Emilia-Romagna is located in central Italy and borders Lombardia and Veneto to the north, Liguria and Piemonte to the west, and Toscana and Le Marche to the south.
The landscape is varied with Emilia centred on the flat, fertile plains of the Po valley and its low hills, while Romagna is more mountainous (much of it is located on the northern slopes of the Apennines) and stretches as far as the Adriatic Sea. This affluent region is home to many food-related companies, including Barilla and Buitoni pasta, producers of Prosciutto di Parma DOP and Parmiggiano-Reggiano DOP (Parmesan cheese), wineries, as well as fashion, engineering, and white goods industries.
Bologna, the capital, is known as the “the red, the learned and the fat” (la rossa, la dotta e la grassa). ‘Red’ because of the colour of its beautiful brick buildings (and its political leanings), ‘learned’ for its university, one of Europe’s oldest, and ‘fat’ thanks to its exceptional gastronomic heritage. My first thought about the region is of its rich foods based on egg noodles, pork and cheese. These ingredients were historically reserved for special occasions such as weddings, celebrations, and feasts but now feature on all restaurant menus. The region’s cuisine is rich in animal-proteins, useful for keeping warm in the cold winters.
Emilia and Romagna are separate areas with traditions as distinct as their landscapes. They meet at the Via Emilia (the ancient road, built by the Romans in 187 BC, for which the region was named and historically used by armies, merchants, and religious pilgrims). These travellers introduced foreign influences which spread along their route.
The people of Emilia-Romagna love the good table, ‘la buona tavola’. They are generous and open.
What to See
Bologna is a key city to visit and, more importantly, to eat in. Don’t miss Piazza Maggiore, Piazza del Nettuno, the Due Torri (two leaning towers) in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, the Basilica di San Petronio, the Basilicata di Santo Stefano, the Pinacoteca Nazionale (museum of art), and the Maesta in Santa Maria dei Servi. The narrow streets off Piazza Maggiore are full of temptation with food shops, bars and bakeries.
At the coast, Ravenna is an important town for Byzantine mosaics. Don’t miss the Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia (the stunning tomb of the powerful daughter of a Roman emperor), the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe, and the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
Ferrara, is a medieval town and important cultural centre during the Renaissance. See the Duomo (cathedral), the Corso Ercole I d’Este (a street with many Renaissance palaces), the Palazzo Schifanoia, and the Rosetti works in the Palazzo dei Diamanti.
Parma is a thriving town with many cultural highlights, edible and non. See the Duomo (cathedral), the Episcopal Centre, the Battistero (medieval monument), the Galleria Nazionale (art gallery), and the Castello di Torrechiara (a fortress). Go to the opera at Teatro Regio, long associated with the great composer, Giuseppe Verdi.
The Duomo in Modena is one of the best examples of Romanesque art in Europe. There are street markets in the narrow lanes of the city centre that boast many kinds of foods. Near Modena, Maranello is where Ferrari cars are made and is home to the Scuderia Ferrari Formula One racing team.
Visit the independent state of the Repubblica di San Marino (Republic of San Marino) and see the views from the Rocche (three peaks with three towers) and the village of San Leo and its fortress.
Other nice towns to see include: Brisighella (which has a walled fortress and produces olive oil, cave aged cheeses, and artichokes), Castell’Arquato (a beautiful medieval hillside town), Compiano (a medieval castle town which produces porcini mushrooms and chestnuts) and Vigoleno (an evocative castle town which produces passito style wines).
Bring home authentic traditional balsamic vinegar (aged from 12 to 100 years, and sold in very small and expensive bottles usually of 100 mls. The bottle should be numbered and should be marked Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena or di Reggio Emilia, from the Consorzio Produttori Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena or the Confraternita di Reggio), Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP cheese, Prosciutto di Parma DOP (Parma ham), Prosciutto di Langhirano (Langhirano ham), Culatello di Zibello DOP, hand-printed linen cloth from Romagna, and pottery from Faenza.
Emilia-Romagna is often referred to as the shopping cart of Italy in that some of the most famous Italian food products – the staples of Italian cuisine – are from this region: Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP), Prosciutto di Parma DOP (Parma ham), and traditional balsamic vinegar all come from here.
