After leaving Napoli we spent two
days in Roma and left for Reggio Emilia on Valentines Day.
The EuroStar 1st class service provided excellent goodies
and service on the 1st leg to Bologna, where the train to
Reggio Emilia was waiting. Reggio Emilia is both a
province and a city. The province is in the shape of an
elongated rectangle, with the city more or less in the
center. To the west is the city of Parma and to the east
Modena. We had been to both many years ago and somehow
had missed Reggio. Shame on us, it is not to be missed.
This Roman town is enclosed by a
hexagonal ring road, which approximately follows the line
of the old city walls. The railway station is at the east
end of town. We passed thru the medieval eastern gate,
Porta San Pietro, and proceeded west on via Emilia, which
corresponds to the ancient Roman road. Via Emilia
continues thru town to the western gate, Porta Santo
Stefano. Via Emilia links Parma in the west to Modena in
the east. The northern gate, Porta Santa Croce is at the
end of Via Roma which bisects via Emilia. The southern
gate is Porta Castello, the gateway to the mountains of
Reggio Emilia. As we walked along via Emilia, we found a
glass-covered excavation of the original Roman road
beneath the street.
Suddenly we heard bands playing, people
singing and shouting, and a parade was coming toward us.
Talk about timing! It was Carnevale - homemade floats,
many of which reflected the agricultural richness of the
area, lovely costumes, outrageous makeup, friends
frolicking, confetti flying, and wholesome, joyous family
I guarded the luggage while Linda
dug out her digital camera and joined the crowd. As Linda
mingled among them we quickly learned that the people of
Reggio are outgoing and welcoming. Proud parents were
pleased that Linda wanted to photograph their children
and eager to learn where we were from and to share
information about the celebration.
We determined the action would
continue for quite awhile so we headed down the street to
our hotel. Piazza Del Monte (known also as Piazza Cesare
Battisti) is situated right in the middle of via Emilia.
It takes its name from the Palazzo Del Monte di Pieta,
which is now a bank. Nearby is the Palazzo Bussetti
attributed to Bernini and just opposite is the medieval
Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, (Palace of the Peoples
Captain) which today houses the Hotel Posta. This enchanting hotel is a member of Abitare la Storia.
The Palazzo, which dates to 1281,
was converted to a hotel called Locanda del Capello Rosso
(Inn of the Red Hood) in 1515. The charming and
comfortable reception area and adjoining parlors are from
the various restorations during the hotel's long history.
An enormously appealing and pleasant ambiance results
from the combination of high, curved ceilings, marble
pillars, floral patterned carpeting, elegant furniture,
and eclectic furnishings. The gorgeous bar in the lounge
invites conversation over cocktails. During our three day
stay I enjoyed relaxing in the parlor, in one of the
smartly-designed, comfortable upholstered wicker chairs,
catching up on my notes, while Linda used the
complimentary internet point.
We exited the elevator at the
second floor and proceeded down a corridor to our
accommodations adjacent to an open, airy atrium. The
balcony of our room at the rear of the Palazzo opened to
the traffic-free main city square, Piazza Prampolini. Our
suite was an oasis of comfort, a beautifully furnished
sitting room and king bedroom, with walls graced by
lovely framed photos, and gorgeous wooden floors. It was
nice to have extra pillows, cozy slippers and even fabric-covered
hangers in the large armoire. There was a beautifully-appointed
marble bathroom with all the goodies including a heated
towel rack to ensure overnight drying of our hand laundry.
Back on via Emilia we tracked the
parade north onto via Roma where folks had gathered to
frolic to the traditional tunes of a costumed band. Via
Emilia and via Roma formed the axis of the ancient Roman
town. Via Emilia is actually divided at via Roma, to the
east it is named via Emilia San Pietro and west, its
called via Emilia S. Stefano. From east to west Emilia is
the shopping and social artery of the town.
This seems to be a prosperous and
proud place. Reggio Emilia has a reputation for having an
excellent quality of life brought about by hard work and
common purpose. Interspersed with the fashion, food and
miscellaneous shops are well-maintained palazzos and
churches. The narrow side streets of residences and
businesses are beautifully kept and attractive.
Four of these streets formed a part
of the old Jewish Ghetto, which was established in 1669.
The synagogue, which is being renovated by the
government, is on via dell'Aquilla. It was built on the
site of a 1672 temple and opened to the public in 1858.
