Bologna is a ‘must do’ for anyone even vaguely interested in Italian food
Bologna is the capital of the Emilia Romana Province of Italy and ‘showcases’ the rich agricultural produce of the province.
Nearby Cities include, Parma, home or Parmesan Cheese and Parma Ham. Modena is also close by. This is the home of Balsamic Vinegar and Ferrari Cars. I had been to both these previously when I spent a few hours at a Parmesan, a cured meat and a Balsamic producer. If you are new to this area spend some time exploring these foodie experiences.
On the recommendation of many friends and articles we did not stay in the city but opted for an “agriturismo” in the countryside. This had its pros & cons:
The pros being when our GPS took us on a scenic mountain drive we appreciated the magnificent scenery!
We stayed on a working winery, more of this later.
The accommodation was beautiful and comfortable.
The only negative was that we were a way from Bologna, and if I had to do it again I would like to spend a night in the city to enjoy a relaxed Italian evening meal to savour more of the regional specialities.
A day visit to Bologna started with an easy 25 minute train journey from a nearby station. For a first train journey allow extra time to get the hang of the ticket vending machine! There is no form of human help at small country stations. It is all part of the international travel adventure when you opt to ‘do your own thing’ as we do.
At the main Bologna station a policeman directed us to the food area. “Just around that corner and a 5 minute walk” ended up as a rather sweaty 30 minute walk on a hot day! (we should have learnt by now that ‘5 minutes” is one of the biggest travel lies, be it in India, London, New York or Italy!) If you are in this position rather spend 1,5€ on a bus ticket! We certainly did that when we returned to the station later that day.
The foodie area of Bologna is called the Quadrilatero
It is a cluster of narrow streets off the main square and has been Bologna’s market since the Middle Ages.
Every street has one food shop or deli after another, each selling their speciality. The cheese shop has giant wheels of parmesan, next door legs of cured ham hang from the ceiling and further along there are pristine piles of fruit and vegetables.
Via Pescherie Vecchie is one of the cutest streets with terracotta and yellow buildings, old signs and ornate street lamps, and restaurant tables spilling onto the pavement. The shops used to sell fish from the canals, but now you’re more likely to find chunks of cheese, beautiful cured meats and fresh pasta. It is unique, breathtaking and charming!
We could not resist a lunchtime feast of cured meats!
Salami, 3 varieties of Parma ham, Coppa and of course the famous Mortadella. Did you know that the word Polony originates from Bologna and that the Polony is the ‘poor relative’ of the famous Mortadella. Mortadella is made in a large format, the slices are about 15cm in diameter and the cured ham emulsion is dotted with small cubes of pork fat. It is often flavoured with whole and ground herbs and spices. You even get one studded with Pistacios!
In Bologna is Mortadella is revered as a delicacy. I am afraid that ‘in my previous life’, working in the food industry, I spent too many hours in meat factories seeing what went into lower grade polonies and sausages so I have a slight mental block to appreciate this speciality!
When Italian immigrants made Bologna style sausage in the US and Canada they changed the name from Bologna to Polony. This name moved to other parts of the world, including South Africa. Here Polony is often a cheaper processed meat, often over-coloured with edible pink dye and the meat content replaced with soya and recently, was sadly a source of listeria contamination. If the Italian craftsmen had to see how their sausage had changed in quality they would cringe!
We can however buy good quality Mortadella from good butchers in South Africa and it is enjoyed by many! It’s just not my favourite!
Many years ago a well known Italian food writer, Marcella Hazan told me that very few Italians make their own homemade pasta. I recall my shock and dismay! Once you have attempted to make pasta you will understand why they opt for option of buying pasta. The advantage of this is that every supermarket and speciality pasta shop in Italy only sells high quality pasta for the discerning Italian consumer.
One of Bologna’s favourite pasta dishes is Tortellini en Brodo (Totellini in Broth). Either the tiny tortellini or the slightly larger tortelloni are suitable. This recipe is also served in Tuscany, but it appears to be a Bologna tradition were restaurants vie to produce the best version! I think this meal cuts the guilt from most pasta meals. The healthy low calorie broth has a few tortellini floating in it. As a pasta dish there is far less pasta than the usual pasta and sauce.
To prepare at home
It is absolutely essential to use freshly made broth. Store bought simply won’t cut it! Chicken broth is the most popular, but beef and veal broth are as good. You can make your own tortellini, but rather explore your local Italian deli for a good one.
For an evening meal near Bologna we bought filled ravioli, some freshly made pesto and of course, a chunk of parmesan. I simply cooked the duo of ravioli, splashed on some olive oil, a spoon of pesto and a grating of parmesan! Delicious! The pasta is silky and thin and the fillings are delicious.
A touch of history and culture
On the one side of the Quadrilatero you find Bologna’s main square with the Duomo (Cathederal) and just a few meters further we visited the Archiginnasio of Bologna. This was once the main building of the University of Bologna and noe houses the main Municipal Library. The main Public Library is closed to tourists, but there are beautifully decorated walkways displaying ancient books and documents, including an interesting account of an historical celebration of ‘roasted pork’ …….
Folasano wine farm
is situated about 28 kms South West of Bologna.
Our charming (and rather easy on the eye for Sue and me) host, Andrea welcomed us to the beautifully renovated 300yr old farmhouse.
Winemaking can be traced back to this area from the Middle Ages. The Folesano Estate are clearly marked on the 16th Century geographical Renaissance maps in the Vatican Museum (which we photographed 2 weeks later!). Andrea and his family have brought modern wine making methods to this estate with their recently renovated and modernized wine celler. The vineyards are on steep hills alongside the Monte Sole Nature Park in the heart of the Tuscan-Emelian Appenines.
Andrea (who speaks excellent English) took us through his vineyards and cellar. We tasted his beautiful wines from barrel. He had not started harvesting and was monitoring sugars daily, with the cellar clean and ready for action.
His wines were outstanding and are well rated in the Italian ‘wine bible’ Vitae la Guida Vini (similar to our Platter guide, just way thicker!).
A highlight was tasting the 2018 Barbera from barrel….. full bodied and fruit driven. The firm tanins will obviously soften in time to produce a blockbuster!
The accommodation in this beautifully renovated building is first class. Spacious rooms, beautiful views, comfortable beds and a lovely living area encourage one to want to linger longer.
The kitchen was well equipped for us to prepare meals. There is a lovely terrace with a table, chairs and a Weber, a pizza oven and a Jacuzzi. (www.folesano.it or email@example.com; we booked online via Booking.com)