Emilia-Romagna is the home of silky, fresh egg-yolk laden pasta, laboriously rolled by hand on a matarello (metre-long rolling pin) or in a more convenient pasta-making machine. In the hands of a skilled nonna (grandmother), that yellow dough can be turned into hundreds of different pasta dishes. The pasta dough – of just flour and eggs – is kneaded before being rolled out flat into a large thin circle (la sfoglia). It then is either folded and sliced into noodles (like fettuccine or tagliatelle) or stuffed and shaped into small squares or circles to make ravioli or tortelli. The fillings vary from cheese to vegetables and meats. Freshly made egg pasta cooks incredibly quickly and is delicious served with meat or vegetable sauces or, in the case of tortellini, in meat broth. The sfoglia can also be cut into rectangles and used to make one of Emilia’s most famous dishes, lasagne, which layers the pasta with béchamel and meat or vegetable sauce.
Each area of the region has its own specialty artisan food items. For example, Parma has its sweet ham, famous throughout the world. Piacenza is known for its hard bread and Modena for its balsamic vinegar. Ferrara is known for its spicy salami preserved for months in Marsala and red wine (salama da sugo Ferrarese). Comacchio, on the coast, is famous for its eels.
Romagna’s food is more inclined to rely on mountain food: roasted meats, wild mushrooms, and aromatic herbs. The bread of choice there is la piadina a flat, round bread made usually with suet that is cooked to order in a special pan and served hot.
Other typical ingredients in the larder include polenta and dried pasta, as well as broad beans, chickpeas, and dried mushrooms. Pork products such as pancetta and cotiche (cooked pork skin) are popular as are many types of sausages and salami. In the coastal areas, all sorts of seafood is available, from fish to shellfish. The region also produces vine and tree fruits such as grapes, mulberries, peaches, and cherries.
The dishes from Emilia include Bologna’s signature dishes of tagliatelle alla bolognese (tagliatelle with meat sauce), and lasagne alla bolognese (plain or spinach pasta sheets layered with meat sauce, béchamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP cheese). Piacenza is known for its tortelloni, Reggio Emilia for cappelletti (hat-shaped stuffed pastas), erbazzone (vegetable filled pie) and stracotto (beef pot roast), and Modena for its tortellini (stuffed pasta), zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter) and its desserts. See recipes from Emilia-Romagna here.
Romagna instead is famous for its piadina, at its best when grilled over a wood fire. Fish is well loved in Romagna and is enjoyed in fish soups similar in fashion to neighbouring Marche’s brodetto. Fish is also cooked skewered and grilled, gratinéed with oil, parsley, and garlic served with a tomato herb sauce, or boiled and served with lemon and olive oil.
The region is also known for its wines, from the whites of Emilia’s hills to the sparkling Lambrusco of the plains, to the wonderful Sangiovese now being produced in the Romagnan hills. Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine enjoyed locally with fresh egg pasta or salumi. Good producers to look for is Paltrinieri (particularly Solco) and Medici. White wines from Albana di Romagna DOCG are enjoyable. Look for white wine producers such as San Patrignano (particularly Aulente bianco), Tre Monti and Zerbina. Enjoyable red wines are produced in Colli Piacentini and Sangiovese di Romagna. Producers to buy from include Drei Dona’, Calonga, San Patrignano, Tre Monti and Zerbina (particularly Pietramora).
Another local drink to try is nocino, a liqueur made from walnuts. The passito-style sweet wines made from Albano di Romagna is a nice dessert wine to enjoy with biscuits or cake. Try Zerbina as a producer.
- Emilia: The worst place in the world for a glutton to live
- Parmigiano-Reggiano: Why you should avoid buying “Parmesan” cheese and what you should buy instead.
- Bologna: A food lover’s heaven
- What makes Parma ham (prosciutto di Parma) so special? And what is even better?
- Why you have probably never tried real balsamic vinegar
- The secret delights of Romagna
What to Eat
Typical dishes from Emilia-Romagna include (the most classic are written in bold):
Salumi (Cold cuts)
Many of the salumi are named after their place of origin and have been made since ancient times.
