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BOLOGNA - ITALY'S CULINARY MECCA

Bologna - Garden of Italy

Bologna - Garden of Italy

Seven Reasons Why Bologna is Italy’s Foodie Heart

Head to central Bologna, capital of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, and you’ll soon hit a food shop. The delicious, dark delis containing a multitude of goodies are around every corner in this handsome old city. The Bolognese take their food tradition very seriously. In fact, the city is known as ‘La Grassa’ meaning ‘The fat one’, and for good reason.

In Italy, the paths of food are infinite: there are so many typical products and dishes to taste, so many different flavors, you will only be spoilt for choice. Here is a selection of some of the most famous protagonists on Italian tables, coming from every part of the country.

1. Amazing Tortellini

You’ll find Bologna’s plentiful independent shops groaning with the region’s traditional foods. One speciality is delicious little tortellini – tiny filled pasta containing a meaty mix of mortadella, prosciutto crudo, cooked pork mince, and seasoning – perhaps a dash of nutmeg. There is never any alternative filling in these dreamy little pasta parcels. If you’re doing things one-hundred percent traditionally, you should eat them in a broth made from the carcass of a cockerel and a beef bone. But they also taste great simmered for a minute or so in simmering salted water, drained, then tossed in butter and pepper, or with a cream and ham reduction.

2. Moreish Mortadella

Another key ingredient of the city is mortadella. This cooked cured pork sausage is protected by the European Union, and bears the IGP geographical stamp of approval. Mortadella with the IGP stamp must follow a precise method to be up to the very best standard. Real mortadella is made from lean pork with cubes of fat from the throat – considered the tastiest. It’s mixed with herbs and spices, often whole peppercorns, and sometimes pistachios, before being dry-air cooked for hours, depending on the size. When ready, it’s cooled and the flavours allowed to stabilise before being sold. It’s eaten on its own as an aperitivo, or for lunch, but also appears cooked into many Bolognese recipes, for example as a stuffing for tender fried pork or chicken, and in pasta sauces and fillings.

3. Plentiful Parmesan

You’ll also see huge wedges of Parmesan gracing the shelves of Bolognese food shops. The world’s best loved Italian cheese comes almost entirely from Emilia-Romagna. By European law it can only be called Parmigiano-Reggiano if it’s from the towns of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena, and Mantua (which is the only one not in the region of Emilia-Romagna, but bordering Lombardy). To be on the safe side, either make a trip to lovely Romagna to buy a hunk (leave room in your case), or buy only cheese specifically called Parmigiano-Reggiano.

4. Real Ragù

You can’t come to Bologna without eating ‘Bolognese’. Except, of course, Bolognese doesn’t actually exist – the meaty sauce we know and love in the UK, is called ragù in Italy. We call it Bolognese because it’s from Bologna. But don’t expect to see it served with spaghetti; this rich, meaty, long-cooked sauce is always served with fresh tagliatelle here. The official ingredients allowed in the sauce are much debated. It’s started off with gently sautéed celery, onion, and carrot, then usually beef and pork mince are added – sometimes veal. You can add white wine (some add red, and others none), and milk, and a little tomato paste. But one thing all Italians agree on is there’s no garlic, and it must cook slowly for a long time – preferably a minimum of 2 hours. It’s also the base of another great Bolognese dish that’s worth tasting in its home town – lasagne.

5. Best Balsamic

Another ingredient you’ll see a lot of, is the black gold that is balsamic vinegar from Modena. Modena is under an hour up the E35 road from Bologna, and also in this great foodie region of Emilia Romagna. Again, it’s an IGP protected product, and the best ones – aged for 25 years or more and extra vecchio (meaning extra old), cost over £100 for 100ml. It’s a good idea to find a shop that offers tasting of a selection of vinegars, trying a little of each on a plastic spoon. Many are excellent, even the less expensive ones graded condimenti – but try before you buy and you won’t be sorry.

6. Informal Dining

Aside from the great ingredients, the Bolognese have also mastered the way to eat. You don’t find too many very expensive restaurants here. The culture is very much to eat local food together in an informal setting, and trattoria selling a selection of local pasta, meat and desserts are everywhere. There’s no need to dress up, just drop in and join the convivial atmosphere and great local food. This is the way the Bolognesi do it. They also have a selection of excellent food halls in the city centre – notably Mercato di Mezzo. This is a collection of artisanal food sellers positioned around a central sitting area. Pick what you fancy and grab a table. It’s fast food in the sense of a hand-made pasta, or fresh fish rather than anything processed. The best food, in other words.

