Special foods from Emilia Romagna, the region that made Italian cooking popular all over the world

Lying between the River Po in the North and the Apennine Mountains in the South, Emilia Romagna is a northern region of Italy rich in medieval castles, seaside towns and gastronomic heritage with Bologna as its capital. 

If you’re looking for an Italian foodie experience, you’re certainly spoilt for choice. Here, traditional food and wine famous the world over such as Prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, tortellini, balsamic vinegar, and Lambrusco originated. This rich gastronomic heritage is preserved in a range of Agriturismo experiences that can be enjoyed all over the region. The best way to experience the food of Emilia Romagna is to see where it all started and the passion that goes into making it. 

Hop in a car and build your own self-guided food tour in Emilia Romagna, stopping at organic farms, sustainable family-run wineries and off-the-beaten-path restaurants for a mouth-watering treat for the taste buds. Without further ado, here’s the best food and wine of Emilia Romagna and where to try them. 

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Parmigiano Reggiano at “Hombre” Organic Farm

If you try anything on your visit to the Emilia Romagna region of Northern Italy, make it Parmigiano Reggiano. Otherwise known as Parmesan, the ‘King of cheeses’ originated here sometime in the Middle Ages. The same methods are still used today. 

The name has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)  which means the cheese can’t legally be called Parmesan unless it was made in this region using the correct methods. This even includes the type of grass the cows eat! To see the stringent cheese-making process in action, head to Hombre, an organic farm and agri-ecotourism experience near Modena. Hombre is a cheese manufacturer that’s dedicated to making high-quality Parmesan made from organic milk from the cows on their farm.

In fact, the entire cheesemaking operation is fully traceable from what the cows eat to the aging process in the farm’s on-site warehouse. This allows Hombre to create a sustainable closed-loop production system as nothing needs to be outsourced. 

You can see the entire process on a tour of the farm which runs from March until the end of October. Make sure you have a look in the aging warehouse which is full to the brim with hundreds of golden Parmesan wheels. It’s quite a sight to see. 

You can also find an on-site shop where you can buy a few blocks of organic cheese to take back with you for a very affordable price. 

And for something completely different? Hombre is also home to a rather surprising collection of Maserati cars. The farm’s co-founder, Umberto Panini was a bit of a car collector and there are models dating back to 1933 on display. Definitely worth a look!

Emilia Romagna cheese: Parmesan Parmiggiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano waiting to be perfectly seasoned | Emilia Romagna cheese

Lambrusco wine at Agriturismo Opera 02

Nestled among gently rolling hills of Levizzano Rangone, about 12.4 miles from Modena is Opera 02, a wine estate and 4-star hotel. The estate is a picturesque spot for lunch as you pass through the area – but the main reason to visit? The wine! Or more specifically, Lambrusco which the region is known for. 

If you’ve heard of Lambrusco before, you may know it as the cheap red stuff that would certainly not be brought out to impress your dinner guests… At least, that was the case in the 19670s and 1980s when Lambrusco imports boomed in the US. 

Since then, the region’s winemakers have gone back to the drawing board and revived the Lambrusco name by producing some high-quality and award-winning wines. 

The most popular Lambrusco is a Frizzante (slightly sparkling) red wine that is drunk young rather than aged. The wine is made from popular grapes in the area such as Salamino, Grasparossa, Montericco, Maestri, Marani and Sorbara.

One of the places you can sample the reformed Lambrusco wine is Opera 02. The estate offers cellar tours and wine tastings which can be enjoyed with spectacular views of the vineyards. The leaves turn red in the autumn months, dressing the hillsides in a spectacular burst of color. 

Go for a simple Lambrusco tasting or mix it up with a luxurious sample of balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese. Bliss. 

Another reason to visit Opera 02 is that it’s a prime example of responsible agritourism and sustainable tourism. The estate is driven by respect for nature. You can see this in the organic wine production, use of renewable energy, and non-imposing style of the architecture that blends into the surrounding countryside. 

lambrusco wine vineyards from Emilia Romagna region in Italy
Vineyards of Lambrusco wine

Balsamic vinegar at Medici Ermete e Figli

A common extra activity of Emilia Romagna winemakers is the production of balsamic vinegar. Traditional balsamic vinegar shouldn’t be confused with the cheap concoction we douse over our salads. It’s extremely rich and thick like a dark syrup. 

