A Look Back: Food and Wines of Emilia-Romagna

Angie Spitalieri Ianiro, Publisher Angie Spitalieri Ianiro, Publisher

Winter has arrived and we are back to having cold and gloomy days. What better way to warm up than to celebrate Valentine’s Day with that special someone. Don’t forget to mark your calendar for February 14!
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In Emilia-Romagna the honor roll of foods is led by pasta made with fresh eggs and rolled by hand by a sfoglina to achieve perfect texture. The universal primo is tagliatelle con ragù, though cooks consider the meat sauce personal works of art. Bologna, whose specialties include green lasagna and curly gramigna, disputes with Modena the creation of tortellini (modeled after Venus's navel). Parma's prides are large square envelopes called tortelli and the rounded anolini, which are also made in Piacenza. Ferrara's cappellacci (big hats) are stuffed with squash. Reggio's cappelletti (little hats) differ from pasta of the same name in Romagna, whose specialties include the rolled tubes called garganelli and slim dumplings called passatelli. 

Hard wheat rolls called coppiette (because they are shaped like a “coupled” set of horns) have a snow-white interior and a tawny crust, and are baked throughout the region. Local versions of flatbreads abound, but the most renowned is Romagna's circular piadina or piada, which is baked on tiles (or griddles) and folded over prosciutto, cheese or greens. Thicker focaccia is called spianata or torta salata, though with salt pork in the dough it becomes crescentina in Bologna. In Emilia's hills, paper-thin borlengo or burleng is cooked like a crêpe dressed in salt pork, garlic, and rosemary. It is then folded into quarters and served with grated parmigiano. 

In Emilia, the curing of pork is an age-old master craft. Prosciutto di Parma, Italy's best known meat product, is protected by DOP, as is the rare but even more prized Culatello di Zibello. Culatello di Zibello is a filet of rump aged in the foggy lowlands along the province of Bologna and is noted for giant loaves called mortadella. Modena pig's foot sausage, zampone, is eaten with lentils throughout Italy on New Year’s Day for luck. DOP protects Zampone di Modena and Prosciutto di Modena, while IGP applies to Cotechino di Modena, a sausage whose stuffing includes bits of rind. 

The Romagnola breed of cattle is covered by the IGP of Vitellone Bianco dell'Appennino Centrale. Other meats appreciated throughout the region are veal, turkey, capon, chicken, and rabbit. Romagnans have a taste for duck, grilled and roast pork, lamb, and mutton. Cesenatico is the seafood haven of Romagna, whose brodetto is among the tastiest of the Adriatic's fish soups. Eels from the Comacchio lagoon may be stewed, roasted or grilled. 

Emilia's Parmigiano Reggiano, the "king of cheeses," is firm yet brittle enough to break into bite-sized chunks of elegantly mellow flavor. Aging the Parmigiano makes it golden and hardens it for easy grating. Romagna's formaggio di fossa from sheep or cow’s milk is ripened in caves for three months. Ravaggiolo and squaquarone are tangy cream cheeses used mainly in cooking. 

Sweets seem almost sinful after such rich fare. That may explain why nuts and fruit, especially home-grown peaches, cherries, strawberries, pears and muskmelons are prominent in the diet. Of special note are the cherries of Vignola; the pears, peaches, and nectarines (protected as IGP in Romagna); and the chestnuts that thrive in the Apennines.

Emilia-Romagna boasts its share of biscuits, pastries, tarts, sweet ravioli, tortelli, and sherbets. Traditional desserts include Bologna's certosino (spice cake); Ferrara's torta di mele (apple cake); Modena's bensone (lemon-flavored crumble); Romagna's gialetti (cornmeal biscuits) and piada dei morti (flatbread with nuts and raisins). 

The region boasts 18 DOC wines, most of which are bubbly.  The perfect foil for luxury fare in Emilia is vivacious red Lambrusco – dry, but not sweet. In Romagna, hearty red Sangiovese goes with meats and cheeses and is a favorite among Romagnans. The dry white Trebbiano is preferred with fish. The region's lone DOCG is the white Albana di Romagna, historically sweet but today mainly dry. Emilia's preferred digestivo is nocino, a liqueur made of green walnuts steeped in distilled spirits. 

Even the hill wines of Emilia tend to be frothy. Vineyards in the foothills of the Apennines render fun-loving whites made from Malvasia, Trebbiano and Ortrugo and zesty reds from Barbera and Bonarda. However, there is a definite trend in the DOC zones of Colli Piacentini, Colli Bolognesi, and Colli di Parma to make still and somewhat serious wines from such varieties as Sauvignon, Chardonnay, the Pinots, Barbera, Cabernet, and Merlot. Natural conditions favor wines of depth and finesse, but markets seem to favor the lightweights.