami, filled pastas (the Bolognese invented them), the sauce we call Bolognese but which is known here simply as ragu, truffles, and aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) from Modena. There is also that famous cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, which takes its name from the town of Parma and is produced only in this limited geographic area.
Add to this two wines unique to the region - Lambrusco (red) and Pignoletto (white), both of which are a bit frizzante (sparking). The breadth and quality of Bolognese cuisine is most impressive!
With only a long weekend in Bologna I knew that I wanted a guide to introduce me to the local cuisine so I booked a half-day progressive lunch/walking tour through the company Amazing Italy. Catia, our guide, seamlessly blended information about food, culture, and history into an interesting and tasty 3.5-hour walk through central Bologna. The tour included an exploration of the old market area (the Quadrilatero) with tasting stops at several places, including some family-run Bolognese institutions. At each stop Catia discussed some of the shop's history, the significance of the foods, their preparation, and their place in local food culture - then we tasted the specialties of each shop.
Along the way, we visited:
Majani, the oldest chocolate shop in town and the first in Italy to make solid chocolate. It is famous for its foglia nero (dark chocolate "leaves"), which are still made using the oldest of their recipes. The four types of chocolate we sampled varied in color, texture, and sweetness. All were beautiful to look at and wonderful to taste.
Vecchia Malga, in the heart of the Quadrilatero, is a busy and popular place. Luckily we had a reserved table to sample some of the softest, sweetest prosciutto I've ever tasted, along with mortadella, salami, and two cheeses - a Parmigiano-Reggiano drizzled with a thick balsamic vinegar and a soft caciotta. Our tasting also came with a glass of Lambrusco; the soft sparkle paired well with the meat and cheese.
Sfoglia Rina provided the next course in our progressive lunch, the pasta. This shop has been making fresh pasta using traditional methods and regional ingredients for more than 50 years. They specialize in pasta ripiena (filled pastas), which they make in a variety of shapes and sizes. Locals line up to get trays of fresh pasta to cook at home. They also line up at lunch to eat at the restaurant. Getting a table here can be a challenge - reservations recommended! Look for today's selection on the chalkboard-painted pillar in the middle of the restaurant. I opted for delicious tortelloni filled with ricotta and flecks of spinach in a light butter herb sauce.
Paolo Atti & Figli has been a family operation since 1868 with recipes handed down from mother to daughter for five generations. In addition to the breads that they bake fresh twice a day, they also prepare small cocktail savories, pastries, and tortellini. All of their products are true to Bolognese food culture traditions.
The last stop was at the newer and decidedly modern Creameria Funivia for a serving of their artisanal gelato. Their favors are unique and range from the classic to the adventurous. There were sighs of delight from everyone on the tour as they enjoyed their flavor choices. This gelato was so good that I forgot to take a photo!
Amazing Italy, and Catia, provide an insider's look at Bolognese foods and the role of foods in local culture. What a fabulous introduction to the uniqueness and variety of dishes to be found in this interesting and beautiful city. -post by JMB
Amazing Italy amazing-Italy.com