Check out eleven tasty Emilia-Romagna food experiences that you should not miss when you visit Italy’s most gastronomic region.
We knew we would pass through Emilia-Romagna eventually on our epic world food journey. When we first visited Bologna in late 2010, we had already been to two of the ‘first time you visit Italy’ cornerstones – Rome and Florence.
On that initial Italy trip, we could have chugged toward Venice but didn’t. As hardcore food lovers, we placed Bologna ahead of Venice on our itinerary.
While in Bologna, we munched on prosciutto, mortadella and lasagne verdi al forno. We traipsed through a late autumn chocolate festival and crept through the cloisters of Santo Stephano. Daryl even tickled the ivories in a post-dinner rendition of Heartbreak Hotel but we digress.
Fast forward a few years and many blog posts later, the Blogville project drew us back into Italy’s La Grassa (the fat one – Bologna’s well-earned nickname.) This time, however, we would explore a far greater snapshot of Bologna’s home region of Emilia-Romagna, which is a world unto itself and one of the best places to indulge in the gastronomy of Italy.
Why Visit Emilia Romagna?
When you get down to it, the entire peninsula of Italy is a tourist attraction. The country is filled with great hill towns and vineyards outside Tuscany, magnificent art outside Rome and brilliant architecture outside Venice. Go anywhere on the peninsula and you’ll find picturesque views, timeless sights and, most important to us, great food and delightful desserts.
Emilia-Romagna, Italy’s sixth largest region, has all those things. In western Emilian provinces like Parma and Modena, diners can sample some of Italy’s most renowned foods in one of the country’s great breadbaskets. In the eastern ‘Romagna’ provinces, travelers can enjoy legendary mountaintop views in San Marino, lovely vineyards and underrated red wines in Ravenna and golden sunsets along sand-filled beaches in Rimini.
The Emilia-Romagna region has so much to offer with great people to match. One could certainly plan a vacation itinerary without leaving the long central Italian region. In fact, we found that two weeks wasn’t even enough.
Renting a car in Bologna will allow you to explore Emilia-Romagna beyond the region’s train stations and bus routes.
Top Emilia-Romagna Food Experiences
Travelers around the world know about the food in Bologna, Emilia-Romagna’s capital city filled with porticos and oozing with character. But Bologna Italy is just the tip of the Emilia-Romagna food valley. With other cities including Modena, Parma, Ferrara, Ravenna and Rimini, the Emilia-Romagna region has a wide variety of destinations, each offering different food experiences.
Most food travelers are familiar with Parmigiano Reggiano (see below). Emilia-Romagna is the only place in the world where it’s possible to eat the popular cooked and pressed cheese at the source. Cheese lovers shouldn’t stop at this ‘king of cheeses’ though – Emilia-Romagna also produces unique cheeses like Fossa in Cesenatico that are worth a taste as well.
We spent over two weeks navigating our way through Emilia-Romagna Italy and discovered a range of food experiences that food-loving visitors should not miss. Each experience showcases the local food and wine in a different way. Plus they’re all fun ways to connect with the local food culture. Here are our top eleven:
1. Eat Gelato in Bologna and Beyond
Gelato wasn’t invented in Emilia-Romagna, but the creamy, dreamy Italian ice cream is better in the rich Italian region than anywhere else in the world. Yes, we said it. Emilia-Romagna has the best gelato in the world. You can eat gelato at more than a dozen excellent gelaterias in bustling Bologna or gobble down cones further afield at Gelateria Bloom in Modena, Cremeria Capolinea in Reggio Emilia and Ciacco Lab in Parma.
True ice cream lovers can visit the Carpigiani facility right outside Bologna for an even fuller gelato experience. Carpigiani, the premier gelato machine manufacturer, has an interactive Gelato Museum that traces gelato’s roots back to Mesopotamia, Rome and Greece.
Visitors of the Gelato Museum can participate in the company’s Discovering Gelato experience which includes a guided tour of the museum, a gelato-making lesson and, most important, a gelato tasting.
→ Click here to book the Discovering Gelato experience at Carpigiani.
2. Follow the Master of None Food Trail in Modena
First, the show is totally awesome as we discovered while binge-watching the first two seasons soon after our Modena visit. Second, we unintentionally visited four of the places where Dev Shah (as played by Aziz Ansari) ate and drank on the show during our Modena day trip.
Here are the key Modena food stops to make on a self-guided Master of None tour:
Not a Master of None fan? Go to Modena anyway.
