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The Story of the Real Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at Acetaia Pedroni, Emilia Romagna

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Acetaia Pedroni, near Modena

In a small town outside Modena, there is an acetaia called Aceaia Pedroni. Here they make balsamic vinegar, the real balsamic vinegar, and the Pedroni family have been making it in this location since 1862. Now run by Italo, 80 and his wife Franca (who still cooks in the family taverna), they make balsamic vinegar and some wines, including lambrusco and pignoletto (local sparkling wines).

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Italo, with his vinegars

We all know balsamic vinegar, but few of us know the real stuff. The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (which it must be called by law) takes a minimum of 12 years to mature through a patient process of evaporation and careful management in a family of at least five barrels, called a battery. This process is protected and governed by law, and the vinegar and acetaia are checked by government representatives.

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The barrel batteries

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar starts with grapes, Trebbiano (a white grape) in Acetaia Pedroni’s case. These are gently crushed, now by machine, but before by children primarily, as it needed to be gentle. The grapes are then cooked and reduced to create a grape must. This must is fermented in batteries of barrels, some of which are ancient, as a balsamic barrel is never thrown out, it is repaired, sometimes by putting a new barrel on the outside but always keeping the old barrel, as this is where flavour is. A battery must have a minimum of five barrels, from small to large, each one increasing in size.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families and has been for hundreds of years.

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Making Tagliatelle with Ragu with Anna – an Emilia Romagna Recipe

Serving up the ragu! Anna, on the left.

Serving up the ragu. Anna, on the left.

One thing  that I learned on my recent trip to Emilia Romagna is that every recipe and every dish is personal. Passion exudes from every pore, and never more than when the topic of food or the particulars of a recipe are under discussion. People in Emilia Romagna are very animated over lunch, and they are mainly discussing the food that they are eating, and just that. I love that.

People get particularly excited about homemade tagliatelle with ragu. It originates there, and Emilia has one way, Romagna another. Within those regions different families have their own approach. Bologna has a meaty dense ragu of its own (hence, Bolognese sauce). The personal differences are glorious. I had so many different ragus in trattorias all over the region. Some dense with meat and assertive, one cooked in lard and layered with white pepper (my favourite, I think), some rich and fruity with tomato with the meat appearing to surf it.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

I cooked ragu with two people in Emilia Romagna. The first was Anna, a wonderful lady based in Savignano sul Rubicone in Emilia Romagna. Romagna, to be precise, so the ragu here is different to Bologna, which is in Emilia. Anna learned from her mother, a recipe that has been passed down the generations. Anna’s ragu is a rich sauce made from a mixture of minced beef, pork and (Italian) sausage, with soffrito, red wine and passata. The second was Walter, from Lazio, but we cooked in Bologna style. I will share that another time.

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna's kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna’s kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Today I am going to share Anna’s ragu recipe with you. She is extraordinarily generous, and gave me her time, as well as her family recipe. She is a joy to watch and to learn from, cooking with love and care, and her ragu is incredibly frugal (as I think a lot of Italian food is).

It will feed 10 people, which is quite striking when you see how little meat is involved. You probably aren’t feeding 10 people, but you know, it tastes great the next day. I love all the little extra steps in Anna’s recipe. Set aside an afternoon and make it, and think of that lovely lady Anna, who took the time to share it with me, so that I could share it with you.

Do make the effort with the homemade pasta, if you can. It makes a huge difference. It is so rewarding, too. There is a link to and Emilia Romagna homemade pasta recipe and instructions in the method below.

Thank you, Anna!

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Where to Eat and Drink in Bologna

Emilia Romagna is an Italian province, nestled between Milan, Florence, Venice and Genoa. It is actually two historical provinces, Emilia & Romagna, both with their own food & wine identity, but with common threads.

Home to Parma ham, parmsesan cheese & balsamic vinegar, and those are just the most famous ones that you have heard of, it is also the home of pasta, specifically tagliatelle with ragu, lasagne, tortelloni and tortellini in brodo. There are several local breads, gnocco fritto (called torta fritta in Parma), a fried puffed bread that you stuff with salami, and tigelle, small patterned breads traditionally made in stacks of heated round terracotta tiles, now in pans over a fire.

The capital, Bologna is a great city to start from. Easy on the eye, brown, orange and yellow buildings are lined with porticoes – arched walkways – which protect from the rain in winter and the sun in summer. It is a gorgeous bohemian city, the perfect size for a weekend exploring, and has much to offer in terms of trattorias, gelaterias and salumerias. It is a great base from which to explore the rest of  Emilia Romagna. Trains are reasonable and frequent, if you have a car, the countryside has lots to offer too and you would miss much if you didn’t explore it.

Lambrusco and Sangiovese are the most prolific local wines. Lambrusco, a gorgeous sparkling wine, whose reputation has sadly suffered due to lots of cheap imitators in our supermarkets. My favourites were the dry sparkling reds and rosés, some rich and thick, and others light and transparent. Lambrusco is the wine of Emilia, which is perfect for clearing the palate after the rich foods usually cooked in butter there. Sangiovese is more commonly found in Romagna, where olive oil is the cooking fat of choice. Both use lard too.

My focus in Bologna was tagliatelle with ragu (there is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese in Bologna), primarily, then tortellini in brodo and lasagne, both at home and in restaurants. After that gelato, aperetivo (a traditional drink at 6pm, how could I refuse?), and the local breads. Every local you speak to has a preference and strong opinion on all of these dishes. The Bolognese ragu tends to be very meaty and served with a toothsome homemade tagliatelle. Some prefer the pasta thin, but not me, I was to discover.[Read more]

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A Postcard from Rimini (and Where to Eat)

I am holed up on the floor of a hot train in between carriages. There isn’t much space but I have managed to sit, curled. I can’t quite feel my legs and I am not all that bothered. I have had a great couple of days on an impromptu trip to the Emilia Romagna seaside town of Rimini, and it is cushioning me on the way home.