Ciccioli (either crispy pork crackling or pork parts pressed into a salami)
Coppa Piacentina DOP (salt-cured boneless pork shoulder from Piacenza)
Culatello di Zibello DOP (an excellent prosciutto made from the prime cut of the buttock)
Fiocco / Fiocchetto (cured ham made from the rest of the leg after the culatello is removed and flavoured with spices and wine or vinegar)
Gola (wood-pressed pork neck)
Mortadella classica / Mortadella Bologna IGP (fine-grain pork sausage with mace, coriander, garlic, and white peppercorns)
Prosciutto di Modena DOP (prosciutto from white pigs)
Prosciutto Langhirano (salt-cured ham from areas nearby Parma)
Salame di Felino (fine-grain pork, ham, and pancetta salami from Felino)
Salame gentile (pork salami flavoured with peppercorns, garlic, and wine)
Salame rosa (a pork salami similar to mortadella and cooked ham)
Spalla cotta di San Secondo (cured cooked pork shoulder, sometimes smoked)
Bartolaccio (griddled quadrangular-shaped bread filled with potato, bacon, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Batù d’oca (preserved goose in its own fat with garlic, salt and pepper, served with toasted polenta or used in soups or pasta sauces)
Burlenghi (griddled flatbread cooked over a wood-burning fire or fried and served with a lard, rosemary, and garlic spread)
Burtle’ina (spring onion fritters served with salami)
Cassone (griddled, filled crescent shaped flatbread with buttered wild herbs, lardo, pancetta or sausage, ciccioli (pork scratchings), garlic, and onion)
Chizze / Chezzi (fried bread filled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Ciacci di ricotta (griddle cakes made with ewe’s milk ricotta)
Ciccioli (pork rinds)
Crescenta / Gnocco al forno / Gnocco ingrassato / Spianata (focaccia topped with chopped prosciutto, lardo, mortadella or cicioli (pork scratchings), served with meat stews or salami)
Galantina di pesce (boiled galantine of eel, carp, perch and tench flavoured with parsley, butter, garlic, anchovy, white wine, and pistachio, sometimes with truffles)
Galantina di pollo / Galantina di cappone (galantine of chicken or capon with veal, pork, chicken or capon breast, prosciutto, corned tongue, mortadella, black truffle, pistachio nuts, and eggs and flavoured with marsala wine, served with aspic)
Polpettone di tacchino (boiled or fried breaded turkey meatloaf with eggs, bread, milk, Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, and béchamel sauce, finished with white wine)
Scarpazzone / Erbazzone / Scarpazzoun (baked or fried pie filled with chard, herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and eggs, sometimes with rice)
Stecchi fritti alla petroniana (deep-fried breaded skewered chicken livers, sweetbreads, black truffle, tongue, and gruyere cheese coated in béchamel sauce)
Tigella (small circles of griddled, slightly fluffy flatbread filled with a lard, garlic, and rosemary spread and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, served with salami or soft cheese and white truffles)
Torta di patate (potato pie filled with grana cheese, leeks, lardo, and gravy from a roast)
Primi (First Courses)
Anolini (round or crescent-shaped pasta stuffed with braised beef or breadcrumbs, eggs, nutmeg, and grana padano cheese, served in beef or capon broth)
Arbada (cornmeal soup with potatoes, cabbage, pork rind, herbs, and lardo)
Bomba di riso (a rice timbale stuffed with stewed pigeon, giblets, truffles, and porcini mushrooms)
Calzagatti / Calzaga’tt / Cassaga’I (polenta with bean stew and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Cappellacci (large tricorne or rectangular-shaped stuffed pasta with pumpkin; pumpkin, nutmeg and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; or pumpkin, amaretti cookies, and mostarda (fruit mustard), served with mixed meat sauces or butter, sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Cappelletti (Stuffed triangular folded pasta with different fillings. In Emilia, the fillings can be veal, pork, beef, prosciutto, breadcrumbs, and Parmigiano-Reggiano in Reggio Emilia or meat, prosciutto, sausage, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sometimes mortadella in Ferrara. In Romagna the filling is made of spinach or chard, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and ricotta or raviggiolo cheese. All versions are served in broth)
Curzul (fresh egg tagliolini, served with lamb or shallot sauce)
Garganelli (quill-shaped pasta made from flour, egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and nutmeg, served with meat sauce and peas)
Gramigna (short, hollow egg pasta, served with a tomato, onion, and sausage sauce)
Imbalsadura (stewed peas, beans, pancetta, tomato, onion, garlic and parsley, sometimes served with maltagliati pasta)
Lasagne alla bolognese (baked spinach flavoured pasta sheets layered with meat sauce, béchamel sauce, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sometimes with chicken giblets and livers in the meat sauce, usually served for Sunday lunch in Bologna)
Maccheroni bobbiesi (fresh egg pasta tubes, served with the sauce from beef stew)