The other three streets are Monzermone, Della Volta, and
A narrow street beside the Hotel Posta led
us into Piazza Camillo Prampolini, commonly known as the
Piazza Grande. Rectangular in shape it is completely
surrounded by stunning, historical buildings. The Palazzo
del Monte (including our bedroom balcony) dominates a
north corner, while the Palazzo del Commune (town hall)
sits at the south end. Inside it is the Tricolore Hall, a
magnificent room with three rows of balconies, where the
representatives of Reggio, Modena, Ferrara and Bologna
adopted the tricolore flag as the symbol of the Cispadane
Republic on January 7, 1797. To the east are the
Baptistery, the impressive Duomo and Bishops Palace. On
the west side is the Palazzo del Podesta and the Palazzo
delle Notarie, which is now a bank. A statue of Crostolo
originally from Palazzo Ducale of Rivalta is the only
object within the square, except for a few kiosks where
we ultimately bought bus tickets for our trip to the
Between the Cathedral and the
Bishops Palace is via Broletto. The pretty street runs
under the arcades of the Municipal Hall into the cozy
Piazza S. Prospero, the old Piazza delle Erbe, commonly
known today as Piazza Piccola (small square) because it
is next to Piazza Grande (big square). Straight ahead is
the impressive Basilica of Saint Prospero, dedicated to
the patron saint of the city, with its octagonal bell
tower. On either side of the square are attractive
porticoes with many shops. The rear of the Cathedral was
behind us as we entered the square. The market stalls in
the center were beginning to close as dusk was closing in.
We finished our first day walking
north from Piazza del Monte on via Crispi, a short street
of designer boutiques, to Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio and
its neighbor Piazza Della Vittoria, the cultural, art and
entertainment heart of the city. Straight ahead, the
imposing neo-classical Municipal Theatre stands tall in
the green of the public gardens. Nearby are the Anna e
Luigi Parmeggiani Civic Center, the Civic Museums, and
the Ariosto Theatre.
This is a city of great civility, a
proud history and rich culture. There is so much more to
explore. Tomorrow we will begin to learn about the world-renown
gastronomic specialties; Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese,
traditional balsamic vinegar, and Lambrusco Reggiano wine.
The concierge at the hotel had
recommended Ristorante La Tavernetia, via Don Andreoli,
right around the corner from the hotel, off via Emilia
San Pietro. It is located in a building that dates back
to 1400. The seating is in the cellar with a typical
arched brick ceiling. The environment is very casual and
conducive to enjoying a good meal. It turned out to be
much better than just good. The patrons were all locals
and our waitress was curious to know what planet we were
from. Canada made a big hit with her. She, in fact, had
just moved here from Sicily.
We started with a house offering of
marvelous local salami and olives. The Fattoria Delcerro
red wine from Montepulciano our waitress recommended was
a winner. Many of the folks around us were eating
wonderful-looking pizza but we decided on real food. A
tortelli verdi, spinach-filled in butter and sage sauce
was a delicious first course. The tagliata di manzo alle
verdure was a dream. The tender and tasty meat and the
accompanying grilled vegetables were perfection. I like
eating in a cave! Both the zuppa inglese (white cake,
boiled cream, fruit with a touch of rum), and
profiteroles were worth the calories and cholesterol. The
service was attentive and cheerful and the prices quite
The breakfast room was a refreshing
experience from the soft, golden glow of the walls to the
elegant linens. The vaulted ceiling is accentuated by a
magnificent chandelier with stucco columns and large
mirrors along the walls adding to the drama of the design.
The elegant furnishings and table settings showed
attention to detail. It took us a while to take in all
the beauty but the delectable array of breakfast
offerings finally got our attention. Particularly
outstanding were the local meats, croissants and rolls
and a lemon cake that my grandmother might have made.
Nearby is a stunning meeting or
party suite with beamed ceilings, frescoed walls and
antique windows that speak of the long history of the
In case you haven't noticed, we
love good food. We had come across a website of an
organization in Reggio Emilia that really got us excited
about our trip. Colli di Scandiano e
Canossa, has a mission to
promote the wine, gastronomic products and culture of
Reggiano. They define the area as being south of the city
between fiume Enza and fiume Secchia. It's a region of
hills and mountains with erosion furrows, wooded
landscape and wide valleys.
We headed for the town of Scandiano
to visit the nearby Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
producer, Cavalli. Scandiano is famous for its massive
Rocca dei Boiardo, an unfinished renaissance castle. It
was adapted in baroque times as a noble residence with
the addition of a south facade and a huge west tower
called the Torrazzo.
The old center of town (Piazza
Fiume) is still partially defined by the old walls. The
buildings around the perimeter are undergoing renovation.
This was the site of the old Jewish Ghetto. Lazzaro
Spallanzani was an eminent scientist whose restored home
is now used as a cultural and study center, and
exhibition place for the instruments he used to measure
We have been using Balsamic Vinegar
for as long as I can remember. We wondered what the
addition of the word "Traditional" was all
about. Our noses told us the moment we entered the
premises of Cavalli. The smell was a delicious sensual
delight. When the first droplet entered my mouth there
was an explosion of a sweet and sour flavor the likes of
which Ive never experienced. This is the product of
both art and science originally created as a medicinal
balsam for the exclusive use of kings and emperors.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio
Emilia is the result of an aging process that takes place
in a series of small wooden barrels (a minimum of three,
usually no more than five or six, over a period of at
least twelve years under the direction of a master
vinegar maker. The grapes for the "must" must
be of well-defined quality and grown in Reggio Emilia.