Just a short train ride from Bologna, the charming Emilia-Romagna city has much to offer with its historic city square, the Luciano Pavarotti Museum, the Ferrari Museum and great food. Modena is the home to traditional balsamic vinegar producers, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dairies, Lambrusco wine producers and fresh pasta makers. You won’t go hungry when you visit Modena!
Taking an unofficial Master of None tour in Modena works up an appetite, or at least it did for us. We ended our Modena day trip with dinner at Trattoria Pomposa.
Chef Luca Marchini’s Pomposa is one of Modena’s two chef-driven traditional restaurants (Mossimo Bottura’s Osteria Franceschetta being the other) serving Emilian classics like Lasagne Verdi al Forno in a modern setting. Recommended dishes include their mixed charcuterie plate, lasagna and calzagatti (fried polenta and borlotti beans) served over cottage cheese.
Plan ahead if you want to dine at Osteria Francescana. Advance reservations are mandatory at this highly rated three-star Michelin restaurant serving the pinnacle of Emilia-Romagna cuisine. Don’t despair if you don’t score a reservation. Modena has many other great restaurants like Trattoria Pomposa where we ate our dinner.
3. Eat High in the Sky in San Marino
The third smallest country in Europe and the fifth smallest on earth, the Republic of San Marino is a sovereign state located within Emilio Romagna. The views of and from the fortress towers are spectacular, making a day trip to this country within a country worth it for the epic views alone.
However, why not take the bus from nearby Rimini and stay overnight? An overnight visit will allow you to explore the three towers and the basilica during the day and eat great food after the day-trippers have departed.
After the sun sets, San Marino offers Emilia-Romagna travelers with a different experience where visitors can take romantic strolls on winding cobblestone roads and eat local food without throngs of tourists searching for the best photo ops and souvenirs. Not surprising considering its geographic location within Emilia-Romagna, San Marino’s food options include Italian favorites like pizza, pasta and piadina, but San Marino cuisine doesn’t stop there.
Righi La Taverna, a one-starred Michelin restaurant helmed by Chef Luigi Sartini, provides a luxury dining experience on Piazza Libertà. Sartini’s dishes elevate local products like snails and lamb to magical levels in a truly gastronomic environment.
Get your passport stamped at the tourist office in San Marino. Although a stamp is not necessary for entry into the sovereign state, it makes for a wonderful souvenir as well as a badge of honor among travelers.
4. Learn how to Make Pasta
Emilia-Romagna locals grow up making pasta with their grandmothers (nonnas), many learning how to form noodles before they can even walk. In the not-so-distant past, making hand-rolled pasta at home was a daily ritual in many homes throughout the region, providing a bridge between the generations.
However, due to today’s busy lifestyle, most people don’t have time to make fresh pasta every day. Instead, they typically pasta at specialty shops and markets except for holidays and family events.
→ Learn about the best noodles to eat around the world.
Luckily for the rest of us, it’s possible to take classes in Emilia-Romagna and learn about the art of pasta making. These hands-on experiences are both fun and educational, not to mention tasty.
One option is to attend a pasta making demo at the popular Le Sfogline pasta shop adjacent to Mercato delle Herbe. In the demo, sisters Daniella and Monica Venturi demonstrate their enviable pasta making skills while sharing colorful stories and secrets. Along with their employee Rosa, the Venturi sisters make the shop’s pasta by hand, only using machines for stretching the dough.
Another option for learning how to make pasta is to take a private class from a Bologna local like Davide Labanti, an accomplished filmmaker who learned the pasta making craft from his nonna. Labanti patiently tried to teach us how to form tortellini, a process that is easier than it looks, before cooking up a meal that we enjoyed with wine and conversation.
Labante even brought in gelato from Stefino, one of our favorite Bologna gelaterias. During our class, Labanti’s apartment was funky, cramped, hot, intimate and magical. We ate great food, talked politics, drank wine and connected in a unique way that makes international travel a truly special experience.
Book your pasta demo or class in advance. You can directly contact the Venturi sisters directly or email Labanti at [email protected] to set up a pasta class.
5. Attend the Al Mèni Festival in Rimini
A sunny resort town on the picturesque Adriatic coast, Rimini shines the brightest during its annual Al Mèni food festival. Set in a circus tent, the premier Emilia-Romagna festival provides a rollicking atmosphere both for the array of international chefs who cook the food and the food-loving guests who devour it.
