You can be forgiven if you pass on the pasta – but only once in a while.

Emilia Romagna is an exciting food region in Northern Italy and pasta figures large in its culinary landscape. But it is only one delicious highlight amongst many. The cuisine in this region (a region that also offers easy access to Italian highlights such as Venice and Florence), focuses on fresh and local fare in recipes with few ingredients. The food is simple and simply delicious.

I really didn’t know Italian food until I spent three weeks based in Bologna, Emilia Romagna’s capital. From there I explored the wide variety of food to be savoured in the region by travelling around using the local train system. You’ll want to spend a number of days tasting the many specialties–pasta and more–of its small towns.

As the capitol of Emilia Romagna, Bologna offers all that you want in an Italian destination – deep history, classic buildings and wonderful food. This is the Neptune Statue located beside the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna.

Pasta: one word, many incarnations

When it comes to pasta, the region is known for its egg and filled pastas including tortellini and tortelloni, strozzapreti, garganelli, and gramigna. It is especially famous for tagliatelle pasta served with Bolognese sauce. (This is the sauce that has been corrupted by much of the world and called, simply, spaghetti sauce. Try the real thing when you’re there.)

Pasta is an essential element of Emilia Romagna cuisine but let’s look further.

Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano Reggiano aging in Parma, Emilia-Romagna.

Four food highlights of Italy and where to find them

You can tour Emilia Romagna and get to the small specialty towns by car or regional train. For details on how to use the train system, read Solo Travel to Bologna and Emilia Romagna – 32 Tips. Now, here are the four towns I suggest as priorities.

Parma: Located north of Bologna, Parma is known for Prosciutto di Parma (dry-cured ham) and Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese). Produced under the supervision of consortiums, the stamp of Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma or Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano ensure that you have the absolute best, most delicious prosciutto or parmigiano available. Go to Parma early in the morning, when the cow milk arrives at the Parmesan factories, and see how this wonderful cheese is made. The tour can be arranged through the Consorzio and is free. Read: A Day Trip to Parma and the Source of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

This bottle of aceto balsamico tradizionale is from the Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca which I visited.

Modena: Halfway between Bologna and Parma is Modena, the original home of balsamic vinegar. Industrial balsamic vinegar is delicious but there is nothing like Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale produced by families with their own vineyards and sometimes generations of experience. Its flavour is rich and complex and, again, it is regulated by a Consorzio so that you can look for the Tradizionale seal to ensure that you’re buying the best quality balsamic vinegar.

Comacchio: We’ll go east now to the Adriatic Sea. Thanks to its seaside towns, fish and seafood are popular features of Emilia Romagna cuisine. Comacchio is a charming village on the sea situated on a lagoon and wetland area. It offers cycling, walking, bird watching, and fabulous seafood. It also hosts an eel festival every October, which provides a great opportunity to rub elbows with locals.

Olives ripening on the tree in Brisighella.

Brisighella: Finally, we’ll head south to the quiet village of Brisighella. Located in a valley, surrounded by hills it offers beautiful vistas, olive oil with its own subtle yet distinct flavour, and wonderful Sangiovese wine all made by small producers.

What are your favourite foods of Italy?
Where are they found?
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