The grapes are Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatto, Spergola,
Berzemino and the others that are used to produce
Lambrusco Reggiano D.O.C.
After twelve years the vinegar is
eligible for strict evaluation by a commission of tasters
made up of five randomly-selected experts from the
register deposited at the Chamber of Commerce of Reggio
Emilia. A detailed determination is made as to whether
the product is suitable for market or has to be returned
to the barrels for improvement. The characteristics
considered are color, density, perfume and flavor. As
part of the testing process, the specific quality of the
product is assigned by seals bearing the consortium mark,
awarded in three different qualities, red, silver, and
gold. These categories are useful to the consumer in
evaluating use vis-a-vis price factors.
In order to guarantee the quality,
a controlled denomination of origin was bestowed on
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia in the
1980s. The Producers'
Consortium is responsible
for the protection and control of the product. It is a
non-profit organization with headquarters at the Chamber
of Commerce of Reggio Emilia.
Fellow foodies take note that a few
droplets of this nectar on Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese,
meats, shellfish, strawberries, ice cream, hams or just
about anything, unlocks flavor sensations that will make
you cry in ecstasy.
A wide variety of wines is produced
in this area, the most important being Lambrusco Reggiano.
It received D.O.C. status in l996. The Medici family had
been making wine for over 100 years. The nearby Medici
Ermete winery has a small museum of farm implements
tracing the history of local wine making and a lovely
tasting room not only for the Lambrusco but for all the
other wines they produce. A tour of the modern wine
making facilities was enlightening.
There is also the Medici Acetaia
where they produce a limited number of bottles of the
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
This experience left us with a
pretty good appetite and we found just the place to
satisfy our needs. Ristorante da Pelati, via M. di
Cervarolo, 46c is well known for traditional fare using
only local products. The ambiance is modest, the cucina
is sparkling clean and the ladies in white smocks in the
cucina were seasoned pros. The kitchen was open and we
could see them preparing the home made pasta of the day.
The owner is very involved helping every customer and
making suggestions. It is mandatory to start with
Lambrusco wine and the Concerto Reggiano from Medici
Ermete was at its frizzy best. It smelled like banana and
had a delicate, light fruity flavor.
An appetizer of lightly-breaded
fried cheese, mushrooms and olives was served on small
sticks, followed by Chizza. The simple, crispy pastry of
flour and water was filled two ways, with spinach and
cheese and with beet greens and cheese and also served
plain, without filling. Keep these regional specialties
coming, please, they are great!
Next, a divine, hearty meat broth
chock full of cappelletti filled with meat and cheese.
Sip some Lambrusco and rest a bit before enjoying freshly
made tortelli stuffed with ham, cheese and tomato in
pumpkin sauce and with spinach and cheese in butter sauce.
I must point out that whenever I wrote cheese here it is
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, of course. Time for some meat
- a nice assortment of the local-favorite boiled variety
including beef, beef tongue, sausage, and chicken. A
dolci tasting plate of zuppa inglese, chocolate cake with
cherries, and meringue with cream topping was the
We were no strangers to Parmigiano-Reggiano
cheese. It has long been our cheese of choice; the aroma,
texture and flavor are just unbeatable. And so it was
that we arrived at the Villa Curta cooperative, via
Montagnani 19, tel. 0522-551819, at 0800 to observe the
way that this cheese is produced just as it was nine
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cheese
with Designation of Protected Origin (DPO), owing to its
distinctive features and its link to the territory of
origin. The production is governed by strict regulation,
registered with the European Union. It is a product
subject to a safeguarded regime agreed upon by the EU for
the protection of consumers and producers.
In order to receive the Parmigiano-Reggiano
designation the cheese must be produced in the area of
origin (provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua
on the right bank of the river Po and Bologna on the left
side of the river Po) using artisanal methods as
specified in the Production Regulation, including special
diet of dairy cows and rules for the use of marks.
The Consorzio del
Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, headquartered in Reggio Emilia, was
established in 1934 to (1) safeguard and protect
production, promotion and advertising of the product, (2)
safeguard product typicality and features, (3) implement
initiatives for perfecting and improving quality with
continuous technical support to Consortium members, and (4)
distinguish and guarantee the product by applying marks
The process starts with feeding the
cows nothing but local forage and vegetable pellets,
purchased only from companies registered with the
Consortium. The use of fermented forage is strictly
prohibited. Only raw milk is used, which is rich in
natural lactic flora. Now we know the source of the
unique flavors, from the earth and environment of this
blessed area. Only natural rennet and salt are used in
We were there first thing in the
morning to see the start of production as the early
morning milk arriving from the local dairy farms was
blended with the previous evening's deliveries that had
been sitting in the inverted bell-shaped vats allowing
the cream to rise to the top. This cream would be used
for butter production.
