Bologna is a fantastic city for food and drink lovers. You will be instantly charmed by the narrow streets lined with 40km of grand porticoes, some grand and others crumbling, that shelter from the Northern Italian rain and the sun in summer. The rust red walls, sometimes teasing red, yellow and brown. An ancient place with the first recorded university, there are lots of students here and it is a young buzzing city, despite its age. In Emilia Romagna, 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.
There are many dishes particular to this region that you should try in Bologna. Start with tagliatelle with ragu (there is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese in Bologna), then tortellini in brodo and lasagne. 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.