Made from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, this traditional balsamic vinegar takes a minimum of 12 years to ferment and the name and process are also protected by a PDO. No less than five experts taste every batch before it can be called traditional balsamic vinegar!

Sampling balsamic vinegar is a must when visiting Emilia Romagna. It originated here about a thousand years ago after all. 

One of the best places to learn about it and try it for yourself is Medici Ermete e Figli. The wine estate has been in the Medici family for 130 years and it’s a proud producer of Lambrusco – so you can stop here for another wine tasting if you feel like it!

Traditional balsamic vinegar production can be found at its on-site Tenuta La Rampata estate which also houses a wine museum. Here you can take a guided tour up to the attic and see the assortment of barrels (known as a ‘battery’) where the vinegar is matured, refined and aged. 

Every batch of balsamic vinegar varies depending on the influences of the season and weather. Similar to wine and beer, much of the flavor and aroma come from the wood of the barrels. The longer the vinegar is aged, the more potent, complex and luxurious the taste. 

Tortellini at Agriturismo Garuti

Agriturismo Garuti is another beautiful family-run estate in Sorbara which has been making wine since 1920. Now in its fourth generation of winemakers, Garuti is proud to use only sustainable viticulture practices throughout its production to preserve the quality of the wine and land. 

Here, visitors can stay the night in the farmhouse, go on a guided tour or, of course, do a wine tasting. There’s also an on-site restaurant that serves possibly the best tortellini around. 

Tortellini, which are small pasta parcels stuffed with an array of delicious fillings, is another dish that comes from the Emilia Romagna region. Where exactly is disputed. Just ask the people of Bologna, Modena and Castelfranco Emilia as they all stake a claim in its inception. Castelfranco Emilia also throws a tortellini festival every year to celebrate this ingenious pasta. 

The tortellini at Agriturismo Garuti is made fresh in-house every day by a grandmother. The pasta is a sumptuous golden color and ever so slightly chewy. 

Go for the sweet pumpkin filling with a delicately buttery taste that will leave you dreaming about it for days afterward. Or, try the more traditional ricotta and balsamic vinegar tortellini. 

Whichever one you go for, these tortellini dishes are usually served up as a first course. You can also get the full Emilia Romagna experience by pairing it with a glass of Lambrusco.  

Tortellini, best food from Emilia Romagna

Prosciutto at Antica Salumeria Giorgio Pancaldi

Prosciutto di Parma, which translates to Parma Ham, has a distinctive light, sweet and salty melt-in-the-mouth taste that’s known the world over. The processes that go into making this dry-cured ham have hardly changed for centuries. Unsurprisingly, it’s yet another Italian item of food with a Protected Designation of Origin. The clue as to where Parma Ham originated is in the name: Parma – or more specifically, the hills surrounding that particular town. 

Parma Ham is distinguished by the pig breed and the pig legs used right through to the painstaking air drying and curing process. You can spot an authentic Parma Ham by the trademark Dugal Crown stamp. Indulge in a Parma Ham banquet at family-run Antica Salumeria Giorgio Pancaldi in the city of Reggio Emilia. It’s been serving easily the best Parma Ham around for the last 70 years. You can wander over to the deli counter and buy an array of cured meats and cheeses to take with you – including a leg of Parma Ham if you’re feeling ambitious. Or choose something smaller, of course. 

Otherwise, dine at the restaurant there and make an evening of it whilst soaking up the lively atmosphere. Order a platter of cured meats and cheeses to share with friends – or yourself! Polish it off with a glass of Lambrusco and a taste of balsamic vinegar for an authentic Emilia Romagna food feast. 

Parma ham in Emilia Romagna
Parma ham

Exquisite food and wine make Emilia Romagna a must-visit. It’s home to some fantastic sustainable Agriturismo projects that keep this region’s food and agricultural heritage alive. 

Are you planning a trip to Northern Italy? Let me know what food from Emilia Romagna you’re excited to try or share your tips on what and where to eat in this region!

Francesca from Little Lost Travel


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