Emilia-Romagna lies in the north of Italy, occupying all the fertile Padana plane south of the river Po. Its southern and eastern borders are marked by the Appennine mountains and the Adriatic sea . The name Emilia derives from the Via Emilia built in 187BC by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus which run from Rimini to Piacenza and Romagna from Romania, the name given by the Longobards to the area around Ravenna when it was the outpost of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The region was first colonized by the Etruscans, followed by the Gauls, and finally was conquered by the Romans. In the Middle Ages, its major cities Bologna, Parma, Modena, Ferrara, Ravenna and Piacenza fell under powerful wealthy families who fought and competed with each other; at the same time wanting to leave a legacy, they enriched the cities with fine building and works of art; the Este in Ferrara, the Malatesta in Rimini, the Farnese in Parma and Piacenza. In the 15th to 16th centuries, most of the region fell under the Papal State, and later some of its territories were disputed by France and Austria.
Its rich history has left some important institutions such as the University of Bologna, built in 1088, which is the oldest university in the world.
Food is an important element of the Emilia Romagna heritage; Parma Ham and a number of cured meats such as mortadella, cotecchino, salami and pancetta, as well as cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are unique products exported all over the world as is balsamic vinegar from Modena, a fashionable ingredient for salad dressing and cooking.
Besides being one of the wealthiest regions in Italy, Emilia Romagna has produced many prominent people in the entertainment, arts and industry: Cinema: Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Music: composers Giuseppe Verdi, Arturo Toscanini ; the tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
Industry : some of the most recognized automotive brands in the world including Ferrari, Ducati, Maserati, De Tommaso and Lamborghini
The Food of Emilia-Romagna
Emilia-Romagna region is considered by many to be the heart of Northern Italian food, from prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, to an enormous array of freshly made pasta. The region with its verdant pastures and rich soil of the Po valley has always produced exceptional products including wheat, butter, cheese, veal, pork and ham. Emilia Romagna is the only region in Italy where Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is produced since it has the exclusive legal title to the name.
Pasta is a favourite food in the region, although in certain areas polenta and rice and gnocchi are still traditional staples. Each area has its favourite specialities: Lasagne verdi, with a rich meaty sauce or ragout (Bologna) which is now world-famous as Bolognese. Tagliatelle with chicken livers, egg yolk and grated parmesan (Parma), Anolini dough pockets filled with meat and veg and served in chicken broth (Parma, Piacenza), Cappellacci large hat-shaped pasta filled with pumpkin or butternut squash (Ferrara), Cappelletti small hat-shaped pasta filled with minced meats, egg, cheese and breadcrumbs (Reggio), and many others.
Emilia is well known for Parmigiano Reggiano, but high quality Grana Padano and Provonole Valpadana are also made. Fresh cheeses are eaten while sweet or aged to permit grating for a more intense flavour. Ravaggiolo and Squaquarone are also creamy piquant cheeses used in cooking.
Pigs have been raised in the region since at least 1000 B.C., with more than 2 million swine raised annually. Prosciutto ham has reigned supreme in the town of Parma for hundreds of years. And modern-day Bologna, is the site of the original bologna or mortadella a sausage made from ground pork, pieces of pork fat and sometimes pistachio. Other cured meats include capocollo, or coppa Piacentina (from Piacenza), and salame da sugo – a mixture of pork, red wine and spices (from Ferrara). Cotechino, Modena’s sausage made from pig’s trotters is eaten with lentils at the New Year for good luck.
In addition to the Romagnola breed of cattle, rabbit, game birds and poultry are eaten. Fish is less common, but on the Adriatic coast a delicious brodetto or fish soup is served, and anguilla or eel is either roasted, grilled or baked in a tasty tomato sauce.