Host Massimo Bottura, the acclaimed chef at Modena’s world-famous Osteria Francescana, hosts the event and infuses a jovial sense of community along with a high standard of culinary excellence. The festival continues outside the tent with locally sourced gourmet street food, Amarcord craft beer and Carpigiani gelato.
We loved strolling among the food stalls, tasting wine and chatting with various Emilia-Romagna producers. However, we had two special highlights from attending the festival.
Our first highlight was reconnecting with Chef Arnaud Laverdin from Le Bijouterie, one of the best restaurants in Lyon France. We were delighted when the talented chef remembered us from our Lyon visit and even more delighted when we tasted his culinary contribution to the festival.
Our second highlight was attending the picnic brunch at the Grand Hotel, the five-star hotel that inspired filmmaker Federico Fellini throughout his illustrious film career. Not only did the Grand Hotel live up to its name, but the brunch was even grander with a gelato bar, chefs carving Bistec a la Fiorentina, a cornucopia of sweet and savory buffet items and a range of local wines.
Not in Rimini during the annual Al Meni festival? No worries – Rimini has worthy food experiences a year long.
Eating a piadèna in Rimini is a must. The piadina, otherwise known as a flatbread sandwich stuffed with local ingredients like prosciutto and stracchinio cheese, is a ubiquitous Rimini food option that you can find all over town including the excellent version at local piadaneria Lella Piada e Cassoni.
During our visit to Rimini, we also enjoyed great pizza at Osteria de Borg and crafted cocktails at Moméntino. Italian food lovers will not go hungry in this city. Watch our YouTube video for the full story.
Take a ride on Rimini’s big ferris wheel at sunset. The views from the top of the wheel are extraordinary.
6. Take a Parmigiana Reggiano Dairy Tour
Any trip to Emilia-Romagna would be incomplete without a visit to a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese dairy. Dating back to the 13th century, Parmigiano Reggiano, a cooked and pressed cheese, is a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) food product that can only be produced with specific methods from special dairy cows that only exist in Emilia-Romagna.
As we learned during our tour at Caseificio Nuovo Martignana Societa’ Agricola Cooperativa, the process for producing Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is both intense and precise. The passionate cheesemakers follow an exact process for each certified wheel of cheese, starting with milking the cows, cooking the milk to a specific temperature and aging the finished cheese wheels for 12, 24 or 36 months.
We watched the family of cheesemakers cook the cheese in large cauldrons, each with 1,000 liters of milk, before cutting and molding the cheese. Quality rules over quantity when it comes to this dairy’s Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, with production capped at 18 wheels per day.
→ Click here to explore taking a Parmigiano Reggiano tour in Emilia–Romagna.
As fascinating as it is to watch the production of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the best part of a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy tour is the opportunity to taste the cheese in the dairy’s aging cellar. The tasting experience reveals how the color gets more intense over time as does crystallization. Plus, let’s face it, Parmigiano Reggiano doesn’t get any fresher or better than at the source.
7. Taste Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
If you think that you know traditional balsamic vinegar based on the balsamic vinegar that you’ve purchased at the grocery store – think again. Authentic balsamic vinegar is a Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) product that can only be produced in Emilia-Romagna. And, unlike the grocery store version made with vinegar, sugar and additives, traditional balsamic vinegar has just one ingredient – grape juice.
Davide Lonardi provides an excellent tour at Acetaia Villa San Donnino, his third-generation farm, sharing the process that starts in the vineyard and continues while the balsamic vinegar ages in the attic for at least 12 years, but preferably for at least 25 years. Lonardi patiently walks visitors through the fermentation and maturation processes, showing the different sized barrels and telling stories that span three generations.
As with a Parmigiano Reggiano tour, the highlight of a balsamic vinegar tour is the tasting. Flavors explode with each taste, especially when the balsamic vinegar is paired with ice cream. If you don’t believe that ice cream and traditional balsamic vinegar are a match made in heaven – taste it for yourself. You can thank us later.
Schedule a tour at Acetaia Villa San Donnino. When you go for the tour, buy a bottle of balsamic vinegar to enjoy later at home. Since you only need to add a few drops at a time, the price is relatively high but the value is favorable.
8. Picnic in the Bologna Hills
Though not as famous as the Tuscan hills, the Bologna hills provide endless vistas with stunning views as well as numerous spots ideal for picnics and cultural exploration. The best way to access these hills is by Vespa, the hip Italian scooter, which visitors can rent in the city for individual adventures.