We watched as the cheese masters now
transformed the milk into cheese. They added the whey (left
over from the previous batch) and the quantity of rennet
needed for coagulation. As the curds formed, cheese
makers used giant whisks to break them into just the
right size grains, testing them by hand, to attain the
distinctive and familiar crunch we have learned to expect
The master also handles the
delicate cooking phase gradually bringing the temperature
from 33c to 55c. The grainy curds drop to the bottom of
the bell to form a compact mass and at the optimum moment
two men insert a large piece of cheese cloth underneath
and lift it out. It is cut into 2 rounds and placed in
round moulds to begin the two to three day molding
process. The cheese is then put into a bath of salt
solution for 20-25 days at 16-18 degrees Celcius.
The minimum maturation period is 12
months, but it is only after 24 months that it is fully
ripe. Each wheel receives a mark of origin and dated.
Every wheel is checked after 10-12 months and if it
passes the test the hot iron mark with the grade
selection oval mark is applied to the rind. The
certification is carried out by the Parmigiano-Reggiano
Quality Assurance Department.
The Magazzini Generali
(general warehouse) delle Tagliate belongs to the Credito Emiliano Banking
Group - Credem. They operate two enormous warehouses for
the purpose of storing the wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano
and Grana (similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano but produced
with fewer restrictions and therefore not the same
quality), and financing as is necessary. We visited the
larger of the two units in Montecavolo di Quattro
Castella, Province of Reggio Emilia. The other one is in
Castelfranco Emilia, Province of Modena.
This facility is set in a 36,000
square meter site of which 17,000 square meters cover
five blocks connected by a corridor 140 meters long that
can store 285,000 rounds of cheese. The Castlefranco unit
can handle 155,000 rounds. We entered the largest block
and were momentarily stunned to see row after endless row
of cheese wheels piled 24 high. Modern climatization
installations assure consistent atmospheric conditions.
This aids in the achievement of top quality cheese (less
weight loss, lower rejection rate, and a finer crust).
The rounds are constantly brushed to keep
them clean by automatic rotating cleaners. It was amazing
to watch the robotic equipment move up and down row-by-row
turning and brushing each wheel. Periodic manual brushing
is done checking for age defects. Specialists, entered in
the Register of master Cheese testers (called "tappers"
in Italy) certify the condition of the products and issue
official appraisals to be attached to deposit
certificates and pledge notes. The "tappers"
use small specialized hammers and tap the round on both
ends and all around. The tapping must produce a certain
uniform sound to be perfect. In addition, a thin
corkscrew-type instrument is inserted to test the smell.
Its no wonder that Parmigiano-Reggiano is called
the King of cheese with all this royal treatment.
We stopped for a late lunch at
Ristorante a Mangiare, viale Monte Grappa, 3/A, tel. 0522-433600,
where a bright, clean cucina greeted us as we entered.
Passing by a coffee bar and wine racks, we entered the
eclectic but comfortable dining room. The menu featured
regional specialties that turned out to be quite
A Lambrusco Brut, Rinaldini went
delightfully well with an appetizer of "culatello"
ham from Parma. Next, zuppa di cipolle e orzo for me and
cappelletti in brodo di gallina for Linda. Mine was as I
like it, thick with onions and a touch of barley. The
hearty chicken broth and pasta was pure comfort for Linda.
Our mains, grilled cod fish with leeks and mushrooms and
rack of lamb were outstanding. And now the dessert that
surpasses all others, vanilla gelato with traditional
The Sanctuary of the Basilica Della
Ghiara on Corso G. Garibaldi, designed by architect
Alessandro Balbi from Ferrara, is a significant
architectural structure. It's a powerful work of Emilia
baroque culture, which has been restored recently. The
sparkling interior, in the shape of a Greek cross, is
filled with frescoes, paintings and altarpieces of
seventeenth century Emilian artists.
After that amazing lunch, we were
in the mood for a simple pizza dinner and found our way
to Ristorante Pizzeria Sotto Broletto on via Broletto. It
was jumping, mostly with young people. Everyone was
eating large round pies. We placed our order and waited
with great anticipation. It was not the worst pizza we
ever had but came close.
Not having eaten too much of the
pizza the night before, we doubly enjoyed breakfast in
the morning. It was a few minutes walk to Piazza Vittoria
where we caught bus #4 to the train station. Reggio
Emilia is a great town with friendly people and delicious
food, a winning combination for a return visit someday.
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