Many kinds of deep fried fritters, sometimes flavoured with sausage or proscuitto are eaten in Emilia. Traditionally fried in lard, they are now usually cooked in oil. Some examples include the burtleina (Piacenza), torta fritta (Parma), gnocco fritto (Modena) and chizza (Reggio). Bologna’s famous fritto misto is a selection of deep-fried fried meat and vegetables and fried pasties or cassoni include spinach and raisins in their filling.
Many desserts are made with the local fruit, apples, cherries and melons, though they may also include sweet pastas, pastries and tarts. Fresh chestnuts also appear in many desserts, at Christmas. Some favourite puddings are an apple cake from Ferrara and certosino, a spice-flavoured cake from Bologna and bensone a crumble flavoured with lemon from Modena. Local cookies gialetti are made with cornmeal rather than wheat flour.
The birthplace of Verdi and Toscanini, Modena has a reputation for wonderful cherries, pears and peaches and, most importantly, incomparable balsamic vinegar. For more than 1,000 years the vinegar has called Modena its true home. Here, it is aged for 12-50 years in wood casks made from acacia, ash, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, and oak. Good wine also comes from crops of Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, and Albana grapes that grow here. The area was colonised by the Romans who built 125-mile trunk road from Rimini to Piacenza, called Via Emilia, this thoroughfare has transported travellers throughout the region and connected it with the cosmopolitan cities of Venice, Genoa and central/northern Europe.
Along this north-south road, powerful Renaissance families ruled individual towns, in Bologna, Rimini and Ferrara and these aristocrats frequently enjoyed banquets with premium wines to impress their guests.
The Wines of Emilia-Romagna
Emilia Romagna Grape Varieties
The main white grape is Albana grown in the rolling hills between Rimini and the east of Bologna, and it is used to make dry and sweet white wine.
The name derives from the Latin albus meaning white, and was believed to have been introduced to the region by the Romans. According to legend, in 435 AD, Theodosius II’s beautiful daughter Galla Placida, on being given a terracotta jug of the area's sweet and excellent wine (Albana) by some villagers, exclaimed: “You should not drink this wine in such a humble container. Rather it should be drunk in gold (berti in oro) as befits its smoothness." From then on the village was called Bertinoro and the wine was drunk from refined goblets at the court of Ravenna. Bertinoro is still important as the main area for the production of Albana. The grape is also mentioned in the 13thC, in the Treatise on Agriculture by de Crescenzi as “a powerful wine with noble taste, well-suited for long maturation and also quite subtle...”
The DOCG status, first awarded in 1987, covered 4 styles of the wine: secco, amabile, dolce and spumante. The dry white from 100% Albana grapes is fairly light-bodied with good acidity; however, it is the Passito which is the area’s biggest star, and for some expert wine producers who choose to keep their yields low, this wine can achieve distinction. Among these are: Zerbina (Scaccomatto) and Bissoni. The grapes are dried in on the vine, in small boxes, on wooden grates; vinification occurs in wooden barriques or in stainless steel. With a quince-and-apricot-rich intensity, and notes of magnolia, honey and spice, it has a minimum ageing time of 10 months, or 13 for the “riserva”. This is arguably Italy’s finest Passito.
Other indigenous white grape varieties include: Rebola, Pignoletto, Ortrugo and Spergola
Lambrusco is the name of both the grape and the wine from which it is made, primarily grown in this region. Its history goes back as far as Roman times with authors such as Virgil referring to a “labrusca vitis” a wild grape variety with a bitter taste, growing around the edge of fields; and Cato impressed with its high yield, mentioning that wine from 2/3 acre could fill 300 amphorae. There is archaeological evidence that the Etruscans also cultivated the vine.
The main areas of production are around the provinces of Modena, Parma, Reggio nell’Emilia and Mantua. The five with DOC status include:
Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco Mantovano, Lambrusco Reggiano, and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, and the best Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, which comes from around the village of Sorbara, believed to be Lambrusco's birthplace. There are also many sub-varieties.
