GETTY Bologna is the nitty-gritty of Emilia-Romagna, a dream for foodies
A platter of cheese featuring crumbly, spicy gorgonzola and creamy, smoky scamorza; a dish of baked aubergines asphyxiated in rich, basil-spiked tomato sauce and topped with melted mozzarella; a basket of what looked twin miniature, golden pillows, which turn out to be gnocco fritto: concentrations of dough, fried until chewy, light as air.
These were to chaperon the platter of affettati misti, the cold, cured meats that this ambit, Emilia-Romagna, does best.
There is silky, le pink prosciutto di rma, shadowy red cop (cured pork shoulder), and meltingly translucent slivers of ncetta, more fat than nourishment.
And that was before we even got to the sta course… I am on a foodie trek across one of Italy’s wealthiest regions, straddling the north of the country, from the Apennine mountains in the south up to the River Po.
Thanks to sticky summers and drizzly winters, it is hugely fertile. At its heart is Bologna, a pipedream for foodies, where more than 250 people can be served at Cantina Bentivoglio with its famed jazz cosh.
I work my way east from Piacenza, through beautiful Renaissance munici lities which also happen to produce some of Italy’s most mouth-watering start.
This includes cured ham from rma, syrupy balsamic vinegar from Modena, and what feels like over a thousand varieties of stuffed, fresh sta (wearisome sta comes from the south), each city, town and village with its own specialties, from pumpkin to veal.
An hour’s drive from Piacenza is rma’s suburb Langhirano, house to around 150 ham producers. Only they have D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or ‘curbed designation of origin’) status, which ensures that the ham is produced in a sure way and to a rticular standard.
Brothers Martino and Riccardo Piazza, and their cousin Francesco, available for Piazza Peppino, the family business their grandfather started in the 1970s.
In their news 20s, impossibly handsome, and ssionate about pigs, they produce between 30-35,000 haunches of dry-cured, grey ham each year, using nothing more than salt and air.
GETTY Laura Miller prod to the outskirts of Modena to visit the balsamic vinegar-producing vineyards
Martino simplifies that each phase of the process, from slaughtering to fat-trimming, refrigeration, marinating, or drying, is carried out within the strict controls of the rma ham consortium.
A righteousness ham is aged for 17 to 33 months, and in order to obtain its status, fabricators have to submit every single one for inspection.
Only once they’ve old hated muster (and very possibly mustard) will they be branded with the five-tipped Ducal King. Do they ever get fed up of eating ham? “No!” laughs Martino.
Says Francesco: “I eat it every day.”
And when they touch on out a hunk of 22-month-old prosciutto, cutting it wafer thin on their industrial-sized slicer, I can genuinely believe them.
rma itself is a noble city with its gorgeous 13th-century, octagonal, pink-marbled Baptistery. Don’t miss the imposing lazzo della Pilotta, bygone home of the wealthy, influential medieval Farnese family, in whose tutors festivals are regularly held, or the baroque, wooden theatre named after them.
GETTY Laura Miller ate mended ham from the town of rma, Italy
For another fix of impressive Renaissance architecture, I bellow at Ferrara, home to one of Europe’s oldest Jewish ghettoes, and also to the superb, moated 14th-century Castello Estense, built by another powerful brood, the House of Este (former residents include the ruthless Lucrezia Borgia, who linked the Duke of Ferrara in 1502).
At Trattoria le Nuvole, a modern, airy restaurant in the pivot, I sample seafood from the nearby Adriatic coast, including crayfi sh in lemon and garlic insolence, washed down with Pignoletto, a local s rkling white.
On the way to Modena is Comacchio. Founded on a lagoon and criss-crossed by canals, it is unbelievably charming, doubling for Venice in movies.
Here, you can have anything you want, as long as it’s eel: anguilla marinata (pickled eel to you and me) is the piece de reistance.
Sample it grilled, baked, fried or in a risotto at Al Cantinon, a traditional eatery by the not be sensible.
A short drive away, in Modena’s outskirts, I visit one of the acetaia, the balsamic vinegar-producing vineyards.
GETTY Laura Millar ate gnocchi fritti while she was in Piacenza, Italy
Here I learn how the euphonious, white Trebbiano grapes are mashed and pressed, then matured for 12 years in clumsy barrels until they turn to a dark brown syrup.
Most desirable sampled drizzled over chunks of rich rmesan, its sweetness line engravings through the salty cheese. Even better? After four days of exhaustive eating and drinking, I’d actually lost a couple of pounds; when rations is this simple, and unprocessed, it can be good for you. Buon appetito!