Alternatively, visitors can take Vespa tours like the one that we enjoyed with Travelhoo. Our Vespa tour took us to must-see spots that we couldn’t access on foot – San Michele in Bosco, Sanctuary of San Luca, Casaglia Church, Sabbiuno War Memorial, Ponte di Vizzano and Palazzo de Rossi.
Beyond experiencing epic sites and beautiful landscapes, the best part of touring the Bologna region is the food. We loved eating local food picnic style. We also loved stopping for aperitivos at Fienile Fluò, a restaurant and farmhouse nestled in the Bologna hills.
In the grand scheme of things, there isn’t much better in life than enjoying Emilia–Romagna food and wine while gazing at views of the undulating, green patchwork countryside.
Driving a Vespa in the wine hills of Bologna requires skill. Unless you have prior motorbike experience or have time to practice, plan to be a passenger instead of a driver.
9. Eat Lunch at an Agriturismo
Staying at an agriturismo in Emilia-Romagna can be a great experience since many independently owned farms provide wonderful food in addition to luxury accommodations. Even if you don’t stay at an agriturismo, it’s still possible to dine at a farmhouse near Bologna like we did at DonnaLivia Farm House in Brisighella.
Our lunch started with scrambled eggs served with nettles, tomatoes and mint and continued with tagliatelle with zucchini cabanera and olive oil before finishing with yogurt topped with peeled peaches and fresh mint. We washed the locally sourced food down with a red wine made with Merlot and Sangiovese grapes grown on the farm’s property.
The beauty of dining at an agriturismo is the opportunity to experience the farm’s bounty. The ancient town of Brisighella is known for its olive oil, and DonnaLivia Farm House follows the local tradition by producing olive oil from old trees on the property.
After ritualistically tasting three olive oils – Centenario, Viridum and Metodo, we checked out the olive mill during our tour of the property and its vineyard. The highlight of the tour was eating sweet cherries right from the trees.
Visit Framboise in downtown Brisighella. The charming restaurant is a perfect lunch spot when you visit Brisighella.
10. Dine at Bologna Restaurants
Nicknamed the City of Food and La Grassa (the fat one), Bologna has an abundance of food restaurants at all price points – and most of them are outstanding.
Busy from morning until night, restaurants in Bologna come alive at the end of the day when locals flock in the city center for pre-dinner aperitivos and the buzz continues until the last plates of pasta hit the tables in Bologna’s neighborhood osterias.
The best places to eat in Bologna are not fancy establishments but are instead classic family-run establishments that eschew gastronomic tricks for hearty pasta dishes. Diners inhale big plates topped with gramigna and bowls filled with tortellini in brodo while sipping on Emilia–Romagna wine varietals like Sangiovese and Lambrusco. Could life get any better than this?
Order an Aperol Spritz with your aperitivos. Though Emilia-Romagna wine never disappoints, the Aperol Spritz is an immensely popular beverage choice in Bologna these days.
11. Shop at Local Markets
Shopping for produce in Emilia-Romagna is a joy whether or not if you have a kitchen. Local markets display fresh fruits and vegetables in jumbled piles and sell them by the bagful.
As in the case in much of Europe, shoppers enjoy the best selection when they shop with the season. We’re talking about insanely delicious Vignola cherries in June and earthy porcini mushrooms and white truffles in the autumn months.
Visitors can graze through a market, easily turning a shopping expedition into a meal. However, the true local experience is to shop at a market and then cook a meal at home.
Such an activity was a pipe dream for culinary travelers in the past, but the availability of short-term apartment rentals has turned this dream into a reality. Shopping and cooking may be chores at home, but doing both in Emilia-Romagna is utterly satisfying, with the true reward being a homemade lunch or dinner.
We loved cooking at our Bologna apartments, both during Blogville and when we were on our own. Renting one of the many available holiday apartments in Bologna provides tourists with the invaluable opportunity to shop at a local Bologna food market and then cook at home.
When you buy fresh pasta at a shop like La Sfogline, buy a side of Bolognese sauce. Why spend hours at the stove when you can buy sauce made by an Italian grandmother?
Plan Your Emilia-Romagna Stay
Have we convinced you to visit Emilia-Romagna and have your own food experiences? If so, we recommend the following accommodations where we personally stayed in Emilia-Romagna:
Do the following if none of these hotels meets your needs or budget:
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
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