The most highly rated is the slightly sparkling frizzante, meant to be drunk young, although white and rose versions are also made. All three are made in semi-sweet and dry, the former exported around the world and the latter preferred in Italy.
Sangiovese di Romagna
Sangiovese di Romagna, is the main grape variety of central Italy; in Tuscany produces wines such as Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti and Chianti Classico, Morellino di Sacansano among others. There are various legends regarding the origin of its name one is to have originated on Monte Giove (Mount Jupiter), near Sant'Angelo di Romagna in the province of Rimini. According to legend, an illustrious guest was visiting a Capuchin monastery and its cultivated vineyards, on a hill known as Collis Jovis near Sant’Angelo di Romagna. On tasting a cup of the wine at a banquet, he immediately asked what it was called. After some embarrassment, as no-one had ever named the wine, one of the monks, inspired by the name of the hill on which the monastery was built and the intense colour of the wine (as red as blood), immediately replied Sanguis di Jovis (blood of Jupiter), which later became "Sangiovese".
It acquired DOC status in 1967 as recognition to the fine quality of the wine.
The production zone covers a vast territory, from the easternmost hills of the province of Bologna to part of the provinces of Forlì and Ravenna in the Apennines.
The wine can be made into four styles:
Sangiovese di Romagna Novello (wine is made to be drunk young with a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%. At least 50% of the grapes must have undergone carbonic maceration).
Sangiovese di Romagna
Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore (the grapes are grown in the best hills of the zone, to the south of the Via Emilia, and the wine must have a minimum alcohol content of 12%)
Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva (this uses Sangiovese cropped at lower yields and very carefully vinified, delivering a wine with greater complexity and depth of flavour, and the ability to age well; the wine must also be aged for a period of at least two years).
All wines must comprise at least 85% Sangiovese Romagnolo and a maximum 15% other permitted red grapes authorised for Emilia-Romagna.
Compared to the Tuscan Sangiovese reds, (Chianti, Brunello etc..) the Romagna Sangiovese (a different clone then the Tuscan one) has lower acidity and sweeter tannins making it well suited to the rustic cuisine of the region (fresh pasta dishes, deep-fried pasties, rich fish soups and cured meats). Over the last 30 years, technology and new techniques both in the vineyard and in the cellar have enabled some innovative winemakers to produce some exciting examples, and have given the region a better wine profile.
Producers to watch include: San Patrignano, under the supervision of wine guru, Cotarella, which has large vineyards established in the grounds of a community set up 30 years ago to rehabilitate drug addicts
Other indigenous red grape varieties include: Burson, Fortana and Gutturnio
Emilia-Romagna Recipe - THE REAL BOLOGNESE SAUCE
INGREDIENTS - Serves 6
1kg Lean beef mince
200g Pancetta diced
1 Med Carrot
1 Stalk Celery
1 Small Onion
500g Tinned chopped tomatoes
250ml Red wine
2 Bay Leaves
1 Sprig Rosemary
6 Sage leaves
1lt Chicken or beef stock
200ml Finest extra virgin olive oil
1.Dice the celery, carrot and onion and finely chop the rosemary and sage
2. In a frying pan, sautee the vegetables and herbs with the bay leaf in a little olive oil, until golden, and set aside
3. Heat a large-bottomed saucepan without oil, and add the mince and pancetta, first on a high heat. The meat will release its water. Then it will start to caramelise.
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STAGE FOR A SUCCESSFUL BOLOGNESE.
At this stage, turn down the heat to low, and keep scraping the bottom of the pan to stop it from burning. The more you caramelise the meat, the better the taste will be! 10 minutes of constant scraping will produce the best result.
4. Add the red wine and turn the heat up until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the vegetables and the chopped tinned tomato and let it stew for 10 minutes.
5. Then add the stock and let it simmer for 1 - 1/2 hours.
6. Before serving, add the extra virgin olive oil and season to taste
Monday - Thursday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 23.00