7. Aperitivo Treats

Another big part of the Bolognese food scene is the aperitivo. Italians rarely drink without eating, so head to a bar, order a drink, and in the cover price you’ll get a selection of delicious bites to eat, maybe prosciutto crudo, crostini, or a taster of the lovely local creamy cheese squacquerone. It’s a lovely way to eat a light meal, over a Campari or Prosecco or a glass of local Sangiovese red, or crisp Albana white.

Whatever you do, don’t come to Bologna without an empty stomach.

MORE TRADITIONAL ITALIAN STAPLES

In Italy, the paths of food are infinite: there are so many typical products and dishes to taste, so many different flavors, you will only be spoilt for choice. Here is a selection of some of the most famous protagonists on Italian tables, coming from every part of the country.

Schiacciata

Italy has a rich bread tradition, characterized by products created through different recipes and technique, and shaped in different forms. Schiacciata is particularly famous and it is usually associated to Tuscany; it is a baked focaccia, or flat bread, seasoned with olive oil and salt and. Though being part of Tuscan tradition there are other two types of schiacciata: the schiacciata messinese and the schiacciata catanese. They totally differ from the Tuscan one as they are filled; the messinese is filled with cheese, potatoes, broccoli, sausage, tomatoes, onions, pepper, oil and salt. The ingredients of schiacciata catanese are cheese, anchovies, pepper and olives.

Mozzarella

Though being imitated all over the country, the original and authentic mozzarella comes from the south of Italy; mozzarella can be made with both cow and buffalo milk. The first type is associated to several southern regions, such as Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata, Abruzzo and Molise; the second, on the other hand, is typical of Campania, and is protected by a special DOP certification to ensure its authenticity. Mozzarella is characterized by a round shape of different sizes. Its consistency should be firm, but not hard, creamy, but not mushy. Good ones should ooze milk when cut. Piece of advice: never keep it it in the fridge! In order to preserve its original taste it should be left in its water and eaten fresh.

Ricotta

It is a soft white cheese made especially in the center and south of the country. There are several types of ricotta: some are milder and sweeter, while others are more flavorsome. You can also find it “affumicata”, smoked . Ricotta is used in several ways, depending on the region of its production.

Burrata

The burrata is a type of cheese, made from buffalo or cow milk, linked to the region of Apulia. It is characterized by a sweet and buttery flavor; compared to mozzarella it is softer and stringy.

Prosciutto di Parma

Prosciutto di Parma, Parma ham, is particularly famous in Italy. It is not considered a normal prosciutto crudo, but one of the tastier hams in its category. Though being made in the province of Parma, it is famous world-wide; the flavor of this prosciutto is quite delicate and sweet, making it different from the typically salted aftertaste other cured hams leave.

Bresaola

Bresaola is a cold cut made from seasoned beef meat and eaten raw. Often served with rucola and parmesan cheese, it is considered a typical summer dish:it is never absent on a good Italian table. Bresaola della Valtellina, originally from the province of Sondrio, is its best known variety.

Scamorza

Scamorza is a pear-shaped cheese made with cow’s milk in the regions of Campania, Abruzzo, Molise and Apulia. Its skin is pliant, smooth and thin, its color ivory-like; the flavor is sweet and fresh, but ageing makes it stronger.

Where can you buy them?

These products can be found all over the Italian territory. Nevertheless, if you want to be sure to taste the original, it is better if you eat or buy them in the place of production. You will find them in supermarkets, caseifici (dairy factories) or botteghe, little deli shops. The latter are often the best place to buy them, as they tend to sell local, artisanal produce rather than the commercially mass-produced variety found in supermarkets. Another way to get fresh products at a fraction of the price is to buy them directly at the factory shops.

If you are abroad you can also buy them online but don’t trust imitations as there are a lot of fake sites pretending to sell authentic Italian food.

How to eat them?

All of these typical and tasty products are usually served as starters. However, they can be considered passepartout ingredients, as they can be used in a lot of dishes. They are often present on the tables of bars as snacks for aperitivo.

No matter when you serve them or how you serve them, these are must-eat of Italian cuisine that will truly leave a taste of traditionally Italy in your mouth.