Maltagliati (uneven shapes of fresh pasta, served in vegetable and legume soup)
Orecchioni / Tortelli (crescent-shaped fresh pasta filled with ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and nutmeg, served with meat or tomato sauce)
Panada / Panata / Paneda (bread soup flavoured with sage, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Passatelli (egg, breadcrumbs, bone marrow or butter, nutmeg, lemon zest and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese cylindrical-shaped dumplings in broth)
Pasticcio (pie filled with pasta with veal sauce, béchamel, truffles, spices, cheese, and bone marrow popular during the Renaissance times)
Pattone di tagliatelle (fritters made with tagliatelle pasta, butter, breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and eggs)
Pisarei e faso (small bread dumplings in a tomato, sausage or lardo or pork rind, herbs, and bean sauce)
Rotolo ripieno (fresh egg pasta rolled with cheese, sausage, chicken giblets, sausage, veal, and liver, served with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Tagliatelle alla romagnola (long flat strips of fresh egg pasta in tomato sauce)
Tortelli di erbette / Tortelli d’erbe / Ombelichi (pasta stuffed with ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, eggs, and chard or sweet radicchio, served with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Tortelli di zucca (stuffed pasta with pumpkin and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, served with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Tortellini (small stuffed pasta with pork, mortadella, prosciutto, eggs, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, served in beef and chicken broth, the cooking liquid from bollito misto, with cream, with meat sauce, or with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Tortelloni (large fresh pasta filled with spinach and ricotta in sage butter sauce)
Zuppa imperiale (flatbread flavoured with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and nutmeg cooked in meat broth)
Secondi (Main Courses)
Anatra al sale (roasted duck flavoured with sage, rosemary, and cognac)
Anguilla sfumata / Anguilla scavecciata / Anguilla marinata tradizionale delle Valli di Comacchio (smoked eel marinated in vinegar)
Baccalà alla bolognese (pan-fried salt cod served with lemon, parsley, and garlic)
Bollito misto alla bolognese (mixed boiled meats which include beef, capon, veal, bone marrow, pork ribs, pig udders, meatloaf (made from beef, breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, eggs, parsley, and garlic), and zampone or cotechino served with a salsa verde (green sauce) and mostarda (a mustard flavoured fruit chutney), as well as puréed or boiled potatoes, beans, sweet and sour onions, buttered spinach, and cream of onion and tomatoes cooked in lard)
Brodetto romagnolo (a fish and seafood soup flavoured with vinegar, black pepper, tomato paste, and sometimes herbs; Generally includes mantis prawns, clams, mussels, scorpion fish, gurnard, weever, stargazer, smooth hound, blenny, turbot, red mullet, cuttlefish, monkfish, and sea eels)
Capello da prete (cooked salami from the chopped left over parts once the culatello is removed)
Capretto alla Piacentina (kid goat in white wine)
Coniglio arrosto alla reggiana (rabbit flavoured with sage, rosemary, juniper berries, vinegar, and white wine)
Coppa al marsala (baked pork salami in marsala wine)
Cosciotto al sale (roast salted pork leg, thinly sliced and served cold)
Costalette alla bolognese / Cotoletta alla bolognese (fried, breaded veal cutlet topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto, sometimes with white truffle, finished in a covered skillet with tomato sauce or meat gravy)
Costolette suine alla modenese (pork ribs with sage, rosemary, garlic, and white wine)
Cotechino Modena (boiled spice and herb flavoured pork sausage, served with puréed potatoes or lentils)
Cunsa steccata alla piastra (cheese rolled in prosciutto or pancetta and grilled)
Gambon (deboned, aged, pressed boiled pig leg sliced and served with potato purée)
Lumache alla bobbiese (sautéed snails with tomato sauce, celery, leeks, carrots, and white wine)
Picaia / Picaja (roast veal breast, sometimes stuffed)
Salama da sugo / Salamina ferrarese (steamed spiced pork sausage aged in marsala and red wines, served with puréed pumpkin or potatoes)
Stracotto alla piacentina (braised beef pot roast with onion, garlic, lardo, pancetta, celery, carrot, parsley, wine, tomato sauce, and broth, sometimes with bay leaf, cloves, and nutmeg, served with polenta or potato purée)
Tagliata di manzo (sliced grilled steak of Romagnola bianca or Chianina cattle)
Trippa alla bolognese (tripe with bacon, garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Valigini (rolled pork with mortadella, egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, garlic, and parsley in tomato sauce)
Zampone alla modenese (boiled herbed and spiced pork sausage encased in a pig’s trotter, served with buttered spinach, mashed potatoes, and stewed beans and lentils, sometimes with zabaione made with balsamic vinegar)
