Ready for the ultimate Italian food feast? The answer’s not in Rome, Venice, Florence or Pisa. It’s in Bologna, the breadbasket of Emilia-Romagna, and—as many would say!—quite possible of Italy as a whole.
While Bologna doesn’t crack often first-time Italy itineraries, anyone with even a passing interest in eating their way through Southern Europe’s favorite culinary destination would be making a huge mistake not throwing in at least a few days in Bologna.
Experience Italy’s top food city through your taste buds starting with these must-try Bolognese delights…
Prosciutto di Parma
While visiting Bologna for the first time, you’d be absolutely mad not to take a day trip to the city of Parma if for no other reason than to taste prosciutto di Parma in its hometown. Even if you don’t make it to Parma, you’ll be able to sample this salty & delicious cut of pork at nearly every restaurant in Bologna. (And, unless you’re a vegan, trust me: This is a good thing. A very good thing.)
Besides the ever-smooth and satisfying taste of proscuitto, other must-try pork products for your trip to Bologna include pancetta (pork belly), culatello (aged cured ham), and guanciale (pork cheek).
There’s a good chance that wherever you are in the world, you’re tossing heaps of this sharp cheese from Emilia-Romagna onto nearly even pasta dish in front of you. (And I hope it’s not that sawdust-like processed crap in a plastic shaker.)
Even if you’re regularly spiking your caesar salads and carbonara with parmigiano, tasting the real thing in Bologna (or, even better, in Parma) will blow your mind hole.
The best parmigiano reggiano is aged for a minimum of 12 months. The higher-end parmesans—you know, the ones that upon first taste will forever change your life—can be aged for up to five years! The longer the cheese sits, the salter & more flavorful it becomes.
Needless to say, this level of parmigiano reggiano is meant to be savored one small bite at a time, not grated over pasta. Taste it while in Bologna, and I promise, you’ll never taste cheese the same again.
Okay, so there’s a little misconception when it comes to mortadella. If you grew up in North America, you’ve probably found Bologna’s famous namesake meat show up in your paper lunch bag from time to time.
Whether you loved it or hated it (I personally lean towards the latter), eating the real thing in Bologna is nothing like that forgettable lunch meat from our childhood. The meat’s original Bolognese inspiration, called mortadella, is more an art than a random selection of meat thrown haphazardly into a grinder and spit out.
Real mortadella in Bologna uses high-quality cuts of pork fused with small cubes of pork lard that give it a creamy and satisfying texture along a variety of spices. The best way to enjoy mortadella is pairing it with a high-quality cheese and full-bodied Chianti.
Tagliatelle al ragu bolognese
Even if you’ve never thought about visiting Bologna, you’ve probably give yourself a taste of spaghetti bolognese at least once in your life. In Bologna, however, the far more common pasta for their delicious & meaty namesake sauce is tagliatelle, a silky wide hand-cut egg noodle.
And maybe the Bolognese on to something. The mouth-watering meat sauce clings far better to tagliatelle than spaghetti, creating a smooth & absolutely brilliant combination. Like other Bolognese pasta dishes, tagliatelle al ragu bolognese pairs well with a Chianti wine.