If there is one region in Italy that really takes the crown when it comes to food, it’s Emilia-Romagna. This region in the north of Italy is home to some of the most famous Italian culinary products.
The capital of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna, is even nicknamed “La Grassa” (the fat) because of all the delicious food that originates here. Any self respecting foodie really needs to take a trip to this region. You can base yourself in Bologna and take day trips to factories, museums and the beautiful countryside to see exactly how each of these products are made.
Bologna also where you’ll find the best restaurant in the world: Osteria Franscescana. A visit to this incredible place is at the top of my bucket list. The chef, Massimo Bottura, is a huge advocate of regional Italian specialties and traditional products. He is one of the founders of FICO, a huge museum dedicated to Italian food, in Bologna. Definitely worth a visit for a culinary tour around the country.
With so many iconic dishes to try, these are the best things to eat in Emilia-Romagna and Bologna:
Tortellini al brodo
Tortellini are small pasta parcels with a meat, cheese or vegetable filling. Unlike ravioli, which are two pasta sheets layered with filling in between them, tortellini are folded from a single sheet.
The traditional way of serving tortellini is not with a sauce on top, but floating in a clear broth. This is usually a beef broth, but you can find vegetarian versions as well. The result is a light, but flavorful dish which really lets the pasta itself shine. Walking through Bologna, you’ll see heaps of dried tortellini with different kinds of filling everywhere. It’s one of the best pasta dishes to try in Bologna, but certainly not the only.
One of the most famous products from the Emilia-Romagna region is Parmesan cheese. Real Parmesan cheese, called Parmegiano Reggiano, has to adhere to strict guidelines. It can only be made in a specific region, with milk from that same region. After a strict production process, it has to age at least 12 months and undergo several checks before it is granted the Parmegianno Reggiano protected label. And trust me, it is worth it. Once you’ve tried the real deal, you’ll never want to eat the powdered stuff again. And did you know that because of the long aging process, real Parmesan contains barely any lactose? So it’s safe to eat for lactose intolerant foodies.
I highly recommend visiting one of the Parmesan factories around Emilia Romagna. Some of these dairies offer guided tours where you can see every step of the production process and taste different ages of Parmesan cheese at the end. I did a tour at 4 Madonne in Modena and loved every minute of it (especially the tasting). It’s fascinating to see these craftsmen at work and the love and care that goes into every detail.
The care and love put into the production of Parmesan cheese makes it one of the best things to eat in Emilia-Romagna.
Another famous export product of Emilia-Romagna is balsamic vinegar. Although you’ve likely never tasted the real thing. Real traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena sells at 60 euro per 200 ml! Once you see how long it takes to make, you’ll appreciate why it’s so expensive.
The vinegar is made from grape juice and has to age for at least 12 years in different wooden barrels, each time mixing and evaporating. One set of balsamic barrels produces just 1 liter of vinegar a year! The flavor of the final product is absolutely incredible and can be eaten on a large variety of foods. You can learn all about the history and production of balsamic vinegar at the Balsamic Vinegar Museum in Spilamberto.
Be sure to also try the balsamic vinegar ice cream at Gelato Baracchi Claudio around the corner from the museum, just that ice cream alone if one of the best things to eat in Emilia-Romagna.
Mortadella & Prosciutto di Parma
The Italians are very particular about how and where their products are made. The Emilia-Romagna region is also famous for two popular meat products: mortadella and Prosciutto di Parma.
Mortadella is a pork sausage from Bologna. It is made from grounded scraps and eaten in cold slices, like a deli meat or charcuterie.
Prosciutto di Parma is a cured ham produced around the city of Parma. Only pigs born, raised and slaughtered in Italy can be used to make Parma ham. Prosciutto di Parma is cured and ripened for 1-3 years and has to adhere to strict guidelines. The ham is salty and sweet, delicate and melts in your mouth. Very, very addictive and absolutely one of the best things to eat in Emilia-Romagna.
Ragù (tagliatelle & lasagna)
Did you know that what you know as Bolognese sauce is not called Bolognese sauce? It literally means sauce from Bologna, but in Italy it is called “ragú”. Ragú is a slow-cooked meat and tomato sauce, originally from Bologna but eaten everywhere in Italy. And it’s not traditionally eaten with spaghetti, either.
So instead of ordering spaghetti Bolognese in Italy, ask for tagliatelle alla ragú. Trust me, it will be better than any Bolognese sauce you have ever eaten. Instead of ground beef, real ragú is made with cheap cuts like brisket that are slowly stewed in tomato sauce and red wine. The result is a thick, meaty and incredibly flavorful sauce. Although nowadays, Italians will make a quicker version with ground beef as well.
Tagliatelle alla ragú are not the only use for this sauce, it is also used in lasagna. Traditional lasagna from Bologna is made with layers of ragú, pasta sheets and béchamel sauce with Parmesan cheese on top. It’s rich, but o so delicious!
Emilia-Romagna is the premier food region of Italy, home to many iconic and famous products like Parmesan cheese and ham, as well as balsamic vinegar. As you can see, there are plenty of delicious things to eat in Emilia-Romagna. It’s truly a foodie heaven!
If you’re planning a trip to this region, why not pin this post for later or share it to social media 🙂