Contorni (Side Dishes)
Asparagi alla parmigiana (asparagus, served with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and butter)
Cardi alla parmigiana (cardoons served with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and butter)
Spinaci lessati (boiled spinach)
Tortino di patate (potato purée layered with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and butter)
Verdure alla griglia (grilled vegetables- can be zucchini, aubergine, radicchio and/or fennel)
Friggione (creamed onion and tomatoes, sometimes with sweet green peppers and sausage, served with boiled meats)
Savor / Savore / Sapore (fruit relish of apples, pears, figs, apricots, peaches, quince, dried and candied fruit, and unfermented grape must, served with bread, polenta, boiled meats, and cheese)
Bensone / Brazadela (a “S” or ring-shaped, lemon flavoured caked topped with sugar chips)
Biscione (an almond paste cake topped with candied fruits in the shape of a snake, served at Christmas)
Bonissima / Sarzenta (short crust tart filled with honey, walnuts, and rum and topped with chocolate or icing)
Bracciatelli (pastry rings flavoured with nutmeg and aniseed liqueur)
Burricchi (puff pastry squares with sugar and almonds)
Bustrengh (cake with honey, dried fruit, raisins, citrus fruit zest, and wine)
Capellettacci (sweet pasta stuffed with chestnut, chocolate, and jam, dressed with olive oil and black pepper)
Casadello / Latteruolo / Coppo (custard, sometimes baked in crust, and can be flavoured with nutmeg, vanilla, or cinnamon, cloves, and lemon)
Castagnole (aniseed flavoured fritters)
Crostata di ciliegie (shortcrust tart filled with cherries)
Gialetti (wheat and corn flour cookies with raisins and pine nuts)
Latte brulè (custard baked with caramel or savoiardi (sponge fingers) soaked in liqueur)
Lupini (pastries flavoured with orange and lemon zest, served at Carnival)
Mandorlini del ponte (almond cookies)
Mistocchine (griddled or fried chestnut wafers)
Panspeziale / Certosino (dome-shaped cake made with candied and dried fruits, chocolate, wine syrup, and cinnamon, enjoyed at Christmas)
Pinza montanara (tart filled with jam, almonds, walnuts, raisings, hazelnuts, dried figs, cocoa, and lemon zest)
Raviole di San Giuseppe / Ravioli Bolognesi (crescent-shaped short crust pastries filled with black plum jam or mostarda bolognese (mixed fruit jam), served on the 19th of March)
Spongata / Spugnata di Modena (short crust pastry filled with honey, chopped walnuts, almonds, raisins, and pine nuts and sometimes jam or mostarda di frutta (mustard fruit chutney))
Straca dent / Straccadeint (hard almond and honey biscuits)
Torta barozzi (flourless chocolate cake flavoured with coffee, almond and rum)
Torta di riso degli addobbi (a dense cake of rice flavoured with lemon, vanilla, caramel, almonds, amaretti biscuits, candied citron, cloves and bitter almond liqueur)
Torta di tagliatelle / Torta ricciolina (tagliolini pasta covering short crust pastry with almonds and candied lime and orange, Sassolino liqueur, sugar, butter, vanilla sugar, sometimes with amaretti biscuits)
Torta nera (chocolate, almond, and walnut tart, sometimes flavoured with aniseed liqueur or amaretto)
Zuppa all’emiliana / Zuppa inglese (rum or alchermes liqueur soaked sponge cake layered with custard, fruit preserves, and chocolate)
Zuppa dolce di ciliegie e crema (sponge cake filled with pastry cream and cooked cherries)
Castel San Pietro (a semi-fat, semi-aged mild cow’s milk cheese)
Formaggio di Fossa (a cow and/or sheep’s cheese aged in canvas sacks in straw lined ditches or caves at Sogliano sul Rubicone and removed on 24 November every year for the feast of Saint Catherine)
Grana Padano DOP (made in several areas of Emilia, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, below)
Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP (a nutty, hard, flaky cow’s milk cheese – the most famous Italian cheese, each cheese bears the “Parmigiano-Reggiano” mark, the producer’s registration number, the year and month of production, and a unique identification code)
Pecorino dell’Appennino Reggiano (a hard, raw ewe’s milk cheese, from Reggio Emilia and produced for hundreds of years)
Pecorino dolce dei Colli Bolognesi (a semi-hard pasteurized ewe’s milk cheese from Colli Bolognesi)
Provolone Valpadana DOP (a pulled-curd cow’s milk cheese)
Raviggiolo dell’Appennino Toscoromagnolo (a soft, mild, fresh, buttery, raw cow’s milk cheese which has been produced for more than 500 years in Forlì-Cesena; it is presented on fern fronds)
Ricotta (soft, fresh cheese)
Squacquerone di Romagna DOP / Squaquarone / Squacqarone / Squaquerone (a mild, soft, sweet, fresh, runny pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Romagna, but the variety from Castel San Pietro is highly sought after)
Nocino (a liqueur made from unripe walnuts soaked in ethylic alcohol or brandy and sugar, sometimes with spices)
Sassolino (star anise spirit enjoyed as a digestif, sometimes with white wine)