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I had heard a lot about Rimini, little of it good. That it was a heavily touristed town and quite tacky. It is a beach town and I hate beach holidays too, although I adore the sea. When on holiday, I like to read (in the shade), mooch and wander, and explore the local food and wine scene.

But when I arrived in Bologna, locals started to tell me about the food culture in Rimini, that there were some great restaurants serving local specialities. That the centre of Rimini is an old Roman town. I had no plans for the weekend so I thought, why not? 1.5 hours on the train from Bologna and a €20 return ticket, seemed not too terrifying a gamble.

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The sea air, how I miss it. It is different here to my sea air at home, all warm and gentle. Where I grew up, on the Atlantic coast in southern Ireland, the air in winter is like a constant exfoliation. It can be harsh and it is certainly direct. Here it is soft and clear, reflecting the gentle lull of the Adriatic. [Read more]

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Pellegrino Artusi & A Recipe for Perfect Pasta Dough (Photo Illustrated)

Pellegrino Artusi, Casa Artusi, The Art of Cooking Well in Forlimpopoli & A Recipe for Perfect Pasta Dough (Photo Illustrated)

Pellegrino Artusi is widely referred to as the father of Italian cuisine. Penning the first pan Italian cookbook, (self) published only 20 years after the unification of Italy in 1891 and in the language of the new unified Italy (which was the dialect of Florence), when he was 71.

Artusi’s cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, featured over 475 recipes gathered from Italian home cooks on his travels as a business man. 15 editions were published before he died 20 years later, with many further recipes added (finishing with 750).

Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well was predicted to be a commercial failure by Italian publishers at the time, and they refused to publish it, but it was a tremendous success. It has been in print since publication, and is in almost every Italian home. It has been translated into several languages also (it was translated to English in 1997). 200,000 copies were sold in his lifetime and many more in the 103 years since then.

(So, you know, the message being if you believe in something strongly enough, take a risk and make it happen. You never know, do you?)
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A Postcard from Parma and Torrechiara, Emilia Romagna

I have just come back from a gorgeous day. The sun shone, the sky was bright blue and was a perfect contrast to the rust brown and lighter buildings. I visited a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy and saw the whole process, I had a wonderful lunch (at a last minute destination – I am glad I made that decision!), and then I visited a prosciutto di parma producer. So far, so awesome.

I have been busy eating in Bologna, but I won’t share my list of where to eat here until the end of the trip, as there are many more eating days to go. As mentioned in my last post, you can follow everything as I go on social media which is a more immediate update. Do so by checking in on @eatlikeagirl on twitter and instagram, the Eat Like a Girl page on Facebook, and by following the hashtags#Blogville (twitter) and #InEmiliaRomagna (twitter) in all of those spaces too. I include restaurant names above the picture on instagram, which clicks through to a map too.

My day was split between Parma itself, just outside at the dairy and a few hours within for lunch and a wander. Then I went to Langhirano, home to the Parma ham producer I was visiting, and Torrechiara, which has a gorgeous 15th century castle overlooking. The castle was affected by the recent earthquake but they have done a wonderful job of restoring it. Many rooms are covered in stunning mythological 15th century frescoes, and the views are divine.

I went a bit crazy in the Parmigiano Reggiano dairy shop, but you all knew I would.

 

A parmigiano reggiano dairy. 1200l of fresh raw & unrefrigerated milk is in each copper and steel tub. Each tub makes 2 wheels of cheese if at capacity.

A parmigiano reggiano dairy. 1200l of fresh raw & unrefrigerated milk is in each copper and steel tub. Each tub makes 2 wheels of cheese if at capacity.

Cutting the cheese twins into two girl cheeses (if only one cheese is made in a tub it is called a boy) in the parmigiano reggiano dairy

Cutting the cheese twins into two girl cheeses (if only one cheese is made in a tub it is called a boy) in the parmigiano reggiano dairy

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Blogville in Bologna & Emilia Romagna: An Eating, Drinking & Cooking Adventure

Bologna and Emilia Romagna await me tomorrow and I could not be more excited. Emilia Romagna is known as the bread basket of Italy, and is home to some of Italys most famous exports like parmesan cheese, parma ham and balsamic vinegar. Bologna itself is home to lasagne, tagliatelle with ragu, tortelloni and tortellini. I will be based in Bologna – and in an apartment, so I will also be able to cook – but I will also be travelling around and exploring the region.

Highlights, which you can follow by checking in on @eatlikeagirl on twitter and instagram, the Eat Like a Girl page on Facebook, and by following the hashtags #Blogville (twitter) and #InEmiliaRomagna (twitter) in all of those spaces too. I will be blogging in time, of course, but for a broader and more immediate spread, check in on social media. There will be a group of bloggers in Emilia Romagna using these hashtags, so you will get to see some quite diverse posts on the region.

Highlights are many, but I am most looking forward to a pasta cooking class in Bologna, a visit to Parma to explore parmesan cheese & parma ham, lunch at Osteria Francescana (Massimo Botturas restaurant, placed at no. 3 in the world on the San Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants list) and the gelato university in Bologna. There is lots more planned, but I don’t want to spoil the fun by sharing it all now. It will be my first time in Bologna, so please send tips my way if you have been before. I cannot wait until I have my first bowl of pasta tomorrow.

This campaign was created and sponsored by the Emilia Romagna Tourist Board in partnership with  iambassador.  I maintain full editorial control of the content published, as always.